A Caledonian adventure
Jacob’s Ladder in Edinburgh is a steep pedestrian pathway carved into the volcanic rock of the iconic Calton Hill in the city centre. Consisting of 140 steps, the route first appeared on a map in 1784 although it is thought to have existed long before then. Originally used as a procession route for funerals, Jacob’s Ladder is a reference to the stairway to heaven in the Bible. Today the route – which connects Old and New Town – is regularly used by residents and visitors as they explore the city and its history.
As part of a £150,000 regeneration project funded by the New Waverley Community Fund, City of Edinburgh Council and Edinburgh World Heritage, the route is now illuminated for the first time in its long history.
Harmony with heritage
Illuminating a 235-year old structure is not easy: modern lighting requirements must be weighed against protecting the site from intrusive installation. It is a delicate balance – one that requires an experienced team to negotiate. City of Edinburgh Council and its regeneration partner, P1 Solutions Limited, approached our product special projects team in July 2016 to consult on plans to install a new lighting scheme along Jacob’s Ladder.
In recent years the site had become overgrown with vegetation and was a target for vandals, leaving it in desperate need of renovation. Our brief for the project was to rejuvenate the pathway by replacing the dilapidated railings with a modern illuminated handrail; our Alinea handrail was specified to improve personal safety, eliminate any dark corners and encourage more pedestrians to use the route at night.
With no blueprints or architectural drawings available, our team began by commissioning a 3D-mapping specialist to provide a detailed site scan, including the attachment points of the old railings and the various mix of stonework which makes up Jacob’s Ladder.
The data was analysed and used to create comprehensive lighting and 3D mechanical designs of the walkway which allowed all stakeholders - including conservationists - to assess the plans and ensure they aligned with the new vision for the site.
To meet customer expectations for the final look, our engineering team designed and manufactured adjustable knuckles to allow some sections of handrail to be installed with variability of distances and heights from the supporting wall. This flexibility ensured we were able to achieve the desired aesthetic across the entire walkway.
During installation, it also became clear there were parts of Jacob’s Ladder where the masonry and mortar were unsuitable to house the new handrail fittings. A local stonemason was then brought in to handle the repairs which included repointing, replacing broken sections and remoulding areas close to the new LED handrails. By working closely with all partners, we were able to ensure the surfaces were prepared properly and in a way that allowed the new lighting system to be correctly attached to the wall.
Stairway to heaven
In total, more than 120 metres of our Alinea handrail was used to illuminate Jacob’s Ladder. Our lighting has now helped celebrate the cultural importance of one of the oldest parts of Edinburgh and transformed Jacob’s Ladder from an underused pathway, to a site tourists and visitors can enjoy safely and all year round.
The restoration of this historic pedestrian route has made it a much more attractive and accessible path for those enjoying the city by foot. I would encourage anyone able to manage the 140 stairs to go and check out the spectacular views and hidden stories from the past that make this such a great short cut down to the Old Town from Regent Road.