Updated on 6 September, 2016

About Corstorphine Hill

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Corstorphine Hill

Corstorphine Hill is only 531 feet (161 metres) high. However, from all angles it presents a long low wood-covered ridge, rising above the western suburbs of Edinburgh: Corstorphine, Blackhall Murrayfield and Balgreen. Corstorphine Hill is readily identified by its distinctive Tower, now somewhat dominated by two aircraft communication pylons.

The ridge is L-shaped, running both north to south and west to east. Corstorphine Hill owes its prominent shape and its useful minerals to the geological processes which formed it over 340 million years. The geological story of the Making of Corstorphine Hill is given in the geology section (click on the tab marked 'Geology').

Because of its accessible rocks and its interesting landforms, Corstorphine Hill has been designated as a Regionally Important Geological Site (RIGS). The Hill has also been designated as a Local Nature Reserve, because of the colonies of badgers. It is one of Edinburgh's largest Public Parks, managed by the Ranger Service, assisted by the Friends of Corstorphine Hill.

The tree-cover makes finding view-points difficult; however, there are several good locations for each side of the hill, and when the tower is open to the public, a magnificent all-round view can be obtained from the top.

Corstorphine Hill TowerCorstorphine Hill Tower, also known as Clermiston Tower or the Scott Tower (click on the tab marked 'The Tower'), is a memorial to Sir Walter Scott. The tower, built on glaciated dolerite, is square in plan, with buttressed corners; it has a corbelled, battlemented parapet surmounted by a small tower. It is built of coursed whinstone, likely to be from quarries on the hill, with dressed sandstone for the openings, parapets and plaques, probably from one of the large Edinburgh sandstone quarries.

Edinburgh Zoo makes use of the steep southern slopes of Corstorphine Hill. Also located on these slopes are the Corstorphine and Murrayfield hospitals, The Post House Hotel and St Anne's Church.

As well as the mansions of Clerwood and Hillwood, the western slopes are home to Queen Margaret College, Fox Covert Primary School, The Capital Moat House Hotel and St Andrews Church.

Winter sporting activities on Corstorphine HillThe hill has many recreational uses, from walking the dog, jogging, bird watching, fresh air away from traffic, and in winter sleds are commonplace.

Click here to read the Open Access Code of Corstorphine Hill.

Location & Maps

map showing location of Corstorphine Hill Nature Reservemap showing the location of Corstorphine Hill Walled GardenClick on these thumbnail maps to access larger maps showing the location of Corstorphine Hill Nature Reserve and the Walled Garden, within Edinburgh and within the British Isles.

map showing the location of Corstorphine Hill Nature Reserve in the British Isles

Detailed maps (pdf images)

A waymarker map of 'Corstorphine Hill' Local Nature Reserve can be viewed here as a pdf file (1MB).

A detailed map of 'Corstorphine Hill' Local Nature Reserve (1:10,000 scale, A3 sheet) can be viewed here as a pdf file (1.1MB).

An aerial photo of 'Corstorphine Hill' Local Nature Reserve (1:10,000 scale, A3 sheet) can be viewed here as a pdf file (217kB).

A location map for the Corstorphine Hill 'Walled Garden' (1:5,000 scale, A4 sheet) can be viewed here as a pdf file (182kB).

How to reach Corstorphine Hill

From the South ~ the sole entrance is on Corstorphine Road, opposite the top of Balgreen Road. Buses LRT: 12, 26, 31. There is no car parking beside the gate, one would need to park on Balgreen Road. This path leads up to the Rest and Be Thankful view point.

From the West ~ there is a car park at the top of Kaimes Road, at the end of Cairnmuir Road. There are numerous pedestrian openings from Clermiston Road: opposite the 26 bus terminus (this is also the path which leads up to the Tower and the Walled Garden); at various points running along Clermiston Road, past the Capital Hotel, to a car park half way along the east side of Clermiston Road North. Buses which will take you to the west side include the 1 whose Terminus is at the top of Drum Brae Drive and the 21 which pass down Clermiston Road North.

From the North ~ the sole entrance is to the east of the traffic lights on Queensferry Road and Clermiston Road North. There is no easy parking on Queensferry Road. Buses LRT 32 and 41 and Stagecoach (but check latter for number and exact stops).

From the East ~ there are two entrances: at Hillpark Rise (to the west of Craigcrook Road), where there is limited parking in a residential area; and one from a path which runs off Ravelston Dykes Road (at a dangerous bend on a country type road), and leads between Murrayfield Golf course and the Ravelston Golf Course on to the hill below the Rest and Be Thankful. There is no place to park, nor any bus route nearby.

Corstorphine Hill is a designated Nature Reserve and a Regionally Important Geological and Geomorphologic Site. We would ask you not to: light fires, dig up and remove plants, undertake any act which disturbs wildlife, ride bicycles in a fashion which would cause erosion or prevents other user of the hill from enjoying the amenity, nor build any form of structure.

The Tower

The Tower celebrated its 130th anniversary in the year 2002. A year later, in 2003, the Tower saw another milestone in its history, the 70th anniversary of its official handing over to the then Edinburgh Corporation. The Tower was repaired and opened to the general public after agreement with the owners of the land around the Tower that they would give ground for access, free, provided the Corporation would erect an iron fence to separate it from their property. Another repair and re-opening in 2003, this time after vandals damaged the Tower in April 2002. It was carefully restored, at an approximate cost of £5,000. The doors were opened to visitors again, with Corstorphine Hill Tower taking its rightful place among the 180 buildings and monuments owned by the City of Edinburgh Council. It may jostle for prominence on the hill these days but it justifies a prominent place in our hearts.

Corstorphine TowerCorstorphine Hill Tower (also known as Clermiston Tower or the Scott Tower) is a memorial to Sir Walter Scott. The tower, built on glaciated dolerite, is square in plan, with buttressed corners; it has a corbelled, battlemented parapet surmounted by a small tower. It is built of coursed whinstone, likely to be from quarries on the hill, with dressed sandstone for the openings, parapets and plaques, probably from one of the large Edinburgh sandstone quarries.

Corstorphine Tower in the snowDramatic views can be obtained from the top of the Tower. There are planned openings of the tower to give people a chance to catch the panoramic view from the top. A new timetable will be proposed for this summer; there were no planned openings of the tower during the winter months.

Directions from the Clerwood bus terminus. Go left, north, along Clermiston Road, for 100 metres, cross and take the gated track, uphill past the old walled garden on the right to the Tower on top of the hill. The Tower can also be reached easily from the Cairnmuir Road / Kaimes Road carpark.

Walled Garden

The Friends of Corstorphine Hill have been particularly active in the restoration of the "lost" Walled Garden on Corstorphine Hill.

The Walled Garden is looked after entirely by volunteers. It is vital that the local community, and in particular the Friends, take an ownership and a pride in the Garden. It is really amazing the amount of work that has been done, but the Garden will continue to develop over the years, and continued interest and input from the community is essential.

New volunteers are always needed to help with the practical work to keep this great garden thriving. People with all levels of experience are welcome, and can contribute as often as they choose.

  • Garden volunteers are usually in action on Tuesday mornings (10am - 12noon) and Thursday afternoons (2pm - 4pm) throughout the year (weather permitting!)

  • The location of the Walled Garden can be seen on this map (1.3MB)

  • This project was featured on the BBC TV Beechgrove Garden programme on 20 September 2001 and revisited by the Beechgrove team on 29 June 2004. This input made a big contribution to getting the present garden started.

  • Photo gallery: before and after pictures of the Walled Garden Project can be seen here.

  • Geological photo guide to the 'Wall'. As part of the ambitious plan to restore the Walled Garden, the stone walls were repaired and rebuilt in an attempt to return them to their former state. The east wall, together with the adjacent small storage hut, was restored in 2004. The difference between the remnants of the older wall and the more recent addition are clearly shown by the contrast between the dark and light portions. At present, the rocks in the wall present a variety of features that tell us much about their origin and a little about the plants and animals that inhabited this part of the world about 350 million years ago. Read more in The Story Behind the 'Wall', by Grant M Young (1.5MB pdf), a geological photo guide to the rocks incorporated into the rebuilt wall.

  • A diagram of the original plan for the present garden can be found at the bottom of the Walled Garden log-book which chronicles a little of the garden year by year.

Botany

Introduction

A Botany Group within the Friends of Corstorphine Hill has been active since 2001. It aims to search out, identify, record, list and photograph the plants on the hill throughout the year. The group could use anyone with skills in botany, photography, computing, surveying or even just spare time.

If interested, contact: friends@corstorphinehill.org.uk

Interpretation leaflets

Leaflets have been produced as an aid to interpretation of the botanical interest on the local Nature Reserve at Corstorphine Hill, namely the 'Flowers of Corstorphine Hill' and the 'Trees of Corstorphine Hill'. Copies can be obtained from a committee member of Friends of Corstorphine Hill, or scanned copies of these can be viewed/download as .gif images, as listed below.

 

Plant records

Geology

Corstorphine Hill, like many others in the Edinburgh area, is a prominent landmark. Why is it there? Even the most subtle details of the landscape have a geological meaning. Most highs and lows of the topography reflect the underlying materials, usually rocks. The rocks underlying Corstorphine Hill are mostly hidden by a veneer of soil and vegetation but, if you keep your eyes open, you will see places where hard grey rocks come to the surface. Such occurrences are called 'outcrops' and it is from these sparse occurrences that geologists are able to piece together geological maps which depict the distribution of the different rock types on the surface of the land (see the map shown in Figure 1) and permit an interpretation of what happens to them beneath the surface (cross section shown in Figure 1).

The map and cross section show that the rocks of the area have been folded into a large dome-like structure and Corstorphine Hill and surrounding areas lie on the west side of this structure so that all the rocks are tilted (dip, in geological terminology) towards the west. The rock outcrops on Corstorphine Hill are mainly igneous rock. They bear a variety of marks such as striations or scratches made by the passage of glaciers over the hill, for the area was covered by thick ice during the Pleistocene glaciation. The ice moved up the hill from the west, scraping the surface clean and leaving deep scratch marks as evidence of its former presence. Following disappearance of the ice, outcrops that we can still see today must have been present, for some have been sculpted by human hands - for example, the ca. 5,000 year-old cup marks present near the top of the hill above the Capital Hotel.

Why has this area remained upstanding? How has it withstood the passage of great masses of ice and the ravages of storm and rain over millions of years? It is because it is an intrusion of hard igneous rock. An 'intrusion' is formed when a body of magma forces its way into existing rocks and consolidates into rock itself without ever reaching the surface, in contrast to what happens with lava flows when they come out of volcanoes. A glance at the geological map (Figure 1) shows the Corstorphine Hill area to be underlain by a N-S-trending body of igneous rock, called 'Teschenite and Olivine Dolerite'. This is the geological name for a quite large igneous intrusion that forced its way into much softer sedimentary rocks known as the Lower Oil-Shale Group. These rocks are all thought to be Lower Carboniferous in age - in the vicinity of 350 million years old.

Thus the high ground making up Corstorphine Hill is the result of the presence of a ridge of hard igneous rock that has resisted the effects of erosion by water, wind and ice much more efficiently than the surrounding sedimentary rocks, which are mainly softer fine grained sedimentary rocks such as mudstones or shales (formed from muds), together with some beds of sandstone, such as the Craigleith and Ravelston Sandstones.


Glacial Evidence: Spectacular ice-smoothed surfaces are a feature of the western slopes of the hill. Grooves and scratches (striae) were cut by boulders and pebbles in the ice, acting like massive sandpaper, as the ice flowed from west to east. These grooves are always oriented at about 80 degrees, as this was the direction of flow in the local ice-sheet.

Boulder clay: the morainic debris of clay, stones, pebbles and boulders left by the ice 15 thousand years ago, seen in upturned trees on the lower slopes. The boulder clay could be cultivated, so it usually underlies the lower grass fields. Both west and east of the hill the boulder clay slopes have ridges oriented at about 80degrees just as on the glacial pavements.


Walled Garden on Corstorphine Hill - a mini geological trail

There is a story behind the garden wall. It is not merely a bunch of old rocks that were thrown together as a protection from the wind and predatory creatures (including humans). When you look closely at the pieces that constitute the wall, you discover rocks fragments of two kinds, sedimentary and a (very few) igneous. The sedimentary rocks are mostly sandstones but there are also coarser examples (conglomerates) and a few finer ones (mudstones). The sedimentary rocks show various structures ranging from bedding and cross bedding to primary current lineation. Some of the rock fragments contain evidence of ancient life, in the form of plant fragments, both unidentifiable flattened carbon films and ornamented cylindrical shapes representing the stems of ancient plants that were buried and preserved in the sediment when it was laid down. Animals are represented only by trace fossils but they show evidence of the existence of a thriving community of soft bodied animals (worms?) that made their living by ingesting fine sediment (and contained organic particles) and left a tell-tale trace of burrows in the sediment. Next time people get excited about an antique which may be a couple of hundred years old, take them into the garden and (in addition to showing them the modern plants) let them feast their eyes on rocks and fossils that formed over 300 million years ago! The story behind the wall is both very ancient and complex. Much can be learned by looking carefully at these ordinary blocks of stone.

Read more in the The Story Behind the 'Wall', by Grant M Young (1.5MB pdf), a geological photo guide to the rocks incorporated into the rebuilt wall.

Archaeology

Cup-markings on the glaciated dolerite surfaces on the west slopes of the Hill were pointed out by R Fulton in 1991. There are eleven cup-marks on dolerite surface; nine in the shape of a pentagon with two in the centre.

Mr Fulton later found some artefacts nearby. A collection, made before 1894, from a kitchen midden on Corstorphine Hill, included shells, bone implements, hammer stones, cup-marked stones, part of a quern and pottery fragments.

Graham and Anna Ritchie commented on the 'well-formed cup-markings on a glacial pavement of dolerite, rediscovered in 1991. Their location offers wide views to the west. They were probably part of a sacred landscape of Neolithic or Bronze Age (c3600-1500 BC), but their precise purpose remains tantalisingly unknown. At the end of the 19th century, quarrying uncovered remains of settlement debris: shells, bones, stone-tools and pottery.'

In 2013 the Edinburgh Archeological Field Society started some investigations on the Hill: they have made comprehensive records of the cup marks on the Hill in order to include them in a British research database on prehistoric rock art. They dug test pits at the north end of the Hill, looking for signs of prehistoric occupation as was found in the 19th century. Nothing has been found so far but they will continue next year. They have done a geophysical survey near the communication masts by the Tower, to investigate interesting landscape features such as banking and some tumbled stones. Again there were no conclusive results but they intend to continue next year (summary of a report by John Urquhart of EAFS0).

Orienteering

I expect you have noticed the posts with little diagonal red and silver markers on them on Corstorphine Hill and may have wondered what they are for. They are the Controls, twenty-one in total, for a Permanent Orienteering Course which has been set up on the Hill by the Edinburgh Southern Orienteering Club, in co-operation with the City of Edinburgh Council Natural Heritage Service.

Orienteering is about finding your way around using a specially prepared large-scale and very detailed map to navigate between the Controls. The easiest courses follow paths most of the way and the hardest ones take you across open land or through the woods and require careful map-reading and compass work. The terrain of Corstorphine Hill is ideally suited for this activity and orienteering events using temporary controls are held on the Hill about once a year.

Now, people can use the Permanent Course Map Pack at any time for training runs, practising technique or just adding extra interest to a walk. The courses on the Hill start from the Clermiston Road North car park and from Cairnmuir Road. Similar courses have also been set up at Cammo Estate and on Blackford Hill.

You can obtain the Map Packs for all three areas, price £2 each, from the Visitor Centres at Cammo and at the Hermitage of Braid (telephone 0131 529 2401) or from ESOC direct (address below, cheques payable to "ESOC").

Janet Clark ESOC,
13 N W Circus Place,
Edinburgh. EH3 6SX

Telephone 0131 225 7771
E-mail: JanetClr@aol.com
Web: www.esoc.org.uk

Our Publication

"Corstorphine Hill - The Finest Views the Eye can Feast On"
(Reprinted and Updated 2015)

by Alison MacKintosh ISBN 987 0 9557379 0 9 £5 + £1.50 post

This is the first book to draw together the disparate threads in the history of the hill, in the context of the people who have admired and lived on it. It will be welcomed by all those with an interest in the landscape and history of Edinburgh.

Available direct from:

Friends of Corstorphine Hill,
c/o Fred Davies,
5 Saughtonhall Place,
Edinburgh EH12 5RH

Tel: 0131 337 9232