Gilmerton CoveWritten by Leslie Thomson
Gilmerton Cove, four miles south of Edinburgh city centre, is a former subterranean dwelling hewn out of solid rock.
Surrounded by mystery, the official line is that it was all carved in the 18th century by a local blacksmith George Paterson. It is hard to imagine however how one man could have carved the seven rooms single-handedly, and that is only those found so far. Bricked up and unexplored passages may lead to further hidden rooms.
In two of the rooms tables have been hewn out of the rock and in the largest of these rooms, there is a deep indentation in the table, known as “the punch bowl”. In both of these rooms long benches are carved along the walls facing the “tables”, indicating that they must have been used for communal seating. Over the centuries many people have carved initials and symbols into the tables and seating, including what appears to be the set-square and compasses of freemasonry.
Another room is apparently a bedroom with a stone “bed” in the middle of it, with a long stone representing a pillow at the top of it. This bed however disturbingly has another “punch bowl” like feature at the foot of it, which some have suggested may have been there for draining blood. Again, stone benches line either side of this room.
There is also a deep bore into the ground which has been claimed to be a well but which never reached the water table and which some have suggested may have been a drop into a dungeon. Another feature known as The Forge shows no sign of scorching and could not possibly have been used as forge as the native sandstone would have split and spat all around in high heat.
Theories abound as to original and subsequent uses of Gilmerton Cove, including that it may have been a meeting place for Covenanters, for a witches coven, the Knights Templar and freemasons, a smugglers’ hideout, or an illegal drinking den. There are some claims of possible connections with the notorious Hellfire Club of the 18th century; a secret club for men to partake of wine, women and song, and as some claimed, blasphemous and “debased” religious rites. Whatever the truth, the real reason for the building and use of Gilmerton Cove appear to be lost in the mists of time, making it all the more mysterious.
Tours of Gilmerton Cove by Rosslyn Tours are available 10:00am – 4:00pm Monday to Sunday and are by appointment only.
Eternally young former guide on Edinburgh's open-top tour buses. Self-taught and fascinated by Scots history, I am proud to say I have learned more about it than the average Scot will know in a lifetime. It is an ongoing process and I find myself still learning to this day. I am also a folklorist with a vast knowledge of many curious beliefs and untoward events and locations in Scotland in general and Edinburgh in particular. I adore my home town of Edinburgh and frequently show visitors places many tour guides do not cover and do not even know about.