I always say that there is more to Edinburgh than a guide book could show you, and most of it is hiding in plain view, just waiting for you to find it! There's no secret to it really, you just have to go looking, and be a bit more adventurous than just walking down the Royal Mile...
Going beyond the beaten track of the tourist trail rewards visitors, and that's what I try to do with my tours. This series highlights some of the smaller details of Edinburgh beyond the headline attractions.
Other parts can be found here: part 1 | part 2 | part 3 | part 4 | part 5 | part 6 | part 7
16. Cannonball House
Standing at the top of the Royal Mile, the last building on the left as you walk to Edinburgh Castle is called Cannonball House, and today houses a bar and restaurant offering unparalleled views of the castle esplanade. But the building gets its name from the two cannonballs stuck into its western-facing wall - look for them on the side on the building facing the castle.
Some guides will tell you these were fired from the castle on an invading Jacobite army in the eighteenth century - in fact they have a more interesting (if less romantic) origin.
In 1624 Edinburgh was granted an act of parliament to commission the supply of fresh water into the city for the first time. The water was brought from the hills to the south, via network of wooden pipes - hollowed tree trunks - across the landscape into the city.
The building across from Cannonball House was a water tank, and the cannonballs were put into the wall as level markers, indicating the height of the springs in the south, from which the engineers could calculate how high to construct their water tank to get maximum benefit of the water pressure.
17. Birthplace of a revolutionary
Scotland and Ireland have a long history of shared Celtic traditions and origins, and in the nineteenth century many Irish migrants settled in Edinburgh in pursuit of a better life than they had experienced in rural Ireland - the area of the Cowgate in particular became known as 'Little Ireland' due to the large number of immigrant families who settled there.
By the 1860s the Cowgate was an overcrowded slum, and it was in the shadow of George IV Bridge that a young boy named James Connolly was born to an Irish family, in June 1868.
Seeking a life beyond the slums of Edinburgh, Connolly enlisted with the British Army at the age of 14 (having lied about his age) and was deployed with the troops to Ireland, before deserting to avoid being sent over to India.
Back in Scotland, Connolly became involved in politics, campaigning for the Scottish Socialist Party, which in turn became restyled as the Irish Socialist Republican Party, and he returned to Ireland to spread the socialist cause in 1910. He later established himself as leader of a republican paramilitary troop called the Irish Citizen Army and was involved in leading those opposing British rule of Ireland in the Easter Rising on the streets of Dublin in 1916.
Connolly was injured in the conflict with the combined forces of the British Army and the Royal Irish Constabulary, and in the aftermath of the uprising - in which over 480 people were killed and many more injured - many of the rebel Irish leaders were executed by firing squad. Because of the injuries he sustained, Connolly was unable to stand to face the firing squad, so instead was tied to a chair and shot where he sat on 12 May 1916.
Connolly is commemorated in memorials and statues across Ireland (and the US) and has a railway station in Dublin named for him. A small plaque high up on the Cowgate in Edinburgh marks the approximate site of his birth.
18. The next big thing...
Walk through Bristo Square, at the heart of the university of Edinburgh's city centre collection of buildings, and you'd be forgiven for not spotting the largest public art commission to be installed in the Old Town.
Running across the square, and set into the stones at your feet, are a series of 1600 small bronze dots, looking a little as though somebody has dripped paint across the square. This is a work by artist Susan Collis, entitled 'The Next Big Thing... is a Series of Little Things', and it leads right up to the doors of the McEwan Hall, where university celebrates its graduating students.
Collis's work typically toys with people's expectations of art, and with this commission she subverts the typical experience of a statue becoming invisible in its setting because of its familiarity - something that is seen every day eventually stops being visible because it becomes part of the background of the city.
Her bronze dots in the ground, in contrast, will become more visible over time, as the movement of people walking through the square and scuffing and buffing the metal with their feet means that over time they will become shinier, and so more noticeable...
So remember to look up and look down as you explore the city of Edinburgh - there are details and secrets to be found at every level!
Explore more of the city's hidden gems with my private 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...
Search the blog archive...