EDINBURGH EXPERT WALKING TOURS - BLOG
Scotland and Edinburgh were not always regarded as such attractive places to visit as they are today. Samuel Johnson was a particular critic, once asking: "What enemy would invade Scotland, where there is nothing to be got?"
Happily we have enjoyed the favours of many people who have championed the country, and Edinburgh in particular, and foremost among them was Sir Walter Scott.
Scott may be best regarded today as one of Scotland's foremost romantic novelists for books such as Rob Roy and Ivanhoe, but he was also a judge and a lawyer, as well as being Edinburgh's great cultural ambassador. For were it not for Scott's efforts in the nineteenth century the tourist industry in Scotland may have taken rather longer to become established.
In 1818 Scott led a group of men who sought out the Scottish crown jewels, which had been hidden away in Edinburgh Castle after the union with England in 1707. By the turn of the nineteenth century the Honours of Scotland (as they would become known) were known only through fables and national legends - no one knew for sure whether they still existed, never mind where they might be.
The jewels were discovered by Scott and his men in the bowels of Edinburgh Castle, having been locked inside a sturdy chest for over a hundred years. After their rediscovery, the jewels were put on display in Edinburgh Castle, and quickly became a popular attraction for locals and those visitors to the city, who would pay handsomely to view them (entry to the castle itself being free at this point!).
Perhaps capitalising on this newfound attraction, and conscious that Edinburgh hadn't received a royal visit from a reigning monarch since 1650, Scott invited King George IV to visit the city. This event took place with a great deal of pomp and circumstance, with a grand ball at the Assembly Rooms on George Street.
It was reputedly Scott also who suggested the king might like to wear a kilt, made of Scottish plaid or tartan material - prior to this few people still wore the kilt, considering it old-fashioned and outmoded, and also having been illegal to wear - punishable by six months in prison - after the union with England.
Being modelled (albeit badly, according to contemporary accounts) on King George IV helped to reintroduce the kilt to popular fashion, and indeed to the tourist trade. Everyone visiting Scotland wanted to be seen wearing the striking apparel that the king himself had championed! And so the kilt became a staple feature of 'Scottishness', thanks in large part to Walter Scott.
Scott died in 1832, and in 1844 the monument dedicated to him was opened in Edinburgh's by-then thriving New Town.
Sited in Princes Street gardens, directly across the road from Jenners department store, you cannot miss seeing the Scott Monument on any visit to the city. It is the world's tallest monument to a writer, standing at 200ft and 6 inches high. The monument was designed by George Meikle Kemp, and bears a larger-than-life-size portrait of Scott sculpted by Sir John Steell, as well as likenesses of around 60 characters from Scott's novels cast in the sandstone columns around the monument. On a clear day, you can climb the monument's 287 internal steps to enjoy panoramic views across the city.
Further tribute to Scott is found in the naming of Edinburgh's main railway station, named Waverley after the historical novel written by Scott (but published anonymously at first) in 1814.
Waverley station stands today as the only railway station in the world named after a book, and those emerging from the station are greeted not only by Scott's imposing monument, but the world-class city that he helped to popularise.
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