Edinburgh's Old Town is far from an easy place to explore today, with its narrows closes and wynds running down the often steep inclines of the rock on which the city is built, and cut through with long, steep staircases and treacherous cobbles (actually setts) underfoot.
But in times past the city would have been even trickier to negotiate, with the lanes often being far narrower than they are today, few areas that were paved, and - worst of all - open sewers running along almost every surface...
Pity the unfortunate high status person who had need to visit this part of town! For those who were to the manor (or, later, New Town) born, the dirty, overcrowded and dangerous city was a threat not just to their health, but to the cleanliness of their clothes.
Thus, on this day, 19 October, 1687 the city's first formal taxi service was proposed. Alexander Hay, a carpenter, had constructed six sedan chairs - padded seats enclosed in a wooden compartment, mounted on two wooden poles - which could be carried between the shoulders of two footmen, for the purpose of transporting those who could afford his service through the areas of the city not accessible by coach and/or horse.
Hay applied to the council for a monopoly to run this service exclusively, and was granted the right to operate his sedan chairs without competition for a period of 11 years. For just 7 Scots shillings per hour travellers could use the taxi service to travel along any of the lanes and alleys between Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood. Travel outwith the limits of the city, beyond the Old Town, was by a price to be negotiated on pick-up.
The sedan chairs had to be stored overnight in sheds around the city, and Tweeddale Court, near the World's End, still has one of the buildings which served this purpose. The unassuming looking stone structure on the right of the alley as you go into the lane from the Royal Mile is the last surviving sedan chair storage shed in Edinburgh and is (some claim) the smallest protected structure in the city.
(And Tweeddale Court itself, in the section immediately off the Royal Mile, gives an indication of how narrow many of these lanes originally would have been...)
Today the only sedan chairs you're likely to see on the streets of Edinburgh can be found on the sign for the Museum of Edinburgh on Canongate, where the red-liveried jackets of the footmen carrying the sedan chair give an indication of how strikingly colourful this method of transport would have been.
Following Alexander Hay's death, his widow made an application to Edinburgh council in 1700 to extend the monopoly her husband held on operating the service. Her petition was granted, allowing her to continue drawing income from the business, in order to pay for the support and education of her children.
I can't offer tours of Edinburgh in sedan chairs, but my walking tours will help you explore the lanes and alleys of the city's Old Town!
To mark National Curry Week, here are my top tips for finding great curry dishes in Edinburgh... A good curry is fairly easy to find, but a GREAT curry can be that most elusive of prizes! Having sampled many of the city's curry options, my tip is to seek out the less obvious or expensive big name restaurants, avoid the chains, and take a chance on something a little less familiar. That way you're more likely to encounter a hidden gem to treasure! These are the ones that make my hitlist...
A true Edinburgh institution, with several awards and prizes to its name. Near the heart of the University of Edinburgh's Potterrow area it's justifiably popular with students, but you will also be surprised at the cross section of people cramming into its cosy interior. Be ready to share a table, if needed, in order to get a seat, and whether you go for a warming korma or a fiery patia, the flavours are as immense as the portion sizes...
THE MOSQUE KITCHEN
One of the foundations of the Islamic faith is the sharing of food, and Edinburgh's Central Mosque welcomes you to share one of their tasty curries at their dedicated restaurant on Nicolson Square. Don't expect a huge menu - with basic chicken, lamb and vegetable options - but the flavours are robust and authentic, the portions healthy and the pricing very pocket friendly.
Indian cooking often boasts exciting and intriguing vegetarian options, and Kalpna is an Indian restaurant dedicated to vegetarian curries, working wonders without meat. Located on St Patrick Square in the Southside, the restaurant is friendly, welcoming and its food known for its variety of flavours, colours, and textures.
A little further up Clerk Street is this south Indian restaurant, another favourite with locals for its healthy portions and flavourful menu. Try their 'dosai', savoury crepes packed with beautifully meat and vegetables - they're a true speciality offering something a little different from the majority of mainstream curry houses. Note that Tanjore offers sit-in only - their food is not available for takeaway!
Saving the best for last - this truly is my favourite place in the city for curry! Predominantly offering takeaway dishes, they also have a limited number of tables to sit in. At peak times you can wait up to an hour for food to be delivered, but it's well worth every minute - their chicken tikka biryani is full of tender meat and rich spices, and their saag aloo dish of spinach and potato is the perfect side dish.
All my private Edinburgh walking tours include a personalised information service, with restaurant recommendations and suggestions to suit you!
Edinburgh Expert Walking Tours is run by Gareth Davies, an adopted native of Edinburgh since 1998...