It's not news to anyone that American visitors make up a significant percentage of those travelling from overseas to explore Edinburgh and Scotland.
From walking the footsteps of their (historically) distant relatives to simply exploring the wealth of history and culture on offer, and from self-drive excursions around the country to one day stops on a longer cruise itinerary, visitors from the US make up around 14% of all visitors to Scotland every year.
So let's look at some of the historical connections between Scotland and America - and maybe you'll find some Edinburgh features to put on your 'must see' list during your trip!
SEEING STARS (AND STRIPES)
Within Edinburgh Castle is a feature considered to be one of the earliest known representations of the Stars and Stripes, the flag of the United States. It's worth seeking out if you're going to take the time and trouble to visit the castle, but is not easy to find!
Look for the Prisons of War exhibition, which is one of the highlights of the castle itself, a recreation of the former prisons beneath the Great Hall where military prisoners were detained. From French naval offenders in the Seven Years' War of the 1750s to some of the original pirates of the Caribbean, these dank vaults have hosted enemies of Scotland from all around the globe.
When American sailors were captured during the American War of Independence, many of them found themselves held in Edinburgh Castle, and it was during this period that one prisoner took a penknife and carved carved an intriguing depiction of a flag into one of the heavy wooden doors of the prison complex.
The doors themselves are now on display with graphic representations alongside highlighting the names, initials, emblems and graffiti that was carved into them over the years, and amongst all these scratches and scrapes you will find (if you look closely) the unmistakable image of a striped flag, just waiting to have stars added to the corner panel...
HONEST ABE (HONESTLY!)
It may seem a strange place to find a statue of the sixteenth president of the United States, but in the Old Calton Burial ground is the imposing figure of Abraham Lincoln, looking down from an ornate marble monument.
The monument itself is a grave of six men who had travelled from Scotland to fight alongside Lincoln in the American Civil War. Like the Irish (with whom many Americans also find associations) the Scots could often be relied upon to provide vital firepower in military conflicts, which is one of the reasons why the Scottish army has connections to many historical battles all around the world.
After their deaths, the bodies of these Scots soldiers were returned to Edinburgh for burial, and it was the widow of one of them - a Sergeant Major John McEwan - who later wrote to the American consul in Edinburgh suggesting a formal commemoration of their deaths may be appropriate.
The consul himself wasn't initially persuaded, until (it is said) his wife came to hear of the request and made the case that the surviving wives and families of the dead men were entitled to an official acknowledgement of their sacrifice.
And so it was that funds were raised to pay for the commemoration, unveiled in 1893, featuring Lincoln along with a representation of an emancipated slave, embodying the cause for which these men fought and died.
The monument is the only American Civil War Memorial outside of the United States, and was the first statue of an American president to be erected outside of North America.
(And did you know that Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin were born on precisely the same day?)
LIGHTING THE WAY
Edinburgh's Central Library is the best-used public library in the city, and it was a gift to Edinburgh from the philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, whose fortune was built in America. At the time of his death, Carnegie had given away over $350,000,000 to charities and causes around the globe, including establishing over 3,000 libraries.
Libraries were a great cause in Carnegie's mind. He wrote in his autobiography: "The fundamental advantage of a library is that it gives nothing for nothing. Youths must acquire knowledge themselves. There is no escape from this." He saw the provision of raw information for the consumption of a public, eager to better their understanding and knowledge, as a great and important thing. It was no coincidence that his own father had helped to establish the first public library in Dunfermline, the town north of Edinburgh where Carnegie was born.
In the 1890s, Edinburgh was offered $50,000 from Carnegie to establish the city's first public lending library. That would constitute 'seed funding' to set up the library, on the understanding that the equivalent of another $200,000 that would be needed to finish the project.
At that time Edinburgh had no public library and - to Carnegie's horror - did not want a public library. They certainly did not want to have to pay for one! Carnegie's benevolence in establishing the fund was rejected, and he was told to give his money to another city, who would be more willing to supplement it with their own cash.
Carnegie was so determined that Edinburgh should have a public library facility that he increased his endowment and ended up paying the full $250,000 that it cost to build and stock the central library.
Today Carnegie's library can be found on George IV Bridge, and above its entrance the motto 'Let there be light', reflecting Carnegie's original intention to enlighten and inform the world through his gifts.
WORDS, WORDS, WORDS
A text that remains oft-quoted even in today's era is the Constitution of the United States of America, a document detailing the principles and rights of the nation and its inhabitants. But much of that text was drawn from writings that had originally been composed here in Edinburgh over a century and a half earlier...
In 1638, the National Covenant was a declaration from the people of Scotland to protect the Scottish church from interference by the king, Charles I.
It was drawn up in Edinburgh and signed at the Greyfriars Kirk, and if we compare some of the phraseology of the National Convenant with some of the text of the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States, drawn up in 1787, we find some surprising similiarities...
It's not word-for-word, but it's not difficult to see that there was a influence on the wording of the later US Constitution from the earlier National Covenant. Which may not be entirely surprising given the over 50,000 Scots who emigrated to the American colonies between 1763 and 1776!
This mass migration is partly why the Scottish diaspora in North America is so strong, and why (in genealogical terms) more than 30 US presidents have documented Scottish heritage.
Four copies of the National Covenant document (which were originally distributed across Scotland) can be found in Edinburgh, including one on display in St Giles' Cathedral.
FRANKLIN, MY DEAR...
Benjamin Franklin was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, and was known as the First American, who travelled to the UK between the 1750s and 1770s. He spent much of his time in London, but also visited Edinburgh to meet notable figures like David Hume, with whom he lodged for three weeks in 1771.
Franklin was also granted an honourary doctorate from the University of St Andrews, Scotland's oldest university.
One of the places Franklin stayed during his visits to Edinburgh was Prestonfield House, which operates today as a boutique hotel and restaurant. Why not take afternoon tea in the plush surrounds of this incredible former estate property, and see a little of old Edinburgh the way that Franklin might have seen it during his time here.
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Born across the Firth of Forth in Fife, a county to the north of Edinburgh, Adam Smith is one of the best-known and most important figures of the Scottish Enlightenment, in the eighteenth century.
His work on economics in particular remains a text for our time, and it was this book - entitled An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations - that garnered Smith his reputation as the father of modern economics (or modern capitalism, depending on your perspective!).
Smith himself never knew his own father (also called Adam Smith), who died a couple of months before his son was born. Few details of Smith's childhood are known - even his exact date of birth in 1723 isn't certain - until he started studying at the University of Glasgow at the age of 14. Here his academic prowess proved to be a great gift, and he later undertook post-graduate studied at Oxford University - although this seemed not to be a happy experience, and it is believed that he ended his studies there prematurely after experiencing the effects of a nervous breakdown.
Whilst giving lectures at the University of Edinburgh, Smith became acquainted with the philosopher David Hume, whose work he had read during his time at Oxford, and they established a firm friendship (despite Hume being 10 years senior to Smith).
In character Smith was perhaps considered a bit absent-minded, prone to distractions and known to frequently talk aloud to himself. Although he was known as a great writer and intellectual, in conversation he could be lifeless and un-engaging - some speculated that he dulled his conversation so as not to distract from sales of his books, in which he was more loquacious - and although he gave frequent public lectures he was an uncomfortable public speaker, the result of a speech impediment. There are few portraits of him from life because he disliked his appearance - he once remarked that "I am a beau in nothing but my books".
In 1759 Adam Smith published The Theory of Moral Sentiments, a study outlining Man's moral nature and his capacity to make decisions based on conscience and the impact on the social relationships with others. Smith intended this to be the first volume in an eventual series of 23 works which would consider in great detail every aspect of human experience... Although The Wealth of Nations would prove to be his more influential book, Smith considered Moral Sentiments to be the better work, and continued revising and editing the volume for subsequent publications right up to his death.
At the time he wrote and published The Wealth of Nations, in 1776, Smith was living in a building just off Edinburgh's Canongate on the Royal Mile.
Panmure House - owned by Smith's mother, with whom he maintained a close relationship until her death, just six years before his own - still stands, and today is a venue for economics forums.
One of the key ideas often cited from The Wealth of Nations is Smith's notion of an 'invisible hand', the unseen but active forces influencing and shaping a society's economic process, but the phrasing of 'invisible hand' occurs just three times in all of Smith's writing - once in The Wealth of Nations, once in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, and once in A History of Astronomy, which was published posthumously in 1795.
A modern statue of Smith, produced by Alexander Stoddart, pictured above, features a rather playful allusion to this idea of an invisible hand, with Smith standing with a hand atop a sheaf of corn - and the cuff of his jacket conceals his hand rendering it 'invisible'...
Smith died at Panmure House on 17 July 1790, and left instruction to his executors - themselves major figures of the Enlightenment period, physicist Joseph Black and the geologist James Hutton - that all of his unfinished, unpublished work should be destroyed.
Smith didn't want any of his writing being published without his explicit editorial oversight. And so, of the 23 major volumes of work that he had planned and (it is believed) started writing, just Moral Sentiments and Wealth of Nations survive.
But these two works by themselves have been enough to secure Smith's place in the pantheon of great thinkers of the world, whose vision and ideas continue to influence society today, centuries after their deaths. Yet on his deathbed Smith regretted that he hadn't achieved more.
Adam Smith was buried just a stone's throw from his room at Panmure House, in the Canongate Kirkyard, where his grave today has become a small site of pilgrimage for economics students and others from all around the world, who commemorate Smith in a way that I think is rather fitting - by throwing small coins of their national currency on his grave, literally celebrating him with the wealth of nations.
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We talk quite a lot about Scots who have influenced the world, and the diaspora of Scottish migrants around the globe, but the reverse is also true - Scottish history is full of notable figures who weren't Scottish, people who came here from overseas, lived here, and left their mark on the country and its heritage.
Sometimes I worry that we focus a little too heavily on what I call the 'kilts and kings' version of Scottish history, and forget the more diverse range of people and influences that helped to shape the country.
This is the first of what may become an occasional series providing a platform to celebrate non-Scots who have had an influence on some aspect of our culture, with a brief introduction to three Polish figures who had associations with Edinburgh and the landscape of Scotland.
General Stanisław Maczek
Stanisław Maczek was born in what is now Ukraine in March 1892. At university he studied Polish language and culture, and at the outbreak of World War One in 1914, Maczek was drafted into the Austro-Hungarian army.
In November 1918 he joined the Polish army, becoming a Major in 1919, and by the outbreak of World War Two, Maczek was commanding the first fully motorised tank unit of the Polish army. After fighting the German progression across Europe, Maczek and many of his unit made their way on foot through occupied France, and eventually were transported to London where a Polish armoured unit was being put together, under the oversight of the British Army.
The original intention was for this reconstituted unit of Polish combatants to be used as a defensive force to protect the eastern coast of Scotland, which was vulnerable to invasion from the North Sea. Maczek travelled to Scotland and spent two years training his men at Blairgowrie in Perthshire, before events of the war resulted in a change of plan, and Maczek's unit was instead dispatched to join the swathe of units being deployed to storm the beaches of Normandy on D-Day.
The unit under Maczek's command would later play a crucial role in the liberation of Breda, a town of 40,000 people in the Netherlands, which was wrestled from the control of the German forces without loss of life of any of the town's inhabitants.
Following the end of the war, Maczek returned to the UK, where he became commanding officer for all the Polish military units in Britain. During this time he was stripped of his Polish citizenship by the new Communist government of Poland, and being thus rendered stateless was denied a military pension from the British government... because he no longer had a nationality that they recognised.
In the post-war years, Maczek made his home in Edinburgh, working as a hotel bartender and becoming a popular figure with locals and visitors, many of whom were unaware of his distinction as a military commander.
In 1992, after the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe, Maczek was finally awarded Poland's highest military honour, the Order of the White Eagle. He died in Edinburgh in 1994, aged 102, and was buried (according to his wishes) alongside fallen comrades in the military cemetery in Breda.
Maczek had the nickname 'the Shepherd' amongst the men who served under him, for the care and consideration he afforded them. It is perhaps apt that the English translation of his Polish surname - 'maczek' - means 'poppy', the flower of remembrance.
In 2018, Maczek was honoured with a statue in Edinburgh's city centre (pictured undergoing maintenance), and a walkway across the Bruntsfield Links near his former home has been given his name. A memorial plaque can also be found at the address he lived at in the Marchmont area.
Wojtek the Bear
A more unusual hero is celebrated in Princes Street Gardens in the New Town, where visitors will find a near life-size statue of a bear.
The bear was called Wojtek, and he was adopted as a cub by soldiers in the Polish army during World War Two. They were on manoeuvres across Eastern Europe and they rescued Wojtek from a village where he had been chained up in the square for public entertainment.
The soldiers fed Wojtek cigarettes, and trained him to carry their packs and ammunition for the unit - he was more than just a mascot to these men, he was a part of the team.
At the end of the war, many Polish military personnel and their families were resettled in Scotland. But when the Royal Naval carrier ship went to collect Wojtek's unit in Italy, the soldiers were told they couldn't bring the bear on the ship - it was exclusively for military personnel and their families.
Undaunted, the Polish army did the only thing they could do, and they enlisted Wojtek as a private, making him formally a member of the Polish military services! He was brought on the ship to Scotland, where his men were re-housed around Edinburgh, and Wojtek himself was given to Edinburgh Zoo.
In the post-war years, Wojtek became a popular feature at the zoo, where locals would push cigarettes through the bars of the cage for his enjoyment.
Wojtek died in 1963 (of pretty chronic lung cancer) but is today commemorated publicly in the gardens, with a memorial that celebrates not just his nicotine habit but the role that the Polish community continue to play as an active, visible, and valuable element in society right across Scotland.
A third Polish military association can be found a little way from Edinburgh, near Peebles in the Scottish Borders.
In the grounds of the Barony Castle Hotel is the world's largest relief map, reproducing the landscape of Scotland to scale in a model that is approximately 50 by 40 metres square. It's known as the Mapa Scotland, and it was created by a Polish military veteran called Jan Tomasik in the 1970s.
The building which is today a hotel formerly housed units from the Polish army who were stationed here for training in the 1940s. Like General Maczek's unit, the 1st Polish Corps, which had trained at Peebles, were employed to defend the Scottish coastline between Arbroath and Burntisland before being deployed in the D-Day landings.
Among the military veterans who were settled in Scotland after the war was Jan Tomasik, who bought the hotel building in 1968, and employed his former commander Stanisław 'the Shepherd' Maczek as a barman at the hotel property he owned in Edinburgh. During the summer months, Maczek and his family would visit Tomasik at the hotel outside Peebles, and it may have been in discussion with Maczek that Tomasik's plan for the 'mapa Scotland' took shape.
The map itself was constructed over six summers between 1974 and 1979 with employees of Krakow University in Poland travelling to Scotland to help build the 780 square metre model.
A huge pit was excavated in which the model would be created, and steel rods were used to create the to-scale topography of the Scottish Highlands, before brick levels created the base landscape of the country with concrete poured and shaped to form the peaks, valleys and coastlines. (Only the island archipelagos of Orkney and Shetland off the extreme north-eastern coast of Scotland aren't included in the model.)
Tomasik died in 1991, and left the model of Scotland as a gift to the nation from the people of Poland, to thank the people of Scotland for their kindness, hospitality and support during the war and in the years afterwards.
Today the model can be visited in the grounds of the Barony Castle Hotel - my photos don't do it justice!
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As a city that has a great many artistic connections, from major figures like Eduardo Paolozzi to royal sculptors like John Steell and Alexander Stoddart, it's no surprise that Edinburgh boasts a great many public art works on the streets of the city.
Here are just a handful of works you may find during your visit to Edinburgh...
Work No. 1059
This work by the Turner Prize-winning artist Martin Creed is one piece of art you can literally walk all over...
In 2011 Creed renovated a spiral staircase in the Old Town which had previously been a dark, dank and rather unpleasant access link between North Bridge and Market Street beneath it.
The steps were a feature of the original building when it was first constructed in 1901. At that time the building housed the Scotsman newspaper, where Scotland's daily national was compiled and printed in house. The staircase included a number of hatches into the offices which allowed members of the public to pick up a copy of that day's paper literally hot off the press!
Creed's work replaced each of the old, worn sandstone steps with blocks of marble, each one different in colour and texture - 104 in all. So today pedestrians can climb the steps with a rainbow of shifting shades beneath their feet. Of all the city's staircases, the Scotsman Steps are one worth making the effort to climb!
The Next Big Thing is a Series of Little Things
This is one of my favourite pieces of art in the city, and like the Scotsman Steps, it's one you may not even notice.
On Bristo Square, at the heart of the university district, is the largest piece of public art in the Old Town, commissioned by the University of Edinburgh in 2017. Created by the artist Susan Collis, whose work often blends into its environment and plays perceptual tricks on the observer, the artwork is a series of over 1,600 bronze 'drips' set into the granite pavement, creating the effect of paint having been accidentally dribbled across the square.
Collis's idea was that most of the city's sculptures have become such a fixture of the landscape that passersby rarely even notice them any more. Her work, in contrast, begins as an integral feature of the street and will become more visible over time, as the bronze dots get rubbed shiny by the traffic of pedestrians walking over them.
I think it's fun and playful and worth keeping your eyes peeled for!
A Drama in Time
In a dark underpass at the base of Calton Hill, where the railway lines running out of Waverley Station cross over the top of the Calton Road, is a shining beacon of colour and light that is difficult to miss.
Installed in 2016, Graham Fagen's neon panels create a mini comic strip of images influenced by tales of migrant Scots, travelling from home to resettle their lives in far flung locations. The title is drawn from the writings of Patrick Geddes, a pioneer of social planning whose influence on Edinburgh is still apparent in many Old Town buildings and developments. He wrote: "a city is more than a place in space, it is a drama in time".
A self-explanatory title, perhaps, for an eight-tonne sculpture of a rather sultry looking fish, mounted on the shore at Cramond, a suburb on the coast to the north-west of Edinburgh's city centre. The artist is Ronald Rae, who hand carves his works from granite, a challenging process which can often take over a year for a single piece of work.
Other Rae sculptures can be found in the city, notably the Lion of Scotland which can be found in St Andrew Square in the New Town.
The Regent Bridge
Another easy work to miss - and the photo here is ho help at all - as this is a light show which is (obviously) best seen at night! The underside of the Regent Bridge, built in the New Town in the early nineteenth century, has been illuminated by the artist Callum Innes. This was his first public art commission, installed in 2012.
The coloured light strips in the ground on either side of the arch throw light up the stone walls of the structure, creating an interesting interplay of light and shadow. It's not a work that will linger in the memory, perhaps, but it does bring a bit of interest to what is otherwise a busy pedestrian route into Waverley Station.
All the World's a Stage
Technically a public artwork, although you will have to have a ticket to an event at the King's Theatre in order to see it...! The ceiling high above the auditorium in this popular venue was painted by the artist John Byrne in 2013 as part of a major renovation of the theatre, and takes its suitably theatrical title from the famous Shakespeare speech in As You Like It.
It took five weeks to paint the mural, which Byrne suggested at the time would be his last large-scale work.
Byrne has been a major figure in the Scottish arts scene for over forty years, known not only for his distinctive portraiture but his writing, with a fistful of successful plays, including The Slab Boys trilogy, TV drama Tutti Fruitti, and more recent adaptions of Chekhov's plays such as The Cherry Orchard and Uncle Varick. Byrne frequently designs the stage sets for productions of his plays, and often produces the publicity artwork too.
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Edinburgh's graveyards are always a popular feature on my tours, but I tend to steer clear of the ghosts and ghouls whose stories generally populate visits to such spaces. Instead I think there's real interest to be found in the lives of the people buried here, or the other unusual features that can be found in graveyards.
So here are five more graves that have stories to tell!
David Octavius Hill
Hill was an early pioneer of photography, and in the 1840s along with Robert Adamson he created some of the earliest surviving photographic images in the world, many of them views of Edinburgh.
Some of these images feature in my walking tours, and they provide an invaluable insight into what Edinburgh was like in the middle of the nineteenth century, and show just how much (or how little) parts of it have changed.
Hill's second wife was Amelia Robertson Paton, herself an artist and sculptor who exhibited work at the Royal Academy, and who carved several of the decorative figures on the iconic Scott Monument in Princes Street Gardens.
When Hill died in 1870, Amelia Hill produced a bronze likeness of her husband's head to stand over his grave, as it still does today. Amelia was buried alongside her husband, under her sculpture of him, in the Dean Cemetery, to the north west of the city centre.
George Buchanan was one of Scotland's greatest thinkers and academics during the sixteenth century, at a crucial time in the nation's history.
Having been born in Stirlingshire in 1506, as a teenager Buchanan studied abroad at the University of Paris and he held professorial positions in a number of European universities before returning to Scotland in 1537.
King James V of Scotland employed Buchanan as a private tutor to his son James, and later would teach the king's daughter, Mary, Queen of Scots.
Buchanan was a Catholic but also supported the rise of Protestantism across Europe, and in 1567 he was appointed moderator of the General Assembly of the post-Reformation Church of Scotland. He became the personal tutor to Mary's son, soon to be James VI of Scotland, and is held responsible for the boy's devout adoption of the Protestant faith, as well as his fierce obsession with the supernatural and witchcraft.
Buchanan died in Edinburgh in 1582 and was buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard. The stone and decorative panel above his grave today is a later replacement of the original stone.
Not all of Edinburgh's burials are in the city graveyards - to the south of the city in the residential area of Bruntsfield is the grave of John Livingston, a seventeenth-century apothecary or chemist who died of the plague - known as the Black Death - in 1645.
It's likely that Livingston caught the disease from the patients he treated. Many of the city's plague victims were buried in communal graves beyond the city boundary, in the area today known as Morningside, in order to try to stop the spread of the disease through the city's population.
Shortly before his death Livingston had bought an expansive property set in an area of its own land between Bruntsfield and Morningside, a glorious setting between the city and the countryside where he planned to retire and live a life of comfort. Unfortunately he only lived at the property for nine years before contracting the plague, and was buried as per his wishes in the grounds of the property.
Over time that property was divided up and sold and turned into a popular residential district, and Livingston's grave remained a contentious feature of the local area even until fairly recently.
William Hey Hodgson
Never heard of William Hey Hodgson? That's okay, there's probably no reason why you should know his name! The story with this grave doesn't relate to the person buried so much as the circumstances of the death and burial.
Hodgson was a doctor from northern England, who was probably in Scotland on holiday or for work. What we do know is that - according to his grave in the New Calton Burial Ground - he was "unfortunately drowned in the Firth of Forth by the upsetting of a boat".
I was amused by this initially as I thought it seemed like an unnecessary level of detail - unless it was clarifying that he wasn't drowned as a result of being held under against his will! But on closer inspection I found another detail (which is the whole reason I point this stone out to visitors)...
The Firth of Forth is the body of water which boundaries Edinburgh to the north, the tidal estuary of the river Forth as it flows into the North Sea. But on Hodgson's grave, the text actually described him being "unfortunately drowned" in the Frith of Forth - the misspelling almost as unfortunate as the accident itself.
Poor William Hey Hodgson - not just unfortunately drowned, but spending the whole afterlife with a spelling mistake on his grave!
Lyon had arrived in Edinburgh from Prussia in the 1780s, and was a Jewish dentist and chiropodist who practiced from his rooms on the Canongate, on the Royal Mile.
In 1795 Lyon bought a plot of ground to use as his family's mausoleum - at that time the city had no Jewish burial ground, and Lyon's plot was the first recorded Jewish burial in the city. It cost him £17, which was a significant sum of money in the late eighteenth century.
It was also notable for being on the top of Calton Hill! The council were entertaining ideas of turning the hill into a necropolis, and Lyon was the first person to agree a bill of sale for a plot of land. Shortly thereafter the council's plans changed, and an observatory was built instead - but Lyon's ownership of his piece of land was legally binding, and on his death Lyon was buried in his subterranean mausoleum, along with his wife.
The entrance to the burial is hidden from view, overgrown with grass and kept (deliberately) concealed from public access, but it is on the northern edge of the summit of the hill, just beyond the wall of the observatory.
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In 2005, UNESCO named Edinburgh as the world's first City of Literature, thanks to the number and variety of bookish influences that can be found here. From familiar names like Robert Louis Stevenson and Walter Scott to contemporary figures like JK Rowling and Ian Rankin, Edinburgh's streets have influenced novels, plays, poems and works of non-fiction right through history.
So soaked in verbiage is Edinburgh that you can find many examples of poetry and literature inscribed literally in the stone of the city! Here are just a few examples of the words on the streets of Edinburgh...
A good place to start looking for street poetry is on Makar's Court.
In Scots a 'makar' is a poet (a bit like a 'bard' in ye olde English) and to celebrate a whole host of Scottish poets, one of the lanes of the Old Town has been given a distinctly poetic feel.
Lady Stair's Close is also home to the Writers' Museum, but if you cast your eyes downwards on your way to the museum you'll find all kinds of short quotes from a variety of Scottish writers in the paving stones at your feet.
Many of these quotes relate specifically to Scotland, or in the case of the quote above, to Edinburgh itself. A bit like this one:
This quote, from local author Alexander McCall Smith, is one of my favourite descriptions of Edinburgh, and you'll find it on the wall of one of the new buildings on Morrison Street, built to house the expanded Edinburgh International Conference Centre.
The golden coloured sandstone is typical of Edinburgh's stone, and the quote stretches a good distance along the street, hence the slightly strange waves in the picture - it's hard to get the whole thing in frame even with a panoramic feature!
This short poem is one I only discovered quite recently, despite walking miles through the city every year... It's in the pavement at the front of the new Scottish Parliament building at Holyrood, and it's a little hard to read because of the colour of the stone in which it's inscribed. It reads:
Look. What can you see?
I see beauty in the lochs
I see majesty in the mountains
I see legend in the rocks
And it is ours.
The poet is Robert Adam - not the celebrated architect who gave Edinburgh its classical style, but a 14-year old school boy who won a competition to have his poem featured in the parliament complex. I think it's rather lovely.
At another entrance into the parliament building - not one used by the public, alas - is another piece of text that has a poetic quality.
It's a passage from the Bible (1 Corinthians 13:1, if you want chapter and verse!) translated into Scots that was deemed to have a particular resonance for the new Scottish parliament when it was being established in the late 1990s.
The original text reads: "If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal."
There's also a rather interesting poem in the ground outside the University of Edinburgh's main library building on George Square... It is the world's only circular mesostic poem! (No, me neither...)
Have a look at it - start reading from the word 'our' and go clockwise:
A mesostic poem is a bit like an acrostic, where a text is constructed around the letters of a word or phrase that the poem also describes. This example is by the artist Alec Findlay and was commissioned by the University of Edinburgh in 2009, with the letters indicated with dots spelling the phrase 'thair to reman' ("there to remain"), which was taken from the will of the first benefactor of the library itself.
Not all the text that you'll find in the city is poetry or art. Some of it just helpful, like this panel in the Grassmarket which describes the geological activity and interaction between volcanic rock and movement of glaciers which created the city's landscape itself, known as a 'crag and tail' formation:
Most of the text you'll find in the city are quotations on lintels of doorways - 'Blest be God for all his giftis' [sic] occurs fairly frequently - and dates of construction. These indicators are always worth looking out for, as they give a real sense of the city's history, and are a direct connection to the people who built and shaped the city over the years.
And some of the text you'll find is pure graffiti, which can often be amusing and insightful, so long as it isn't actively damaging the fabric of the city or detracting from the historic features.
This example continues to make me smile every time I walk past it! (Shoes: model's own.)
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On 12 April 1700 one of the most expensive failures in Scottish history was finally brought to a close, as the surviving members of an expedition to settle a Scottish colony on the isthmus of Panama in South America left that continent to return to their native lands.
The Darien project, as it was known, had cost over £400,000 (equivalent to over 20% of Scotland's wealth at the time), led to the deaths over 2,000 people, and left the entire nation state politically humiliated in the eyes of England. It remains a major turning point in Scotland's troubled relationship with England, and the aftermath of the collapse of the Darien Company would cast shockwaves rippling through Scottish society for the next century.
So what was Darien, how did it go so terribly wrong, and what happened afterwards? I'm so glad you asked!
Seventeenth-century Scotland was a very different place from the modern imagery of a nation bursting with confidence and culture.
The so-called 'Glorious Revolution' which led to the crushing defeat of Scots forces at the Battle of Culloden, had broken much of the traditional clan structures of the Highlands.
As a broadly agricultural economy, Scotland's population had been hit badly with a spate of poor harvests, and the already limited export market with Europe had been badly affected by famines which had swept across the Nordic countries.
Relations with England were poor, and the English Civil War and Wars of the Three Kingdoms had weakened the people and military might of Scotland, leaving the whole country in a state of restless depression. A political union with England had been suggested, but forces within Scotland felt that bolstering the Scots' financial independence with stronger export links to overseas markets would serve the country better without compromising its integrity as a self-governing nation.
There were several major trade routes around the globe at that time, but there was one major issue that any international trading nation had yet to surmount: there was no overland link between the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans, forcing ships to make a long detour around the bottom of South America.
So a plan was suggested by an enterprising Scotsman named William Paterson - who had previously helped to established the Bank of England - to seek to establish a colony on the north-east coast of Panama, and create a passage across the South American continent to provide a service route that could bring tremendous financial benefit to the people who facilitated it. (The construction of the Panama Canal in the twentieth century served essentially the same purpose.)
The Company of Scotland was established in 1695, and charged with raising funds from a variety of backers from across Europe to support the project. Over £400,000 was generated in just a few weeks, equivalent to a fifth of all the wealth in Scotland at the time, and men were enlisted to sail to Panama and be the first colonists to settle Scotland's presence overseas.
A flotilla of five ships flying the Company of Scotland flag sailed from the port of Leith in July 1698, with a total of around 1,200 people aboard. In order not to raise suspicion with English maritime authorities, instead of sailing south and into the Atlantic via the English Channel they instead sailed north, traversing the seas around the northern coasts of Scotland, and out into the North Atlantic above Ireland. They crossed the ocean and arrived in Panama at an area called Darien, landing on 2 November 1698.
Their problems began almost immediately. The settlement that they established - named New Edinburgh - was heavily fortified, with over 50 cannons that had been shipped from Edinburgh, but it had no regular supply of fresh drinking water. The land that they were clearing in order to be able to plant crops was unsuitable for cultivation, and the local communities - to whom the Scots believed they could sell good and trinkets, in order to establish relationships and raise some cash - didn't want what the settlers were selling.
Despite all this, and with an expectation that things would improve, a letter was dispatched back to Scotland trumpeting the early success of the venture, and two further ships with another 300 people were dispatched from Scotland bearing fresh supplies and new colonists with new enthusiasm.
But conditions in New Edinburgh had worsened. As winter turned to spring of 1699, malaria spread rapidly among the new colonists, killing as many as ten people a day by the summer. Food supplies were running short, tensions in the camp were high, and Dutch and English colonies to the north and south had been instructed by their governments not to help to the Scots for fear of upsetting the Spanish, who operated valuable silver mines in the area.
In July 1699, New Edinburgh was summarily abandoned by those who had survived this far. One ship of survivors returned to Scotland to carry news of the expeditions failure, while two more ships sailed north to the relatively small port town (at that time) of New York, on the east coast of America.
But back in Scotland, not yet having received news of the failure of the initial settlers, four more ships carrying another 1,000 settlers had already departed for New Edinburgh! They arrived to the broken and abandoned settlement in November 1699. Thomas Drummond, one of the original settlers who had sailed to New York, had returned to Darien with a fully loaded supply ship, but the new arrivals were devastated to not find a thriving, fully settled town, and were instead being asked to build one again from scratch.
Tensions with the local communities were worse than ever, with Spanish settlers turning against their Caledonian neighbours. A series of sieges and conflicts resulted in further deaths, disease spread unabated, and by the time the Scots finally abandoned their cause in April 1700 just a few hundred of the over 2,500 settlers who had set out on the expeditions were left alive.
In the aftermath of this failure, Scotland was bankrupted and many of the individuals who had invested heavily in the venture had their reputations broken and their business relationships destroyed.
Seeking financial support to overcome the failure of the Darien project, the Scottish government approached the English government to request a financial loan to bail them out. England's response was that a loan would be offered, but that it would be to everyone's advantage if it wasn't a transfer of money between two separately trading nations, but between two partners in a joint enterprise....
Finally, the political union that had seemed so unlikely and unwelcome just a few years before now sounded like the only way the Scots could survive the effects of their failure. The Scottish parliament debated and ratified the terms of the deal, and on 1 May 1707 the United Kingdom officially came into being. One of the terms of the Act of Union of 1707 was a financial payment of over £398,000 to Scotland to help ease its burden on the English economy.
And so the union between Scotland and England was finally agreed, with many lords and nobles - who were humiliated and facing financial ruin after their involvement in Darien - given gifts of land in England to sweeten their disposition to signing away Scots independence.
Today the Darien expedition is something of a shadow on Scottish history, a failure of enterprise and opportunity that led eventually to national downfall. Of course, for many the union with England was (and remains) a vital and valuable partnership, but it seems unfortunate that it wasn't as a result of celebration and shared vision, but came on the back of terrible national humiliation for Scotland. Which may explain why some still see the relationship between the two countries as an uneasy and unequal pairing.
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