For the grand reopening of The Real Mary King’s Close in May 2021, we have been working on a very special addition to our historic site.
One of The Close’s most charming rooms, the on-site cowshed, was once accessible from Pearson’s Close prior to the construction of the Royal Exchange. Now known as Edinburgh City Chambers, in 1753, it used four neighbouring closes as a building foundation. Pearson’s Close ran parallel to Mary King’s Close, which can still be visited today.
Today we refer to this space as the cowshed and is about the size of a tennis court. Up to 12 cows would have lived here back in its hay-day, and sewage would have poured directly out into the adjacent closes. These, in turn, drained into Edinburgh’s local lake, the Nor Loch.
We are working with Edinburgh-based LOVE Gorgie Farm to reintroduce real-life cows back into the cowshed. The local farm is supplying the staff to care for the livestock and providing the cattle. The cows will be taking one-week turns between living on The Close and staying outside on the city farm.
The cowshed will be equipped with speciality lighting mimicking sunshine and adjusting automatically depending on the time of day. Furthermore, the cows will benefit from a plentiful supply of fresh hay and rainwater collected in the City Chambers courtyard. Finally, fresh air ventilation will make sure that the cows are at peak comfort.
Guides will milk the cows live on their tours using traditional methods passed on through generations. Our on-site kitchen will use the fresh milk to produce the special edition Mr Chesney’s Cheese. We named the hearty cheddar after the last Mary King’s Close resident, Andrew Chesney, who moved away from The Close in 1903. The cheese and Mary King’s Milk will be available from the upstairs souvenir shop. In addition, we will also be adding special cheese tasting tours to our attraction’s cattle-log of experiences in the future.
Paul Nixon, General Manager, commented: “What a legen-dairy project to take part in. It’s a dream come moo to have real Scottish coos back in our beloved cowshed again. It’s such a captivating area on our site, and, finally, guests no longer have to imagine what it was like in the past. Visitors will travel right through time with us to the 17th century when this udder-ly amazing space would have been in use.”
Katie Scott, Guest Experience Manager, adds: “This is a special mooment in the history of The Real Mary King’s Close. We’re bringing an exciting 4D experience to the site – see, smell, taste and listen like past residents of Edinburgh’s closes. Just take care to not get into the way of Gardy-moo – it might come with some surprises.”
Final words from Julie O’Donnell, General Manager at LOVE Gorgie Farm, were: “We are really excited to be working with The Real Mary King’s Close. Our cows are looking forward to the new experience where there will be joint responsibility for caring between The Real Mary King’s Close team and Love Gorgie Farm staff. The cows will be experiencing a real home from home and our team and the team at The Close will make sure that they are well looked after.”