Well, I never. Have you heard the one about the 12th century caveman?

St Bernard’s Well is found on the Leith Walkway between Dean Village and Stockbridge.

Legend has it that the spring was first discovered by St Bernard of Clairvaux, founder of the Cistercian order in the 12th century. While living in a nearby cave and feeling quite unwell he was attracted to the spring by birds and after some days of drinking the water was restored to health.

Traditionally the mineral springs at are believed to have been discovered by three boys from Heriot’s Hospital about 1760.

In 1764 the water was very popular although likened to tasting like the “washings of foul gunbarrels”.

In 1788 Lord Gardenstone was so impressed by the well’s effects that he commissioned the circular “Roman” Temple that still covers the wellhouse.


The architect was Alexander Naismyth whose design was based on Sybils’s Temple at Tivoli, with ten columns in a circle supporting a lead dome surrounding a marble statue of Hygieia, Goddess of Health.

Steps lead down to a small, locked wooden door in the base of the temple and an inscription in the stonework.


Through the door lies the pump room which was lavishly refurbished about 1885 so that Victorian’s could ‘take the waters’ in a ‘celestial vault’.


On top of the pump stands a marble urn decorated with health related Roman scenes. There’s also an elaborate Victorian stove, if anyone fancied a cuppa something hotter.


The ceiling of the vault is a mosaic blue dome decorated with stars and an ornate frieze.

In the centre, directly above the pump and urn, is a radiant sun, concealed behind it’s rays are holes to allow ventilation.


The water was claimed to have medicinal properties ranging from being a general tonic to being a cure for arthritis and rheumatics.

The well continued to be popular until it closed about 1940.


Following the death of the last private owner, William Nelson the publisher, his trustees offered the well to Edinburgh Town Council as a gift.


St Bernard’s Well is now cared for by the Water of Leith Conservation Trust.


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