EDINBURGH EXPERT WALKING TOURS - BLOG
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!
Edinburgh Expert Walking Tours is run by Gareth, an adopted native of Edinburgh, with over 20 years experience of living and working in the city...
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