The History of Leith

March 30, 2005

Portobello and the Figgate Muir

Portobello now a favourite bathing quarter of the citizens, occupies a locality known for ages as the Figgate Muir, a once desolate expanse of muir-land, which perhaps was a portion of the forest of Drumsheugh, but which latterly was covered with whins and furze, bordered by a broad sandy beach, and extending from Magdalene Bridge on the south perhaps to where Sea- field now lies, on the north-west.
Through this waste flowed the Figgate Burn out of Duddingston Loch, a continuation of the Braid. Figgate is said to be a corruption of the Saxon word for a cow’s-ditch, and here the monks of Holyrood were wont to pasture their cattle
Traces of early inhabitants were found here in 1821, when three stone coffins were discovered under a tumulus of sand, midway between Porto hello and Craigantinnie. These were rudely put together, and each contained a human skeleton. “The bones were quite entire,” says the Weekly Journal for that year, “and from their position it would appear that the bodies had been buried with their legs across, At the head of each was deposited a number of flints, from which it is conjectured the inhumation had taken place before the use of metal in this country; and, what is very remarkable, the roots of some shrubs had penetrated the coffins and skulls of the skeletons, about which and the ribs they had curiously twisted themselves. The cavities of the skeletons indeed were quite filled with vegetable matter.”
It was on the Figgate Muir that, during the War of Independence, Sir William Wallace in 1296 mustered his 200 patriots to join Robert Lauder and Crystal Seton at Musselburgh for the pursuit of the traitor Earl of Dunbar, whom they fought at Inverwick, afterwards taking his castle at Dunbar.

Source-Old and New Edinburgh

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