Cemetery at St. Cuthbert’s
St. Cuthbert’s Church is located in the New Town area of Edinburgh, just to the north of the castle. The entire weekend Alex and I kept saying that it felt like there should have been a river down in the valley, and when we got home we discovered that there used to be a lake there, the Nor’Loch, but that it became so badly fouled that it was drained in 1787. The train station and St. Cuthbert’s Church are both built on land that used to be underwater. Once you know this, it really makes the geography of Edinburgh easier to understand!
The churchyard cemetery originally began with a small mound in the south west corner on the shore of the loch, where children were often buried. It was known as the “bairns’ knowe”, or children’s hill. Apparently it used to be open to the countryside. When the Norloch was drained, more land became available. It needed to be raised a bit to get out the moisture, but the cemetery soon expanded. In 1827 the church had to build a guard tower, because grave-robbing was so popular! In 1841 the railway expanded, and a tunnel was built under the southern section of the graveyard. Many graves had to be moved, and some were lost or destroyed. Since the land area is actually quite small, the cemetery was considered “full” in 1863 and the church was told to stop burying people there. But since the church made quite a bit of money from burials, they kept doing it, and got in big trouble for it in 1873!
We didn’t get any pictures of the actual church (not that you wanted to see it, I think we’ve had quite enough churches and cathedrals on this blog!), but we did spend a bit of time in the graveyard. Some of the stones are really beautiful, with touching inscriptions. Interestingly, some of them even say things like “For Ann Smith, who is buried 150 meters to the southwest of this stone”. I don’t know why they couldn’t put the stone with the body!
I think I could take photographs all day long in a nice cemetery. Especially when some of the stones are old and falling over, and you can’t even read the words anymore. It was a lovely sunny afternoon, and the beautiful trees added some great shade. After a full day of walking, Alex and I enjoyed a brief respite in the graveyard. It might sound macabre, but it was one of the nicest things we did all weekend.