EDINBURGH EXPERT WALKING TOURS - BLOG
With the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic set to become the defining global event of 2020, it is perhaps an apposite time to reflect on previous times when illness and death stalked the streets of Edinburgh.
Between the fourteenth century and the seventeenth century the city was struck by bubonic plague - the Black Death as it became known - at frighteningly regular intervals. On most occasions the disease was eradicated in the city within a matter of months, but there was one period of over 16 years when the illness became endemic and circulated within the community pretty constantly.
And beyond the plague, other illnesses such as smallpox, typhus and tuberculosis circulated fairly freely before the age of effective medical intervention. But here are ten instances of Edinburgh dealing with a pretty persistent pestilence...
The first recorded instance of plague to affect Edinburgh occurred nearly 700 years ago, having spread around the globe via the shipping and trade routes which had begun to link what had previously been disparate continents and countries. Nations bordering the Mediterranean Sea had recorded a wave of deaths occurring very rapidly - often within two or three days after infection - and a year later such deaths were being recorded in Edinburgh itself.
It is thought that around two-thirds of the city's population (of around 10,00 people) died in this first round of illness.
A second wave of plague hits Edinburgh, this time killing around one-third of the population - and unlike the first infection, this time it is predominantly wealthier and higher status figures who are affected, perhaps because of their direct connection to infected imported goods and people bringing the disease into the country from overseas (not yet recognised as the route of transmission).
Throughout the fourteenth century, it's thought the plague killed approximately 20% of the population.
A wet summer and autumn is blamed for the illness, with the prevailing medical view about a balance of 'humours' in the human body - each of them being affected by environmental factors such as excessive heat or damp - still not recognising the presence of physical transmitters of the infection through viruses.
1498 - 1514
The longest period in which plague was rampant through Edinburgh, occasioning Edinburgh's city council to take actions to try to guard against infection, recognising the spread of disease in communities outside of the city and seeking to limit contact between those infected communities and Edinburgh itself.
A series of laws and city ordnances are put in place, including:
Teams of cleansers were employed by the city to clean and decontaminate properties where infection had been detected, using smoke and harsh chemicals. These people were housed separately from the rest of the community at the convent on St Mary Street, and paid as little as sixpence a day.
1529 - 1530
New cases of the plague saw even stronger measures taken to protect the city of Edinburgh.
The Burgh Muir, an extent of common land to the south of the Old Town (where Bruntsfield and Morningside are today) was designated as a kind of quarantine zone, and wooden huts were built to accommodate infected victims who would be taken out of the city and kept apart to prevent the spread of infection. Mass burials of plague victims also took place in this area, at a significant distance from the city centre.
During this time there are several recorded instances of punishments being meted out to residents of the city who had contravened the plague laws. One woman, Isobell Cattall, was both branded and banished from the city for not reporting that her daughter had been sick with the plague.
Patrick Gowanlock and his servant, Janet Cowan, were punished for harbouring outsiders in his property, with Gowanlock being banished from the city and Cowan branded on both cheeks for 'conniving' in the crime. An unnamed man was hanged for attending church whilst his wife was dying with the plague, and a woman named Katryne Heriot was drowned for bringing stolen goods into the city, and thereby bringing plague into the town.
After nearly a quarter of a century without incident, plague arrived back in Edinburgh, and the Burgh Muir was once again commissioned as a quarantine zone. The man in charge of looking after the patients dispatched here to die painful deaths was named John Forrest, and the terms of his contract stipulated that if any of the infected people released into his care should be deemed to have spread the disease to others, Forrest would be executed for dereliction of duty.
Thankfully this episode only lasted a year, and by 1575 the city was again disease-free.
A decade later, John Forrest was back in the Burgh Muir with more patients, and the area of infection was fenced off from the rest of the common moorland to prevent the mixing of infected and uninfected communities.
Beggars were forcibly removed from the city and people were instructed to isolate in their households if infection was suspected. A register was kept of such households, and food and drink was provided for them to prevent them needing to leave their homes. Anyone returning from the Burgh Muir was to remain in their homes for 15 days, on pain of death for anyone found breaking the rules.
At least two people were executed for contravening the regulations.
Another outbreak of the plague, arriving through the port of Leith from London, saw people being confined to their homes again, with 16 pence per person provided for those who were constrained from working.
So many people died during this outbreak - which lasted only four months - that Edinburgh's cemeteries were quickly at capacity, and a regulation was passed banning burials in coffins (which took up extra space in the grave).
1602 - 1607
Plague circulated intermittently through this period, with the Burgh Muir being utilised once again as a quarantine and burial zone.
1644 - 1645
The last, and worst, period of plague affecting Edinburgh came at the height of the English Civil War, and nearly three hundred years after the first recorded wave of infections. At this time the population of Edinburgh was approximately 30,000 people, with as many as 50% of them dying of plague.
This was the first time any dedicated medical and surgical support was provided to the city - prior to this treatment had focused on isolation and decontamination of property and materials after a death had occurred.
The medical treatment administered at this time was almost worse than the illness itself. The bubonic boils which formed on a victim within a day or so of becoming infected would be lanced with a red-hot instrument, allowing the filthy pus to be released, with the wound then cauterised to seal the flesh of the patient.
Generally patients would die anyway.
The doctor appointed to treat plague victims in Edinburgh in 1645 was a man named George Rae. He would go from house to house administering the treatment of lancing and cauterising the boils, and wore a heavy mask filled with sweet smelling herbs as a way of trying to avoid some of the stench of burned and poisoned flesh. He had been promised a hefty salary for his work (and his risk) treating patients, and it seems that the city authorities at that time anticipated that Rae would himself become infected with plague and die, since it transpired that they had no intention of paying the promised fee.
In the decade after the last incidence of plague in Edinburgh, Rae battled the council to get the money he had been promised, but is believed to have eventually died without receiving his dues.
One notable victim of the plague from this period was John Livingston, an apothecary or chemist who worked to treat those diagnosed with plague, and whose home had been built in 1639 at the edge of the Burgh Muir area where many plague victims were sent. He died in 1645, having contracted plague from the people he was treating.
He was buried in a tomb on his property which stands to this day and can be visited just off Chamberlain Road in Bruntsfield.
What is interesting about these events as we read them with a modern eye is the similarity in the attitudes to treatment, protection and prevention of the spread of disease. Social distancing, isolation, 10pm curfews and the closure of businesses are all features of the modern approach to tackling Covid-19, and whilst the comparisons with the plague aren't all entirely accurate (or appropriate) the similarities in our attitudes from those of 400 years ago are curious!
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This article was inspired and informed by THE ELEVEN PLAGUES OF EDINBURGH by W. J. MacLennan.
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 all the figures who have shaped or influenced Edinburgh's development through the ages, one man probably deserves ultimate recognition for creating not just the visual appeal of the city as we know, but for developing the very principles which underpin Edinburgh's heritage sector.
Patrick Geddes had a major influence in a variety of different fields and subjects during his life, and Edinburgh was the focus of several of his major ideas for city planning and heritage preservation. He was born on 2 October 1854, in Aberdeenshire, and his journeys would take him not just across Scotland but around the globe.
Geddes's primary interest was in the natural world, and his career incorporated work as a zoology professor (in Edinburgh), botany (in Dundee), sociology (at the University of Bombay, now Mumbai), and town planning (in Jerusalem, and Tel Aviv - which became the only modern city fully laid out to Geddes's plans).
His diversity of interest led him to criticise the tendency for scientists to specialise in a particular field to the exclusion of others - the interconnectedness of the natural world and human civilisation was key to his multi-faceted approach to life.
The emblem of the three doves (seen on the sign of the steps which bear Geddes's name in Edinburgh's Old Town today) was a motif he used throughout his work, symbolising the three factors which he considered important in any work of human endeavour - hand, heart and head (in that order of priority).
In Geddes's Edinburgh, at the end of the nineteenth- and turn of the twentieth centuries, the crumbling structures of the medieval Old Town were being ritually demolished and replaced with 'modern' Victorian buildings. This improved their function, but lost the history and heritage of the older structures. Dismayed by this sacrificing of the old in favour of the new, Geddes experimented with a new way of thinking about urban development, which combined modernisation with historical preservation.
In 1886 Geddes and his wife purchased a block of eighteenth-century buildings on James Court, just off the Lawnmarket, which at that time had become a dense, dirty and overcrowded slum district.
Instead of demolishing the buildings, Geddes oversaw a project which he described as "conservative surgery" - he had the worst buildings removed, in order to improve the situation for the surviving structures. Creating more space, with more light, and a better flow of fresh air through the site, Geddes then renovated the surviving buildings to improve conditions. The site became a halls of residence for Edinburgh University students.
Geddes's next major project in the city was to take over the Outlook Tower on Castlehill, which had been built in the 1850s as Maria Short's Observatory and Museum of Science. Today the building survives as the city's Camera Obscura.
Geddes arranged the exhibitions in the building in order of focus, beginning on the ground floor with an overview of world geography, on the next floor was Europe, then the United Kingdom, then Scotland, and finally a feature dedicated to Edinburgh itself. The camera obscura on the very top of the building provided a real-time demonstration of Geddes's vision of Edinburgh as a living, breathing, developing city.
This sociological laboratory, as he described it, put the emphasis on observation and study as a means of understanding the world, and from that his ethos of 'diagnosis before treatment' - to understand a thing before an attempt to improve or renovate it. He disagreed with a trend at that time to build or develop a city with a pre-ordained sense of how its users would interact with it - better, Geddes thought, to understand how a historic population had grown to use their space, how a city had been shaped by its inhabitants, and to develop from that.
Across the Royal Mile from James Court was Riddle's Court, another run-down and poorly maintained building, this time a survivor from the sixteenth century. Riddle's Court had previously been associated with high status figures like the Enlightenment philosopher David Hume, as well as having hosted James VI of Scotland his new wife for a banquet in their honour in 1598. By the 1890s the building was overcrowded, with terrible sanitation, and was ripe for demolition.
Instead, Geddes brought to bear his 'conservative surgery' method, stripping away the parts of the development which couldn't be saved, and transforming the remainder of the building into another student accommodation block, in which he also implemented the outrageous idea (for the time) of letting the student living here govern themselves! They set their own in-house policies, and were responsible for maintaining the building to suit their needs.
Riddle's Court was recently renovated by the Scottish Historic Buildings Trust, and today houses the Patrick Geddes Centre, a conservation and community organisation founded on Geddes's principles.
As well as the large buildings and gardens which survive as monuments to Geddes's vision, smaller details of the city also reflect his influence on the city. Notably on Wardrop's Court, another lane leading off the Royal Mile. At the entrance to the lane are two colourful dragon sculptures, commissioned by Geddes during his extensive renovations of the nearby structures.
Most poignantly, the pair of dragons on the inner court were carved not by a master craftsman, but by Geddes's youngest son, Arthur, with guidance from the sculptor Alec Miller.
They may not be as refined and expertly finished as the outer dragons, but they stand as a direct connection to Geddes family itself.
Past the dragons is the small courtyard of Lady Stair's Close, home to the Writers' Museum and sometimes known as Makars' Court. Lady Stair's House itself is another of Geddes's renovations, though not one he undertook himself. Rather he convinced the Earl of Rosebery, a distant relation of the original owner of the building, to buy the property back from Edinburgh Council in order to repair and restore the structure. Today the building has a decorative plaque bearign both the date of its original construction (1622) and the date of its restoration (1897)
One of Geddes's perennial concerns was the amount of green space in the Old Town of Edinburgh - or rather the lack of it. Geddes recognised the need for people to have access to open space, to have contact with the natural world in the heart of the densely crowded city.
As such, he introduced a number of urban gardens into spaces hwich had been left vacant by buildings which had been removed, or created green space with the intention of having them with public access for local people to enjoy as they saw fit. Examples of Geddes's gardens can be found around the Grassmarket, tucked away behind buildings or up narrow alleys, and further down the Royal Mile, off Canongate, is one of his original spaces which was renovated in the 1970s.
Dunbar's Close Garden is a recreation of an eighteenth century private garden, on land that was acquired by Geddes in the nineteenth century. It continues to offer a peaceful escape from the busyness of the city, and a secret oasis of tranquility just off the Royal Mile.
There are significant numbers of other buildings and lanes which bear the mark of Geddes's interventions to preserve and maintain them, but the one which most visitors notice at some point during their visit stands right in front of Edinburgh Castle.
Ramsay Garden was where Geddes himself lived for a time, in a development which began in the 1740s by the poet and librarian Allan Ramsay. This distinctive pink and white coloured building was built as a collection of private apartments designed for each individual family who lived in them, and as such the building has no fixed floor plan over its levels, but is instead a series of properties all constructed and laid out according to the the needs of each separate family.
Today flats in this building are some of the most sought after and highly valued properties in Edinburgh, with commanding views over the New Town to the north, or across to the mighty fortress of Edinburgh Castle itself.
And to think that without Geddes's vision and commitment to preserving the city's ancient structures and fitting them to the needs of the contemporary society, so many of these historic features may have been (as so many others were) lost to the merciless swing of the demolition ball in the nineteenth century development boom.
Truly, it is Sir Patrick Geddes to whom we owe a debt of gratitude of gifting us the modern Old Town of Edinburgh.
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Edinburgh has long embraced its status as a university town, and like similar perceptions of cities like Oxford and Cambridge in England, and St Andrews elsewhere in Scotland, it is often thought of as one of the classical hubs of learning for students in the UK.
Around 12% of Edinburgh's population is made up of students, and in recent years the city has attracted increasing numbers of students coming from overseas to study here.
Today there are four universities in the city, each with their own character, history and traditions. Here's your brief introduction to these four great centres of learning.
THE UNIVERSITY OF EDINBURGH
The oldest, largest and best-known of the universities is the one which takes its name from the city itself. Established in 1582, the University of Edinburgh is one of the oldest universities in the world - although it's only the fourth oldest in Scotland, with St Andrews, Glasgow and Aberdeen having established their universities earlier (in 1410, 1451, and 1495 respectively).
Today the University of Edinburgh isn't purely campus based, but occupies a series of collections of buildings around the city, with five major campus areas and numerous other small buildings and offices around the Old Town.
The Old College is the grandest of their structures, designed by the architects Robert Adam (who gave the New Town its distinctive style in the eighteenth century) and William Playfair. Today the building houses the law school, but previously was used for medical teaching, and would have been where students such as Charles Darwin and Arthur Conan Doyle attended classes.
Other collections of offices and teaching spaces include King's Buildings, from the 1920s, New College from the 1840s (housing the school of divinity), and Moray House, the university's teaching school.
One of the busiest university areas is around Bristo Square and George Square, where the university has some of its social spaces - Potterrow and Teviot - as well as a new infomatics building, the David Hume tower, the university's main library, and the McEwan Hall, their grand graduation venue. During the spring months in particular this area is busy with students, and in the summer becomes home to a number of festival venues.
Edinburgh didn't acquire any new universities between the sixteenth century and 1966, when the former School of Arts of Edinburgh (dating back to the 1820s) was designated its new status as a university, and a new name.
Heriot-Watt references two major figures of Edinburgh's history. George Heriot was a jeweller and a goldsmith in the sixteenth century, and James Watt was an engineer and inventor whose improvements to the steam engine brought about the Industrial Revolution.
Today Heriot-Watt has a campus to the west of Edinburgh city centre, as well as a campus in Galashiels in the Scottish Borders, and (since 2005) campuses in Dubai, Malaysia and the Orkney islands. A significant part of the courses taught at Heriot-Watt remain based in technology, including chemical engineering, renewable technologies, structural engineering, computing, physics, mathematics, finance, and textile design.
Heriot-Watt was named the Sunday Times International University of the Year in 2018, and frequently scores highly in national and international rankings for its academic teaching.
Another Edinburgh figure gives his name to Edinburgh's third university. The mathematician John Napier was born at his family's estate property at Merchiston near Bruntsfield in 1550. He is best known as the discoverer of lotharithms, and for creating an early computational device known as 'Napier's Bones' which allowed for quick calculation of large numbers. On his death his was buried at St Cuthbert's church in Edinburgh's West End.
The surviving portion of Merchiston Castle, in which Napier was born, now forms the heart of the main campus of the university named for him.
Courses available at Napier include health and social care, biomechanics, business, computing and engineering, and the university has around 20,000 students, including those on overseas placements and exchange programmes.
QUEEN MARGARET UNIVERSITY
The newest of Edinburgh's universities acquired its status in 2007, having previously been a college and university college. Queen Margaret University is named for Queen Margaret of Scotland, who was also a saint (not just figuratively but actually!). She has long held an association with education in Scotland, featuring in the emblem placed on schools across Edinburgh from the nineteenth century onwards.
The university was originally set up as a cooking and domestic science academy in 1875. As a women-only establishment - founded by two women, Louisa Stevenson and Christian Guthrie Wright - its purpose was twofold: to improve the education and working status of women, and to improve the diets of poor and working class families in Edinburgh.
Over time the university incorporated other organisations and schools, including the Edinburgh College of Speech and Drama, the Edinburgh School of Speech Therapy, and the Edinburgh Foot Clinic and School of Chiropody.
Having previously occupied premises in Edinburgh and at Clermiston, in 2010 the university moved to a brand new campus location at Musselburgh, to the east of the city.
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Not that it was the same Alexander Monro throughout that period, of course!
Alexander Monro primus left the medical school in the hands of his son, Alexander Monro secundus, who in turn passed the position to his son, Alexander Monro tertius. By the time this third Alexander Monro resigned from the medical school in 1846, the Monro dynasty had single-handedly governed the anatomy school at this world-class medical insitution for 126 years!
So here is a brief run down of the highs (and lows) of the Alexanders Monro, Edinburgh's three medical musketeers...
ALEXANDER MONRO (primus)
The first Monro was born in Edinburgh and studied at the University of Edinburgh between the ages of 13 and 16, but never graduated. Instead he served as an apprentice under his father, a surgeon in city, and on completing his apprenticeship went to London, Paris and the Netherlands to study under successive medical professionals, before returning to Edinburgh 1719.
Monro's skill and dedication to the relatively new science of anatomy so impressed the sitting professor of anatomy at the city's surgical school at Surgeons' Hall (not yet part of the University of Edinburgh itself), Adam Drummond, that he resigned in order to give the role to the young fellow in whom he saw huge potential as a teacher and medic.
Monro primus developed a reputation as a capable and popular tutor, and from 1722 was made sole professor of anatomy by the city council, giving him full control over this division of the medical school. His lectures were delivered in English instead of Latin, a rare departure for the age, and consequently became so popular with students that in 1725 the surgical college became instituted as part of the University of Edinburgh, whose facilities and capacity for students provided a greater platform for Monro's skill.
Thus the University of Edinburgh's medical school was formally established, with Monro as chair of anatomy, alongside other professors specialising in Theory of Medicine, Chemistry, Midwifery, and 'Physic'. It was then also under Monro's guidance that Edinburgh's Royal Infirmary was initially established, in 1729.
ALEXANDER MONRO (secundus)
The second Alexander Monro was born in 1733, and at the age of 12 - like his father before him - was sent to the University of Edinburgh to prepare him for a life of academia.
From the age of 18, Monro assisted his father in anatomy classes at the university, and when his father's lectures became so popular that not all the students could be accommodated in a single lecture theatre, the pair decide to split the course, with Monro primus teaching half the class during the day, and Monro secundus teaching the second half of the class in an evening lecture.
For over forty years, from 1759 to 1800, Monro secundus taught a full year of lectures at the university, before age and illness forced him into taking classes for only half the year.
As a resident of Edinburgh's New Town in the latter period of his life, Monro secundus dedicated one of his esteemed volumes of medical writings to Henry Dundas, a member of parliament at the time known in Scotland as 'the Great Dictator'. It's likely the two had become friends through their neighbourly connections in the New Town.
Monro secundus died in 1817, and was buried with his father in the grave at Greyfriars.
Despite the early nineteenth century being the heyday of medicine in Edinburgh, under Monro tertius the university began to acquire a reputation for being staid, mired in favouritism and nepotism (a charge exemplified by the Monro dynasty situation), and Monro himself was often described as being unkempt, dishevelled and even dirty during his lectures.
It may have been his visceral response to Monro's medical lectures that turned Darwin instead to the field of natural history, where he would later be a major historical influence.
During this time, too, the popularity of the medical school resulted in significant numbers of cadavers being removed from graveyards for sale to the university - this period of bodysnatching remains one of Edinburgh's worst periods of social history.
The two most famous figures associated with the bodysnatching epidemic weren't graverobbers at all. Burke and Hare went straight to source for their 'fresh meat', and murdered at least 17 people in an effort to keep the university in medical specimens. When the pair were eventually caught, Burke was executed for his role in the murders, and his body donated to the medical school...
Monro tertius died in 1859, and was buried in the Dean Cemetery in Edinburgh's New Town. In a film version of the Burke and Hare story, made in 2010, Monro was portrayed by Rocky Horror Picture Show's Tim Curry. A fitting tribute, perhaps!
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Just as Braveheart defined Scottish history and culture for the mid-90s film buffs, the TV adaptation of Diana Gabaldon's historical time-travelling romance series Outlander has captured the imagination (and hearts) of a whole new generation of viewers.
Originally published in the UK in 1991 as Cross Stitch, Outlander has everything a popular drama needs - doomed lovers, battles, unrequited passions and (of course) men in kilts...!
Since it premiered in 2014, the TV adaptation has been responsible for a massive surge in interest in Scottish history, with whole tour agencies dedicated to providing an authentic Outlander experience for those wanting to walk in the footsteps of Claire and Jamie.
I don't take tours out of Edinburgh, but here's my guide to some of the Outlander filming locations that can be found in the city and further around Scotland - and if you'd like a guide to take you out of the city I can make some recommendations for companies to check out.
EDINBURGH'S OLD TOWN
Series three is when the characters in the story visit Edinburgh for the first time, and there are several locations in the Old Town which were used for on-site filming.
Bakehouse Close is the one which most fans look for, as this is the location for Jamie's print shop in the series. I've lost count of the number of people on my tours who have wanted to have their photograph taken on the steps which provided access to the print shop!
The lane here was heavily decorated for filming, and appeared in a number of sequences as characters made their way through the city's busy medieval streets.
The area historically was a bakery district (as its name suggests) and the adjacent Acheson House property - also used for filming - has served as both a high-status residence and a brothel at different times in history!
Tweeddale Court is another of the old lanes which was used for filming, again highly decorated as a market place, where Claire and Jamie first re-encounter each other in the series.
This narrow lane was originally outside of the medieval city walls, which can still be seen along the alley, and later was the access point to a grand manor house owned by the Marquess of Tweeddale.
Other locations in Edinburgh which feature in the series include the World's End pub; the Signet Library, a grand eighteenth-century legal library which today hosts afternoon teas; the former veterinary school of Summerhall; and Craigmillar Castle, a ruined fortress once occupied by Mary, Queen of Scots (the area around it is still known as 'Little France') which serves as Ardsmuir Prison where Jamie is held after the Battle of Culloden in the Outlander series.
You have to go beyond the city to discover some of the more recognisable and iconic locations from the TV series.
Linlithgow Palace was the birthplace of Mary, Queen of Scots, and features in the Outlander series as the interior of Wentworth Prison. (Exterior shots of Wentworth Prison were filmed at Bamburgh Castle in northern England.)
The private estate of Hopetoun House has featured as a number of locations in the series - as the streets of Paris in season two, and the Duke of Sandringham's home in season one. In the grounds of the estate are Midhope Castle, which features as Lallybroch, the family home of Jamie Fraser. Although the estate is a private property, access can be arranged to view Midhope from the outside.
In east Lothian, outside of Edinburgh, you can find Gosford House which stood in for Versailles on screen, along with Preston Mill, a National Trust for Scotland property where Jamie was spotted hiding shirtless during season one, along with serving as the courtroom where Claire attended a hearing for witchcraft.
To the west of Edinburgh, just a short drive across the Firth of Forth, is the historic village of Culross, which features as Cranesmuir in the series.
At the heart of Culross is Culross Palace, a former royal residence which has associations with King James VI of Scotland. The palace building featured in both seasons one and two of Outlander.
The village here is a lovely place to visit, even if you don't know of its Outlander connections!
Across the other side of the water from Culross is Blackness Castle, styled imposingly in the shape of a ship moored at the side of the Firth of Forth. Blackness stood in for Fort William in the TV series.
Of course, it's the Highland landscape which is a major feature of Outlander's dramatic scenes, and if you plan to visit the Highlands from Edinburgh you should expect to spend a couple of days travelling and staying overnight rather than trying to do the journey there and back in a single day. (Edinburgh to Loch Ness and back is just over 350 miles, which equates to around 8 hours of travelling.)
The battlefield at Culloden outside Inverness was the site of the historic clash between the Jacobite Scots and English armed forced in 1746. You can visit the battlefield for free, and find the grave stones and memorials to the fallen clans, including the Clan Fraser.
Kinloch Rannoch, a short drive from Pitlochry, is the location of the infamous stone circle through which Claire travels in time, but in reality there's no stone circle at the site - they were props created for the series...
The imposing landscape of Glen Coe is on one of the main driving routes to and from the Highlands, and remains an atmospheric and rather unsettling place. The site of a bloody massacre of members of the Macdonald clan by members of the Campbell clan in February 1692, Glencoe remains popular with filmmakers as well as walkers and photographers. It's not hard to see why!
And there are many other locations in parks, fields, forests, villages and even the university buildings of Glasgow and Stirling which stand in for various locations in Scotland and America in the series. Not all the locations are publically accessible to visitors, and many were heavily decorated for filming and don't necessarily bear much relation to what is visible on screen!
So if you're a fan of Outlander it's worth planning your visit in some detail if you want to hit some of the more popular filming sites - the sheer volume of companies offering dedicated Outlander tours means than many of the more remote locations can get very crowded in high season.
I can recommend some smaller, more personal tour services who can tailor an out of town tour to some of the filming locations, and if you want to explore the Edinburgh locations I can feature them on a private walking tour of the city.
Get in touch to find out more, or book your Edinburgh walking tour today!
There are precious few women celebrated in the popular stories and legends of Edinburgh (famously the city has more statues of dogs than it has of historical women...). But one name which is enduringly popular is that of Margaret Dickson, known as Maggie, who acquired a curious kind of celebrity in the eighteenth century.
There are many versions of her story that get told by guides on tours through the city, and the historical record makes it tricky to deduce a fair or factual account of her life (and, as we shall see, after-life) - even the century in which the incident occurred is incorrectly recorded - but this is the version that I share with groups.
Maggie Dickson had been born in or near Musselburgh, a fishing town to the east of Edinburgh, and became the wife of a local fisherman. In the 1720s, when she was still just in her early 20s, she was arrested on suspicion of murdering her newborn baby. She had been discovered in the act of trying to give the body a burial, and despite her protestations that the child had been stillborn - and without any solid medical evidence to the contrary - she was put on trial for causing its death, found guilty, and sentenced to be hanged in punishment for her actions.
The Grassmarket area of the city was where Edinburgh's executions took place at that time, where crowds of up to 20,000 spectators would gather for the spectacle of justice in action.
On 2 September 1724, Maggie Dickson was duly brought to the Grassmarket, hanged, and her body was cut down from the gallows and placed in a coffin to be taken back to Musselburgh for burial.
About half-way between the city and Musselburgh was a small village called Duddingston, and in it a pub called the Sheep Heid - the pub still stands and has claims to being the oldest surviving pub in Scotland.
The driver of the cart bearing Maggie's corpse stopped at the Sheep Heid for his lunch, and when he resumed his journey he became aware of a strange noise coming from the back of his cart.
Upon investigation, the driver discovered the noise to be coming from inside Maggie's coffin, and when he prized the lid off the coffin he discovered, to his horror, that Maggie Dickson was still alive. She wasn't in great condition (she had been hanged, after all) but she was still living, breathing and (quite literally) kicking and screaming.
Suddenly the people of Edinburgh didn't know what to make of Maggie's miraculous survival. Some were outraged and immediately called for Maggie to be taken back to the Grassmarket and hanged, according to her sentence. Otherwise, taking a more critical viewpoint, argued that she had already been hanged, and couldn't be hanged for a second time (she had only killed one baby, after all....).
The legal authorities were similarly perplexed by the state of affair, and the judges of the High Court gathered in conference to discuss what should happen to Ms Dickson. After much legal debate and scrutiny they came to the conclusion that she couldn't be hanged for a second time, as according to her sentence she had already been hanged - a second execution would be justice in bad faith, and so Margaret Dickson was allowed to live.
However, the judges amended the text of the law books that day, and from that point on the sentence was to be hanged until dead - meaning that Maggie Dickson became one of very few people to survive their execution and live to tell the tale.
Maggie Dickson lived (according to some versions of the historical record) for another sixty years, and raised another six children in the latter half of her life. She became known as 'Hauf hangit Maggie', or 'Half-hanged Maggie', and in more recent times has been accorded the greatest honour they can offer anyone in Scotland - they've named a bar after her...
On the Grassmarket today, near the site where she narrowly avoided meeting her death in the 1720s, stands Maggie Dickson's pub, a perennial favourite with drinkers and visitors to the city.
Explore more of the city's history on 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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