Swanston is a tiny hamlet nestling amid woods on the northern slopes of the Pentland Hills overlooking Edinburgh. Head south and you are in the hills themselves. Head north and within a few hundred yards you cross the Edinburgh City Bypass and are into Edinburgh's residential suburbs.
Today's Swanston is therefore a remarkable oasis: part of Edinbirgh but not quite in it. It is also a remarkably fragile place made up only of private homes that could easily be overrun by those wishing to visit. To help preserve it, visitors' cars must be parked in the car park where the road into the village takes a sharp left hand turn. A path through woods that are full of wild garlic in Spring leads you up into the village itself.
Swanston started life in 1214. A farmer by the name of Svienn took a lease to work the land in this area and the small community which grew up became known as Sveinn'ston. Over the years that became Swanston.
The Swanston you see today had its origins in the early 1700s. The farmhouse, still the village's most striking building, began its development into what looks today almost like a much earlier tower house. It was accompanied by a group of ten thatched cottages and a school house.
The Old School House remains, now a private home. The ten thatched cottages were largely derelict by the time electricity arrived in Swanston in 1949. In 1964 Edinburgh City Council restored them, complete with thatch from River Tay reeds, though as seven slightly larger cottages within the outer walls of the original buildings. It is these beautifully kept thatched cottages which today give Swanston its unique character and much of its attraction.
In 1761 a much earlier City Council started to take an interest in securing a supply of clean water for the city. They therefore built a waterworks to take advantage of several springs in the area and piped the water north into the city. They also built the nearby Swanston Cottage. This was home to Robert Louis Stevenson from 1867 to 1880, who took a remarkably jaundiced view of the reasons for it being built:
Long ago this sheltered field was purchased by the Edinbugh Magistrates for the sake of the springs that rise or gather there. After they had built their water house and layed their pipes, it occurred to them that the place was suitable for junketting. Once entertained, with jovial Magistrates and public funds, the idea led speedily to accomplishment: and Edinburgh could soon boast of a municipal pleasure house. The Dell was turned into a garden; and on the knoll that shelters it from the rain and the sea winds, they built a cottage looking to the hills. You can read the full text his comments about Swanston in Edinburgh: Picturesque Notes on Undiscovered Scotland here.
In the mid 1800s a large farm steading was added to the lower end of the village, now the most notable building when seen from the rest of Edinburgh. This has recently been coverted into a very attractive set of offices, plus 6 holiday cottages surrounding a courtyard within the steading.
The most recent addition to Swanston Village itself is an open square of tiny farm workers' cottages built in about 1900. These are leased out on long lets by the estate that still manages the farm.
The land between Swanston and the Edinburgh bypass continues to be farmed by the estate. But the areas immediately uphill of Swanston have been given over to golf, with both the Swanston Golf Club and the Lothianburn Golf Club being based here, while immediately to the east are the dry ski slopes of the Midlothian Ski Centre. And in the background to the village is the looming presence of the Pentland Hills, part of the Pentland Hills Regional Park.