EDINBURGH EXPERT WALKING TOURS - BLOG
Edinburgh is a remarkably dog-friendly city, so here's a mini celebration of five of the city's canines - some famous, some not so famous...
The legend of this so-called most faithful friend is (shhhh!) probably more fiction that fact, but the grave and monument to Bobby at Greyfriars is nevertheless a popular attraction for city visitors.
Despite multiple requests from Edinburgh council urging visitors (and the guides who lead them) not to rub Bobby's nose for good luck, people are continuing with this unfortunate 'tradition' - the cost to repair damage to the statue costs the city thousands of pounds a year, so please resign yourself to a life free of superstition, or rub the toe of David Hume instead.
The Scott Monument on Princes Street is the world's tallest monument to a writer, and at the side of John Steell's statue of Scott in the centre of the monument is the sleek figure of his deerhound Maida.
Scott's canine associations are also linked to the breed called Dandie Dinmonts, which were named for a character in Scott's novel Guy Mannering - after a period where the breed is believed to have become almost extinct, it has been suggested that all modern Dandie Dinmonts are descendants of a dog owned by Scott himself.
Just as Edinburgh has Bobby, the city of San Diego in California has a similar vagabond dog in its history. Bum was a stray who survived on the goodwill and charity of market traders in the city in the 1880s, and survived a railway accident which left him without half of one of his forelegs.
In the 1970s, Edinburgh and San Diego were officially twinned, and reciprocal statues of each city's famous dog were exchanged. Edinburgh's statue of Bum can be found just off King's Stables Road, at the base of the castle rock in West Princes Street Gardens.
James Clerk Maxwell, the influential physicist who took the world's first colour photograph, famously always had a dog who would sit at his feet while he worked. During the long nights when Maxwell was working on his mathematical problems, or the issues of physics that would influence later scientists like Albert Einstein, he would talk aloud to his dog, using the one-way conversation as a way of unravelling his thoughts.
Throughout his life Maxwell had many such companions who supported his influential discoveries, and they were always called Toby. The statue on George Street has a Toby sitting under his master's legs, as he would have done in life.
The childhood pet of writer Robert Louis Stevenson, Coolin was - like Greyfriars Bobby - a Skye terrier.
This statue of young Stevenson and his canine friend can be found in the village of Colinton, a short drive or bus ride from the city centre, alongside the Water of Leith.
Stevenson was often in this area because of his grandfather's connection as minister of the nearby church, and he is celebrated with a heritage trail through this picturesque and historic suburb of the city.
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Nestled in a corner of one of Edinburgh's suburbs is a small plot of paved and planted space dominated by a grinning skull and crossbones decoration. It is a hidden gem of Bruntsfield, this mausoleum of a local man named John Livingston, who owned and lived in the nearby property nearly 400 years ago.
At that time, in the 1630s, the area of Greenhill was a true outlying estate, well beyond the city limits, in a region known as the Burgh Muir. (The former name of the area survives in the name of the local secondary school, Boroughmuir.) This was an expansive area of land used for grazing cattle and under common/public ownership. John Livingston - an apothecary or chemist - bought a piece of land here and built his family home upon it, but was only to enjoy it for a short period of time, before his death in 1645.
Around this time, the Black Death was sweeping across Europe, and had taken hold in Edinburgh, one of the many times that plague ravaged the city. The virulent nature of the plague meant that specific plague laws were introduced to manage its spread, one of the surest ways of protecting the population was to remove those diagnosed with the illness and quarantine them in less populous areas, to prevent the spread of the disease. Burgh Muir was one area to which people diagnosed with the plague were evacuated from the city, and where they were buried on death.
It has been suggested by some that the dips and depressions in the Bruntsfield Links are the evidence of plague pits, where diseased corpses were interred, although this is not the case. The undulations of this popular parkland were created during quarrying of the area for stone - the plague pits of the Burgh Muir were further out, nearer the areas of Grange and Morningside today.
John Livingston contracted plague in 1645 - possibly spread by those souls moved out of the city - and after his death, aged 53, was buried at a mausoleum built on his estate. The land and house was later redeveloped by Livingston's son, and in time the Bruntsfield and Greenhill area became a popular suburb of the growing capital.
Today Livingston's burial plot is preserved just off Chamberlain Road, through a small gateway which leads into the enclosed area of the mausoleum, paved in stone and with plants decorating the surrounding edges. The gravestone itself bears an extended epitaph, and the cheery Latin inscription: Mors patet; Hora Latet - 'Death is sure; the hour obscure'.
In 2004 Livingston's mausoleum became the focus of an extended legal dispute between Edinburgh Council and the new owners of the adjacent residence, over who had ownership (and maintenance rights) over the land. The new owners had understood the plot to be included in their land, and had moved to close it off from public access, while the Keeper of the Registers of Scotland claimed that burial plot remained the responsibility of the council.
After much legal analysis of old title deeds, it was confirmed that John Livingston's mausoleum must remain accessible to the public, and with appropriate public maintenance from the city council.
As such, it remains a curious (and peaceful) space just off the busy access road between Holy Corner and the Grange, and a popular spot for those locals who know of its existence.
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Edinburgh Castle is the busiest paid entry visitor attraction in the country, and is the feature which gives the city its name, but you may be surprised to learn that there are many more castles in the area than just this major fortress. Here are five more of Edinburgh's castles, which aren't Edinburgh Castle.
Built in the fifteenth century, Merchiston Castle was home to the Napier clan, a wealthy family line with links to the Scottish monarchy.
Alexander Napier, first Lord of Merchiston, was Provost (mayor) of Edinburgh, as was his son, who built the castle. In 1650 the castle was the birthplace of John Napier, who would later go on to revolutionise the world with his discovery of mathematical logarithms. Napier died at the castle in 1617, and today the Napier family seat is at the heart of the Merchiston campus of Edinburgh's Napier University.
The Napiers of Merchiston have associations with another of the city's castles. To the north of the city, near the suburb of Cramond, you'll find the picturesque Lauriston Castle, built originally by the Napiers in the sixteenth century, but largely destroyed over time and substantially developed and added to in the nineteenth century.
The house is today maintained by Edinburgh Council, and open to visitors. The extensive gardens were laid out by William Playfair in the 1840s, and as well as views along and across the Firth of Forth at the foot of the gardens, you'll find a modern Japanese garden, with ponds and paths forming a space for peace and reflection.
All that remains of this four-storey fortress is a ruined square tower in the grounds of Napier University's Craiglockhart Campus. Different sources date the original structure here to between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries.
This seventeenth century castle in the Blackhall area of the city has been home to a succession of high-status families.
In the nineteenth century the property was known to have hosted a range of literary figures for weekends and soirees, including Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Lord Tennyson, and Hans Christian Andersen! The castle was recently on the market with a guide price of £5,000,000.
Another castle owned and maintained by Historic Environment Scotland, this is the only other castle in the city included in their Explorer Pass. Dating to the fourteenth century, Mary Queen of Scots sought refuge here at Craigmillar after the brutal murder of Rizzio in 1566, before returning to Edinburgh Castle to give birth to her son in June of the that year. Craigmillar is a great place for those wanting to explore a ruined castle with a true medieval flavour.
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Recently I had the pleasure of joining a Scottish Historic Buildings Trust study day, with the theme of Mansion Houses of the Royal Mile. The day of lectures and site visits was based at Moray House, on Edinburgh's Royal Mile, at what is today the teaching college of Edinburgh University.
There was plenty of learning, with three guest speakers presenting short lectures on a variety of subjects associated with the development of the large family houses along Edinburgh's Royal Mile, with familiar names like Riddle's Court, Gladstone's Land and Panmure House featuring heavily. But the true highlight of the day was having access to the oldest part of this campus of university buildings, the original Moray House itself.
Standing immediately on the main road of the Canongate (for a long time an entirely separate royal burgh from Edinburgh itself, despite being on the same stretch of street) this house dates to the early part of the seventeenth-century and at one time was described as the most handsome house on the whole of the Canongate.
Whilst the exterior of the building retains little of this original grandeur today, a few key aspects of the structure give evidence of its prior appearance, and the interiors of the building are beautifully preserved and give a thrilling sense of what it would have been like to occupy (or even visit) such high-status properties in the city.
The surviving stone gateposts into the house are still topped by the extraordinarily decorative elongated pyramid obelisks, and the large balcony overlooking the main road was originally one of two such outlook points, the other mounted on the opposite side of the building.
Whilst the rear elevation gave views over the extensive gardens behind the house, stretching down to modern day Holyrood Road, and out to the peaks and cliffs of Holyrood Park, the front balcony was an equally important location from which visitors and inhabitants of the house could both see the town outside, and be seen by those in the street. The balcony was effectively a society shop window, raising occupants above the hustle and bustle of the road outside, but allowing passersby a glimpse of the people who were fortunate enough to be able to call Moray House home.
The two best preserved rooms inside the house, on its upper storey, are the Balcony Room (which originally allowed access to the aforementioned balcony) and the Cromwell Room at the rear of the house - Oliver Cromwell famously installed himself in Moray House on multiple occasions during the 1650s, making it his military headquarters during his armies' occupation of Edinburgh Castle. And it is these rooms which show off the grandeur of old Moray House best of all.
The finely decorated plaster ceilings would have been the height of style and interior decoration at the time, and the detailed paintings around the Cromwell Room feature scenes from Greek mythology. It is thought that the specific choice of imagery here may have concealed coded references to the political sympathies of the Moray family at a very politically charged period of British history. It is said that the original Act of Union between Scotland and England, connecting the two nations into what we know as the United Kingdom today, was signed (in part) in the gardens at Moray House.
Unfortunately, general access to Moray House is limited to those on business with the university, so it was an extremely welcome privilege from the study day that the SHBT group was given access and allowed to take photographs.
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