Probably the most famous of Edinburgh's old graveyards, Greyfriars Kirkyard boasts views across the Old Town to Edinburgh Castle, as well as one of the most popular graves for visitors to seek out.
The graveyard is home to one of the city's best known residents, a dog called Greyfriars Bobby, whose legend which was immortalised in the 1960s when Disney made a film of Bobby's story. The popular tale tells how Bobby spent 14 years sleeping every night on the grave of his master, night watchman John Gray, earning him the reputation as man's most faithful friend. The reality of the situation is less romantic, but arguably more interesting! Join me for a tour to hear the alternative/real history of Greyfriars Bobby...
The graveyard also draws pilgrims seeking out inspirations for the Harry Potter stories, and within the graveyard you will find the grave of Professor McGonagall's namesake, Scotland's 'worst poet' William McGonagall, as well as the grave of 'Tom Riddle'... You'll also enjoy views to George Heriot's School, a building which is believed to have partially inspired the Hogwart's Academy from the Potter universe.
Other features of the area include the Covenanter's Prison, where scores of men, woman and children were held during the 'Killing Time' of the late seventeenth century, when religious martyrs protested against the new king Charles I, many of whom lost their lives along with many more who suffered for their beliefs. The tomb of George Mackenzie - known as 'Bluidy Mackenzie' for his persecution of these Covenanters - is reputed to be haunted by a lively poltergeist, and is accessible to the brave on some of the city's ghost tours...
The existing Greyfriars Kirk dates back to 1602, and burials have taken place here since shortly before that time, with some of those including James Craig, the famed designer of Edinburgh's New Town (who died a pauper), James Hutton, the 'father of modern geology', and John Porteous, who gave his name to the riots in 1736 which led to an overhaul of the system of public executions in the city.
You may also find the curious 'mort safes', devices designed to prevent body snatching from recent burials during the late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-centuries...
Take a tour with me to explore the city's graveyards (and more!) in greater detail...
Some of Edinburgh's most popular and peaceful areas are its historic graveyards, of which there are five in the city centre. They all have public access and offer some wonderful insights into the city's history, the people who have lived here and shaped Edinburgh as we see it today, as well as delivering some the best views and perspectives on the city itself.
On the side of Calton Hill, above Waverley Station, is the Old Calton Burial Ground. Originally relatively inaccessible from the Old Town, the route up to this gaveyard followed a set of steps which still exist today, leading from Calton Road right up the side of Calton Hill to Regent Road. The steps, called Jacob's Ladder, still offer some of the best angles from which to see St Andrew House, the site of the old Calton Jail, but no longer lead directly to the graveyard itself.
In the nineteenth century, the main thoroughfare of Waterloo Place was planned to connect the grand houses of Regent Terrace to Princes Street, and was run straight through the site of the old burial ground, requiring the transposition of several hundred bodies to the New Calton Burial Ground, a little further along the hillside.
One of the highlights of the Old Calton Burial Ground is the mausoleum of philosopher David Hume, which cost (by his own stipulation) no more than £100, and bearing just his name, date of birth, and date of death. A modest tomb to a great figure of the Scottish Enlightenment.
The most prominent structure in the graveyard is the Martyrs' Monument, a needle-like structure built to commemorate five men who dreamed of a democratic political system at the end of the eighteenth century. Fearing that what had happened in France, with the overthrow of the monarchy and the government, sometime earlier, the men were arrested and put on trial for sedition, and punished with transportation and 14 years labour in a penal colony in Australia. Only one of them survived long enough to return to his homeland after his sentence, and in the 1840s the monument was erected in their honour.
Most intriguing of all is the statue of former American president, Abraham Lincoln, in the graveyard. He stands atop a memorial to the Scottish soldiers who fought alongside him in the American Civil War, and it remains the only Civil War memorial outside of North America. The statue of Lincoln was the first statue of an American president to be built outside the US when it was erected in 1893.
Other burials in the graveyard include Sir John Steell, who produced several of the iconic statues in the city, and Robert Burn, who designed the nearby Nelson Monument on top of Calton Hill.
Explore the city's graveyards in more detail with my private Edinburgh walking tours!
It has long been known as 'Auld Reekie' - or 'Old Smokey' - the city of Edinburgh cloaked in the smoke from the wood and coal fires which provided heat and power to the households in the Old and New Towns. And in addition to my existing tour and tasting packages, the city can now once again be viewed as residents would have experienced it back in medieval times, with my new tours of the city exclusively for smokers!
Join me for a casual amble through the city, stopping regularly for a cigarette break or the opportunity to refill your pipe, and see the city through a haze of black smoke, the way it was built to be seen. And just as my whisky and beer tour and tasting packages finish with a tutored tasting experience at Jeffrey St. Whisky & Tobacco, so these smokers' routes will end with a few minutes exclusive use of the shop's inbuilt humidor.
Routes will minimise the amount of physical effort required, ensuring that visitors don't get too tired by the challenge of climbing stairs or walking up the long hills of the New Town, and each walk will be tailored to come past as many corner shops and off licences as possible, in case you need to stock up on filters, rolling tobacco or accessories like lighters and matches on the way.
As we walk, gain an insight into the impact of smoke on the city over the centuries, and understand how the city centre was (dis)coloured by the presence of coal fires, industrial premises, and high levels of consumption of cigarettes, pipes and cigars during the medieval times, and well into the more recent industrial ages too.
These tours will be offered for a limited time only, so get in touch to confirm pricing and availability, or with any questions you may have.
Smokers' Tours of Auld Reekie - showing you the the city as it should be seen, through a haze of black smoke!
I'm pleased and excited to announce a new working relationship with Snow Paw, a fantastic local company producing a great range of footwear featuring genuine Harris Tweed, a true symbol of Scottish culture and industry!
Established in 2010, Snow Paw originally sought to bring Scottish sheepskin shoes and boots to your feet, and now specialise in producing shoes featuring the iconic patterns of Harris Tweed, woven exclusively on the Scottish Outer Hebridean islands since the nineteenth century.
The orb trademark of Harris Tweed has become the symbol of a truly international brand, and Snow Paw feature the colours and styles of Harris Tweed in their range of contemporary footwear and accessories. From slippers to gloves, brogues to boots you can now wear this classic cloth in a whole new way!
I'm occasionally asked by visitors why I don't wear a kilt to lead my tours of Edinburgh. There are various reasons, but primary among them the fact that I'm not a Highland Scot, the people for whom the kilt and clan tartan is traditional dress. In an effort to present and promote an authentic image of contemporary Scotland, it would seem uncomfortably opportunistic for me to don a garb that is alien to me simply to satisfy the curiosity of tourists.
However, thanks to Snow Paw I am now proud to be able to display an authentic symbol of Scottish history and culture in my footwear, without compromising the values that I feel make up modern Scotland!
In January this year Snow Paw won the Best Product award for clothing at the 2017 Scotland's Trade Fair, promoting products that showcase the best of Scottish design and produce. Designed locally and crafted from quality materials - including, of course, the iconic Harris Tweed! - the men's brogue is the latest addition to their product line.
You can currently purchase Snow Paw shoes and boots from their online store or from the local stockists on Edinburgh's Royal Mile. Later this year it is hoped a Snow Paw shop will open in the city's Grassmarket area, offering visitors the chance to take home a pair of these exclusive, stylish and contemporary footwear as an extra special souvenir of their trip to Scotland!
Take a guided tour of Edinburgh with me to see these shoes in action, or check out the Snow Paw website for their full range of Harris Tweed footwear and accessories!
In these trying time of 'alternative facts' and 'fake news', works of non-fiction might be considered an increasingly precious and valuable resource, and so to celebrate World Book Day 2017 here are a few of fiction's less familiar cousins, all with origins in the city of Edinburgh...
In December 1768 the first instalment of the Encyclopaedia Britannica was published in Edinburgh, costing sixpence, and followed at weekly intervals with subsequent instalments until the full volume was completed in 1771. Divided into three hardback collections of letters A-B, C-L and M-Z, the encyclopaedia gathered essays on associated subjects, arranged by type rather than alphabetically.
The publication had been the project of two Edinburgh men, Colin Macfarquhar and Andrew Bell, who worked as booksellers, printers and engravers in the city, inspired by the boom in new ideas, discoveries and thinking taking place in Edinburgh at the time. This period, now known as the 'Scottish Enlightenment', gave the world many of its major philosophical and intellectual figures, including David Hume, Adam Smith and James Hutton.
The Encyclopaedia Britannica changed shape, format and style overs its lifetime, until ceasing to be published in a physical form in 2012 - by the twenty-first century the collected edition had expanded to around 40 million words, over 18,251 pages, a huge increase on the 2,391 of the original edition!
Prior to giving the world the King James Bible, James VI of Scotland also gave the world another popular book, itself with dubious claims to being 'non-fiction'. First printed in 1597, his Daemonologie became a standard text on the classification of demons, the signs and symbols of witchcraft, the techniques for tracking and identifying witches, and the legal bases on which they should be tried and executed.
James had been a keen believer in the evils of black magic, and had been heavily involved in several witch hunts and trials around the Edinburgh area, particularly the infamous Berwick witch trials of 1590. His book became a reliable compendium by which men, women, children and animals could be brought to account for their nefarious practices, and is thought to have been one of the primary sources drawn on by Shakespeare in writing Macbeth in 1606.
THE WEALTH OF NATIONS
A textbook of international trade, Adam Smith's vision of global capitalism, was first printed in 1776 and has the status of being the first work detailing principles of modern economics.
An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, to give it its full title, had been intended by Smith as just one volume in a series of works detailing the moral and scientific basis for a wider range of disciplines, including the sciences, law, astronomy and the arts. The writer himself considered his earlier volume, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, a superior work, but it is The Wealth of Nations which remains one of the most influential works of non-fiction around the world today.
Smith was born in Kirkcaldy, in Fife, to the north of Edinburgh, but lived and worked in Panmure House on the Canongate, on Edinburgh's Royal Mile. He is buried in the Canongate Kirkyard, and his grave has accumulated coins from many countries around the world, thrown there by visitors in tribute to Smith's global impact.
CHAMBERS ENGLISH DICTIONARY
Published in 1872, the Chambers's English Dictionary, as it was originally called, was the work of two brothers, William and Robert Chambers. William Chambers had been lord provost, or mayor, of Edinburgh, and was responsible for much of the redevelopment of the city during the 1860s and 1870s, under what were known as the 'improvements' of Edinburgh. The Chambers dictionary remains a standard version of the English dictionary, and for a long time was the official dictionary recognised globally by the organisation who promoted and distributed the word game Scrabble.
The volume become a must-have for lexicographers, crossword addicts and puzzlers due to its keen inclusion of archaic, less familiar and unusual words and phrases. Its definitions were also traditionally more characteristic than other dictionaries - the entry for éclair, for example, read: "a cake, long in shape but short in duration"!
William Chambers is commemorated in Edinburgh with a statue on the street named for him, Chambers Street in the Old Town.
Find out more about Edinburgh's literary influences with my private walking tours!
Just five minutes walk from Princes Street, the heart of Edinburgh's New Town, is an area seen by relatively few visitors to the city. In the valley to the north of the city's Georgian development is a former industrial town which today has been incorporated into the city itself, but still retains much of its picturesque origins as an outlying settlement.
Established along the banks of the Water of Leith, which for a long time formed an unofficial boundary, limiting the growth of Edinburgh at its northern edge, the Dean village was a major industrial centre which utilised the fast flowing water to provide power to its mills, grinding corn to produce flour. This flour was then imported into the city of Edinburgh, serving its bakeries, and further afield too.
Some of this heritage is still visible in the area today, where the river is studded with weirs built to create mill races, artificially fast passages of water which turned the mill wheels with greater efficiency. You may also see an old millstone, recovered from the water during a more recent clearance of the waterway.
The old mill cottages, which previously housed the workers in these mills, are today desirable residences for people seeking a quiet haven within easy reach of the city centre, and above the tree tops to the west of the village you may see the towers of one of the modern art galleries at Belford, accessible from the Water of Leith walkway along the banks of the river.
The Dean village - from the word 'dene', meaning valley - was an important outlying settlement for travellers into Edinburgh, growing up around the narrow stone bridge which provided one of the only convenient crossing points across the otherwise deep ravine. People travelling from such far-flung lands as the Kingdom of Fife would once have passed through the Dean village on their way into Edinburgh, boosting its profile as an important area en route to the city.
This all changed after 1827, when John Learmonth bought lands on an estate to the north of Edinburgh, with a view to developing them as part of the ongoing New Town expansion. Being on the far side of the ravine from the city, his land was not considered especially valuable, as there was no easy access from it into the city itself.
Learmonth commissioned the construction of a major bridge across this valley in order to make his land more attractive to developers. Civil engineer Thomas Telford undertook the design and construction of what became the Dean Bridge - his last project before his death - which was built over a period of around 2 years, and completed in 1831.
Suddenly Edinburgh was accessible without travellers having to descend into the valley where the Dean village stood. Learmonth's estates were developed, and today Learmonth Terrace forms part of the development around the Comely Bank area to the north west of the city.
Crucially, however, the impact on the Dean village was to by-pass it, and in so doing reduced its status and importance as an outlying town. In time the mills themselves closed in favour of more attractive sites closer to the port of Leith, where greater quantities of flour could be more easily exported from the docks. By the 1880s the Dean village was becoming a ghost town, until the building of the Well Court housing development sought to introduce a new population to this former industrial area.
Today the Dean village retains much of its late Victorian charm, with the river providing an oasis of calm just a short walk from the bustle of the city.
Explore the Dean village with my private Edinburgh walking tours! Contact me for more details...
As a medieval city, Edinburgh's Old Town is popular with people seeking a glimpse back in time, whilst the New Town still offers a visual sense of life during the Georgian age. But much of the city also owes a debt of influence to the Victorian era, as the city was significantly re-shaped, 'improved' and rebuilt over the nineteenth century - indeed much of the surviving Old Town is rather newer than might be expected, with large swathes of the Royal Mile area dating back only as far as the 1860s - 70s.
Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert, fell in love with the Scottish Highlands in the 1840s, and Edinburgh itself became a popular place for them to spend time away from London. Key developments were made to the city during their time here, and some parts of the city today only exist because of their royal intervention and patronage. So here's my brief introduction to Victoria (and Albert's) legacies to the city.
This large parkland, including Arthur's Seat, is also known as the King/Queen's Park and is crown property, owned by the British monarch but with open access for the public. The land at Holyrood had long been a relatively unattractive area, low-lying and so with a tendency to being marshy and damp, and it was under Prince Albert's supervision that the area was first drained, with a track run around the perimeter of Arthur's seat itself - Queen's Drive - to allow access through the park to pleasure carriages.
Part of this development of the landscape was to create two artificial ponds - St Margaret's Loch and Dunsapie Loch - adjacent to the track. And so the layout of this popular park area today is directly thanks to Albert's vision and effort.
Also in the Holyrood area is the geological exhibition Our Dynamic Earth, and around its eastern edges a decorative wall with gun loops and castellated turrets which predates the late 1990s structure above it. Historically this area was the city's brewing district, and Victoria was understandably not keen to open her curtains at Holyroodhouse every morning, and gaze directly onto this heavily industrial site.
The royal household paid for an artificial wall to be built around the brewery, creating the illusion of a property with a much higher status - a castle or palace, perhaps! It has also been suggested that during special visits by important guests, Victoria paid for a team of men to parade along the battlements dressed as soldiers, to further the illusion...
NATIONAL MUSEUM OF SCOTLAND
On Chambers Street, the largest and grandest of the country's museum spaces was designed by the architect William Playfair in the 1860s. In 1861, Prince Albert laid the foundation of the museum building, and shortly after succumbed to the illnesses which had dogged him through his short life. This being his last public act, Victoria always held the museum in special regard, and it may have helped keep Edinburgh in her mind as a place to spend time. Carvings of Victoria and Albert can be found on either side of the central doorway at the top of the steps at the front of the building, originally the museum's main entrance.
In the heart of the Old Town is a street named for Victoria herself, created during the improvements of the 1830s, when West Bow, the historic main road into Edinburgh, was extended to join the newly constructed George IV Bridge. The top end of this new development was named Victoria Street to mark the queen's ascension to the throne, and the buildings which still stand near the head of the street were named India Buildings, a reference to Victoria's title of Grand Empress of India.
PRINCE ALBERT MEMORIAL
Victoria famously spent the last forty years of her life in mourning for her dead husband, and one of the memorials commissioned to celebrate his life can be seen in Charlotte Square at the west end of the New Town. The statue was designed and created by local artist John Steell, and it was said that Victoria was so enamoured with the final statue that she knighted its sculptor on the spot. Certainly Steell became a favourite artist in Victoria's household, rising to the post of her official sculptor - although she was not uncritically appreciative of his work...
SCOTTISH ACADEMY BUILDING
At the top of the portico to the National Gallery building on Princes Street is a carving of Victoria in the role of Britannia, produced by Sir John Steell, her official sculptor. A popular legend goes that Victoria was not pleased by the statue when it was unveiled to her at Buckingham Palace, considering that it made her look larger than she already was, and accordingly instructed her staff to take the statue and "put it where no one can see it". That it was then brought to Edinburgh to be put atop this most prestigious and high-profile building in the centre of the city seem a cruel joke at Victoria's expense!
Probably the most significant influence that Victoria had on Edinburgh is hiding in plain sight, immediately at the front of the city's most popular attraction.
The gatehouse at Edinburgh Castle has the classic appearance of a medieval fortress, but is actually the least authentic (or at least newest) part of the whole castle complex! Dating to the 1870s, the gatehouse was built at Victoria's request to create a more impressive, imposing frontage to the castle, which previously had no such grandeur - historically the castle would not have wanted to create a welcoming effect on visitors, being designed in large part to keep invaders out!
The construction of the gatehouse coincided with the castle's rise in popularity as a visitor attraction, and correspondingly today creates exactly the right impression on the thousands who pass over its drawbridge each year...
Explore Victoria's Edinburgh in more detail with my private walking tours of the city!
Edinburgh Expert is run by Gareth Davies, an adopted native of Edinburgh with 18 years of experience living and working in the city.