EDINBURGH EXPERT WALKING TOURS - BLOG
EDINBURGH EXPERT WALKING TOURS - BLOG
On 19 August 1561, Mary, Queen of Scots, stepped ashore from the boat that had brought her from France. She was arriving into the port of Leith, on Scotland's eastern coast, today one of the suburbs of Edinburgh. It was nine months since the death of her husband, King Francis II of France, and Mary was still just 18 years old.
Mary had been in France since the age of five, and was now returning to Scotland as its queen for the first time as an adult. During her childhood the country had been governed by a succession of men who had ruled as regents in her place, but now she was of an age to take responsibility for her country, and she was returning home under a veil of grief for both her dead husband and her mother who had died the previous summer.
Arriving back in Edinburgh as a virtual stranger - there are still many who believe she didn't even have a grasp of the language, having been raised speaking French at court in France - Mary must have been acutely aware of the challenges she faced as a young woman governing a country that was in the midst of social and religious upheaval. Mary was a devout Catholic, but in 1560 Scotland had undergone its religious Reformation, shifting to a Protestant church and making the practice of Catholic mass as criminal offence.
Mary had brought with her a substantial retinue of court staff, including four ladies-in-waiting who had been raised with her as girls from childhood. These women, Mary Seaton, Mary Beaton, Mary Carmichael and Mary Hamilton - the Four Marys, as they are known - were probably the closest link the queen had to her own country, and remained an important part of her throughout her reign. Mary had also brought a significant number of servants, courtiers, cooks, musicians, dressmakers, and other figures who had populated her life in France, and she established them in the settlement just outside Craigmillar Castle, near the modern Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. There were so many of them that the are became known - as it still is today - as Little France.
Mary's journey to Leith had taken less time than she had anticipated, and she was not as prepared for this momentous arrival as she would have liked to have been. Moreover, the coast was shrouded in haar, the thick see mist that Edinburghers are familiar with, and so Mary's first glimpse of her homeland would have been murky and obscured.
In the first week of September 1561, a grand homecoming parade was held to celebrate Mary's return, and as she processed along the length of the Royal Mile - travelling down from the castle to the palace - Mary was greeted by thousands of people who had turned out to see their queen for the first time in thirteen years.
The procession was led by the lords and nobles of Scotland, followed by 50 young men in yellow costumes and masks. Triumphal arches and ornate decorations were strung almost the length of the city, with choirs and small groups of performers creating a magnificent pageant spectacle.
Outside St Giles' Cathedral, wine was poured down the spouts of the mercat cross, a free fountain of celebratory alcohol for the people to drink, and the only small act of rebellion was the burning of a papier maché dragon outside the Netherbow Port, considered by some to be symbolic of the Pope, a mortal enemy now to the Protestant Scots.
Whilst the celebrations of that period masked deeper instability across Scotland, it's fair to say that Mary was given a truly spectacular welcoming back to her homeland. What she couldn't have foreseen, perhaps, were the many years of turbulence, bloodshed and unhappiness which would come to be the hallmark of the later years of reign.
Explore more of Edinburgh's royal history with my private city walking tours!
I don't offer Harry Potter tours of Edinburgh. Plenty of other people do. I've never even read the books or seen the films, but as my focus on Edinburgh history must also include the influence the city had on JK Rowling (who still lives in Edinburgh) I offer this brief introduction to some of the sites in the city that Potterheads may like to seek out.
As the world's first UNESCO City of Literature, Harry Potter is just one of the literary influences with connections to Edinburgh.
Just don't ask me for a Harry Potter tour as refusal often offends...!
There are four big private schools in the city, and if you stacked their buildings on top of each other, you'd probably end up with a reasonable template for what became the Hogwarts Academy in the Harry Potter books.
The most central of the schools, which a lot of visitors seek out, is George Heriot's, which can be seen on Lauriston Place or from Greyfriars Kirkyard.
This school - established as a hospital in the 1620s - not only has a Hogwarts style, it also features four houses named for various figures from Edinburgh's history, similar to the four houses of Hogwarts School.
TOM RIDDLE'S GRAVE
Actually the family grave of a man called Thomas Riddell, but why let a little misspelling get in the way of cultural exploitation...!
Along with some of the other inspirations for characters in the Harry Potter universe, Riddell's grave can be found in Greyfriar's Kirkyard - look for the muddy track, worn away by the thousands of people who trek to find it.
I can't help but wonder what Riddell and his family would make of people leaving tributes to a fictional character at their graveside.
Perhaps an inspiration for the eponymous hero of the stories, Potterrow was originally the street where Edinburgh's potteries were based, just beyond the city walls (where it was safe to have industrial premises, with the risk of fire spreading). Today the Potterrow area is heavily linked to the University of Edinburgh, which has some of its main student buildings in the city centre clustered around the area.
Another historical figure whose name was co-opted by JK Rowling, McGonagall is widely considered the world's worst poet. He famously walked to Balmoral in the Scottish Highlands, to present Queen Victoria with a poem he had written for her, only to be told the queen wouldn't see him and he should walk home again. Which he did.
Born in Dundee (where the subject of one of his best known poems, the Tay Bridge disaster, also took place) McGonagall's work remains in print, as terrible as it is. Alas he never got to enjoy the reputation he gained, and he died in poverty as an alcoholic in his rooms above the Captain's Bar on South College Street (where a plaque commemorates his death), and was buried in an unmarked grave in the Greyfriars Kirkyard. A small memorial stone for him can be found near the gateway to George Heriot's School.
This historic building on the Canongate section of the Royal Mile was formerly home to the Moray family, and today houses the Univerity of Edinburgh's teaching school. It was here that JK Rowling trained as a primary school teacher, before writing the books and saving herself the hassle of actually teaching kids.
This unremarkable-looking row of tenement houses is where JK Rowling lived when she was writing some of the early Harry Potter books. There's no formal marker of the property she lived in, but it's to the west of the city centre, towards Fountainbridge.
THE EDINBURGH AWARD
An award given annually to a local figure who has helped to boost Edinburgh's profile on the international stage, JK Rowling was given the Edinburgh Award in 2008.
You can find the gilded handprints of Rowling and other winners, including fellow writer Ian Rankin, physicist Peter Higgs, and sportsman Chris Hoy, just off the Royal Mile outside the City Chambers near St Giles' Cathedral.
THE ELEPHANT HOUSE
Self-proclaimed 'birthplace' of Harry Potter, this cafe on George IV Bridge has become a mecca for Potterheads, and you often have to step into the road to get around the crowd that gathers outside the cafe to take photographs. The cafe charges £1 for visitors to take photographs inside, assuming you aren't buying coffee or cake.
JK Rowling has endorsed a different cafe - nearby Spoon, formerly Nicolson's - as being where she spent more time scribbling the early drafts of the stories.
Friends who know such things tell me that Diagon Alley is a wizard's market (ie. not a real thing) in the Harry Potter books - and that Victoria Street in Edinburgh's Old Town was the inspiration for it.
Candlemaker Row and Cockburn Street also claim the influence, and Victoria Street is far from the only place where you'll find Harry Potter shops taking your money for branded plastic goods - but it is one of the more colourful streets of the Old Town (and quite interesting in terms of its real history too!).
Explore more of Edinburgh's other literary and cultural history with my private city walking tours!
One of the great appeals of Edinburgh's city centre is its wealth of architectural heritage. From modern wonders such as the new Scottish Parliament building, to the original high-rise structures of the Old Town, the city's shape and style varies almost from street to street.
One of the most important figures in the city's architectural history is Robert Adam, born in Kirkcaldy on 3 July 1728, to a family of designers and architects - along with his father William and brothers John and James, the Adam family would collectively produce some of the most important buildings in the UK during the eighteenth century.
Adam is best known in Edinburgh for his New Town houses, creating a visual style replicated throughout the New Town as it grew and developed, but there are structures designed by Adam right across Edinburgh.
Here are some highlights for visitors to explore...
In 1788 the University of Edinburgh planned to replace some of its older, dilapidated school buildings with a new purpose-built structure, that would better reflect its status and ambition as a university. Robert Adam was commissioned to produce an impressive double quadrangle structure to be built on a site adjacent to what was then the new South Bridge in the Old Town, and he duly produced plans for the 'New College' building.
Construction came to a halt as funding dried up, and in 1792 Adam died. Work only recommenced in 1815, when Adam's plans were passed to William Playfair, who modified the grand scheme Adam had imagined to create just one single courtyard, and was virtually completed by the early 1830s. It was only in the 1880s that the grand dome above the eastern entrance was added.
Today the building - now known as Old College, after the 1840s development of a newer New College - houses the university's law school and associated administrative offices, as well as the Talbot Rice Gallery.
The buildings around this exclusive and high-status housing area were designed by Robert Adam and Robert Reid. Collectively they are considered some of the finest surviving Georgian architecture anywhere in Europe, and the range of buildings on the northern side of the square are the most visibly interesting.
Number six Charlotte Square is the official residence of the First Minister of Scotland, and is adjacent to the Georgian House museum, a period recreation of what these extraordinary buildings would have been like as residential properties.
North Bridge was the construction built to provide access between the Old and New Towns in the 1760s, and where the bridge joined to Princes Street Adam built a substantial building that acted as a grand example of the style that New Town would become recognised for.
Register House was built as a records office to house the national archive and records of Scotland, and Adam worked on the buildings jointly with his brother James. The building was paid for with £12,000 recovered from accounts of Highland estates owned by those who had been involved in the Jacobite uprising of 1745.
After five years of construction, building work came to a halt, and the structure was left unfinished for nearly a decade until Adam modified the plans to finally have it finished in 1788.
The building continues to function as a public records office today.
DAVID HUME MAUSOLEUM
As well as grand houses and civic buildings, Adam also designed a number of monuments and memorials in Edinburgh, including the grave of his own father, in Greyfriars Kirkyard in the Old Town.
Most notable is the circular mausoleum to the philosopher David Hume, who died in 1776. Adam had been a friend of Hume's, and was commissioned after Hume's death to produce the mausoleum to house his grave.
Hume's grave stands in the Old Calton burial ground - a non-denominational graveyard for a man who was noted as an atheist in the eighteenth century.
ROYAL COLLEGE OF PHYSICIANS
Built originally as a private residence for Baron Ord, this property on Queen Street in the New Town today houses the Royal College of Physicians, and is replete with stone decorations of a staff surrounded by a curled serpent, a motif widely recognised as an emblem of the medical profession.
Other Robert Adam buildings in the city have been lost or destroyed, including the Bridewell Prison which stood on the site of St Andrew's House on the side of Calton Hill today (part of the original prison walls do survive) but many other major works by Adam survive around the rest of the UK. After his death Adam was buried at Westminster Abbey in London.
But his vision was one which influenced Edinburgh majorly during its development in the eighteenth- and early nineteenth-centuries, and he remains a significant figure in the city's history.
Explore more of Adam's architectural gems with my private Edinburgh walking tours!
With this year's Edinburgh International Film Festival opening this week, what better time to look around the city to find some of the locations which have featured in films over the years.
Ironically, many films made in Edinburgh were often set elsewhere, and films set in Edinburgh were filmed elsewhere - so for a long time Edinburgh didn't appear as itself on screen very often! In recent years that has changed. So here are just a few film locations around the city, with some clips of the films that featured them.
THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE (1969)
The film which won Maggie Smith her first Oscar, for Best Actress, in this iconic adaptation of the novel by Muriel Spark. Set in Edinburgh in the 1930s, Smith plays a teacher at a girls' school, inspiring (and endangering) her pupils with a combination of art, history and politics.
Several locations from around the city were used during the filming, including the village of Cramond, the Meadows, Bruntsfield (Where Muriel Spark had lived) and the Edinburgh Academy building (which stood in for the film's setting of the Marcia Blaine School for Girls). But a series of steps called the Vennel, with views across to Edinburgh Castle, featured in a particularly memorable sequence, and have latterly be renamed The Jean Brodie Steps.
AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018)
A more recent blockbuster had a crucial sequence set in 'Scotland' and filmed in Edinburgh - Avengers: Infinity War saw a sprawling fight sequence take place in the streets and skies over the Old Town, and recognisable features from the film include St Giles' Cathedral, the Mercat Cross and the Royal Mile, Waverley Station and Cockburn Street.
It's a rather nice example of Edinburgh not being represented in a historical context, but rather a modern setting - when you find films of Edinburgh in the traditional Hollywood fashion they very often focus on the cliche and stereotype of Scotland, so it's refreshing to see the city represented as a contemporary, living city too!
GREYFRIARS BOBBY (1961)
Here's one of those 'traditional' movies, with all the cliche and stereotype preserved intact! In 1961 Walt Disney made a film version of the story of Greyfriars Bobby, helping to make it one of Edinburgh's best-known local legends. The film takes a few liberties with the reality of the story (of course!) but was filmed partially in Edinburgh, including on the castle esplanade, and in Greyfriars Kirkyard itself.
Films like this helped to build Edinburgh's profile as a visitor destination, as well as proliferating the Bobby myth, and today the city is still attracting thousands of people who come here specifically to see the statue and the grave of this tiny local hero. All we ask is that you DON'T rub the nose of the statue - it won't bring you good luck, and only damages the statue itself.
Another recent hit, this adaptation of an Irvine Welsh novel (who also wrote Trainspotting, one of the best known modern films set in Edinburgh) showcases something of the Scots' reputation for dark humour. The first scene of the film features the main character, played by Scottish actor James McAvoy, walking through streets of the Old Town, including the front of Edinburgh Castle, Castlehill, West Bow and Grassmarket.
Novels like Trainspotting (and the film in particular) show a very different side of the city from the tourist imagery, and are a reminder that every city has its public and private faces, and that the surface experience of a city like Edinburgh isn't necessarily the whole story or the whole experience of the people who live here.
CLOUD ATLAS (2012)
This adaptation of David Mitchell's genre-defying, galaxy-sprawling epic set part of its characters' story here in Edinburgh, and featured the Scott Monument among other locations for its filming.
This film is a good example of how Edinburgh doesn't always feature as Edinburgh, and how many times the city serves as a backdrop for all kinds of non-Scottish stories.
These are just a handful of the films that have taken Edinburgh as an inspiration for setting or story - there are many more!
Explore of Edinburgh's inspiring settings and landscapes with my private city walking tours!
I've been meeting an increasing number of visitors coming into the city from cruise ships, and whilst it's always a pleasure to be able to show off the city there are a number of recurring questions and comments that arise when arranging such tours.
Cruise companies offer a variety of shore excursions for passengers to book, from which the cruise company takes a commission payment. My bespoke tours are only available to book directly through me, and it is apparent that cruise companies are not always providing passengers with as much information as they might need to be able to plan their own shore excursions into Edinburgh.
So here's my rundown of tips and comments for passengers arriving into Edinburgh from a cruise, and in particular the advice I would give to those looking to book one of my private Edinburgh tours!
CHECK WHICH PORT YOU'RE ARRIVING INTO
There are four major ports from which cruise ship passengers can travel into Edinburgh - and one of those ports is actually in Glasgow! So be aware that if your cruise itinerary describes visiting Edinburgh, you may actually be docking a significant distance from the city.
CONFIRM TENDER AND TIDE IMPLICATIONS
Different ports have different docking arrangements, and most commonly visitors have to take tenders from the ship to shore - this can add significantly to the time taken to get off the boat.
Also, different ports can be differently affected by the high and low tides, which in some instances can dramatically shorten the time available on shore. Check how long you will actually get ashore in Edinburgh, and confirm the need for tendering to and from the ship itself.
SHUTTLE TRANSPORT OPTIONS
For the ports further from Edinburgh, most cruise companies provide a regular shuttle transport link from the dock into the city centre. Different cruise lines have different policies on whether this service is free or paid for, and how frequently the service runs.
Generally the shuttle transport from cruise ships drop off on WATERLOO PLACE in Edinburgh, but it's worth confirming that detail, especially if you're planning to meet a tour guide (like me!) when you get there.
Cruises into NEWHAVEN seem less inclined to provide a shuttle transport service (maybe because it's a much shorter distance from the city), so you may want to plan a taxi/Uber or local bus journey into the city - it should take you about 20 minutes in a taxi, a little longer by bus.
Travelling into the city from SOUTH QUEENSFERRY or ROSYTH, shuttle buses can take up to an hour to make the journey. A taxi may be quicker, but would be fairly expensive. From South Queensferry, regular trains run via nearby DALMENY STATION, which is a commuter line into the city.
Dalmeny Station is a short walk from South Queensferry dock, but up a considerable number of stairs from sea level. Trains from Dalmeny take about 15 minutes to reach the city centre, arriving into WAVERLEY STATION in the centre of the city.
Travelling from Glasgow can be a more elaborate process, and I would generally suggest visitors take advantage of the transport options laid on by the cruise company for the sake of simplicity - otherwise travelling by train can require a change of trains (and, in Glasgow city centre, changing between the two central stations) and public bus services can take a disproportionate amount of time.
CONSIDER THE NUMBER OF PASSENGERS ON YOUR VESSEL
Depending on the size of your vessel, you could be joining a couple of thousand other passengers disembarking (which has a major impact on the time taken to tender to/from the ship) and your ship may not be the only one in town - over the summer, there can be ships docking in each of the ports, meaning the net number of cruise passengers coming into the town can be fairly significant.
Major attractions, such as Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse, can quickly get swamped by large groups arriving at the same time, so be aware that you will be amongst crowds almost anywhere you are in the city - entry tickets in particular should always be bought and printed in advance to save you joining long lines wherever you go.
UNDERSTAND EDINBURGH'S PHYSICAL LAYOUT
Edinburgh is a challenging city to explore. Built on a ridge of rock, with steep valleys running between high peaks, it's not a big city centre, but getting around it can be harder than you expect.
Gauge your physical fitness for walking and exploring - it's a city best explored on foot, but even walking through the lanes and alleys can be problematic for people with even minor mobility issues.
Also the number of people in the city at peak times can make even short distances difficult to cover quickly. Similarly, with the volume of traffic and tour buses in the city, taxis and buses can take longer than expected to cover moderate distances.
PLAN TO DO LESS, RATHER THAN MORE
Try to plan your day to give yourselves plenty of time between attractions, or to find places for lunch, as things can generally take a lot longer than you might expect. And content yourself to plan to do less rather than more - this may be your only day in Edinburgh, but trying to do EVERYTHINGTHECITYHASTOOFFER in a single visit of just a few hours is simply not possible (and wouldn't be enjoyable even if it were possible!).
Aim to get a flavour of the city during your visit, and an overview of what it has to offer visitors. My tours won't take you inside any attractions, so although a full-day is often people's first instinct for a tour, with me you'd be better taking a shorter introduction to the city, with a plan to visit one of the attractions by yourselves after our walk...
LUNCH, SHOPPING, TOILETS
... and don't forget time for lunch, shopping and bathroom breaks!
START PLANNING YOUR RETURN TRIP
One visit to Edinburgh is never enough - so start planning your return trip now!
Edinburgh's graveyards are some of the most peaceful and interesting places in the city - there are five burial grounds within the city centre, and all of them maintain public access for visitors to enjoy a sense of their history.
Here is a very short selection of graves to seek out in Edinburgh, offering an overview of the city and the inhabitants who have shaped it over the last 900 years or so...
Parliament Square, near St Giles' Cathedral on the Royal Mile, was originally an adjacent burial ground, running down the slope of the hill to the south of the city. In the seventeenth-century, plans were made to reclaim the graveyard space and develop it as prime real estate - the bodies that were exhumed were all transported to the nearby Greyfriars kirkyard, and a new parliament hall was built on the site beside St Giles'.
One burial marker remains in the car park of Parliament Square today. Under parking space number 23 is a stone marking the place of burial of John Knox, the protestant reformer and former minister of St Giles' who led the Scottish Reformation in 1560.
What the stone is less clear on is whether Knox is still buried there - differing versions of the city history can't agree on whether his corpse was exhumed, along with the rest of the burials (in which case the stone marks the site of his burial, but doesn't specify that he still lies there), or whether Knox was considered the one figure important enough to leave 'at rest' when the graveyard was cleared (in which case he may still be under the tarmac today).
In 1766 a young man by the name of James Craig entered a public competition to design a layout for the 'new' town of Edinburgh, which was to be developed on the northern side of the city. Craig had completed his apprenticeship as an architect just the year before, and so was still a young, upstart figure alongside some of the more notable - and famous - names who were practising as designers and engineers in the city at that time.
Craig's vision for the New Town - a broad grid system - was the one chosen as the winner of the competition, and before he was even thirty years old Craig was to experience his greatest and most accomplished success, a city plan which exists to this day, observable in the wide Georgian-era terraces of the New Town. George Street, Princes Street, and the two gardens of St Andrew Square and Charlotte Square survive as major features in the city, thanks to the genius vision of this singular young man.
His later career would never achieve such levels of success, and Craig died of tuberculosis at his home on the West Bow in 1795. Having tried to move away from the "monotony of the straight line" around which his New Town plans were fixed, he died in debt and was buried in an unmarked grave within the Greyfriars kirkyard. The stone above his grave today was a later addition, a modest (and unremarkable) grave for a man who did so much to shape the city of Edinburgh.
In 1736 a series of events rocked the sense of law and order in Edinburgh, when the Grassmarket became the scene of a violent riot that left six people dead. John Porteous was the captain of the City Guard who stood trial for murder as a result, but who was brutally executed by a mob who feared he may have avoided the death penalty for his behaviour.
The events became known as the Porteous Riots, and were a central element of Sir Walter Scott's novel The Heart of Midlothian. After his death, Porteous was initially buried in an unmarked grave in the Greyfriars kirkyard, and in the 1970s was afforded a more commemorative grave stone by a society who still consider him to be an upstanding representative of British justice, cut down in his prime and murdered for carrying out his duties.
Another murder victim is commemorated in the Canongate kirkyard. David Rizzio was the Italian secretary to Mary, Queen of Scots, who was assassinated in Mary's bedchamber in Holyrood Palace in 1566. Legend has it that Rizzio suffered more than fifty stab wounds before his body was thrown from a window into the street, and the stone above the grave records that 'according to tradition' he was buried here at the Canongate kirk.
Some consider it unlikely that Rizzio is indeed buried here, as by 1566 the church would have been a protestant establishment, and Rizzio (as an Italian, and a close friend of Mary, Queen of Scots) likely to have been a Catholic.
Regardless, the grave is an important reminder of this church's association with the monarchy in Scotland, and remains the church where the Queen worships during her time in residence at Holyrood.
Another grave outside a traditional burial ground is that of Charles Ewart, who is buried on the esplanade in front of Edinburgh Castle. Ewart was a soldier with the Scots Greys, who fought at the Battle of Waterloo against Napoleon in 1815. It was Ewart who successfully captured the regimental emblem - the eagle - of the French 45th unit, shortly before victory was declared, and many considered Ewart's actions to be a key moment in the winning of that historic battle.
Following the capture of the eagle, it became the emblem for the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, and the figure that Ewart seized in battle is still preserved in the regimental museum inside Edinburgh Castle itself.
Ewart continued to serve in the military until 1821, and lived near Manchester until his death in 1846. His body was buried in a churchyard at Salford initially, before being exhumed in 1938 in order to give him a more ceremonial burial in front of the castle where his former unit are still commemorated.
Ewart's grave stands near the top on the right hand side of the castle esplanade with a substantial ceremonial altar making his grave. Equally notably, a pub bearing his name can be found on the Lawnmarket section of the Royal Mile, and is formally the highest pub in Edinburgh...
Explore more of Edinburgh's notable figures (and the burial grounds they rest in) on my private city walking tours!
For the avoidance of doubt, this is NOT ABOUT ALIENS..! Conspiracy theorists and lovers of Little Green Men should move along, there's nothing to see here. :)
The close encounters I'm talking about are the narrow lanes and alleys of Edinburgh's medieval Old Town. Along the length of the Royal Mile were, at one time, 248 of these separately named 'closes', 'wynds' and 'courts', the narrow streets where Edinburgh's residents were crammed into tight lanes and towering tenements.
There are various interpretations of the name 'close', relating to either the width of the alley (the walls on either side were pretty close, typically just a few feet apart) or the way that many of the closes would be 'closed off' with a gate or other barrier to keep residences protected. Certainly they were dank, dirty, overcrowded and typically unsafe spaces - see Paisley Close, below - which were long overdue for redevelopment by the time the Victorians improved Edinburgh in the 1860s and '70s.
But the surviving lanes and alleys are the parts of the city deserving of your attention, and so here are a few tips for seeking out some close encounters during your visit, so uncover more than the crowded, commercial space of the Royal Mile...
LADY STAIR'S CLOSE
Leading off the Lawnmarket, this lane provides access principally to the Writers' Museum, celebrating three of the city's most important literary figures - Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns, and Robert Louis Stevenson.
But the space also provides access into Makar's Court - a makar is a Scottish poet - and the paving stones here have snippets from a variety of Scottish poems and verses, as well as giving intriguing views of the back of these buildings which typically were hidden from view. Check out the height of the buildings - Edinburgh's tenements are sometimes claimed as the world's first skyscrapers!
Formerly home to some of Edinburgh's Lord Advocates, this narrow lane offers one of the best views across to the New Town, as well as giving a truly evocative sense of how steep, narrow and inaccessible the city's streets would have been.
One resident of the close was James Stewart, a fearsome bulldog of the Scottish legal system in the seventeenth-century, who prosecuted a notorious case in 1696, leading to the last ever execution for blasphemy in the UK...
The lane is also home to a collection of contrasting buildings, including original structures dating back to 1590 (with the dates still visible in the stone over the doorways) and a modern development which was awarded the Best New Building in Scotland in 2014.
OLD FISHMARKET CLOSE and FLESHMARKET CLOSE
Two of the original market streets of the city, the fish and fleshers' (ie. butchers) markets were on the steep slopes of the hills running down into the valleys to both the north and south of the Royal Mile.
The purpose of putting such markets in such locations was to offer a cleansing effect on the city - all the blood, guts and mess of those market areas would drain naturally into the valleys, in an effort to keep the streets clean. They were not necessarily particularly effective, as contemporary accounts of the fish market in particular describe it as being a 'stinking morass'...
Fleshmarket Close was used as the title of an Inspector Rebus crime novel set in the city, from the author Ian Rankin.
WHITE HORSE CLOSE
Near the bottom of the Royal Mile on Canongate is a lane with one of the most attractive old buildings in the city. White Horse Close was home to the White Horse Inn, one of the old coaching inns where visitors to the city would have stayed in the seventeenth- and eighteenth-centuries.
The lane is private housing today, and the White Horse Inn itself was rebuilt in the 1960s to recover it from the very rundown slum district that it had become at that time. So although the buildings isn't wholly authentic, it is at least offering a visible sense of what the Old Town might have looked like at one time.
Staring out from over Paisley Close on the High Street section of the Royal Mile is the face of a young boy, Joseph McIvor. He had been one of the residents of the tall tenement property on this site that collapsed in the middle of the night in 1861, crushing many occupants of the house to death in their beds.
As rescuers rushed to the site of the collapsed building, they were recovering bodies from under the rubble, and were about to give up their search for survivors when they heard a young voice shouting from under the mass of stone and wood, crying out 'Heave awa' lads, I'm no' deid yet!'
As they continued to excavate they recovered 12-year old Joseph alive, and when the property was rebuilt they immortalised him in the stone above the alley, with an Anglicised version of his words on the ribbon above his head.
Have your own close encounter with the Old Town on my private city walking tours!
Edinburgh Expert Walking Tours is run by Gareth Davies, an adopted native of Edinburgh since 1998...