As the world's first UNESCO City of Literature, Edinburgh is renowned for its literary influences and connections. Chief among the figures frequently celebrated is Robert Louis Stevenson, who was born in the city on 13 November 1850.
Stevenson is still widely read with works such as Treasure Island, Kidnapped, and one story that has a particular connection to Edinburgh itself, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
To mark 170 years of Stevenson's influence and legacy in Edinburgh, here are eight locations in the city associated with this literary giant.
17 Heriot Row
The Stevensons moved to this grand address in Edinburgh's New Town when Robert Louis Stevenson was six years old, and he spent the bulk of his childhood at this address.
As a child he was prone to illness, especially problems with his lungs and his breathing, and so was rarely allowed to go out into the damp Scottish climate to play with the other children of the neighbourhood.
Directly across the road from the house is Queen Street Gardens, a private garden space, where Stevenson would watch the other children playing, from the safety of the drawing room on the first floor of the house.
In these gardens is a pond, with a small island in the centre of it. Literary historians have speculated that it was from watching the children playing around this pond and its island that Stevenson came up with the ideas of what became Treasure Island.
During the summers of the late 1870s, Stevenson spent much of his time in this picturesque village on the side of the Pentland Hills, to the south of Edinburgh.
His father had rented one of the properties, and Stevenson used the village as the inspiration for his unfinished novel St Ives, which he wrote in parallel with The Weir of Hermiston, which he did manage to complete.
Today the village of Swanston is still a rural retreat from the city of Edinburgh itself, with access to the hills, and remains popular with dog walkers and ramblers.
Another local setting which Stevenson borrowed for his writing was one of the many hills which make up Edinburgh's landscape. Corstorphine is to the west of the city, towards Edinburgh airport, and features in Kidnapped, Stevenson's adventure story set in the aftermath of the 1745 Jacobite Uprising.
The book ends with the two main characters form the story - David Balfour and Alan Breck Stewart - going their separate ways on Corstorphine Hill. Today a statue of the figures by the artist Alexander Stoddart can be found on Corstorphine Road, near the location where the scene from the book is set.
Princes Street Gardens
Stevenson spent the latter years of his life on an island in Samoa, in the Pacific Ocean. He integrated into the community there, who named him 'Tusitala', meaning 'Teller of tales', and on his death in 1894 he was buried in a spot overlooking the ocean, a reminder of his time as a traveller, journeying in the way many of his characters did in their respective stories.
So he has no formal grave in Edinburgh, his hometown. Instead, in Princes Street Gardens, surrounded by a glade of birch trees, is a simple commemorative headstone bearing his initials, RLS.
The Writers' Museum
One place where Stevenson is celebrated fully is in Edinburgh's Writers' Museum, a small building celebrating the life and work of three of Scotland's greatest literary figures - Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns, along with Robert Louis Stevenson.
The museum can be found on Lady Stair's Close, off the Lawnmarket on the Royal Mile. It's a free entry museum and is worth exploring for anyone interested in the lives of the writers featured.
Stevenson was known for living the lifestyle of a nineteenth-century writer, which meant (broadly) significant amounts of drink, drugs, and a fondness for prostitutes... One of the bars in which he drank still survives, and is today an Italian restaurant in the Old Town.
The Hispaniola was a bar popular with writers, poets and figures associated with the University of Edinburgh, and Stevenson is known to have spent time here with figures like William Henley, a writer and poet who had a large red beard and only one leg, the other having been amputated after a childhood illness...
The Hispaniola bar helped give Stevenson the name for the ship in Treasure Island, and surely a one-legged bearded man must have inspired that story's notorious pirate, Long John Silver?
Another suburb of the city where Stevenson spent time was Colinton, a small village near to Swanston where he spent time during his childhood. Stevenson's grandfather was minister of the church in Colinton, and the area provided young Robert with plenty of space to roam and explore and develop his interest in the natural world.
Today Colinton remains a peaceful residential suburb of Edinburgh, with the Water of Leith running through the area, and visitors can find a small statue of a boy playing with his dog, near to a heritage and nature trail. The boy in the statue is Robert Louis Stevenson, and his dog is Coolin, Stevenson's own childhood pet.
My final Edinburgh location which has a Stevenson connection is Chessel's Court in the Old Town, just off the Canongate section of the Royal Mile.
It was here in 1787 that a robbery took place, masterminded by Deacon William Brodie, the man whose life would help to inspire Stevenson's most enduring (and influential) character study - that of the duality of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde...
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With ongoing restrictions on public gatherings and social contact in Scotland (and all around the world) there has never been a better time to explore Edinburgh's outdoor spaces. A survey of British cities a few years ago ranked Edinburgh top for green spaces in the UK - 49% of the city centre is covered by parks!
Most visitors can find Princes Street Gardens, the Meadows or Holyrood Park and Arthur's Seat by themselves, so here's a quick rundown of some of the city's less familiar spaces to escape the crowds and enjoy a breath of socially distanced fresh air...
The proximity of Edinburgh to the coast means that there are plenty of beach walks, especially out to the east of the city. But tucked away on the edge of the Firth of Forth is the former Roman settlement of Cramond, with an expanse of walking space along the shore - either along the beach or a paved pathway, or venture inland along the River Almond as it flows into the firth and walk along to the Dalmeny Estate.
Brave souls (who check the tides!) may also venture across to Cramond Island, just a short distance from the shore but cut off at high tide. The island itself is great to explore, with its former military structures built to provide protection in the Forth during WWII.
A popular destination for families and dog walkers, Cramond village has a couple of nice cafes for refreshments before or after a walk.
At the bottom of the New Town, and adjacent to the city's Botanic Gardens, another amazing destination for those looking to ditch the crowds, Inverleith is one of Edinburgh's brilliant multi-purpose public spaces.
A children's playground attract families while tennis courts, rugby and footbal pitches attract more sporty visitors, but there's also plenty of wide open space for dog walkers. The pond - usually generously populated with ducks and swans - gives views across to the city itself, and being south-facing is a recommended spot for a lazy picnic or simply a relaxing afternoon to sit and chill.
Another former estate property, and another site popular with dog walkers, is Cammo, on the western edge of Edinburgh, near the airport. The ruins of this old house can still be found in the middle of expansive grounds which feature a variety of landscape features, from a wooded glade to wide open fields and former lawns, as well as an ornamental canal and a walled orangery, now overgrown and derelict.
Take any number of paths through the estate, and discover its original driveway (now overgrown) and its carriage houses and stable blocks, today just tumbledown ruins. It's an atmospheric space with plenty of nooks and crannies to explore.
Another of the city's volcanic outcrops, Blackford Hill to the south of the Old Town is a popular destination for dog walkers, as well as being the location of the city's Royal Observatory, moved here from Calton Hill in the nineteenth century.
Enjoy panoramic views over Edinburgh from the top of the hill, or take the kids for an exploration of the pond at the base of the park, which is also a designated wildlife reserve. The sense of space here is immense, and down in the valley behind the hill is the next local gem...
THE HERMITAGE OF BRAID
A former estate property set in a tranquil wooded valley behind Blackford Hill, through which the Braid Burn (stream) runs, the Hermitage gets its name for the peace and isolation it offered visitors before the city environs grew out to surround it.
Another popular walk for locals with dogs, the stream is also often a destination for school groups and nature clubs exploring the wildlife found along its banks. The Hermitage property itself is now a community centre, but features like the old ice house is a reminder of its function as a grand residence.
Networks of paths run through the trees and criss-cross the stream on a series of bridges, giving a genuine sense of exploring off the beaten track, but you're never more than ten minutes from civilisation!
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Of the five major graveyards in the centre of Edinburgh, there is one which regularly gets visited on my tours as a shortcut or thoroughfare between other parts of the city, but rarely features as a site or location in its own right.
St Cuthbert's kirkyard in the New Town is on the oldest continually used site of worship in the whole city - St Cuthbert himself is believed to have settled a small chapel on this site back in the seventh century - and has a number of features and graves that are worth examining.
The church itself is where the crime writer Agatha Christie married her second husband, in 1930. Having been divorced from her first husband, Christie's second marriage was a runaway affair, with the couple eloping northwards from England to Edinburgh, where the service was conducted without friends or family, and just two strangers brought off the street to act as witnesses to the ceremony.
Christie at that time was 40, and the man she was marrying, Max Mallowan, was 26, a fourteen-year age gap which was considered scandalous by some at that time - there is some speculation that they both lied about their ages on the marriage licence in order to reduce the age difference to a more socially acceptable level. (Mallowan was an archaeologist, which led some to suggest - rather unkindly - that the reason he'd married Christie was that the older she got, the more interesting he would find her...!)
Burials at the graveyard include John Napier, the mathematician who discovered logarithms and invented a device for easily calculating large sums - and a precursor to the pocket calculator - which became known as 'Napier's Bones' because the instruments were originally carved from bone or ivory.
Napier's family home was at Merchiston, near Bruntsfield to the south of the city centre, and the estate property is today one of the campuses of Napier University, one of Edinburgh's four universities.
You can also find the grave of Jessie MacDonald, granddaughter of Flora MacDonald who helped Bonnie Prince Charlie - the Young Pretender of the Jacobite Uprisings - escape Scotland after his defeat at the Battle of Culloden in 1746.
Buried on the eastern wall of the graveyard is Henry Raeburn, one of Scotland's foremost portrait painters in the eighteenth century, whose estate property at Stockbridge gives that suburb the name of its main street, Raeburn Place.
During the late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-centuries graverobbing became a significant issue in Edinburgh's burial grounds, thanks in part to the efforts of people like William Burke and William Hare, who become notorious for selling illegally acquired corpses to the University of Edinburgh's medical school.
As part of the efforts to stem the bodysnatching epidemic, watch towers were built in several of the city's graveyards, including at St Cuthbert's. The cream-coloured sandstone structure stands adjacent to Lothian Road at the western side of the graveyard, and from here armed guards would have been able to patrol the grounds to ward off would-be grave robbers.
Today the watch tower serves as a quirky office space which is rented out to local businesses.
Also buried in the graveyards is George Meikle Kemp, the self-taught architect whose major gift to the city fo Edinburgh was the 'gothic rocket' of the Scott Monument, in Princes Street Gardens. Kemp died before the monument was completed - his body was discovered floating in the canal to the west of the city - and his son oversaw the completion of the monument. Kemp's grave can be found in the central portion of St Cuthbert's kirkyard.
You'll also find a small memorial mounted on the western side of the church building itself, bearing the initials RTM. Robert Tait Mackenzie was a Canadian doctor and artist who created the memorial known as The Call - 1914, which commemorates the Scots soldiers who were killed or injured during the First World War.
The monument itself can be found nearby in Princes Street Gardens, and Mackenzie originally wanted to be buried in front of the memorial after his death. Unfortunately, Edinburgh Council's restrictions on the use of public spaces for the disposal or interment of human remains made such a request impossible, so instead Mackenzie's heart was buried in St Cuthbert's kirkyard, with a small decorative plaque commemorating his life.
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The architecture of Edinburgh is one of the constant delights of the city - no matter how many times I walk these streets (and I've walked them A LOT!) I'm always seeing new details or new features that I never noticed before.
But there are several instances in the city of architects dying before their buildings could be finished, and even (in one notable example) of a building being abandoned before it could be completed.
So here's a brief introduction to some of Edinburgh's unfinished architectural business...
GEORGE MEIKLE KEMP
Not an especially well known name amongst Edinburgh's architectural luminaries, Kemp was a joiner and carpenter by trade, but was also a self-taught architect who created one of the city's most significant structures.
In 1836, shortly after the death of the writer Sir Walter Scott, a public competition was launched to design a monument which would adequately celebrate this incredibly popular and influential figure. The top three designs would each win a prize of 50 guineas, and one of the designs would be built.
Kemp had no formal architectural training, and although he was a gifted draughtsman and had an eye for the detail of gothic structures of the Borders abbeys and Rosslyn Chapel, which he'd seen as a child, he'd never actually attained a design qualification. He submitted an entry to the competition under a pseudonym, and was thrilled when his design was chosen as one of the three winning entries.
Edinburgh was a city full of master builders and designers at that time, and his success (despite his lack of qualification) made him an unpopular figure in the architecture community. Nevertheless his design for a monument to Walter Scott commenced construction in 1840, and quickly took the 'gothic rocket' shape by which it is popularly known today.
In 1844, as the construction was nearing completion, tragedy struck. Kemp never made it home one evening, and his body was discovered floating in the canal near Fountainbridge a few days later. Suicide was ruled out, but whether it was foul play or accident which led to his drowning was never proven.
Kemp was buried in the St Cuthbert's kirkyard, and his ten-year-old son laid the final top stone of the monument to complete its construction six months after his father's death. Kemp never saw the finished monument which stands on Princes Street today.
Remembered as the architect who created the classical style of Edinburgh's New Town, Robert Adam came from a family of architects, and was such a notable figure in the late eighteenth century that on his death in 1792 he was afforded a burial plot within Westminster Abbey in London, lying alongside historical luminaries such as Mary Queen of Scots, Isaac Newton, Charles Drawin and (more recently) Stephen Hawking.
Adam's work across Scotland and the rest of the UK was extensive, but there were two major projects in Edinburgh which were left unfinished at the time of his death.
Most notably, perhaps, was the development of the University of Edinburgh's Old College, which Adam had designed as a double quad structure housing some of the university's prime teaching spaces. Construction began in 1788, but came to a halt four years later at the time of Adam's death.
Funding at this time was also a challenge, and so the building was left unfinished for nearly thirty years, until Adam's plans were passed to a luminary of the next generation of Edinburgh architects, William Playfair. Playfair made several major modifications to the plans - reducing the double quad to a single open space, for example, which reduced the cost of the construction significantly - and oversaw the development to its completion.
Adam would never see the finished Old College building, one of the most beautiful features in the Old Town, but neither would he see the completion of the site which would perhaps have the greatest impact and influence on the city as a whole.
The New Town of Edinburgh had been growing and developing steadily since 1767, with structures built westwards along George Street in sequence. The initial houses were all designed by different architects and developers, and the patchwork effect of styles and designs came to be considered unattractive, and ill-fitting with the highly stylised plans for the city.
Adam was commissioned to design all of the buildings around Charlotte Square, the western extent of the original New Town development, to create a harmonised sense of architectural style, and his plans started development in 1791, a year before his death.
Today, the style of Adam's Charlotte Square properties is reflected and reproduced right through the New Town, being taken on by later architects and developers and creating a unified sense of classicism which marks Edinburgh's New Town as a gem of Georgian style. Alas, Adam would never see Charlotte Square completed, nor would he know how influential his style and vision would be.
Another figure associated with the New Town would also never see the finished product. James Craig was the young architect whose grid-system plan for the New Town was revolutionary in the 1760s when he proposed it - three broad streets running east-west, bisected by smaller streets running north-south. It was a vision that was clean, classical, and in complete contrast to the narrow, winding lanes of the Old Town, and created an entirely different sense of space for the city's new era of expansion.
Although he died before the New Town with finished, Craig did perhaps have some sense of its impact and importance, as he came to resent the demands upon him for commissions that replicated his early grid system, and wrote to a friend complaining of the "monotony of the straight line" that developers sought from him.
Craig died in 1795, a quarter of a century before the first phase of the New Town was completed, and was buried in what was, for a long time, an unmarked grave in the Greyfriars Kirkyard.
Playfair was the neo-classical architect of the nineteenth century who followed Robert Adam's lead in creating distinctive styles of work which continue to populate Edinburgh's city centre. Almost any building with Grecian-style columns can reliably be claimed as either built or inspired by Playfair, but there is one specific structure which remained unfinished not just during Playfair's lifetime, but right up to the modern day.
On the top of Calton Hill, overlooking both the Old and New Town areas of Edinburgh, stands a distinctive range of columns that helped to give Edinburgh one of its nicknames, 'the Athens of the north'. This structure was original intended as a full scale recreation of the Parthenon in Athens, a Grecian temple structure that would serve as a war memorial to the dead and wounded Scottish soldiers of the Napoleonic Wars.
The foundation stone for Playfair's design was laid in 1822 during the historic visit of King George IV, and fundraising efforts began to raise the estimated £42,000 that would be needed to complete the monument.
The first round of public subscriptions raised £16,000, and construction work began on the columns.
Then, the fundraising dried up, the public stopped donating, and money for the project became scarce. Various suggestions have been made for why the public lost interest in the project - partly the Napoleonic Wars were considered a dim and distant series of conflicts that the people of Scotland didn't have an immediate or visible connection to, and so their interest in commemorating them waned steadily. One other factor was the death of Walter Scott, and the subsequent fundraising for George Meikle Kemp's monument in his honour - as an immensely popular writer and social figure, it's plausible that where people had money spare to donate to a public monument, they favoured the celebration of Scott over the commemoration of the Napoleonic Wars.
Either way, a decision was made that Playfair's monument would remain unfinished, and construction stopped after the range of twelve columns which adorn the top of Calton Hill today. What was originally to be known as the National Monument is today better known as Edinburgh's Shame or Edinburgh's Disgrace, becase of the decision to leave it unfinished.
The last notable architect who never saw his work completed was the Catalan architect Enric Miralles. He was just 45 years old when he died of a brain tumor in July 2000.
The project that Miralles was working on at that time was considered to be the greatest of the buildings he designed during his career, and it can be found at the bottom end of Edinburgh's Royal Mile, opposite the Palace of Holryoodhouse.
The modern Scottish Parliament Building is a controversial structure for several reasons, but the style and vision which Miralles brought to this previously neglected area of the city is the factor which visitors continue to find challenging. The building resists easy definition or understanding, and instead is a whole collection of symbolic references to Scottish culture, history, landscape and people - it's a truly eye-opening structure which was awarded the UK's highest architectural honour, the Stirling Prize, on its completion in 2004.
The building itself evolved over its construction, which may help to account for its variety of styles and features, but the most significant influence on its development was Miralles' death, which occurred just a year into the build and before the final vision of the parliament complex had been completed on the drawing board.
The project, suddenly without its lead architect, had to be taken over by another figure - and it was to be Miralles' wife, an Italian architect named Benedetta Tagliabue. She brought her own vision to Miralles' magnum opus, and saw it through to its completion.
Today the parliament is a highlight of the city, and deserves to be seen even if its style is considered to be challenging or ugly. The inside of the building is an incredible feat of light, space and style, and is worth exploring. Whilst he avoided much of the later controversy that came with the parliament, it's a shame Miralles didn't live long enough to see his intriguing building completed.
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As a city that has a great many artistic connections, from major figures like Eduardo Paolozzi to royal sculptors like John Steell and Alexander Stoddart, it's no surprise that Edinburgh boasts a great many public art works on the streets of the city.
Here are just a handful of works you may find during your visit to Edinburgh...
Work No. 1059
This work by the Turner Prize-winning artist Martin Creed is one piece of art you can literally walk all over...
In 2011 Creed renovated a spiral staircase in the Old Town which had previously been a dark, dank and rather unpleasant access link between North Bridge and Market Street beneath it.
The steps were a feature of the original building when it was first constructed in 1901. At that time the building housed the Scotsman newspaper, where Scotland's daily national was compiled and printed in house. The staircase included a number of hatches into the offices which allowed members of the public to pick up a copy of that day's paper literally hot off the press!
Creed's work replaced each of the old, worn sandstone steps with blocks of marble, each one different in colour and texture - 104 in all. So today pedestrians can climb the steps with a rainbow of shifting shades beneath their feet. Of all the city's staircases, the Scotsman Steps are one worth making the effort to climb!
The Next Big Thing is a Series of Little Things
This is one of my favourite pieces of art in the city, and like the Scotsman Steps, it's one you may not even notice.
On Bristo Square, at the heart of the university district, is the largest piece of public art in the Old Town, commissioned by the University of Edinburgh in 2017. Created by the artist Susan Collis, whose work often blends into its environment and plays perceptual tricks on the observer, the artwork is a series of over 1,600 bronze 'drips' set into the granite pavement, creating the effect of paint having been accidentally dribbled across the square.
Collis's idea was that most of the city's sculptures have become such a fixture of the landscape that passersby rarely even notice them any more. Her work, in contrast, begins as an integral feature of the street and will become more visible over time, as the bronze dots get rubbed shiny by the traffic of pedestrians walking over them.
I think it's fun and playful and worth keeping your eyes peeled for!
A Drama in Time
In a dark underpass at the base of Calton Hill, where the railway lines running out of Waverley Station cross over the top of the Calton Road, is a shining beacon of colour and light that is difficult to miss.
Installed in 2016, Graham Fagen's neon panels create a mini comic strip of images influenced by tales of migrant Scots, travelling from home to resettle their lives in far flung locations. The title is drawn from the writings of Patrick Geddes, a pioneer of social planning whose influence on Edinburgh is still apparent in many Old Town buildings and developments. He wrote: "a city is more than a place in space, it is a drama in time".
A self-explanatory title, perhaps, for an eight-tonne sculpture of a rather sultry looking fish, mounted on the shore at Cramond, a suburb on the coast to the north-west of Edinburgh's city centre. The artist is Ronald Rae, who hand carves his works from granite, a challenging process which can often take over a year for a single piece of work.
Other Rae sculptures can be found in the city, notably the Lion of Scotland which can be found in St Andrew Square in the New Town.
The Regent Bridge
Another easy work to miss - and the photo here is ho help at all - as this is a light show which is (obviously) best seen at night! The underside of the Regent Bridge, built in the New Town in the early nineteenth century, has been illuminated by the artist Callum Innes. This was his first public art commission, installed in 2012.
The coloured light strips in the ground on either side of the arch throw light up the stone walls of the structure, creating an interesting interplay of light and shadow. It's not a work that will linger in the memory, perhaps, but it does bring a bit of interest to what is otherwise a busy pedestrian route into Waverley Station.
All the World's a Stage
Technically a public artwork, although you will have to have a ticket to an event at the King's Theatre in order to see it...! The ceiling high above the auditorium in this popular venue was painted by the artist John Byrne in 2013 as part of a major renovation of the theatre, and takes its suitably theatrical title from the famous Shakespeare speech in As You Like It.
It took five weeks to paint the mural, which Byrne suggested at the time would be his last large-scale work.
Byrne has been a major figure in the Scottish arts scene for over forty years, known not only for his distinctive portraiture but his writing, with a fistful of successful plays, including The Slab Boys trilogy, TV drama Tutti Fruitti, and more recent adaptions of Chekhov's plays such as The Cherry Orchard and Uncle Varick. Byrne frequently designs the stage sets for productions of his plays, and often produces the publicity artwork too.
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Edinburgh's graveyards are always a popular feature on my tours, but I tend to steer clear of the ghosts and ghouls whose stories generally populate visits to such spaces. Instead I think there's real interest to be found in the lives of the people buried here, or the other unusual features that can be found in graveyards.
So here are five more graves that have stories to tell!
David Octavius Hill
Hill was an early pioneer of photography, and in the 1840s along with Robert Adamson he created some of the earliest surviving photographic images in the world, many of them views of Edinburgh.
Some of these images feature in my walking tours, and they provide an invaluable insight into what Edinburgh was like in the middle of the nineteenth century, and show just how much (or how little) parts of it have changed.
Hill's second wife was Amelia Robertson Paton, herself an artist and sculptor who exhibited work at the Royal Academy, and who carved several of the decorative figures on the iconic Scott Monument in Princes Street Gardens.
When Hill died in 1870, Amelia Hill produced a bronze likeness of her husband's head to stand over his grave, as it still does today. Amelia was buried alongside her husband, under her sculpture of him, in the Dean Cemetery, to the north west of the city centre.
George Buchanan was one of Scotland's greatest thinkers and academics during the sixteenth century, at a crucial time in the nation's history.
Having been born in Stirlingshire in 1506, as a teenager Buchanan studied abroad at the University of Paris and he held professorial positions in a number of European universities before returning to Scotland in 1537.
King James V of Scotland employed Buchanan as a private tutor to his son James, and later would teach the king's daughter, Mary, Queen of Scots.
Buchanan was a Catholic but also supported the rise of Protestantism across Europe, and in 1567 he was appointed moderator of the General Assembly of the post-Reformation Church of Scotland. He became the personal tutor to Mary's son, soon to be James VI of Scotland, and is held responsible for the boy's devout adoption of the Protestant faith, as well as his fierce obsession with the supernatural and witchcraft.
Buchanan died in Edinburgh in 1582 and was buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard. The stone and decorative panel above his grave today is a later replacement of the original stone.
Not all of Edinburgh's burials are in the city graveyards - to the south of the city in the residential area of Bruntsfield is the grave of John Livingston, a seventeenth-century apothecary or chemist who died of the plague - known as the Black Death - in 1645.
It's likely that Livingston caught the disease from the patients he treated. Many of the city's plague victims were buried in communal graves beyond the city boundary, in the area today known as Morningside, in order to try to stop the spread of the disease through the city's population.
Shortly before his death Livingston had bought an expansive property set in an area of its own land between Bruntsfield and Morningside, a glorious setting between the city and the countryside where he planned to retire and live a life of comfort. Unfortunately he only lived at the property for nine years before contracting the plague, and was buried as per his wishes in the grounds of the property.
Over time that property was divided up and sold and turned into a popular residential district, and Livingston's grave remained a contentious feature of the local area even until fairly recently.
William Hey Hodgson
Never heard of William Hey Hodgson? That's okay, there's probably no reason why you should know his name! The story with this grave doesn't relate to the person buried so much as the circumstances of the death and burial.
Hodgson was a doctor from northern England, who was probably in Scotland on holiday or for work. What we do know is that - according to his grave in the New Calton Burial Ground - he was "unfortunately drowned in the Firth of Forth by the upsetting of a boat".
I was amused by this initially as I thought it seemed like an unnecessary level of detail - unless it was clarifying that he wasn't drowned as a result of being held under against his will! But on closer inspection I found another detail (which is the whole reason I point this stone out to visitors)...
The Firth of Forth is the body of water which boundaries Edinburgh to the north, the tidal estuary of the river Forth as it flows into the North Sea. But on Hodgson's grave, the text actually described him being "unfortunately drowned" in the Frith of Forth - the misspelling almost as unfortunate as the accident itself.
Poor William Hey Hodgson - not just unfortunately drowned, but spending the whole afterlife with a spelling mistake on his grave!
Lyon had arrived in Edinburgh from Prussia in the 1780s, and was a Jewish dentist and chiropodist who practiced from his rooms on the Canongate, on the Royal Mile.
In 1795 Lyon bought a plot of ground to use as his family's mausoleum - at that time the city had no Jewish burial ground, and Lyon's plot was the first recorded Jewish burial in the city. It cost him £17, which was a significant sum of money in the late eighteenth century.
It was also notable for being on the top of Calton Hill! The council were entertaining ideas of turning the hill into a necropolis, and Lyon was the first person to agree a bill of sale for a plot of land. Shortly thereafter the council's plans changed, and an observatory was built instead - but Lyon's ownership of his piece of land was legally binding, and on his death Lyon was buried in his subterranean mausoleum, along with his wife.
The entrance to the burial is hidden from view, overgrown with grass and kept (deliberately) concealed from public access, but it is on the northern edge of the summit of the hill, just beyond the wall of the observatory.
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The Old Town of Edinburgh is the area that most visitors think of as being the 'historic' bit of the city, and relatively few tourists take the time to check out the New Town...
I think the name puts them off, and people don't realise that the 'new' part of Edinburgh is still over 250 years old! As such it has over two centuries of history to explore, and offers a fantastic contrast to the Old Town and Royal Mile area.
For most of its history the city of Edinburgh was clustered along a narrow strip of rock rising to a ridge with a valley on either side of it. That ridge is still there - the Royal Mile runs along it - as are the valleys, which for a long time formed the northern and southern boundaries of the city.
But by the 1740s the population of Edinburgh was rising faster than ever, and this city with an area of just a half square mile (1.3 square kilometres) suddenly found itself with a population in excess of 50,000 people. Conditions in the old city were squalid and filthy, with as many as a thousand people living on each of the narrow lanes or 'closes' along the main street.
Plans were drawn up to formally grow the city for the first time in its history, to spread to the north onto land which was dotted with fields and farms, an area marked on maps of the time as Bearford's (or Barefoot's) Park. This land was bought up from individual landowners, and a comprehensive plan was drawn up to build a whole new town.
In 1767 development started in the area known today as St Andrew Square. This large open space was originally a private garden for the wealth people who lived around the square - all of the New Town was planned as residential property, to allow the wealthy and high-status residents of the Old Town to start a new life away from the the filth and overcrowding of the original city.
The plan for the New Town had been drawn up by a young architect called James Craig, and his vision was a grid system of three broad streets running east-west, bisected by smaller streets running north-south. It was the first example of coordinated town planning in the UK, and his grid system - although it seems common in modern planning - was a truly creative approach to the system of city development.
This initial phase of development was all named for the monarch at the time of its construction - King George III - and to commemorate the union between Scotland and England, which was only 60 years old at the time the New Town was started.
Thus the streets here are George Street, Queen Street, Princes Street, Hanover Street (for the royal family line George belonged to), St Andrew Square, Rose Street and Thistle Street (for the national flowers of Scotland and England). St Andrew Square was originally to be mirrored in St George Square at the west end of the city, but that square was eventually named Charlotte Square for King George's wife, Queen Charlotte Sophia of Mecklenberg-Strelitz.
Craig had won a public competition to design this layout of the New Town, and although his plans were considered a great success he never was able to capitalise on this early opportunity, and towards the end of his life complained to a friend about the "monotony of straight lines" that he felt his career had been reduced to. He died in poverty and was buried initially in an unmarked grave in the Greyfriars Kirkyard.
It took developers nearly 50 years to build the first phase of the New Town, spreading westwards from St Andrew Square, with the housing around Charlotte Square being completed in the 1820s. But the city continued growing in stages - seven major phases of development in all - spreading all the way out to the west, the north, and later to the east as well. Today everything north of Princes Street is broadly considered to be New Town.
Today the New Town is the more contemporary, local side of Edinburgh, with many local shops, offices, restaurants and bars, and the streets here have a different feel from the more tourist-focused side of the city, in the Old Town along the Royal Mile.
The centre of Edinburgh is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the bulk of this protected area covers the New Town of Edinburgh.
I offer a specific New Town tour, focusing on this less visited side of the city, which features the Dean Village and Calton Hill along with a stroll along some of the (still) grand residential streets of the Georgian-era Edinburgh, or we can combine Old and New in a customised tour to suit your interests.
Escape the Old Town crowds and check out Edinburgh's New Town with my private city walking tours!
Visitors often remark on the number of church buildings in Edinburgh that no longer serve as churches. Over time, as population changes have seen people come and go, very many buildings have been repurposed, renovated, and given new functions. At least two former churches today house casinos, one is an indoor climbing centre, and several have been turned into bars and restaurants...
Of course many churches, like St Giles' Cathedral or the churches at Greyfriars and Canongate, remain active as churches, but here is a very short list of some of the former church premises that you may still have reason to visit during your time in Edinburgh.
THE HUB (FORMERLY ST JOHN'S HIGHLAND TOLBOOTH CHURCH)
Built on Castlehill on the Royal Mile in the 1840s, St John's Highland Tolbooth Church functioned as a meeting place for the Church of Scotland clergy during their annual general meetings, which today are held just across the road at the New College building.
The 74m spire is still the highest of all the church spires of the Old Town, and the golden cross at the top is the highest point in the city centre, standing taller than the flagpole at Edinburgh Castle. As such it's a useful reference point for navigating the city, visible on the skyline from almost every edge of Edinburgh, but the building itself is also an important venue in the city every summer, as it is home to the administrative offices of the Edinburgh International Festival.
As well as their office space, The Hub (as it is known) has a popular café, a box office for festival events, and a large internal space that is well used for weddings, conferences, and special events throughout the year.
EDINBURGH FILMHOUSE (FORMERLY UNITED ASSOCIATED SYNOD CHURCH)
Dating from the 1830s, this former church building on Lothian Road was converted into a cinema in the late 1970s, and today is home to the annual Edinburgh International Film Festival, as well as hosting a variety of arthouse and blockbuster screenings all year round.
WEST REGISTER HOUSE (FORMERLY ST GEORGE'S CHURCH)
At the west end of the New Town, on Charlotte Square, is the former St George's Church, converted into municipal function in the 1960s and today housing one of Scotland's records and archive offices, for people tracing family history through archive records.
The church took its name from the original square, intended to be St George Square (to mirror St Andrew Square at the east end of the city) and was initially designed by the architect Robert Adam. Adam's plans were modified by Robert Reid, including the installation of a stunning dome modelled on St Paul's Cathedral in London. The church served its community from the 1820s until structural concerns in the middle of the twentieth century saw it repurposed as its current function.
The former congregation weren't left homeless, and they moved in with the congregation at St Andrew's Church on George Street, which became St Andrew's and St George's, as it is today.
BEDLAM THEATRE (FORMERLY NEW NORTH FREE CHURCH)
Utilised today by the theatre society of the University of Edinburgh, the Bedlam Theatre takes its name from the former asylum and poorhouse which used to stand on this site, at the southern end of George IV Bridge in the Old Town.
The original building was designed by Thomas Hamilton, although it was never popular with the congregation it served, who considered the building ugly and ill-suited to its purpose as a church.
The Bedlam stages student theatre through the year, and serves as a popular venue during the annual Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
QUEEN'S GALLERY (FORMERLY HOLYROOD FREE CHURCH)
Between the modern Scottish parliament building and the Palace of Holyroodhouse is a building which is today attached to the panoply of structures associated with the palace. The Holyrood Free Church was a nineteenth-century building serving the community of Holyrood at the time when it was still a densely populated industrial district. The church closed when the industries moved away, and the local population moved with them.
Today the building houses the Queen's Gallery, hosting rotating exhibitions through the year displaying artefacts and pictures from the Queen's private collection.
GLASSHOUSE HOTEL (FORMERLY LADY GLENORCHY'S LOW CALTON CHURCH)
Dating from the 1840s, this former church adjacent to the Playhouse theatre (itself on the site of a long-lost Baptist meeting house) was demolished during the renovation of the whole Greenside area in the 1960s and 70s.
Part of the conditions for its demolition stipulated that the façade of the building be preserved, and for many years (within living memory) it was propped up with steel scaffolding supports while the area around it was completed revitalised.
Today the original church frontage is incorporated into the glass and steel structure that houses the Omni cinema and a whole host of bars and restaurants, and accessed through the façade itself is the Glasshouse hotel, popular for its roof garden and rear views up to Calton Hill.
See more of Edinburgh's changing history with my private city walking tours!
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!
Look down to see more details of the city with a private Edinburgh walking tour!
Sometimes all we get to see of a building is its front door, especially in a city like Edinburgh where many of the historic properties are still actively used as houses or commercial premises.
I don't take tours inside any of the paid entry attractions (although I may take you into a few choice locations on our tour!) so I'm used to only seeing the outside of a building.
Here are a few of my favourite doorways of the city, with some stories about the history hidden inside...
17 Heriot Row
Heriot Row remains one of the New Town's grandest addresses, and property on the street routinely sells for in excess of £1.5 million... Notable residents of the street include the physicist James Clerk Maxwell, and John Buchan, an author best known for his adventure story The 39 Steps.
Number 17 Heriot Row was the childhood home of Robert Louis Stevenson, and it is reputedly from a drawing room window on the first floor that he would stand looking out at other children of the neighbourhood playing in the private gardens on the other side of the road. In those gardens is a pond with an island, and it may have been those early experiences which fed his later iconic adventure story, Treasure Island.
4 South Charlotte Street
Another New town address, on the corner of Charlotte Square at the west end of the city. Number 4 South Charlotte Street was the birthplace of Alexander Graham Bell, who would later go on to lodge a patent for his invention of the telephone.
It's a useful reminder that before the New Town was the commercial district we see today, this area was built as a residential area for high-status families.
2 Advocate's Close
Just off the Royal Mile near St Giles' Cathedral is one of the most picturesque of the city's closes and wynds. Advocate's Close was formerly home to one of Scotland's Lord Advocates - the highest legal figure in the country - called Sir James Stewart. Stewart's house was actually at the bottom of the lane, but this doorway near the top of the lane is a powerful reminder that some of Edinburgh's Old Town houses have been occupied for over 400 years - look at the date above the doorway to see when this property was first constructed.
As Lord Advocate, Stewart's most notable case was the prosecution of a young student called Thomas Aikenhead for blasphemy, in the 1690s. Aikenhead became the last person in the UK to be executed for blasphemy...
Further down the Royal Mile, off the Canongate, is Acheson House, built in 1633 for Archibald Acheson, a major figure in the royal court of Charles I.
The crest above the doorway features a cockerel on a trumpet, the crest of the Acheson family, and in the middle of the date is a diagram made of the letters AA and MH superimposed on each other - for Archibald Acheson and his wife Margaret Hamilton.
Into the nineteenth century the house wasn't such a grand property, having become a brothel known locally as the 'cock and trumpet'....
Today Acheson House houses Edinburgh World Heritage, the city's premier heritage and preservation body.
The churches of Scotland are often the oldest structures to have survived the passage of time, and at Duddingston is a church reputed to be the oldest on Scotland's east coast.
One former door into the church - long since closed off - has an archway and stonework which dates back to the church's Norman origins in the twelfth century.
The church remains an active centre of worship for the community.
Earl of Morton's House, Blackfriars Street
Blackfriars Street is another fascinating lane in the Old Town, widened in the 1870s from its original layout as a narrow passageway just a few feet wide.
On the west side of the street are some of the original buildings which survived the wholesale renovation of Edinburgh, including a building which was formally home of the Earl of Morton, one of the regents who ruled Scotland during the childhood of Mary, Queen of Scots.
Today the building is a youth hostel, but above its original doorway is a fascinating emblem of two unicorns, standing aside a crown. This was the royal emblem of Scotland before the union of crowns, when Scotland and England came under one monarchy, in 1603.
The later royal emblem - still commonly used today - is of a lion and a unicorn with a crown between them, but this earlier symbol is still visible on a few surviving buildings from the sixteenth-century.
Take a private Edinburgh walking tour to see more doorways with stories from Scottish history!
In a recent survey of all the major cities in Britain, Edinburgh came out on top with the highest percentage of green space of any other city in the UK - 49% of Edinburgh's city centre is covered by parks and gardens, the majority of them open and accessible to the public.
Here's my top picks of the city's open areas that you may want to visit while you're here!
The largest of the city's parks is also a royal parkland, owned by the monarch and also known as either the King's Park or Queen's Park. Access to Holyrood Park can be gained from a variety of places around its perimeter, but for most visitors the obvious entry point is from the bottom of Royal Mile, across from the Scottish Parliament building and adjacent to Holyrood Palace itself.
The park offers a variety of paths across and through it, and it remains an incredibly popular spot for visitors and locals alike. The eastern side of the park provides a route down to the village of Duddingston, a picturesque village with the oldest church in the east of Scotland, and what is reputed to be the oldest surviving pub in the whole of Scotland, the Sheep Heid.
For those who don't want to climb to the summit of Arthur's Seat, in the centre of the park, the Queen's Drive offers a picturesque route to walk, cycle or drive through the park, with space to stop alongside St Margaret's Loch, a small artificial lake that is home to local ducks, swans and geese.
To the south of the Royal Mile, this low lying area was formerly a swampy marshland, which provided not just a defensive function to the city, but was also a water supply known as the Burgh Loch. In the eighteenth century the land was drained in order to create communal parkland where sheep would graze, and into the Victorian period it became an especially popular piece of land for locals, with its paths lined with cherry trees, and its wide expanses of flat land.
Today the Meadows remains popular with locals, especially during the summer when its proximity to the university district makes it a haven for students gathering to soak up the sunshine, or to enjoy a barbecue. It is also the site of venues during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, hosting circus events in a number of big tops erected on the grass.
At the eastern end of the park is a children's play area, with tennis courts nearby.
PRINCES STREET GARDENS
Originally built as private gardens for the wealthy citizens living in the grand New Town housing along Princes Street, the gardens here are today public, and remain popular with visitors and locals alike. With glorious views of the castle at the western end, and overlooked by the National Galleries of Scotland towards the east, the gardens are the dividing line between the Old and New Towns, and give a spectacular sense of the city's growth in the eighteenth century, as the city grew from the medieval city on the rock to the luxurious developments to the north.
Look out for the floral clock, planted every summer since 1903, near the entrance into the western gardens from the Mound, and the newly restored Ross Memorial Fountain at the base of the castle rock itself. On the eastern side of the Mound, the iconic Scott Monument gives you a more elevated sense of the city.
The gardens are also home to a significant number of statues and memorials - look out for Wojtek the bear, a memorial to Robert Louis Stevenson, and a statue of the explorer and missionary David Livingstone, among others. During the summer you may be able to enjoy live music from the bandstand in the centre of the park itself.
DUNBAR'S CLOSE GARDEN
A true hidden gem, which even many locals don't know about, is this small public garden space tucked away down one of the Old Town lanes near the Canongate Kirk.
The lanes originally provided access to the luxurious garden spaces built behind the grander housing that lined the bottom end of the Royal Mile, and Dunbar's Close Garden was created in the 1970s as a recreation of what these original garden spaces might have looked like.
A gravel path leads you through exquisitely planted sections with aromatic flowers and bushes - a key tool in the Old Town's battle with filth and unpleasant smells - with benches for visitors to sit and enjoy the peace and quiet. A small lawn at the bottom of the pathway attracts families looking for a picnic site in the heart of the city, and it's possible to forget for a moment or two that you're right in the midst of this bustling town.
ST ANDREW SQUARE
Another New Town space, and, like Princes Street Gardens, a space that was originally private for nearby residents. St Andrew Square was where the New Town began construction, and unlike Charlotte Square (its counterpart at the western end of George Street) St Andrew Square was made over to public access a few years ago.
Now it's become a popular place for shoppers and local people to relax with a sandwich lunch, or simply a place to rest and catch breath during a hectic shopping trip.
Explore more of Edinburgh's parks and gardens with my private city walking tours!
Of the hundreds of statuesque figures which are dotted around Edinburgh - almost one statue for every street corner! - there are a handful of works produced by the same contemporary artist, Alexander Stoddart.
Stoddart was born in Edinburgh in 1959, and studied fine art and History of Art in Glasgow. He was appointed Queen's sculptor in Ordinary in Scotland in 2008, a member of the royal household in Scotland - the first such post holder was fellow Edinburger Sir John Steell, appointed by Queen Victoria in the 1830s.
Stoddart is responsible for some of the most prominent memorials in Edinburgh - look out for these familiar faces as you explore the city!
JAMES CLERK MAXWELL
Sitting at the eastern end of George Street in the New Town is James Clerk Maxwell, one of the most important and influential physicists of the nineteenth century. Maxwell shaped scientific development and thought in a variety of fields, influencing figures such as Albert Einstein, who mounted a portrait of Maxwell in his office.
Maxwell demonstrated that every colour of light operates on a different wavelength, and associated with this it was Maxwell who produced the world's first colour photograph, in Edinburgh in 1861. He also used pure maths to demonstrate that the rings of Saturn could only be made up of small pieces of dust and rock, a theory only proven with imagery in the 1970s.
David Hume was a major figure during the Scottish Enlightenment period, and is considered by many to be the greatest philosopher who ever wrote in the English language.
Born on the Lawnmarket in Edinburgh's Old Town, Hume studied at the University of Edinburgh in his early teens, before travelling through Europe and returning to the city to publish books on a variety of subjects, from human nature and religion to British history. He was later appointed librarian at the Advocate's Library, attached to the former parliament buildings on the Royal Mile.
Widely considered to be an atheist - and having written lengthy rebuttals to theist beliefs and positions - Hume also wrote about the nature of causality, that the human condition presupposes us to see links between events that cannot be proven, and that it's impossible to demonstrate that doing one thing causes another to happen. It is therefore ironic that Stoddart's statue of Hume - on the Lawnmarket, and across the road from the advocate's library - has his foot overhanging the pedestal, which visitors can rub for 'good luck'...
Another major figure of the Enlightenment - and a friend of David Hume's - was Adam Smith, another writer and philosopher who lived on the Canongate in the Old Town, and wrote what is considered the first textbook on international trade agreements, The Wealth of Nations.
Smith is deemed to be the father of modern economics for his work in the field, laying down principles of production and trade which continue to influence the world over 200 years after his death.
Smith had also travelled widely, and had plans to write 23 volumes of work detailing a variety of aspects of human nature, as well as describing the universe in which we live. Two volume in the series were published during his life - The Wealth of Nations and his Theory of Moral Sentiments - and on his death he left instruction that all unpublished work should be burned.
Smith is buried in the Canongate Kirkyard, where visitors pay tribute by dropping small coins - literally the wealth of nations - on his tombstone.
WILLIAM HENRY PLAYFAIR
William Playfair was one of the architects who created the visual imagery that we find in the city today. Just as Robert Adam had created the distinctive New Town style of buildings which pervaded in the latter half of the eighteenth century, Playfair shaped the new improved city of Edinburgh as it moved through the nineteenth century, designing buildings and monuments across the city - buildings such as the National Galleries of Scotland on the Mound, the Old College buildings of the University of Edinburgh (co-designed with Robert Adam), and a number of churches.
Perhaps most iconically was Playfair's design for the National Monument war memorial on the top of Calton Hill, intended as a recreation of the Parthenon in Athens. This neo-classical Grecian style of building - with columns and decorations - became Playfair's trademark style, and Edinburgh garnered the nickname 'the Athens of the North' partly through its proliferation of Grecian architecture.
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON
Another son of the city is celebrated in a memorial a short way from the city centre.
The statue commemorating Robert Louis Stevenson doesn't depict the author, but instead two figures from his book Kidnapped, sited on the side of Corstorphine Hill, the location for the characters' final meeting in the book.
Alan Breck and David Balfour are shown in Jacobite period dress at the side of the road - Balfour is the protagonist of Kidnapped, while Alan Breck is based on an historical figure of the period who was the main suspect in a notorious murder in the aftermath of the Jacobite Uprisings of 1745-6.
Explore more of Edinburgh's famous (and infamous) figures with my private city walking tours!
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.
Explore more of Edinburgh's literary influences with my private city walking tours!
We're crossing the halfway point of this alphabetic exploration of Edinburgh, brought to you this time by the letters M, N and O! Previous blogs are linked at the bottom of the post...
THE LETTER M
M is for the McEwan Hall, one of the grandest buildings in the Old Town, which can be found in the university quarter of the city centre on Bristo Square. The hall is owned by the University of Edinburgh, and serves as their graduation hall where students celebrate completing their studies.
William McEwan founded the Fountain Brewery in Edinburgh in the 1860s, later to become one of the largest family brewing businesses in Scotland. Brewing and distillation had been Edinburgh's predominant heavy industry for centuries, with areas around Holyrood and around the canal at the west side of the city becoming industrial hubs where thousands of litres of beer was made on a daily basis.
Into the late nineteenth century, alcohol (or the steady provision of cheap alcohol) was held responsible for many of the social ills which afflicted Britain's cities - poverty, drunkenness, unemployment, were all attributed to the output of people like William McEwan and his business, and consequently many brewing families were moved to give gifts to the cities they operated in as a way of being seen to give something back to their societies.
McEwan gave Edinburgh University £113,000 to build a concert hall in his name, and the hall remains a key property in the university's portfolio, recently receiving investment for a renovation of many times the original cost of the building.
THE LETTER N
N is for the New Calton Burial Ground, a replacement graveyard built in 1818 to house bodies displaced from the Old Calton Burial Ground when Waterloo Place was built through the middle of it.
Around 350 bodies (estimates vary) were reburied in this new location, on the side of Calton Hill overlooking Arthur's Seat and the bottom of the Old Town. For three years no new burials were permitted here, until the graveyard opened formally in 1821.
The graveyard is overlooked by the grand New Town developments of Regent Terrace, and in order that the sensibilities of those able to afford such grand properties not be offended, the graveyard had to be concealed by the trees and landscaping.
The graveyard today has approximately 2,000 grave stones still standing, but there are believed to be over 14,000 people buried here, including communal graves for those who died in the city's hospital and poor houses. Famous burials here include the so-called Lighthouse Stevensons, who have a family plot in the graveyard, and William Dick, veterinary pioneer.
Today the graveyard has been rebranded 'Tombs with a View' for its picturesque outlook and is well worth passing through during your time in the city.
THE LETTER O
O is for Old Fishmarket Close. Leading off the south side of the Royal Mile near St Giles' Cathedral, as its name suggests this was formerly the site of one of the city's fish markets. Fish would be sold at the top end of the lane, where they would be gutted, allowing all the blood and guts to wash naturally down the incline to the Cowgate valley. It was a very primitive way of keeping the streets clean! In contemporary accounts the street was described as being a 'stinking morass'...
Fishmarket Close was also where the city's executioner would have had his home. Not a particularly illustrious or desirable job, the executioner had his accommodation provided and paid for as part of his pay and benefits package. Whether having such a house on the 'stinking morass' of Fishmarket Close was punishment or reward is not entirely clear.
On Hogmanay 1571, two of the ceremonial cannonballs fired from the castle to celebrate the new year fell short and landed in Fishmarket Close. They hit the stacks of unsold fish left at the sides of the lane, and the fish were thrown into the air. For the first week of January 1572, people travelled from all across the city to collect free fish from the roofs of the houses which were still standing...
Take one of my private city walking tours to explore more of Edinburgh's history!
An oft-quoted statistic claims that people in major cities are never more than 6 feet away from a rat. Whilst this may or may not be an accurate figure in Edinburgh, a comparable claim is that you're never too far from a historic crime scene in Auld Reekie. Bloodshed and death may be the stock in trade for some of Edinburgh's ghost tour companies, I tend to focus my tours on the city's history and its cultural attractions rather than exploiting events from its darker side.
Nevertheless, it's unavoidable that the streets and alleys of the Old and New Towns of Edinburgh have seen their fair share of death, so here are just a handful of sites where you may feel that you are walking in the footprints of murderers (and their victims)...
Holyrood Park, with Arthur's Seat at its centre, is a popular space for visitors to stretch their legs and escape the bustle of the city streets during their visit, and beside the road which leads through the park towards Meadowbank is a rough collection of rocks and stones which was once a memorial cairn.
Known as Muschat's Cairn, the monument was established near to where Nicol Muschat, a surgeon, brutally murdered his wife by stabbing her to death in October 1720. At his trial (where he was found guilty of her murder) he gave as justification for his actions that fact that he had simply grown tired of her. Appropriately enough Muschat was hanged for the crime, and in the years that followed local people followed the tradition of placing stones at the spot in memorial of the young woman who died.
The original cairn was removed sometime around 1789, and the current collection of stones is a Victorian reconstruction built in the 1830s.
Tucked away behind the Apple store near the east end of Princes Street is a narrow lane with the sign Gabriel's Road. It sounds like a rather charming name for an atmospheric alleyway through the area, but in 1717 - when the area was still open land, before the construction of the New Town - the lane was the site of a brutal double murder.
Robert Irvine was a tutor to two young boys in the Old Town, who was left jealous and angry when the master of the house in which he worked dismissed the maid with whom Irvine was having a relationship. In revenge on the family, he planned a picnic for the boys, bringing them out of town to what would have been an idyllic rural spot, where he slit their throats and left them for dead...
The story had a remarkable ending when Irvine was arrested, having been observed carrying out his bloody project by a witness in Edinburgh Castle, who had watched the events take place through a telescope. Irvine was hanged for his crime, his hands also being removed before death with the knife he'd used to slaughter the two boys...
One murder without a happy ending is that of William Begbie, a banking courier who was collecting cash to transfer between branches of the British Linen Bank in 1806. Making his way back along Tweeddale Court in the Old Town with £4,000 in cash, he was attacked by an unknown assailant, his body being found by a local girl who was collecting water from the nearby well. The money was gone, and until 1820 the police didn't even have a suspect in the case until a resident of the street claimed to have identified the man he'd seen in the lane fourteen years previously...
The man, James Moffat, was arrested and pleaded his innocence - he hadn't even been in Edinburgh for years, he protested: he'd been serving overseas as a merchant seaman for a decade or more. He was nevertheless held pending trial, until one morning Moffat was discovered dead in his cell. Without a formal guilty verdict, the death of William Begbie remains one of Edinburgh's unsolved murders.
Leading off the Grassmarket is a lane named Hunter's Close. It was here that one of the biggest historical uprisings of Edinburgh's history came to a bloody end.
John Porteous had been a captain in the City Guard, a ramshackle group of men charged with keeping law and order, whose actions had led to the outbreak of a major riot in the Grassmarket in April 1736. When six people died during the rioting, Porteous was arrested and put on trial, and despite having been found guilty it was rumoured that he would face a commuted sentence because of his connections to the British parliamentary system.
Worried that a convicted murderer may go free, 'justice' prevailed and Porteous was executed by a mob of angry locals, in this lane behind the Grassmarket. He was buried in the nearby Greyfriars Kirkyard, where a simple stone marks his grave.
Queen Mary's Bedchamber
Maybe the most famous single murder in Edinburgh's gruesome history is the killing of David Rizzo, Mary, Queen of Scots' private secretary, in 1566. As Mary and Rizzio ate dinner together in her private quarters at Holyrood Palace, a mob of men burst into the room and stabbed Rizzio to death in front of the queen.
Some accounts suggest that Mary herself leapt to Rizzio's defence and attempted to shield him from the attack, but with more than fifty wounds his body was later thrown out of the palace window. A plaque above a grave in the nearby Canongate Kirkyard suggests (although it may be considered unlikely) that this was his final resting place.
But the rooms in which the murder took place are still accessible to visitors exploring the Palace of Holyroodhouse, and stories relate how, for a time, red ink would be liberally sprinkled on the floor at regular intervals to suggest that visitors could still observe the blood shed by Rizzio as he died...!
Perhaps some people's ongoing fascination with death and suffering - or 'torture tourism' - is not such a modern phenomenon after all!
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Edinburgh's historic Old and New Towns have a wealth of architectural heritage between them, with many iconic structures by visionaries like Robert Adam and William Playfair, who between them gave the city its style and classical appearances.
Another of the significant figures to shape Edinburgh was the architect Thomas Hamilton, whose father had been an architect and carpenter before him. Here are just a few of Hamilton's gifts to the city...
The Old Royal High School
A building whose profile has been raised in recent months by controversial plans to have the structure renovated to give the city its first six-star hotel, the old Royal High School building may be Hamilton's best known work in the city.
Built in the 1820s on the edge of Calton Hill, looking out over the Old Town, the school operated from this location until the 1970s, when the building was considered no longer fit for purpose - its plumbing was outdated and it lacked the necessary standard of electrical connections. The school continues to operate, but has moved elsewhere in the city.
In the 1990s, the empty building was considered a possible site for the new Scottish Parliament, a plan vetoed on the grounds of it being prohibitively expensive to make the building 21st-century functional... The current hope is for Hamilton's building to be given new life as a home to St Mary's Music School.
The Martyrs' Monument
Just a stone's throw from where Hamilton would eventually be buried, in the Old Calton Burial Ground, stands a memorial, designed by him, to commemorate the lives of five men who had campaigned for political reform in Britain at the end of the eighteenth- and early nineteenth-centuries.
The monument is occasionally compared to the Washington Monument in Washington DC, a flattering comparison considering Hamilton's Martyrs' Monument is just 27 metres high!
George IV Bridge
One of Hamilton's 'hidden' features, George IV Bridge was built as an elevated roadway across the Cowgate valley to the south of the Royal Mile, with buildings constructed alongside to almost completely enclose it. Visitors (and locals) will often traverse the bridge (and the other bridges in the city) without fully realising the engineering feat supporting them. Another Hamilton building, the former North Road Free Church, now run by the University of Edinburgh as the Bedlam Theatre, stands at the southern end of George IV Bridge.
Dean Orphanage, now one of the Modern Art Galleries
At Belford, just a short walk from the west end of Princes Street, sit the city's two modern art galleries, part of the collective National Galleries of Scotland.
In the 1830s, Hamilton designed the Dean Orphanage, to help house and educate some of the city's children. Above the portico to the building is a stone clock, taken from the Netherbow Port, which was formerly the city's main gateway at the World's End on the Royal Mile. When the gate was demolished in the 1760s, the clock was saved and incorporated into Hamilton's design sixty years later.
In the grounds of the gallery are a number of allotments, still maintained for local people to grow their own fruit and vegetables, after being set up during the 1940s to help with the war effort during World War II.
Robert Burns Memorial
Across the road from the Royal High School on Calton Hill is one of two memorials that Hamilton designed to commemorate Robert Burns, Scotland's national poet.
The earlier memorial was built in Alloway in the Scottish Borders, Burns' birthplace, and in the 1830s a second memorial, to essentially the same classical Grecian-style design, was constructed in Edinburgh.
This second memorial was designed to house a life-size statue of Burns himself, and although the monument is no longer publicly accessible (except during special events) the statue of Burns, by the sculptor John Flaxman, is still on display in the city's National Portrait Gallery.
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The patron saint of Scotland - and also, incidentally, of Greece, Russia and Romania, among others! - St Andrew also has a town named for him on the coast of Fife, to the north of Edinburgh, where his relics were brought in the eighth century.
Legend has it that in the ninth century a Pictish king was expecting to lose a battle due to being greatly outnumbered, and vowed that if Saint Andrew granted his army a victory he would see the saint anointed as patron saint of Scotland. On the morning of the battle, a white cross was formed in clouds against the blue sky, resembling the cross of St Andrew, and upon winning the battle the king formally recognised St Andrew as the nation's patron saint, and the symbol of his cross became the national flag, the saltire.
In Edinburgh, one of the two large squares planned for the New Town in the eighteenth century was named for St Andrew, with an adjacent church bearing the saint's name too.
Whilst Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland, St Giles is the patron saint of Edinburgh itself (and also of blacksmiths, lepers and people afraid of the dark, among others!).
A Grecian prince, by birth, in the eighth century BC, Giles became a hermit residing in a wood in rural France, completely isolated from society. He kept a small deer for company, and legend has it that when a hunting party passed through the woods, Giles threw himself in front of their arrows to protect his animal. He is a traditionally represented with arrows in his hand or abdomen.
It's not entirely clear how Edinburgh became associated with the saint - possibly the general poor health of its population led to St Giles being particularly prevalent in the prayers of residents - but the city's main cathedral in the heart of the Old Town is named for him.
A specifically Scottish saint, Margaret had, in life, been queen of Scotland, through her marriage to Malcolm III in the eleventh century. Margaret had established a ferry service across the Firth of Forth, to the north of Edinburgh, to allow pilgrims easy passage to the reliquary at St Andrews, and the ferry service continued running for nine centuries until the opening of the Forth Road Bridge in the 1960s.
Today the towns of North and South Queensferry survive at the respective sites of the ferry ports adjacent to the river Forth.
After her death, Margaret was canonised and made a saint. One of her sons, David I of Scotland, established a modest chapel in his mother's name, which can be found within Edinburgh Castle as the oldest surviving functional building in the whole city.
Another Scottish saint, Cuthbert was born and lived on the east coast of Scotland and in the Scottish Borders during the seventh century. During his lifetime it is believed that he established the first chapel on the site of the modern St Cuthbert's parish church, near Princes Street Gardens, alongside the stream which originally ran into the valley from the western end.
The current church is the seventh successive church to have been built on the same site in Edinburgh, and as such survives as the oldest continually used site of worship in the city.
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Some of Edinburgh's most popular and peaceful areas are its historic graveyards, of which there are five in the city centre. They all have public access and offer some wonderful insights into the city's history, the people who have lived here and shaped Edinburgh as we see it today, as well as delivering some the best views and perspectives on the city itself.
On the side of Calton Hill, above Waverley Station, is the Old Calton Burial Ground. Originally relatively inaccessible from the Old Town, the route up to this gaveyard followed a set of steps which still exist today, leading from Calton Road right up the side of Calton Hill to Regent Road. The steps, called Jacob's Ladder, still offer some of the best angles from which to see St Andrew House, the site of the old Calton Jail, but no longer lead directly to the graveyard itself.
In the nineteenth century, the main thoroughfare of Waterloo Place was planned to connect the grand houses of Regent Terrace to Princes Street, and was run straight through the site of the old burial ground, requiring the transposition of several hundred bodies to the New Calton Burial Ground, a little further along the hillside.
One of the highlights of the Old Calton Burial Ground is Robert Adam's mausoleum of philosopher David Hume, bearing just his name, date of birth, and date of death. A modest tomb to a great figure of the Scottish Enlightenment.
The most prominent structure in the graveyard is the Martyrs' Monument, a needle-like structure built to commemorate five men who dreamed of a democratic political system at the end of the eighteenth century. Fearing that what had happened in France, with the overthrow of the monarchy and the government, sometime earlier, the men were arrested and put on trial for sedition, and punished with transportation and 14 years labour in a penal colony in Australia. Only one of them survived long enough to return to his homeland after his sentence, and in the 1840s the monument was erected in their honour.
Most intriguing of all is the statue of former American president, Abraham Lincoln, in the graveyard. He stands atop a memorial to the Scottish soldiers who fought alongside him in the American Civil War, and it remains the only Civil War memorial outside of North America. The statue of Lincoln was the first statue of an American president to be built outside the US when it was erected in 1893.
Other burials in the graveyard include Sir John Steell, who produced several of the iconic statues in the city, and Robert Burn, who designed the nearby Nelson Monument on top of Calton Hill.
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Just five minutes walk from Princes Street, the heart of Edinburgh's New Town, is an area seen by relatively few visitors to the city.
In the valley to the north of the city's Georgian development is a former industrial town which today has been incorporated into the city itself, but still retains much of its picturesque origins as an outlying settlement - it's one of the many 'lost' towns and villages which have been amalgamated into Edinburgh as the city grew.
Established along the banks of the Water of Leith, which for a long time formed an unofficial boundary, limiting the growth of Edinburgh at its northern edge, the Dean village was a major industrial centre which utilised the fast flowing water to provide power to its mills, grinding corn to produce flour. This flour was then imported into the city of Edinburgh, serving its bakeries, and further afield too.
Some of this heritage is still visible in the area today, where the river is studded with weirs built to create mill races, artificially fast passages of water which turned the mill wheels with greater efficiency. You may also see an old millstone, recovered from the water during a more recent clearance of the waterway.
The old mill cottages, which previously housed the workers in these mills, are today desirable residences for people seeking a quiet haven within easy reach of the city centre, and above the tree tops to the west of the village you may see the towers of one of the modern art galleries at Belford, accessible from the Water of Leith walkway along the banks of the river.
The Dean village - from the word 'dene', meaning valley - was an important outlying settlement for travellers into Edinburgh, growing up around the narrow stone bridge which provided one of the only convenient crossing points across the otherwise deep ravine. People travelling from such far-flung lands as the Kingdom of Fife would once have passed through the Dean village on their way into Edinburgh, boosting its profile as an important area en route to the city.
This all changed after 1827, when John Learmonth bought lands on an estate to the north of Edinburgh, with a view to developing them as part of the ongoing New Town expansion. Being on the far side of the ravine from the city, his land was not considered especially valuable, as there was no easy access from it into the city itself.
Learmonth commissioned the construction of a major bridge across this valley in order to make his land more attractive to developers. Civil engineer Thomas Telford undertook the design and construction of what became the Dean Bridge - his last project before his death - which was built over a period of around 2 years, and completed in 1831.
Suddenly Edinburgh was accessible without travellers having to descend into the valley where the Dean village stood. Learmonth's estates were developed, and today Learmonth Terrace forms part of the development around the Comely Bank area to the north west of the city.
Crucially, however, the impact on the Dean village was to by-pass it, and in so doing reduced its status and importance as an outlying town. In time the mills themselves closed in favour of more attractive sites closer to the port of Leith, where greater quantities of flour could be more easily exported from the docks. By the 1880s the Dean village was becoming a ghost town, until the building of the Well Court housing development sought to introduce a new population to this former industrial area.
Today the Dean village retains much of its late Victorian charm, with the river providing an oasis of calm just a short walk from the bustle of the city.
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As a medieval city, Edinburgh's Old Town is popular with people seeking a glimpse back in time, whilst the New Town still offers a visual sense of life during the Georgian age.
But much of the city also owes a debt of influence to the Victorian era, as the city was significantly re-shaped, 'improved' and rebuilt over the nineteenth century - indeed much of the surviving Old Town is rather newer than might be expected, with large swathes of the Royal Mile area dating back only as far as the 1860s - 70s.
Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert fell in love with the Scottish Highlands in the 1840s, and Edinburgh itself became a popular place for them to spend time away from London. Key developments were made to the city during their time here, and some parts of the city today only exist because of their royal intervention and patronage - indeed, Victoria remains the only female historical figure to be celebrated in statues in Edinburgh...
So here's my brief introduction to Victoria (and Albert's) legacies to the city.
This large parkland, including Arthur's Seat, is also known as the King/Queen's Park and is crown property, owned by the British monarch but with open access for the public. The land at Holyrood had long been a relatively unattractive area, low-lying and so with a tendency to being marshy and damp, and it was under Prince Albert's supervision that the area was first drained, with a track run around the perimeter of Arthur's seat itself - Queen's Drive - to allow access through the park to pleasure carriages.
Part of this development of the landscape was to create two artificial ponds - St Margaret's Loch and Dunsapie Loch - adjacent to the track. And so the layout of this popular park area today is directly thanks to Albert's vision and effort.
Also in the Holyrood area is the geological exhibition Dynamic Earth, and around its eastern edges a decorative wall with gun loops and castellated turrets which predates the late 1990s structure above it. Historically this area was the city's brewing district, and Victoria was understandably not keen to open her curtains at Holyroodhouse every morning, and gaze directly onto this heavily industrial site.
The royal household paid for an artificial wall to be built around the brewery, creating the illusion of a property with a much higher status - a castle or palace, perhaps! It has also been suggested that during special visits by important guests, Victoria paid for a team of men to parade along the battlements dressed as soldiers, to further the illusion...
In the heart of the Old Town is a street named for Victoria herself, created during the improvements of the 1830s, when West Bow, the historic main road into Edinburgh, was extended to join the newly constructed George IV Bridge. The top end of this new development was named Victoria Street to mark the queen's ascension to the throne, and the buildings which still stand near the head of the street were named India Buildings, a reference to Victoria's title of Grand Empress of India.
NATIONAL MUSEUM OF SCOTLAND
On Chambers Street, the largest and grandest of the city's museum spaces was designed in the 1860s. In 1861, Prince Albert laid the foundation of the museum building, and shortly after succumbed to the illnesses which had dogged him through his short life. This being his last public act, Victoria always held the museum in special regard, and it may have helped keep Edinburgh in her mind as a place to spend time. Carvings of Victoria and Albert can be found on either side of the central doorway at the top of the steps at the front of the building, originally the museum's main entrance.
PRINCE ALBERT MEMORIAL
Victoria famously spent the last forty years of her life in mourning for her dead husband, and one of the memorials commissioned to celebrate his life can be seen in Charlotte Square at the west end of the New Town. The statue was designed and created by local artist John Steell, and it was said that Victoria was so enamoured with the final statue that she knighted its sculptor on the spot. Certainly Steell became a favourite artist in Victoria's household, rising to the post of her official sculptor - although she was not uncritically appreciative of his work...
SCOTTISH ACADEMY BUILDING
At the top of the portico to the National Gallery building on Princes Street is a carving of Victoria in the role of Britannia, produced by Sir John Steell, her official sculptor.
A popular legend goes that Victoria was not pleased by the statue when it was unveiled to her at Buckingham Palace, considering that it made her look larger than she already was, and accordingly instructed her staff to take the statue and "put it where no one can see it". That it was then brought to Edinburgh to be put atop this most prestigious and high-profile building in the centre of the city seem a cruel joke at Victoria's expense!
Probably the most significant influence that Victoria had on Edinburgh is hiding in plain sight, immediately at the front of the city's most popular attraction.
The gatehouse at Edinburgh Castle has the classic appearance of a medieval fortress, but is actually the least authentic (or at least newest) part of the whole castle complex! Dating to the 1870s, the gatehouse was built at Victoria's request to create a more impressive, imposing frontage to the castle, which previously had no such grandeur - historically the castle would not have wanted to create a welcoming effect on visitors, being designed in large part to keep invaders out...
The construction of the gatehouse coincided with the castle's rise in popularity as a visitor attraction, and correspondingly today creates exactly the right impression on the thousands who pass over its drawbridge each year...
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Visitors arriving into Edinburgh generally do so via one of two routes - fly into the city's airport, with the opportunity to peruse the city from the air as the planes come in to land, or disembark from a train at Waverley Station, the largest and most central of the city's two major stations.
Waverley offers by far the most dramatic welcome into the city, with visitors emerging right into the heart of Edinburgh, with the castle ahead of you, the Old Town to the left, and the Scott Monument and New Town along to the right:
Here's a few things worth knowing about Waverley Station!
First of all, it's the world's only railway station named after a work of literature. Waverley was the first prose novel published by Walter Scott, who followed it up with a series of similar stories which became, collectively, the Waverley Novels. Scott originally published the story anonymously, and later went on to give the world titles like Rob Roy, The Heart of Midlothian, and Ivanhoe. Waverley himself is a character in the stories, an English soldier named Edward Waverley.
It may seem remarkable that Scotland's capital city has a station named for an Englishman, but prior to the station being named Waverley, it was formerly the North British Railway Station - run by the North British Railway company. There was a time when Scotland was referred to as 'north Britain', which may shed light on some of the country's identity issues!
In 1901, the North British Railway company built a grand hotel to serve customers and staff arriving into the city off its trains. This was the North British Railway Hotel, which today is the iconic Balmoral Hotel. When the hotel passed from being under the ownership of the railway company, the hotel was named the New Balmoral Residence - carved into its stonework around the building are the letter NBR, initials of both its prior incarnations before it became known simply as the Balmoral.
And back in the days of individual railway companies, the site of today's Waverley Station was the meeting point of three separate railway lines, each with their own stations - the North British Railway was the terminus for trains from London, Canal Street station served a subterranean line connecting north to Leith, Newhaven and Granton, whilst the Edinburgh and Glasgow General line connected through to Glasgow. All three stations on this site were later amalgamated into Edinburgh Waverley in 1866.
Prior to the development of this major transport hub, the valley in which it sits was occupied by a historic settlement which originally had been outside of the city of Edinburgh. Calton sat in the shadow of Calton Hill, and was on the main entry route into the city for travellers arriving through the port at Leith.
In the 1840s, the North British Railway wanted to expand their operations, and Edinburgh Council granted permission for the demolition of Calton to create space for the new station. Today almost nothing survives of the former settlement of Calton - it has been lost to history, save for a reconstruction of its historic church, the former Trinity College Church, which can be found on a lane between Jeffrey Street and the Royal Mile.
So, this is where you may wish to spend your afternoons doing actual trainspotting - perched on the grass adjacent to the Mound, watching the locomotives pulling into and out of the station. On a lucky day you may catch a glimpse of the Flying Scotsman! More likely you'll just witness the regular Scotrail services running between Edinburgh and Glasgow.
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A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of being shown around one of Edinburgh's true hidden gems. The Glasite Meeting House, on Barony Street in the New Town, has a fascinating history as a meeting house for this religious sect, who broke away from the Church of Scotland in the eighteenth century.
The main hall of the building was where services took place. The Glasites - named for their founder, John Glas, who hailed from Fife - were renowned for their long Sunday services, which could often last upwards of five hours. The group were sometimes referred as the 'Kail Kirk', thanks to the serving of a hearty soup or broth made of kale, served to members to break up the lengthy service of scripture readings, prayers and blessings, and the singing of psalms and hymns.
Inside the meeting hall, there are no windows to the outside world, just a large cupola allowing light into the room. The glass skylight has minimal decoration, as does the rest of the room - worshippers were not to be distracted by bright colours or elaborate decorations. The lines of golden coloured glass on the cupola is as decorative as the meeting hall got!
The hall is laid out with lines of pews, which would have been occupied by family groups, with some of them still bearing the idle doodles scratched into the wood by children who would have spent long hours here with their families.
The dining room upstairs still has one of the original clocks built into the fabric of the building, as well as the mechanism for a dumb waiter, which would have brought the soup up from the kitchens on the floor below. Here the adult members of the church would enjoy their meal, whilst visitors and children would eat in the kitchens. More decorative than the meeting hall, this room also enjoyed the benefit of windows and two fireplaces.
The Glasites continued to meet here as recently as 1989, however membership by that time had dwindled. A larger survival of the Glasite spirit continued in America, where John Glas's son-in-law Robert Sandeman established a branch of the Glasites which became better known as the Sandemans.
Glasite Meeting Houses survive in Dundee, Perth and Galashiels - a predominantly east coast sect - and the Edinburgh house was recently given a renewed lease of life as a community cinema.
Today the Glasite Meeting House in Edinburgh has been converted into an art gallery with public access to its exhibitions - visit IngelbyGallery.com for more information.
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Every year on November 11, the UK marks Remembrance Day, commemorating the date in 1918 that an armistice was declared across Europe, marking the end of the World War One, and now held as a day of remembrance for military and civilian casualties of conflicts from right across the twentieth century.
Edinburgh holds a variety of events and commemorations to mark this day, along with towns and cities across the UK, and one of the most visible emblems of this period of remembrance is that of the poppy, held as a symbol of both the fallen and the veterans of these wars.
The poppy was adopted as a symbol after World War One, when the fields in France and Belgium, where the front lines of the trench warfare had been, sprouted these vibrant and colourful flowers in the aftermath of the battles.
The wildflowers seeded themselves easily in the heavily churned up and disturbed earth of these former battlefields, and became an emblem of the losses which occurred there. (In France, the blue cornflower came to symbolise these conflicts in a similar fashion.)
Today, paper poppies are worn as an emblem of remembrance, displayed in wreaths, and are planted in fields of crosses, such as the Garden of Remembrance in Edinburgh's Princes Street Gardens, around the Scott Monument.
But you may not know that Scottish poppies are different from English poppies - the former have four petals, while the latter have just two. English poppies often have green leaves attached to the flower, while the Scottish ones do not.
Moreover, all Scottish poppies are made here in Edinburgh, in Lady Haig's Poppy Factory, a charitable body set up to provide occupation to veterans in 1926. Today they employ 40 ex-servicemen and women to assemble the paper poppies which are sold and displayed across Scotland. They hand-make over five millions poppies every autumn, ahead of the Remembrance Day events across the country.
The factory was originally established by the wife of Field Marshall Douglas Haig. He had been born on Charlotte Square in Edinburgh's New Town, and became the commander of British Army forces during World War One.
During the 1930s, ahead of the Second World War, employment at the factory reached 117 people, and was moved to its current premises at Warriston, in the north of Edinburgh, in the 1960s. They have continued to provide Scotland's poppies - for lapels and wreaths - ever since.
Now, over a century after the end of World War One, the symbol of the poppy is a major symbol of commemoration in countries all around the world, and the work of Lady Haig's Poppy Factory remains as important and valuable as ever.
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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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The National Museum of Scotland on Chambers Street underwent a major renovation in 2016, creating new galleries inside the building, and a remodelled front street for visitors to enjoy. Part of this remodelling including re-siting the existing statue of William Chambers (who gives his name to the street) and introducing a new statue to join him.
This new statue, from the artist Alexander Stoddart, is of William Henry Playfair, one of the city's greatest nineteenth-century designers and architects. He stepped into the shoes of Robert Adam, who had designed much of the burgeoning New Town of Edinburgh, at the end of the eighteenth century, and in 1813 had taken over the design process for Edinburgh University's new quadrangle building.
This quadrangle - which became the New College, and later renamed into Old College - stands at the end of Chambers Street, with its main access from South Bridge. And it's fair to say that the building is still one of the city's architectural highlights.
Playfair had stuck to much of Robert Adam's initial vision, and the finished building became an immediate hit, not only with staff and students of the university, but with visitors to the city, too.
Having established himself as a safe pair of hands, architecturally speaking, Playfair would go on to design more of the city's most iconic public buildings.
Public works that bear Playfair's name include the iconic National Monument on top of Calton Hill (popularly known as 'Edinburgh's Shame' or 'Edinburgh's disgrace'), the National Gallery of Scotland and Royal Scottish Academy buildings on the Mound, the Royal Observatory on Calton Hill, and St Stephen's Church, near Stockbridge in the New Town.
It is not too much of an overstatement to say that Playfair helped shape the vision of Edinburgh the visitors (and locals) enjoy today. His trademark style often incorporated classical and neoclassical components, and the columns which adorn many of his buildings and monuments helped to give the city one of its nicknames, 'the Athens of the north'.
As such, it is only fitting that this grand designer of Edinburgh should now be commemorated with his own statue in the city's Old Town. With William Playfair standing adjacent to William Chambers, it is perhaps not entirely inappropriate to suggest visitors take the time to check out the two Willies on Chambers Street....!
See more of Playfair's work with my private walking tours of Edinburgh...
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