As part of my job I am very often heading along the A89 past Dechmont and I always notice the old Bangour Village Hospital and see several cars parked in the small car park in front of the entrance. After several drive-bys I came to the conclusion that it must be a dog walker’s destination.
So one day when passing with some time to spare I thought I’d check it out. I parked my car with the others and headed past the entrance gateway expecting some sort of security personnel to come and stop me at any moment. No-one did although I did feel a little under dressed without a pooch in tow.
It transpires that unless you believe the place is haunted, which many do, it is the perfect place for a mid afternoon stroll, albeit a bit of an alternative stroll. Built as the Edinburgh district asylum and opened in 1906, today it is a little like walking through a ghost town as it was designed on the colony system, creating a wholly self contained village with its own farm, bakery, workshops, recreational hall, church, water supply, drainage and even its own railway. There is something a bit eerie about walking through a completely abandoned and deserted village. This design idea was taken from the Alt Scherbitz Asylum in Germany, the premise being the patients would be living in a community not just a hospital – fitting then that when it closed it was because of the concept of care in the community being the best way to care for psychiatric patients.
The hospital was requisitioned by the government War Office during both wars when it became The Edinburgh War Hospital and The Scottish Emergency Medical Hospital, reverting back to a psychiatric hospital between and after the wars. It was also the local maternity hospital for a while – maybe some of you were born there?
The site extends to some 220 acres and many of the buildings are listed. The ‘villas’ were set within landscaped grounds, and built in a 17th century Scottish Renaissance style, so they are really rather attractive to look at. It is tempting to peek inside them but they are of course boarded up now – too many vandals having attacked them in the past. As you wander this ghost town and its grounds you will come across the Edwardian Baroque hall and a Romanesque style church, designed by HO Tarbolton and built between 1924 and 1930. They are buildings worth a look at in their own right if you are even a little interested in architecture.
The site has only been completely abandoned since 2004 and since then it has been identified by successive local plans as a redevelopment opportunity largely focussed on the residential conversion of the existing buildings. I guess that is what will eventually happen and perhaps it is only right and proper but part of me thinks what a shame to lose this interesting and historic unusual walking location.
A year after it closed, it was the main filming location for ‘The Jacket’ starring Keira Knightley and Adrien Brody and produced by George Clooney. Shame I missed him! However there have been no more films, just a location for police riot training.
You can walk around the old hospital in any direction and wander at will but there is a real feeling that you should follow the village route – you enter the site and walk a path with houses either side. Straight ahead is what was the shop and café and the urge is to stop for refreshment. If you go left there is a long walk round several wards or villas and to the right it is similar walk but in a circuit, bringing you back to the start.
Then of course there are the green areas and all the paths and winding lanes; so many that you could never hope to fully explore the place. It is really quite magical with the overgrown bowling green now sprouting a myriad wild flowers and lampposts covered in moss, the original road lost to the greenery. What’s more, despite being set just off a busy main road and pretty close to the M8, when you are in the middle of this strange place, it is eerily silent.
Perhaps I have been slow to realise that Bangour had all this walking potential, but I am happy to have found somewhere that encompasses several things – a place to stop and walk when I am and about for work; a really intriguing site with history and architecture and of course somewhere with a choice of walking routes all there for the exploring. Who said you needed a dog to go for a brisk and energising walk?
Published in Konect August 2015
Author: Karen Murray