Greenyonder tours are conducted by Jean Bareham, an Edinburgh born and bred resident. I recently attended her ‘Hidden Gardens of the Royal Mile’ tour along with my Australian friend – which runs every Friday morning and Sunday afternoon from April through to October (with a few exceptions) and 6 days a week throughout the Fringe in August.
You can book in advance, or just turn up on the day and it’s easy to find the start point of the tour as Jean stands outside John Knox’s House with a clear sign. This tour is not just for tourists, but for residents as well. There are many gardens that you have probably walked past many times as you didn’t know about them and Jean points them out and explains the history behind the stories of the gardens.
I’m not going to spoil the locations of the gardens in this review, but I was pleasantly surprised – I thought I knew the Royal Mile well before being shown around by Jean.
The tour is approximately 90 minutes long and there are various walls and benches that you can rest on as you go and only a few steps to negotiate. Jean was very helpful in checking that everyone (of varying ages) was managing fine and helping us across roads where necessary.
We visited garden gems, including public ones, looked at some private gardens and discovered interesting community gardens which are popping up on the smallest of available green spaces. Edinburgh residents might not associate the Royal Mile with gardens, but they are there for the viewing.
Jean has a picture book to hand to show various gardens from years ago and you only need to look around to see how they have changed to their current state today.
Although I have a fascination with gardens, I don’t know much about the actual plants, but again, Jean is on hand to explain all the names and how often and when they flower. Although not a historic or architectural tour, Jean explains the basics and points out wonderful buildings. Ample time is given for photos of the gardens and flowers, but once the tour ends, you can of course re trace your steps and spend more time in your favourite gardens.
Dunbar’s Close Garden – a “hidden gem” according to Jean – is included on this tour and although I have visited it many times over the years, it was fascinating to see it from an expert’s point of view and learn more about the historical background to the garden and how there would have been a community of gardeners living here. It’s certainly one of the more striking gardens on the tour, but the others all have their interesting backgrounds despite not being as grand.
Jean is an encyclopedic knowledge of Edinburgh’s gardens and I was surprised how much new information I gained in 90 minutes. A thoroughly enjoyable way to spend a morning and my Australian friend now looks at the Royal Mile in a whole new light. Every time I am in the area when the sun is out over the summer, I will be popping back to my favourite garden and escaping the hustle and bustle of the High Street with a good book.
Other tours are available, such as By Leaves We Live, Hidden History and Healing Herbs by medical herbalist Julia Cook. All tours for this season can be found here. Have a look at the short BBC video on Jean’s tours.
You can buy Greenyonder gift vouchers which would make an excellent present of anyone living here or visiting Edinburgh. Group and tailormade tours are available with prior arrangement, just contact Jean to make arrangements. You can read more about Greenyonder tours.
Greenyonder tours are highly recommended by us.
Suitable for disabled? On the whole yes, despite some sloping paths and a few steps. The tour could be slightly modified to allow you to experience the hidden gardens.