Local History

The history of Fairmilehead, which is said to derive its name from the Gaelic Fair Meall Chuib ('a hill on the cattle fold') is mainly that of the past hundred years or so, but there are many reminders of earlier days.  A fort on Hillend Hill to the south has an origin lost to us now, but it is listed by the Ancient Monuments Commission as a "defensive construction", an obliterated Roman road may have passed here and crossed the steam at Bowbridge;  the estate of Morton has been owned by the same family for over three hundred years and the 'T' wood at near Swanston Golf Club is said to have been planted by one of them.

In the days of the Romans, there was a town at Fairmilehead - Morton - and even then it stood where two roads met, though doubless traffic conditions were not then so acute.  Through it ran the great Trunk Road by which the Roman Legion travelled to the north - the continuation of Watling Street, which entered Scotland near the river Coquet, passing by Jedburgh, the Eildon Hills, Linton and the Pentlands, and so on to Cramond, which was an important military station.

Another military road from Teviotdale joined the trunk road at Morton.  Traces of the original ramparts show that this was something more than a military camp, the outline being quadrangular rather than oval.  A number of curious Roman coins were also found during the construction of the new road, Caesar Augustrus, Trajan, Hadrian and Nero are all represented in the collection, and there is one particularly interesting medal bearing the head of Severus, which is believed to have been struck in celebration of peace with Caledonia.

Later Oliver Cromwell comes into the picture.  In the grounds of Mortonhall, behind the new estate built on land that was once the Princess Margaret Rose Hospital, is the Galachlaw, where Cromwell's Army of 16,000 men camped in 1650.  A little to the north-west is a small quadrangular rampart where the Protector and his principal officers camped for a considerable time before the battle of Dunbar.


Perhaps the happiest descriptions of the old Fairmilehead "a spot where two roads intersect beside a hanging wood". are to be found in the early writings of Robert Louis Stevenson in his Picturesque Notes and a few of his essays.  But these belong to more than eighty years ago.  At that time the builders had at length "adventured beyond the toll (then near to the foot of Morningside Road) and proceeded to career in these fresh pastures like a herd of colts turned loose."

Now they have overtopped, latterly at a gallop, the site of the toll at Fairmilehead and gone past Bowbridge, reminiscent of the distillery where the smugglers were warned by the strains of "Over the Hills and Far Away", from the flute of a friendly gauger, and then up hill again to the 1920 boundary at Hillend. 

One does not need to be a greybeard to remember the day when the only buildings at Fairmilehead cross-roads were an old toll-house (lattery used as a county roadman's cottage), a police station, and the waterworks.


On one side nothing remains of the small hamlet of FROGSTON (as Alexander Frog was, in 1447, granted the right to farm the lands of Straiton), while on the other OXGANGS, takes its name from a measure of land (13 acres) which an ox can plough in the course of a year.

Here in Oxgangs Road is something which, like Hunter's Tryst, has survivedthe changes of the years, namely the Kel, Kay or Caiy Stane, commemorating a battle long ago, some say between the Picts and the Romans.  With reference to the stone, Grant's Old and New Edinburgh states:

"Tradition records that a great battle has been fought:  two large cairns were erected there and when these were removed to serve for road metal, great quantities of human bones were found in and under them.  Near where they stood there still remains a relic of the fight, a great whinstone block, about 20 feet high, know nas the Kelstain or Battle Stone."  It is sometimes referred to as General Kay's Monument.  Stevenson records that that was the name given to the CAIYSTANE by country people.

The Caiystane

According to them, an officer of that name perished there in battle at some period before the beginning of history.

Since 1937 the Caiy Stane has been protected by a stone parapet designed by the late Sir D.Y Cameron, and is now under the care of the National Trust for Scotland.


Oxgangs Road and the surrounding streets have another claim to distinction.  It is the only part of the city to which the water supply is pumped instead of coming in by gravitation due to the elevation of the area being some 30 feet higher than the water works on the other side of the crossroads, which stand 570 feet above sea level.

The waterworkds are part of the wonderful story of the development of the city's supply and date from the introduction of water from Talla, 38 miles away, in  1905.

Edinburgh's first public water supply was introduced from Comiston Springs in 1676, although the work was authorised by an act of the Scottish Parliament, passed as early as 1621.

Wooden pipes were used to carry water from Swanston Springs to the wells in Lawnmarket and High Street from 1760 till 1790, when they were replaced by lead pipes.


The Buckstane, the landmark on our northern boundary, has a picturesque tradition behind it.  It illustrates one of those curious tenures of land which linger on in the modern world from the days feadalism.

Among the titles of the Barony of Penicuik is a Crown Charter, dating from the early seventeenth century, in which the holder of the Barony was bound to blow three blasts and his wife one blast of the horn whenever the king shall ride out to hunt on the Boroughmuir.



Tradition has long identified the Buckstane as the stone on which the

ancient lairds of Penicuik were wont to stand and blow their horn.  The stone

itself is now built into a wall near the Clubhouse of Mortonhall Golf Course. The

figure of the forester stands over the family coat-of-arms.








The wood around Morton House was named Mount Plantation, and a hamlet about 200 yards north-east of the lodge was known as Mounthooly, or Holy Mount:  the "Belvedere" was described as "mighty well situated" in 1792.  Morton House, owned by the Trotters of Mortonhall, was sometime tenanted by Lord Cunninghame, a Lord of Session, who in 1813, married a daughter of Lt Gen Alexander Trotter of the Mortonhall family.  The estate has been owned by the Trotters since 1641.


In bygone days Hunter's Tryst was a favourite resort of the citizens of Edinburgh in summer expeditions, and was frequently the headquarter of the Six Foot Club, which was composed of men who were of that stature or above it, if possible.

According to Grant's Old and New Edinburgh, it was an athletic society and generally met half-yearly at the Hunter's Tryst or similar places when silver medals were given for rifle shooting, throwing a 16lb hammer, single-stick etc

On these occasions Sir Walter Scott, Professor Wilson, and James Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd, were frequently present, and often presided.  In 1828 we find the club designated the Guard of Honour to the Lord High Constable of Scotland.  Its chairman was termed captain and Sir Walter Scott was umpire of the club.

Hunter's Tryst was an inn until about a century ago and the Stevensons' carriage used to halt at the old Fairmilehead toll on its way to Swanston.  The writings of RLS have given the district its place in literature and to us today, as to him, the scaurs and screes of Caerketton are part of the "hills of home". 

(Thanks to Geoff Slee for his research and photographs)

'All are Welcome in this Place'