Swanston, Edinburgh

Swanston is an area of Edinburgh, Scotland at the base of Caerketton Hill. In 2001 it had a population of only 75 residents.

It is a small village lying to the south of the larger suburban area of Fairmilehead, on the south side of the Edinburgh City Bypass off Oxgangs Road, and five miles from the city centre. The name is also used to encompass some of the more modern housing on the approach road to the village, on the north side of the bypass. Swanston lies on the lower northern slopes of the Pentland Hills, which are accessible from the village.

Swanston cottages

The main old village is unique in Edinburgh (and arguably Scotland) being a highly picturesque group of whitewashed thatched cottages set informally around a little stream with traffic being encouraged to stop outwith the village. The village is therefore set beyond a dead-end in terms of adopted roads but a historic route continues through the village and up into the Pentland Hills. The thatched houses were all Council houses until the 1970s but due to their idyllic nature and siting all were quickly bought up when the Right to Buy legislation was then introduced.

The Hillend dry ski slope is nearby and can be seen from much of the area. Swanston also houses two golf courses in the area: Lothianburn Golf Course and Swanston Golf Course. Both are placed on and around the Pentland Hills.

Swanston Cottage

The area (together with Comiston) was the source of Edinburgh's water supply from very early times. Swanston Cottage was built in 1761 by the Town Council, in connection with the waterworks. It was raised in height to two storeys in 1820. In 1790 the original hollowed out tree trunk pipes, which served the city, were replaced with iron pipes. The early cisterns serving the city still exist in the fields to the east of the village. Swanston Water House (1761) lies between Swanston Farm and Swanston Cottage.


The name "Swanston" is said to derive from Old Norse Sveins tún, meaning 'Sveinn's enclosure/farm'. It first appears in a document in 1214, referring to Sveinn's farm within the Barony of Redhall.[1] There is some evidence that the farming estate dates back to the 9th century.

The name Swanston appears in 14th century charters granted in the reign of David II. It is listed as part of land owned by the Knights Templar. This same connection reappears in a document in the reign of James VI, when it is entitled Swain'ston.[2] Both Sven and Swain are early words for a person who cares for animals (e.g. pigswain).

The name of Caerketton Hill seems to be from Cumbric carn 'cairn' and the personal name Catell, thus meaning 'cairn of Catell'. It may alternatively be from caer, meaning 'fortification of Catell. Both a prehistoric fort and cairn surmount the hill.[3]


The area was traditionally seen as two farm estates: Easter Swanston owned by the Ross family; and Wester Swanston owned by the Foulis family. The two were united in 1749 when the Trotters of Mortonhall (who had bought Wester Swanston in 1670) also acquired Easter Swanston. The Trotter family planted the T-Wood to the south of the village. This is actually cruciform in plan, but due to local topography appears as a T (for Trotter) from the four compass points. It memorialises a family member lost in battle.[4]

Robert Louis Stevenson spent several summers here in the 1870s, as a result of his father taking out a lease for Swanston Cottage (on a spur road to the NW of the village) from 1867 to 1880. Stevenson set his novel St. Ives in this village, describing the house in detail. It is also alleged that Stevenson wrote Treasure Island under a tree within metres of his cottage.[5] However, since his authorship of the novel post-dates his final year in Swanston, this is not possible. Stevenson's nanny "Cummy" (Alison Cunnington[6]) lived in the small house on the left hand side of the lane leading to Swanston Cottage, from 1880 to 1893 (having lived in the Cottage with them whilst they lived here).


  1. History of Swanston and its origins
  2. Swanston Conservation Area Character Appraisal -City of Edinburgh Council- ISBN 1 85191 061 1
  3. Bethany Fox, 'The P-Celtic Place-Names of North-East England and South-East Scotland', The Heroic Age, 10 (2007), http://www.heroicage.org/issues/10/fox.html (appendix at http://www.heroicage.org/issues/10/fox-appendix.html).
  4. Swanston Conservation Area Character Appraisal -City of Edinburgh Council- ISBN 1 85191 061 1
  5. Robert Louis Stevenson's Cottage (scroll to bottom of the page)
  6. http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSsr=1&GScid=2326248&GRid=87291808&

Coordinates: 55°54′0.64″N 3°12′31.18″W / 55.9001778°N 3.2086611°W / 55.9001778; -3.2086611

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