Things may be looking up, but in Edinburgh you need to look down once in a while too! Not just to avoid tripping on the cobbles and the steps, but to seek out some of the smaller hidden gems and details that are set into the pavements and roadways around the city.
Here are a handful of things to look out - and down - for...
In Scots a makar is a poet, and on Lady Stair's Close in the Old Town you'll find numerous paving stones carved with text from a variety of Scottish writers. Appropriately it's the same lane where you'll find the Writers' Museum, celebrating the lives and works of Robert Burns, Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson.
But take your time passing through the street itself, and check out the inspirational quotes at your feet, including this one from Stevenson himself: "There are no stars so lovely as Edinburgh street-lamps".
Keep your eyes peeled for Edinburgh's trams, running into the city centre from the airport. The new tram service opened just a few years ago, but Edinburgh had horse drawn trams from the nineteenth century, and electric ones in the twentieth century.
The original tram service was finally abandoned in the 1950s, and all the original tracks were ripped up and removed. All except one short section, left as a reminder (or possibly a warning!) to future generations... Look into the roadway at the end of Waterloo Place, near the Balmoral Hotel, for the sad reminder of the city's long-lost tram service.
The Holyrood Abbey provided sanctuary to those in debt, who would otherwise be at the mercy of Edinburgh's draconian legal system, which imposed heavily punishments for being unable to repay money that was owed. At one time the sanctuary had over 2,000 people in its care, and they were so well treated they were known as 'abbey lairds', or abbey lords...
The sanctuary itself wasn't a specific building but an entire area, within which the debtors had to stay if they wanted to remain protected from arrest, The boundary ran up to the summit or Arthur's Seat, and across the Royal Mile at Abbey Strand are a series of brass letters S's, marking a part of this original boundary line.
SCOTLAND IN A NUTSHELL
This one is a bit hard to read, both in the photo and in real life!
Look. What can you see?
I see beauty in the lochs.
I see majesty in mountains.
I see legend in rocks.
And it is ours.
These words are in front of the modern Scottish Parliament building, near the exit where visitors to the parliament make their way out, in a single granite paving stone. They are the words of Robert Adam - but not the classical architect who gave Edinburgh its classical style in the eighteenth century, but a 14-year-old school boy who won a competition to mark the official opening of the new parliament in 2005.
History is yet to demonstrate whether Adam becomes a great poet later in his life, but I rather love his short, simple, beautiful poem which seems to capture Scotland in a nutshell!
PHYSICS MADE PHYSICAL
On George Street in the New Town sits a statue of James Clerk Maxwell, a giant of physics whose pioneering investigations into the world around us yielded all kinds of results which continue to have importance today. Maxwell demonstrated that different colours of light travel at different frequencies, and paved the way for Einstein's general theory of relativity...
In the ground in front of his statue are the four equations which he said defined the physical universe. I can tell you nothing more than that - they're just numbers and squiggles to me! - although one group I had told me that in recent times Maxwell's four equations have been combined into one single statement which (apparently) comes pretty close to being a single unifying theory of the universe...
THE NEXT BIG THING
Walk across Bristo Square in the university district and you may not even notice the Old Town's largest piece of public art, commissioned by the university a few years ago.
The piece is called The Next Big Thing... is a Series of Little Things, and it's 1,600 brass dots set into the paving stones of the square, running across from the west to the east side, looking a little as though someone has dripped metallic paint across the space. The artist is Susan Collis, and her intention was that an piece of art which is almost invisible initially will become more visible with the passage of time, as people walking through the square unknowingly buff the brass dots to make them shiny... So if you don't see it now, come back in a few years when it should be more visible!
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Standing on the corner of Princes Street and the Mound in the New Town, a rather dapper looking figure stands looking down on the shoppers and passersby. This is Allan Ramsay, an Edinburgh man notable for establishing the world's first circulating library, and today remembered for his former home in the buildings which bear his name adjacent to Edinburgh Castle itself, Ramsay Garden.
Ramsay had been born in Lanarkshire in 1686, and by 1701 had settled in Edinburgh as an apprentice wig-maker. At the turn of the eighteenth century wigs were worn by men as a form of status symbol, elaborate constructions of human, goat or horse hair that often fell in ringlets below a man's shoulders, or were elevated to a significant height as a means of increasing their wearer's sense of physical stature. They were expensive products and were created by skilled craftsmen whose reputations rested on their ability to create ever newer and greater objects for their customers to display in public.
By 1712 Ramsay had become a well-known wig-maker of excellent reputation with premises on the High Street (today's Royal Mile) for the richest and most high status customers to buy.
His love of reading and literature saw Ramsay join the Easy Club, a cultural group established to celebrate traditional Scots writing just after the union with England in 1707, when many features of Scots culture were threatened with extinction. From this association Ramsay began writing, and by 1718 was a successful enough poet to turn his wig shop into a bookshop. Some people have credited Ramsay's early writing with being a major influence on the careers of Robert Fergusson, and later Robert Burns.
In time Ramsay's bookshop mutated into the world's first organised circulating library, a cultural hub for readers to borrow books, magazines and periodicals and take them away in order to peruse them at leisure, and then return them for other readers to enjoy.
The modern notion of a library providing such access free of charge is quite different from the original circulating library system, where members where charged an annual subscription fee in order to have access to the collections of materials available. The early function of such organisations was not primarily an educational one, as might be expected, but a capitalist one - to profit from those who had money to spend on such memberships.
In Edinburgh, the rise of the Enlightenment ideals and the city's relative affluence made Ramsay's library a roaring success, and he was able to spend time focusing on his own writing, penning not just poems but also dramas, his 1725 pastoral play The Gentle Shepherd being performed and celebrated as a work of theatre in his own lifetime.
Ramsay opened a theatre on Carubbers Close, off the High Street, which was opposed by the religious fervour of the Calvinists, and later forced to close. Ramsay railed against the dour principles of the Presbyterian church in some of his poems of this time.
In 1740 Ramsay retired to the house he had built for himself, still seen on the land immediately east of Edinburgh Castle - the cream and orange coloured building at the top of the Royal Mile is called Ramsay Garden, and the central structure - Ramsay's original home - was popularly known during his own lifetime as 'Goose Pie House' because of its octagonal shape.
Ramsay died in 1743 and in buried in the Greyfriars Kirkyard, where a memorial on the side of the church building celebrates his life. The statue of Ramsay on Princes Street was carved by John Steell, and ensures that Ramsay is still visibly commemorated in the city where he made most impact during his lifetime.
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Next week the King's Theatre in Edinburgh hosts a new touring production of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, based on Robert Louis Stevenson's classic novella of man's divided personality.
First published in 1886, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (to give it its full title) fast became a popular staple of Gothic melodrama, and has since been adapted countless times into film, stage, comic book and TV versions, and has influenced many more.
Stevenson's story concerns the visionary scientist Dr Henry Jekyll, who discovers a potion that allows him to change into an alternative personality, the evil Mr Edward Hyde. It is believed the first draft of the book was written in the space of just a few days, after Stevenson dreamed the whole basis for the plot during a terrible (and possibly drug-induced) nightmare he experienced whilst living in Bournemouth, on the south coast of England.
The story is set in the dark and atmospheric streets of Victorian London, but it was Edinburgh who helped inspire Stevenson's writing, with one figure from the city's history who is alleged to have been the basis for the whole split personality concept.
Edinburgh's Deacon William Brodie was a member of the church, member of the city council, and a successful businessman, with his own cabinet making and locksmith business in the Old Town. However, he harboured a secret life wherein he masterminded robberies of wealthy families in the city, using his privileged position as a locksmith to gain their trust (as well as access to their homes).
After a bungled robbery on the city's customs house on Chessel's Court, Brodie fled Edinburgh to escape capture, only to be arrested in Amsterdam and brought back to Edinburgh to face trial.
He was found guilty in a sensational trial in the city, and sentenced to be hanged for his crimes. Legend has it that Brodie himself had helped to design the mechanism for a new gallows, featuring a trap door mechanism to ensure a faster, less painful death for those being hanged. It is considered a rare feat of poetic justice that Brodie was hanged on an gallows of his own construction...
Stevenson had certainly heard the story of William Brodie - he owned a writing desk and a cabinet made by the man himself - and must have utilised the notion of one man embodying two very different characters in his creation of Jekyll and Hyde. It is often said that Edinburgh itself inspired something of that split nature, being one city with two very different sides - a medieval, dark, dangerous Old Town, and a clean, bright, comfortable New Town. This 'split personality' of Edinburgh's city centre is still in evidence today.
'Jekyll and Hyde' became a classic shorthand for describing the duality of man's nature, the competing elements of good and evil within our psychologies, and the split personality trope is still a common feature in many horror stories. Even the name Brodie lives on - those who have watched the early series of TV drama Homeland may recognise that the central character's name is Marine Sergeant Nicholas Brody (spelled differently, but with the same split nature to his character).
We have Robert Louis Stevenson - and, by extension, Edinburgh - to thank for all that!
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On this day, February 1, in 1918, Muriel Camberg was born here in Edinburgh. Coming into the world in the final year of the worst international conflict the world had yet seen, the future may not have looked especially good for young Muriel. But Muriel Spark, as she became, is today rightly hailed as one of the UK's greatest literary icons, with her own place in the pantheon of great writers and artists who made Edinburgh their home.
Spark lived in the Bruntsfield area of the city as a child, and today this popular and bustling suburb is still a favourite for locals looking to escape the city centre. She was at school at James Gillespie's, still an active school with its buildings facing almost directly onto the open expanse of Bruntsfield Links. It was here she would meet one of her great inspirations, who would later lead to the creation of one of the most iconic figures in British literature. Gillespie's School, and a teacher named Christina Kay, would later find themselves represented in what is probably Spark's best known and most loved novella, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.
Shortly before the outbreak of World War II, Muriel married Sidney Spark, and they moved to Zimbabwe. By 1944, at the height of the conflict, Spark was back in London without Sidney, and spent the rest of the war working for the British government in intelligence.
After the war Spark's writing career developed, with her first novel published in 1957. She would become one of the foremost literary voices of her generation, with stories that defy easy categorisation. Spark's wit and humour shines through stories laden with political interest and social commentary, with a cast of characters that remain vivid today.
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie was first published in 1961. Set at a girls' school in Edinburgh, the story follows a collection of schoolgirls under the tutelage of their waspish teacher, Jean Brodie. Seeking to give her girls the widest possible education, to encourage them to broaden their minds and their horizons, her fascism-favouring influence takes a dangerous edge as the girls get to grips with love and politics.
The story is set in and around Edinburgh, and the film of the story, released in 1969, with Maggie Smith winning an Oscar for her performance as the eponymous Miss Brodie, features Edinburgh in many of its location scenes. Bruntsfield, the Meadows, the Vennel, and Cramond all featuring in the film, along with Edinburgh Academy, which stood in for the Marcia Blaine School for Girls.
Spark went on to live in New York and then Rome for a time, and from the 1970s until her death lived in Tuscany. She died in 2006.
Over the course of her career, Spark garnered many awards and much recognition for her work. She was twice nominated for the Booker Prize, was given eight honorary doctorate degrees (including from her alma mater, Edinburgh's Heriot Watt University), was made a dame of the British Empire in 1993, and a Golden PEN award for Lifetime's Distinguished Service to Literature.
On the centenary of her birth, Spark's work remains vivid and startling for its combination of wit and social commentary, and she remains one of the most celebrated British authors of all time.
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In these trying times of 'alternative facts' and 'fake news', works of non-fiction might be considered an increasingly precious and valuable resource, and so to celebrate World Book Day 2017 here are a few of fiction's less familiar cousins, all with origins in the city of Edinburgh...
In December 1768 the first instalment of the Encyclopaedia Britannica was published in Edinburgh, costing sixpence, and followed at weekly intervals with subsequent instalments until the full volume was completed in 1771. Divided into three hardback collections of letters A-B, C-L and M-Z, the encyclopaedia gathered essays on associated subjects, arranged by type rather than alphabetically.
The publication had been the project of two Edinburgh men, Colin Macfarquhar and Andrew Bell, who worked as booksellers, printers and engravers in the city, inspired by the boom in new ideas, discoveries and thinking taking place in Edinburgh at the time. This period, now known as the 'Scottish Enlightenment', gave the world many of its major philosophical and intellectual figures, including David Hume, Adam Smith and James Hutton.
The Encyclopaedia Britannica changed shape, format and style overs its lifetime, until ceasing to be published in a physical form in 2012 - by the twenty-first century the collected edition had expanded to around 40 million words, over 18,251 pages, a huge increase on the 2,391 of the original edition!
Prior to giving the world the King James Bible, James VI of Scotland also gave the world another popular book, itself with dubious claims to being 'non-fiction'. First printed in 1597, his Daemonologie became a standard text on the classification of demons, the signs and symbols of witchcraft, the techniques for tracking and identifying witches, and the legal bases on which they should be tried and executed.
James had been a keen believer in the evils of black magic, and had been heavily involved in several witch hunts and trials around the Edinburgh area, particularly the infamous Berwick witch trials of 1590. His book became a reliable compendium by which men, women, children and animals could be brought to account for their nefarious practices, and is thought to have been one of the primary sources drawn on by Shakespeare in writing Macbeth in 1606.
THE WEALTH OF NATIONS
A textbook of international trade, Adam Smith's vision of global capitalism, was first printed in 1776 and has the status of being the first work detailing principles of modern economics.
An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, to give it its full title, had been intended by Smith as just one volume in a series of 23 works detailing the moral and scientific basis for a wider range of disciplines, including the sciences, law, astronomy and the arts. The writer himself considered his earlier volume, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, a superior work, but it is The Wealth of Nations which remains one of the most influential works of non-fiction around the world today.
Smith was born in Kirkcaldy, in Fife, to the north of Edinburgh, but lived and worked in Panmure House on the Canongate, on Edinburgh's Royal Mile. He is buried in the Canongate Kirkyard, and his grave has accumulated coins from many countries around the world, thrown there by visitors in tribute to Smith's global impact.
CHAMBERS ENGLISH DICTIONARY
Published in 1872, the Chambers's English Dictionary, as it was originally called, was the work of two brothers, William and Robert Chambers. William Chambers had been lord provost, or mayor, of Edinburgh, and was responsible for much of the redevelopment of the city during the 1860s and 1870s, under what were known as the 'improvements' of Edinburgh. The Chambers dictionary remains a standard version of the English dictionary, and for a long time was the official dictionary recognised globally by the organisation who promoted and distributed the word game Scrabble.
The volume became a must-have for lexicographers, crossword addicts and puzzlers due to its keen inclusion of archaic, less familiar and unusual words and phrases. Its definitions were also traditionally more characteristic than other dictionaries - the entry for éclair, for example, read: "a cake, long in shape but short in duration"!
William Chambers is commemorated in Edinburgh with a statue on the street named for him, Chambers Street in the Old Town.
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Take a stroll through the Canongate Kirkyard, on the Royal Mile, and you'll find any number of literary associations with those buried there.
Robert Fergusson, the young poet who inspired Robert Burns, is memorialised not just with a statue at the entrance to the churchyard, but has his grave here too. Agnes Maclehose, who gave her pseudonym to the nearby Clarinda's Tearoom, was also associated with Burns - she was his muse, for whom he wrote Ae Fond Kiss, and other poems. Figures associated with the writer Walter Scott are buried here, as well - but their stories are all for another day.
At this time of year, the story that seems most appropriate is also one of the least expected ones, and the one I most enjoy telling!
In 1822, when George IV visited Edinburgh as part of his grand tour of Scotland (under the organisational care of Walter Scott, no less) he attended a large party at the Assembly Rooms, on George Street in the New Town. Here he danced and ate until he was satiated, with food produced by a local caterer and grain merchant, Ebenezer Lennox Scroggie.
When Scroggie died, in 1836, he was buried with a rather grand tomb in the Canongate Kirkyard, which described him, not inaccurately, as a 'meal man' - one who worked with corn and grain and other 'meal' products.
Barely five years later, the writer Charles Dickens was visiting Edinburgh, and took a short walk through the graveyard at the Canongate Kirk (as, indeed, visitors still do!). There, perhaps in the evening gloom, he misread the grave stone of Ebenezer Scroggie, and thought it described the person buried under it as a 'mean man'...
Curious as to what life such a mean man might have lived in order to get such a grand grave, Dickens borrowed the man's name and made him Ebenezer Scrooge, in his Christmas story A Christmas Carol.
As well as gifting the world the phrase 'Bah humbug!' for those disinclined to festivities, and, of course, the synonymous figure of Scrooge himself, Dickens also almost overnight made the name Ebenezer unfashionable - what had once been a reatively popular Scottish children's name became less common. No more would mothers stand at their open doors calling down the treet, 'Ebenezer, come awa' hame, yer tea's ready!'
Perhaps most intriguingly, it may have been Dickens who helped to cement one othe most enduring stereotypes of Scottish character and identity - the trait of financial frugality! To those original readers of the book, Scrooge would have been self-evidently a tight-fisted Scotsman, working over Christmas Day - as most Scots did, even up until the 1960s; while the English were celebrating Christmas Day and Boxing Day, our midwinter holiday was Hogmanay, to celebrate the new year.
Unfortunately the grave of Scroggie/Scrooge was one of the casualties of efforts to clean up and improve the city's graveyards in the mid-twentieth century, so although you can no longer visit the grave of Scrooge himself, it's no less satisfying to know that he's buried here!
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It was the cry which symbolised changing times, as Scottish culture and identity began to grow and take its place alongside that of England in the recently united United Kingdom.
On 14 December 1756, audiences witnessed the first performance of a play which established Scotland's character and language as a thing of value and importance - Douglas was a verse tragedy which had been rejected by English theatre companies in London before receiving its staging at Edinburgh's first public theatre.
Edinburgh's original Playhouse was located just off the Royal Mile in the Canongate, on the lane which today is marked as Old Playhouse Close. It was here that a capacity crowd had gathered for what turned out to be a landmark production from Rev. John Home, a church minister-turned-playwright who had been inspired by the traditional romantic ballad Child Maurice, about a doomed relationship between a mother and the child she gave up for dead many years previously.
It had taken Home five years to finish the play, and upon its completion he took it to London hoping to interest audiences in England with this tale of Scots passion and tragedy. The play was turned down by a number of theatrical producers, and it was only upon showing the text to friends in Edinburgh did Home receive any degree of support for the work.
At this time, theatres were considered to be dubious dens of licentiousness and disrepute, and so it was more than a little controversial that Edinburgh's theatre should be staging a play written by a man of the church!
Home received much criticism for his association with the play, especially after it was later presented successfully in Covent Garden in London, a year after its Edinburgh premiere. Fearing that the work had made his position as a parish minister untenable, Home resigned his post at his church in East Lothian. In 1786, pressure from the Church of Scotland led to the Edinburgh playhouse being closed altogether.
Home would later enjoy a revival in his status, as private tutor to the Prince of Wales (later King George IV), and did write a number of theatrical pieces which never enjoyed the success of Douglas itself.
Critical acclaim for Douglas helped to make it something of a canonical text in both Scotland and England, and it continued to feature as a set text on the English Literature syllabus in Scotland until the Second World War. The philosopher David Hume, a close friend of John Home's, considered Douglas to be on a par with some of the works of Shakespeare, and in Edinburgh others also considered the play to exceed that of the writings of the Bard of Avon, when the infamous cry went up from the audience - "Whaur's yer Wullie Shakespeare noo?!"
In the interests of balance, Samuel Johnson, compiler of the first English dictionary and occasional (reluctant) visitor to Scotland described Home's work as having "not ten good lines in the whole play".
But such was the overall success of this stirring and inspirational production that Home hoped to establish a national theatre for Scotland to champion its plays, writers, themes and characters in a climate which still considered Scottish culture of inherently lesser value and interest than the English tradition.
Home remained in Edinburgh until his death in 1808. He is buried in the graveyard at the South Leith Parish Church, and is commemorated with a bust among his cultural and historical compatriots on the Scott Monument on Princes Street.
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