EDINBURGH EXPERT WALKING TOURS - BLOG
On my walking tours of Edinburgh I try to show visitors some of the less familiar sights of the city, to explore areas away from the beaten track of the tourist trail - for every castle and palace there are a hundred smaller details that many people never take the time to look at.
This blog series is my way of introducing visitors to some of the hidden gems and city secrets of Edinburgh that we might encounter on a tour, alongside the popular features that every tourist takes photos of!
You can find other parts of this series here: part 1 | part 2 | part 3 | part 4 | part 5 | part 6 | part 7
13. A military muster point
On the road out of Edinburgh to the south, between the suburbs of Bruntsfield and Morningside, stands a small sandstone monument erected on the wall outside a former church building.
This is the bore stone, reputed to have stood at the point nearby where James IV of Scotland mustered his troops before marching south to invade northern England in 1513. This was a momentous battle in Scottish history. As well as being a historic defeat for the Scots - James IV became the last British monarch to die on a battlefield - it led to the city of Edinburgh constructing its second defensive wall to protect itself from any potential reprisals by the English.
The Battle of Flodden remains the worst defeat that the Scots ever suffered at the hands of the English, and a big part of that statistic was simply down to the incredible numbers of men that James IV recruited to fight. Thousands of soldiers - many of them just boys - were enlisted from all across Scotland, and they all amassed on the southern outskirts of Edinburgh ahead of their march south.
The bore stone on Morningside Road has a small hole running through it in which, it is alleged, a flag would have been mounted. From this point many thousands of men were walked to their death at Flodden, and today the stone serves as a sombre reminder of the cost of such conflicts.
14. The Magdalen Chapel
Standing on the Cowgate, between the Grassmarket and George IV Bridge, is a small building that has survived over 450 years of city development, religious uprisings and political turmoils.
The Magdalen Chapel was built as a small Catholic chapel in the 1540s, around the time of the birth of Mary Queen of Scots. It is believed that Mary's mother, Mary of Guise, led prayer sessions at the chapel during her time in the city in the sixteenth century, and the building survived one of the greatest periods of social change at the time of the Reformation in Scotland, in 1560.
When Scotland changed from being a Catholic to a Protestant country, many churches and chapels were attacked by mobs seeking to destroy the Catholic iconography and the elements of worship which were now against the beliefs of the Protestant church - in particular the high decorations, the paintings, statues and stained glass of the Catholic churches, which stood in opposition to the new Protestant church's more earthy form of religious celebration.
It is amazing the Magdalen Chapel survived at all, having been built by a man called Michael MacQueen as a form of Catholic indulgence, a way of helping atone for sins in order to secure his place in heaven. These indulgences, seen by the Protestant church as buying favour with God, were specifically abolished during the Reformation.
Today the Magdalen Chapel has the only surviving, intact, pre-Reformation stained glass windows in the whole of Scotland. They are on the back wall of the building and are each about the size of a large dinner plate. They're not visible from the street, but the chapel is open regularly for visitors to explore its small interior.
15. Birthplace of a great communicator
Visitors often spend little time in the New Town of Edinburgh - the name, perhaps, is a little off-putting. But this whole side of the city has origins going back to the 1760s, and before it became the commercial area that is apparent today, the New Town was an extremely high-status, wealthy residential district.
Look above and behind the shop fronts today and you can still see many of the original house structures, and a number of the buildings were formerly home to significant figures from history - my New Town fixed-route tour can showcase some of this area's fascinating and often overlooked history.
On Charlotte Square are a number of houses with lofty associations, and number 14 South Charlotte Street in particular was the birthplace of Alexander Graham Bell, the Scottish inventor credited with inventing the telephone.
Scotland has long been recognised as the home of a great many inventors, innovators and technological visionaries, and Bell stands among them as a figure who helped to revolutionise communication between people in a way that continues to affect and influence society today.
It is a little strange to think of the father of the modern telephone walking the streets of the New Town as a young boy, seeing the same views and buildings that visitors can see today...
Find more of Edinburgh's less familiar historical features with my private city walking tours!
Edinburgh Expert Walking Tours is run by Gareth, an adopted native of Edinburgh, with over 20 years experience of living and working in the city...
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