Have you ever sauntered around Edinburgh and wondered how old some of the buildings and structures were? What about the seemingly unimportant walls that line Greyfriars Kirkyard?
If you’ve explored the ancient gravestones in Greyfriars Kirkyard, you may have happened upon a towering 24ft-tall wall. Known as the Flodden Wall, this structure was a medieval defence that surrounded Old Town Edinburgh.
Often thought of as insignificant today, the Flodden Wall was once one of several ancient walls that surrounded and protected Edinburgh through the centuries.
Together with the King’s Wall and the Telfer Wall, the Flodden Wall helped protect Edinburgh from attacks.
A good chunk of the medieval defence walls of Old Town Edinburgh is still standing today. As you walk through the city, you’re literally surrounded by history.
The three walls were just one part of the city’s defence. Edinburgh Castle on Castle Rock, the sewage-filled Nor’ Lock and the King’s Walls made up the remainder of Edinburgh’s barricade from hostile attacks.
For a glimpse into the past, go on a self-guided walk through Old Town Edinburgh and see if you can find all the Flodden Wall markers.
Also keep an eye out for Flodden Tower and the remnants of the defensive walls that once surrounded the entire city, which at the time was only 140 acres and full to the brim with 10,000 residents.
The King’s Wall
The King’s Wall predates the Flodden Wall by a century. It was built along the south side of the Royal Mile in the 1400s and runs through Tweeddale Court down to where the World’s End Pub is today.
You can probably guess that the pub doesn’t actually mark the end of the world but it did mark the end of Edinburgh. Which, for many, was where the world ended.
When you walk to the World’s End Pub, be sure to cast your eyes down to the cobbled pavement where you’ll see a series of gold bricks. The special bricks mark the location of the original main entrance into Edinburgh.
Back then, entrance into the walled city wasn’t free. People had to pay a toll to come back into the burgh. This meant those unable to afford the toll were stuck within the confines of the city walls. I’d feel pretty claustrophobic if that was me!
For an idea of how tiny some of the dwellings were, be sure to visit the Real Mary King’s Close to see a genuine room that would have held 8-10 family members.
The Flodden Wall
The Flodden Wall was built following the Battle of Flodden between Scotland and England. After being defeated after the death of King James IV, panic set in and the Flodden Wall was built to keep Edinburgh safe from the impending English attack.
Surprisingly, the attack never came, but the wall still kept the city safe from other attacks in the years to come. With Edinburgh being contained in such a small area, the residents were forced to build up into the sky to help house the ever-growing population.
The first time I noticed the medieval defence wall was when I was exploring Greyfriars Kirkyard. The cemetery is probably one of the most well-known parts of the Flodden Wall, as the walls act as dividers between the graveyard, the Covenanter’s Prison and George Heriot School.
Part of the wall continues through the Covenanters Prison in Greyfriars and connects with the Telfer Wall. This part of the city was used as an open-air prison for the Covenanters after the Battle of Bothwell Brig.
You can only access this area on a ghost tour through Greyfriars Kirkyard.
You’ll notice that the Flodden Wall in Greyfriars has an archway opening. It once served as one of the six entry ports into Edinburgh.
Secret Piece of the 16th Century Defence Wall
A piece of the Flodden Wall is actually hidden at the National Museum of Scotland. My friend, Chris, took a tour in highschool where they went through a special entrance, walked down a corridor and saw the preserved section of the Flodden Wall.
This part of the wall isn’t open to the general public. You need special permission from the staff to view it. But it’s still super cool that there’s a bit of it preserved inside the museum.
Telfer Wall, which runs along the Vennel by Lauriston Place to Heriot Place by George Heriot’s School, is still in pretty good condition. The wall was built as an extension of the Flodden Wall, following a donation by George Heriot of a large piece of land.
If you head up Granny’s Green Steps from the Grassmarket, you’ll come across the Flodden Tower which shows where the Flodden Wall and Telfer Wall connect.
Pay close attention to the difference in brick sizes between the two walls. Telfer Wall was built by a large workforce, while the Flodden Wall was built by women, children and seniors. The difference in stone size reflects the difference in the workforce.
In the 1850s a section of Telfer Wall was excavated. Two hollowed-out tree trunks containing human bones, as well as the skull and antlers of a deer were found. The human bones were damaged in the excavation. But you can find the deer skull on display at the National Museum of Scotland.
Take a self-guided walking tour of Old Town Edinburgh – Flodden Wall locations
If you want to take a self-guided walking tour through Old Town Edinburgh and see what life was like when everyone was confined to such a small space, be sure to check out all these spots.
I‘ve also created a map to take you around the walls — see if you can find every part. As you walk around the area where the walls once stood, you can really get a feel for how tiny Edinburgh once was.
Start the Flodden Wall Self Guided Tour
Start your tour at Granny’s Green Steps in the Grassmarket. The Grassmarket was once overcrowded, rife with murder and the place where most criminals were hanged for their crimes in public gallows.
Here you’ll see a marker on the ground next to a few benches from where you can see a stunning view of Edinburgh Castle.
Climb the steps to reach the Flodden Tower on the left. This is where the Flodden Wall meets the Telfer Wall and continues around George Heriot’s School on Lauriston Place.
Follow Lauriston Place until you reach Forrest Road. Make a left towards Greyfriars Kirkyard. This is my favourite part of the wall because it is contained within the historic haunted graveyard.
Stop by the Black Mausoleum and see if you bump into the Mackenzie Poltergeist.
Head towards the National Museum of Scotland on Chambers Street, turning right at Bristo Place, towards Lothian Street, until you hit the gatehouse that was part of the Potterrow area.
Continue on towards Drummond Street until you reach the Pleasance which features a very long well-preserved section of the Flodden Wall.
You can either end here or continue towards Princes Street Gardens. This was the former location of the nasty Nor’ Loch.
After exploring the Greyfriars Kirkyards portion of the Flodden Wall and Telfer Wall, head down to St. Mary’s Street by the Cowgate. You’ll come across another section of the Flodden wall where the city was blocked in.
These walls protected the south side of the city, while the stagnant and vile waters of the Nor’ Loch protected the north side.
Flodden Wall Markers
The Flodden Wall also passed through the Grassmarket. If you look along the pavement near Granny’s Green Steps, you’ll see a bench with a mark showing where the Flodden Wall was once located on the outskirts of the Grassmarket.
If you continue down towards the Scottish parliament building, you’ll find a marker on the pavement showing where the Flodden Wall once stood near another bench. This is right near Holyrood Palace, which Mary Queen of Scots once called home.
Check out the interactive map below. The only spots missing are Princes Street Garden, where the Nor Loch once was, and Edinburgh Castle, which sits high up on the rocky crags of Castle Hill.
More Information about Dark Travels and Dark History in Scotland
- Spooky Things to do in Edinburgh Scotland
- Unusual Things to do in Edinburgh
- Dark History and Spooky Things to do in Scotland
- Witches in Scotland
- Historic Edinburgh Cemeteries to Explore
- Things to do in Edinburgh: Surgeons’ Hall Museum
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- Dark Tourism Sites in Scotland
- Haunted Hotels in Scotland
- Spending the night inside the Edinburgh Vaults
- Spooky Travel around Scotland
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