Walking to Watsons

In the 1930s there were no ‘school runs’ as we know them today. To get to school you went on the tram, or you cycled, or you walked. Most days I walked from the manse in West Mayfield to Watson’s. It was the best part of two miles, but, amazing as it seems today, you thought nothing of it. Although I did not appreciate it at the time, I had the pleasure of walking through the heartland of the Grange on my way to school, but I took a rather circuitous route. Starting at twenty past eight, I first crossed the foot of Causewayside, keeping a wary lookout, not so much for traffic as for seeing if Geordie Geddes was watching from his cobbler’s shop, for we thought he was mad and were afraid of the daemonic look in his eye. Then briefly into Fountainhall Road before turning into Findhorn Place and ascending its steep hill up to Grange Loan. The reason for this was that I had a classmate who lived in Livingstone Place and who came down Cumin Place to meet me where Cumin Place joined Grange Loan. We soon passed Lover’s Loan, and wondered what the significance of that unexpected name might be. Perhaps, we thought, it might have something to do with the girls of Craigmount School, which, on our left- hand side was the next thing of interest on our route. Alas, Craigmount is no longer there, having been replaced by Wyvern Park, but what is still there is No 46 Dick Place. Little did I know it then, but this house was already a famous house, as I learned when I married a girl of Icelandic extraction. For in this house had lived a leading Icelander, Sveinbjorn Sveinbjornsson in the 1870s and 80s. That such a distinguished person from Ultima Thule should live there at all in Dick Place was remarkable, but what was even more remarkable was the fact that he was a composer, and here in Edinburgh composed the music for what became the Icelandic national anthem.

Dick Place led into Blackford Road, and at its west end we almost always saw three gentlemen walking gravely together up Whitehouse Loan presumably on their way to their offices in town. To one of them we gave the name ‘Snodgrass’, and if Snoddy was to be seen twirling his rolled umbrella in the first section of Whitehouse Loan we knew we were on time. Ahead of us lay the Astley Ainslie Hospital to which we gave the name ‘Ghastly Painful Hospital’ and made jokes about it as we turned right into Grange Loan. More jokes lay ahead, for as we reached the newly opened Dominion Cinema we could see a pub on Morningside Road which we called ‘The Cow and Saxophone’ believing this to be a contemporary alternative to the traditional ‘Pig and Whistle’. But of course we could not pass the Dominion without closely scrutinising its posters of present and forthcoming attractions. To be taken to ‘the pictures’, or, as they later became known, ‘the flicks’ was an occasional but great reward for having done the homework which school would shortly be setting. But upstairs, please. That cost 9d, and it was infra dig to sit downstairs, which just cost 6d. Morningside Place at last, and from there we had the distant prospect of the end of our walk – Watson’s. Were we going to be late? Never! It had taken half an hour, but was as regular as clockwork. Not only was it health-giving, but it laid the foundations for a life-long love of the Grange.

Sheriff Nigel Thomson – February 2003

(see Mathieson the Butcher on page 57) (see Ma Duncan on page 62)