EDINBURGH EXPERT WALKING TOURS - BLOG
It's the penultimate instalment of my alphabetical exploration of Edinburgh - previous posts linked at the bottom of the page!
THE LETTER S
S is for South Bridge, one of the main thoroughfares through the heart of the Old Town. Built as an elevated roadway across the Cowgate valley in the 1780s, the road is supported on a network of nineteen arches, of which only one (crossing the Cowgate itself) it externally visible today.
The road was designed as Edinburgh's first purpose-built shopping street, but the vaults on the bridge beneath street level, behind the buildings erected on either side of the roadway, also became a vital part of the city's infrastructure during the early nineteenth century, when the growing population and desperate need for housing led people to move into the subterranean spaces. The author Robert Louis Stevenson wrote: "To look over the South Bridge and see the Cowgate below ... is to view one rank of society from another in the twinkling of an eye".
The vaults of South Bridge were later evacuated of their occupants and many arches filled with rubble to prevent people moving back in. A number of arches were excavated in the 1980s, and today many of the ghost tour companies lead tours into the 'underground' spaces, to thrill visitors with tales of dread and suffering.
THE LETTER T
T is for Tweeddale Court, one of the lanes off the Royal Mile with a number of historic features. The narrow lane is lined on its western side with a high stone wall that is a remaining section of the King's Wall, the first of the three defensive structures which protected the southern side of Edinburgh from invasion during the reign of James II. The wall was built in the 1450s, and gives an indication of the city's compact scale - the line of Tweeddale Court would originally have been outside of the city, running up to the gateway on the Royal Mile near what is today the World's End.
It was also on Tweeddale Court that a banking courier named Thomas Begbie was murdered in 1806, whilst transferring money from a branch of the British Linen Bank - the building today houses offices of the List magazine, as well as the publisher Canongate Books. Begbie's murder remains one of the city's unsolved crimes.
The small stone shed built against the King's Wall is the last remaining sedan chair storage shed in the city, from a time before motorised vehicles, and when horses and carts would have been unable to navigate the steep and narrow lanes of the Old Town. Sedan chairs were carried between two men, providing a comfortable, enclosed seat for people of high status to relax in whilst being transported through the city.
The lane was also used as a film set during the third season of Outlander, which was filmed along here in 2017.
THE LETTER U
U is for unicorns, the national animal of Scotland - of which there are many around Edinburgh. Not real ones (obviously) but in decorative carvings, emblems and on statues around the city. See the cheeky unicorn sticking his tongue out at the English lion on the gates into the Queen's Gallery at Holyrood, or the decorative panel from the reign of James V with the unicorn in all its glory.
The top of the Mercat Cross has a unicorn, chained to the ground (as all unicorns generally are) to keep them under control.
You'll also find unicorns atop the pillars at the entrances into the Meadows, dating from the International Exhibition in the 1880s.
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