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Old Observatory House

Edinburgh

An iconic eighteenth century Gothic style building at the top of Calton Hill offering spacious city centre holiday accommodation for eight.

 
  • Property
  • Facilities
  • History
  • Local Attractions

Before the light-pollution of an expanding city made it impractical, Edinburgh's Calton Hill was a perfect vantage point from which to gaze at the night sky. Fanned by the intellectual flames of the Enlightenment, the city granted permission to Thomas Short, an Edinburgh-born optician, to found an observatory on top of the volcanic hill in 1776.

The accommodation sleeps 8 and ranges over three floors, consisting of a sitting room, circular dining room and fully equipped kitchen on the ground floor. Stairs lead down to the garden level where there is a twin bedroom, a circular double bedroom, a shower room and a utility area. On the top floor there is a further double bedroom, a twin bedroom, a bathroom and a stylish drawing room in the circular domed observatory. All the rooms command panoramic views across Edinburgh, Fife and the Lothians.

PS: A refundable damages deposit of £150 is collected for every booking at Old Observatory House, due the property's popularity for dinner parties and the subsequent breakages that have occured. 

Accessibility & Parking
There are steps leading up to the front door and a staircase leads to the first floor with a further stair providing access to the garden level rooms.
Old Observatory House is located at the top of Calton Hill. Vehicle access is available to unload/load luggage or drop people off during your stay, but cars must park overnight at the bottom of the hill. We provide a parking permit for one car to be left at the Royal High School building. All other vehicles must use public parking spaces, either roadside or the nearby NCP facility.

Dog Allowed - Yes 

Heating
Electric central heating 

Facilities
All Vivat Trust properties have a TV, DVD player and CD player plus fully equipped kitchens with oven & hob, fridge/freezer, dishwasher, microwave and washing machine. In addition Old Observatory House provides the following facilities.

Tumble dryer
Bath with shower attachment & separate shower room
Cot and highchair available for infant
Garden

Before the light-pollution of an expanding city made it impractical, Edinburgh's Calton Hill was a perfect vantage point from which to gaze at the night sky. Fanned by the intellectual flames of the Enlightenment, the city granted permission to Thomas Short - an Edinburgh-born optician/astronomer - to found an observatory on top of the volcanic hill in 1776.

With a telescope made by his brother James (reputedly once belonging to the King of Denmark), Short commissioned James Craig - the architect of Edinburgh's New Town plan - to design the building. It is understood that Robert Adam, Scotland's greatest architect sketched the idea of a romantic picturesque castle occupying the site of the present walled enclosure.  Only the gothic tower facing Princes Street was completed when Short moved in. The original scheme had included a separate octagonal observatory on the site of the present classical city observatory. Short's daughter was to continue the family tradition, setting up what is today the Camera Obscura on Castle Hill at the head of the Royal Mile. This gothic castle tower dates from a period when Calton Hill was perceived as a picturesque outcrop before it became adopted as the Acropolis of the Athens of the North.

In 1788 the Council took control of the project after Small's death and the 'New Observatory' was opened in Observatory House. A fascinating feature on the third floor is the domed room where the rails still exist, embedded in the wall which enabled the dome to rotate. In the late 1780's Robert Baker painted the world's first 360 degree panorama from the house a testament to, if one is needed for the spectacular views from every window.  In 1811 the Astronomical Society was formed and they took over the lease. They replaced Short's octagonal observatory with the present design by William Playfair in 1818. Playfair's uncle was their president and is commemorated in the monument on the southeast corner of the enclosure. The present enclosure wall was also constructed at the same time with its classical gateways. The Astronomical Society adapted Old Observatory House as a popular observatory and Camera Obscura.

Craig's original tower was initially extended by a wing to the east now housing the kitchen. A single story wing was added to the north in the late 18th century to accommodate the keeper of the observatories, the present twin room. By the mid 19th century the whole of Old Observatory House had become the residence of the Assistant Astronomer. In 1883 Charles Piaxzzi Smyth, the Astronomer Royal instigated the enlargement of the house including creating a new entrance and a large new reception room, the sitting room with a bedroom above. A rugged Scots Baronial style was chosen to enhance the dramatic site and a style deemed suitable for the residence of the Astronomer Royal. Smyth was also responsible for the time ball on Nelsons Monument which drops at one o'clock everyday so that ship's chronometers can be set accurately. In 1896 the observatory was moved to its present home on the Braid Hills to escape the city smog. The compound was returned to the city council who renamed it the City Observatory.

Old Observatory House became part of the councils wide portfolio of housing eventually being used briefly as a rather dramatic council house but has been unoccupied for nearly 30 years due to safety concerns. In 2009 the City of Edinburgh Council undertook a comprehensive set of works to secure the building. Following those works, the Vivat Trust approached the Council with a view to restoring the interior and letting out the property as holiday accommodation. 

The Vivat Trust is a national Building Preservation Trust dedicated to rescuing neglected and dilapidated listed historic buildings of architectural, industrial and historical interest. Established in 1981, Vivat was the first trust to be allowed to acquire leasehold properties by The Charity Commissioners. As a result, Vivat is able to repair, conserve and adapt historic buildings whose owners cannot or do not wish to grant a freehold - as with Old Observatory House. 

As Vivat has no endowment, repair and renovation funds are raised on a project by project basis. Once the buildings have been repaired and improved they must be self-financing which is one of the reasons why all of Vivat's properties are currently let out as distinctive and luxurious holiday accommodation. Funding for the internal restoration of Old Observatory House had been very difficult to find and so the project was undertaken by a skeleton team of professionals plus a band of volunteer decorators.

Location: Central Edinburgh, on Calton Hill 

Interesting Towns: Edinburgh, Linlithgow, the Scottish Border towns 

Historic Attractions: Edinburgh Castle, Trinity House Maritime Museum, Linlithgow Palace, Edinburgh New Town, Edinburgh Old Town, Forth Road Bridge, Scottish Parliament, The Discovery Dome, St Giles Cathedral, Queensferry, The Palace of Holyroodhouse and The Queen's Gallery. The Edinburgh Pass is a city sightseeing card providing entry to over 30 attractions and ideal for first time visitors to Edinburgh. 

Activities: various art galleries in Edinburgh, golf at St. Andrews and Braid Hills Approach, walking on Blackford Hill, Arthur's Seat, the Pentland Hills and along the Water of Leith

Local Events:
April        Beltane Fire Festival
June        Royal Highland Show 
August    Edinburgh Book Festival (10th - 26th) & Edinburgh Festival (9th Aug - 1st Sep)
December Edinburgh New Year Street Festival

 
 
 

  
 
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