Edinburgh’s Magical Mystery Tour

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I’d often see bus stops with the number 13 inscribed on them and wondered if they were being moved around the streets in order to disconcert me – could such an erratic array of bus stops truly be served by one (phantom?) bus on a single route?

The 13 takes a particularly beguiling route, trundling along a number of significant roads and arteries in the city not served by Lothian Buses. Run by Edinburgh Coach Lines, this service is heavily subsidised by the Edinburgh Council, presumably on the basis that it reaches places that other buses don’t.

It runs from Craigleith in the West to Lochend/ Craigentinny in the East and throughout lockdown (when avoiding public transport) I felt a great desire to travel on the 13 to see exactly how it made its way through the city.

Even looking at a route plan fails to reveal the intricacies of the path it takes. It snakes through the city in a most intriguing way, including the quieter streets of the New Town -- Drumsheugh Gardens, Drummond Place - that are usually bus-free.

Though few are aware of its existence, it is assuredly a useful route. It takes travellers to places that are otherwise difficult to reach. It’s the only bus that takes you to the Gallery of Modern Art on Belford Road. Other poorly served places include many popular residential streets like McDonald Road.

This is a fascinating part of the city where a dynamic new section is rapidly emerging. The welcome restoration of the ornately fronted Generating Station at 95 McDonald Road is part of a range of new construction projects, which include the transformation of the former Powderhall Waste Transfer Station site.

For so long a slightly odd hinterland, the true potential of this area is now evident. It’s an attractive and well-connected area, with great advantages such as the Water of Leith Walkway and easy access onto its network. It also houses one of Edinburgh’s most underrated green spaces - St. Marks Park with its delightful community woodland. Every time I visit the area some new piece of work has started including the demolition of the old Powderhall Bowling Pavilion.

The bus trundles through Leith on it’s way to the city centre, taking you past Easter Road Stadium and along Dalmeny Street where a visit to the Out the Blue Drill Hall, a great participative arts venue and community space, is a must. It has been a significant part of Leith’s renaissance in recent decades.

Near the eastern end of the route is Lochend, not a locale often visited by tourists but well worth a visit. Lochend Park and its loch is an overlooked spot, while the area around Meadowbank is also changing at pace. The little bus gives you a great picture of a varied and changing city, passing through many brownfield sites, which, having been neglected for decades, are now hubs of building activity.

As it ploughs westwards, it takes in some overlooked spots. Ravelston Dykes’ winding road gives access to two of Edinburgh’s most interesting walks. At Mary Erskine School, there is an attractive path that takes you between Murrayfield and Ravelston golf clubs up to Corstorphine Hill.

Though access from Ravelston Dykes is a bit hidden, you can also get to the peculiar but attractive Ravelston Woods, surely one of the most interesting and surprising places in Edinburgh with a really wild feeling and a diversity of plant life. There’s a wonderful sense of being in the middle of the countryside, not the centre of a capital city. Through these woods you can also reach Ravelston Park with its nice, sheltered feel.

At the western end the 13 terminates at Craigleith, a particularly significant site in the history of the city, as a source of so much of the stone found in the New Town. Today it constitutes an important interchange for the path network. From Craigleith you have easy access southwards through to Roseburn, the Water of Leith and Haymarket.

Heading North, a variety of possible destinations present, including Davidson’s Mains, Barnton, Granton, or swing back into the city centre via Goldenacre and Canonmills. Again, the 13, aiding your exploration of the city.

Basing a trip around the number 13 bus route is a great way to see some under-explored areas of the city. A day ticket (£2.70 adults, £1.50 children) would allow you to get off at a number of stops and explore the city away from its overworked tourist locations. Too often visitors to the city are given a very limited view of it, often failing to make it beyond the edges of the New Town and the Royal Mile.

The unassuming number 13 bus is a great alternative to the tourist buses on Waverley Bridge that charge 15 quid or more. This strange and mysterious bus gives us access to a different, more interesting Edinburgh than that found in guidebooks and on Instagram.

And yes, after all that, I’m still waiting for my first trip - on the mysterious 13!

Ravelston Woods & ‘The Wee Belter’

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Out of the Blue Drill Hall arts and community space has played a significant part in Leith’s renaissance in recent decades

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