AS a proud Glaswegian, the thing I hate most about Edinburgh is the chocolate box charm. It’s Disneyland minus the rollercoasters.

Take that preening pile of bricks the locals call a castle. Okay, I admit it’s a beaut. But did it have to be so cocky and conspicuous? Then there’s that notoriously uppity footpath that refuses to be called anything other than the Royal Mile. (A name which should only be uttered in a Hyacinth Bucket tone of voice.) Meanwhile gritty old Glesga has to make do with Dickensian dead ends and Artful Dodger alleyways.

Worse still, Edinburgh isn’t content to be postcard pretty. It continually demands more majesty, more scenic splendour. And gets it, too.

For Dean Village used to be an independent village (hence its name) on the city’s outskirts. Eventually, and perhaps inevitably, this tranquil backwater became yet another of Edinburgh’s many marvels. Even so, it still retains its distinctive and idiosyncratic charm. And being only a five minute stroll from Princes Street, it’s definitely worth a visit.

Historical highlights

THE word dene means deep valley, and the village is indeed burrowed down low, situated in a dip of land northwest of Edinburgh city centre overlooking the Water of Leith. For 800 years it was a hub of activity. (As much as a village can be a hub of activity. Perhaps a hubette would be more precise.) As many as eight mills fed off the fast flowing river at one time. The area is now largely residential, though the remains of past industry are still visible. Eagle-eyed amblers should be able to spot mill stones and carved stone plaques designed in the shape of baked bread and pies.

The area was its own little cut-off kingdom until 1826, when John Learmonth, a future Lord Provost of Edinburgh, bought the Dean Estate from the Nisbets of Dean. It was purchased so a route could be forged from one side of the valley to the other. For this purpose, Thomas Telford was hired to design a bridge, which opened in 1833.

Besides helping develop trade, the bridge took on another grizzly function. In the 19th century it was popular with suicides, who realised that its dizzying height would ensure a plunge to the death. To avert future tragedies, the bridge’s parapet was raised in 1912. The change in stonework remains visible. Crime scribe Ian Rankin has also made use of its sinister side. In his novel Strip Jack, a woman is found dead beneath the arches.

Things to do

A stroll across Dean Bridge is a must, giving a bird’s eye view of the Village. The bridge may have been built for trade, but nonetheless, it adds a dramatic sense of perspective to the location, with four arches rising one hundred and six feet above the river. It was one of Thomas Telford’s final commissions, completed when he was seventy three; though clearly the Colossus of Roads, as he was known, hadn’t lost his sense of theatre.

The Water of Leith walkway cuts through Dean Village, and makes for a satisfyingly scenic stroll. Nearby is the Doric temple of St. Bernard’s Well, designed by landscape painter Alexander Nasmyth, who was inspired by the Temple of Vesta in Tivoli. At the centre of the open pillared dome stands a marble statue of Hygieia, Goddess of Health. (No doubt she’s the wash ‘n dry deity who inspired the current government to lecture us on properly scrubbing our hands after a visit to the toilet.)

To the west is St. George’s Well. Erected in 1810, it stands over another reputed healing spring.

Nearby, too, is the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art Two (formerly known as the Dean Gallery). It contains a large collection of Dada and Surrealist art and literature. In other words: plenty of weird, plenty of wacky, plenty of wonderful.

A small gate on the rear east side of the gallery’s car park leads to Dean Cemetery, which also contains artwork. Of a sort. (If you’re into gothic Victoriana.) It was here that many of the great and the good (or maybe just the filthy rich) of the Victorian era were buried. They say you can’t take your money with you. But you can definitely have it buried alongside you, in the shape of a fabulously decorative tombstone. Plenty of those are on display in Dean Cemetery, proving that even in death there is drama and spectacle and show-offery galore.

Where to eat

I’m a sucker for overt advertising, so when an eatery is named Café Braw, I find myself powerless to avoid its charms. This dinky Belford Road scoffing station boasts super-friendly staff, porridge with pizazz and an excellent selection of fresh salads and scones.

Every now and then I’m in the mood for cake. (Every now and then being when ever I’m awake.) There can be few better places to enjoy such a sugar infusion than Stockbridge Kitchen. The baked goods are works of art; almost too pretty to polish off… though not quite. There’s also soup, which is yummy, according to friends who have tried it. Though as it’s not cake (cake!) I’ve always refused to go anywhere near it, on a matter of principle.

The Hula Juice Bar & Café in nearby Fountainbridge provides a range of fill-you-to-the-brim breakfasts. They’re the healthy kind, though I’ve never let that put me off. Each dish is delish, with plenty of vegan options, and the décor is zingy and hip.

Where to shop

Being largely residential, Dean Village isn’t what you’d call a shopper’s paradise. Though luckily Princes Street is just a canter with your credit card away. For something more unusual, souvenirs can be bought at the nearby Royal Botanic Garden. If you’re looking for cards and small gifts, ‘An Independent Zebra’ in Raeburn Place, Stockbridge, is ideal. Also in Stockbridge is Galerie Mirages, where you can pick up jewellery and ornaments of a mostly Indian vintage. Perfect for satisfying your inner hipster.

Where to stay

Functional: Travelodge Edinburgh Central Princes Street, on Meuse Lane. Not particularly pretty but an ideal location for Waverley Station and Dean Village. Family rooms from £78.00.

Fancy-schmancy: The InterContinental Edinburgh The George, on George Street. The décor is a splendiferous concoction of oak, marble and leather, just like you’ll find at home. (The Queen’s home. Not mine.) There’s a gym, too, where the running machines are also made of oak, marble and leather. (Just kidding.) Rooms from £140.00

Cutesy-wutesy: The St. Valery is a family run guest house in a Victorian townhouse in Coates Gardens. Hearty breakfasts with a vegan option. Rooms from £36.00.

What to do nearby

Since this is Edinburgh, there’s lots on offer. That irritating castle I mentioned earlier has excellent views of the city. As does the Scott Monument. Though being terrified of heights, I’ve never managed to clamber more than three steps up the Monument before starting to shriek like Janet Leigh clutching a bottle of Head & Shoulders.

And don’t forget to grab the chance to meet Mickey Mouse. (Whoops. Sorry. That’s me confusing Edinburgh with Disneyland again.)