The capital of Scotland is a city filled with history and architecture, so much of which has been built from sandstone.

But where did this sandstone come from and what is the story behind the icon stonework of Edinburgh?

Located just two miles from the centre of Edinburgh lies what was Craigleith Quarry. Open and operating from 1615 to 1942, Craigleith was active for over 300 years. An incredibly amount of time in comparison to so many other quarries in Scotland. During the highest levels of quarry output, Craigleith was the largest producer of sandstone for Edinburgh.

The sandstone that came out of the quarry was as special as the quarry itself. The 350 million year old formed sandstone that cam from Craigleith was famous for being a tough stone to quarry, cut and shape. Compared to the softer blonde sandstones being produced for Glasgow buildings, this tougher sandstone was highly sought after and its hard wearing properties can be seen in the little weathered buildings that are made from Craigleith Sandstone across Edinburgh. Compare that to the heavily weathered sandstone of blond stone building construction in Glasgow and you can understand why Craigleith Sandstone was so tough.

While Aberdeen is known as the Granite City thanks to its grey granite building construction and Glasgow is home to endless red and blonde sandstone buildings. Edinburgh and its buildings are filled with the grey/brown tones of the Craigleith Sandstone.

Buildings in Edinburgh that use Craigleith Sandstone

The most famous building to use Craigleith Sandstone is actually Edinburgh Castle itself. The stone for the castle was quarried in 1619, only a few years after the quarry had first opened. Sections of Holyrood Palace are also known to have used Craigleith sandstone for its construction. As have the City Chambers, the City Observatory, Parliament Square and the Dean Bridge.

While it may have been one of the oldest mines in Scotland, like so many before it, Craigleith eventually shut down. One of its last stone uses however was Leith Docks. During World War 2, production ground to a halt and the site became a dumping ground that was gradually filled in over time.

In the early 90s, the Quarry (or what was left of it) was turned into Shopping Retail Park and while it may now look like so many other shopping centres across the Central Belt of Scotland, there is still a large section of exposed sedimentary rock exposed behind the supermarket that acts as a reminder of this quarry and its historical importance to the buildings of Edinburgh.