leave out the standard Tourist places and the much vaunted Ghost Tours. If
tempted to join one of the latter be warned some occupants of the old buildings
occasionally throw buckets of water down on noisy participants. We’ll stick
to the area of and around The Royal Mile for most of my tour looking at places
most visitors never see. All of the tour will take 3 days or more.
Remember that Edinburgh’s hills make San Francisco’s
look like tuffets, and take a folding umbrella around as there can be surprise
rainstorms. On the
route I am describing numerous pubs en route will act as rest spots. Nowadays
one can even order Chardonnay without being thrown in the gutter. Never just
ask for a whisky or even a Scotch, every pub has a huge selection of single
malts and blendeds. You’ll find the natives very friendly, but be warned they
love pulling visitors’ legs. Just don’t argue with them about fitbaw (football)!
The Mile starts at The Castle, enters The High
Street and continues by that name until a set of traffic lights at St Mary’s
Street transforms it to The
Canongate (locals call it The Cannygate), so called as it was the favoured
walk of clergy at Holyrood Abbey. There are several shops in The Canongate
Scottish clothing can be purchased cheaper than in the Princes Street tourist
Starting from the Castle Esplanade walk down
on the left and look for a wall jutting out adjacent to a pub … Here you’ll
find The Witchcraft Memorial, walked
past unnoticed by thousands each day. It usually has flowers planted in it.
Read the text and admire the workmanship on the bronze plaque. This is the
only witch memorial of which I am aware.
After reflecting on all the horror and injustice
of the Witch Trials you may need a drink. Over on the right hand side and slightly
further down is the
Museum of the Scotch Whisky Association. Even if you are teetotal the displays
are worth seeing, including a ghost that comes out of a bottle to explain blending,
and a ghost train type ride in half whisky casks through a set of historical
tableaux. There is also an excellent restaurant and an infinite range of brands
of Scotch can be found in the shop.
A little further down on your left you’ll find
The Camera Obscura with one of the best views of the City Skyline from its
roof. The old periscope-like
projector gives good views of the City on its circular table and a large display
of optics-based material keeps people occupied while waiting to enter the Obscura
Walk on down to the traffic light crossing
with George IV Bridge, a street which runs horizontal to the High Street, and
you have an option. One can either
go straight on down towards St Giles or turn right moving along George IV Bridge
to Chambers Street on the Left. (While in George IV Bridge Harry Potter fans
may care to have coffee in The Elephant Cafe where Jo Rawlings wrote the first
book.) To your left in Chambers Street we find The Old Royal Scottish Museum.
Of classic Italianate design, and the more comprehensive, recently built Museum
of Scotland. This is your destination. On its lower levels are some ancient
magical items as well as a complete Viking Grave and several treasure hoards.
You’ll find many ancient stones with symbols claimed by the ignorant to be
Knight Templar, Fact is they are much more ancient than that.
The must see for just one visit are the mysterious
miniature coffins on, if I recall right, the third level. If in doubt ask a
Back in the mid 1880s a local gentleman was
walking through The King’s Park (Never Queen’s it is associated with our Scots
King David) when he saw some
local urchins stoning items on the ground. On investigation he found several
tiny coffins exquisitely crafted each with a clothed occupant. Kids told him
they’d moved a rock on Arthur’s Seat and found them in the cleft. Purpose?
Your guess is as good as anybody’s. The same area has a stack of old Scots
magical items. Take your camera as photography is allowed. Downstairs in the
older Royal Scottish Museum, is an excellent café. Museums interconnect. Try
and be around in the Old Museum around 12 noon when the bizarre Milleum Clock
puts on its show.
On leaving the Museum go back up to the junction
and walk over to Greyfriars Churchyard, passing the statue of Greyfriars Bobby.
(This statue is not all
that old, the original having been stolen by metal thieves in the late 1940s.)
The churchyard is where the Covenant was first signed and is full of interesting
graves. Ironically, many of the original signatories were later confined here
by religious opponents. A lovely old stone near the entrance shows a memento
morii. Look out also for Greyfriar’s Bobby’s gravestone in pink marble.
If you don’t opt for this diversion carry on
down the right hand side of the High Street and walk towards St Giles High
Church where I was baptised. Look
out for the old public reticulated water fountain you can find at least thee
others on your walk. Walking past the church look for a rather revolting heart
marked on the ground and usually covered with saliva. This is The Heart of
Midlothian and marks the site of the old Tolbooth jail. Spitting on it is an
old local custom, nobody knows why but I suspect it started in connection with
hatred of the jail.
Just past the church the pavement opens into
a yard where The Merkat Cross is situated. An ancient site for proclamations,
the present version is of later
date; I saw Queen Liz proclaimed there with full ceremonial in the 1950s.
Legend has it a strange hooded figure stood in the original on the night after
the Battle of Flodden announcing the names of all the Scottish dead.
Look at the ground here for a strange octagon
containing a cross composed of a vertical and a diagonal cross. Nothing to
do with religion this is one of
the City’s old execution sites of which there are several around the old
city. The beheading machine used here may still be seen in the Museum of Scotland.
Now look upwards at the Church’s tower and locate an added cylindrical slotted
turret. This was built so militia could fire down on rioting 18th century
but I doubt it was ever used. Behind the church is the original Scots Parliament
building and Law Courts, among its clients being Burke and Hare. John Knox
is buried in an unmarked grave near his statue in this area.
Across the road is the old City Chambers. If
you don’t mind steep climbs up and down steps in the gloom the adjacent Mary King’s Close is a must, guided
tours take visitors around this labyrinth with its dwellings once hit by Plague
and a strange room haunted by the ghost of a young girl. I can testify to this
room’s strange vibes. The Close buildings once towered up high, but this portion
of the old City was buried under new works in the 18th century.
Move on down the street and you will see a
very tall church spire. This is the Tron Kirk where the public Tron or standard
weighing machine was set up. The
church was unused for many years and an enterprising local even used it as
an illicit whisky still with a pipe set up the spire to vent the fumes. It
is now the all important Tourist Centre. Cross the street and you’ll see John
Knox’s House on the left hand side jutting out; walk towards it. The adjacent
Closes run down to where the Nor Loch used to be. Drained in the 18th century
this foul stretch of water had all the effluvia from butchers and tanners thrown
into it with other filth. Women condemned to death were often drowned in its
filthy water. The stench from the loch permeated the old City and probably
gave rise to the traditional tune “The Flowers of Edinburgh.”
Adjacent to the dwelling allegedly occupied
by Knox is another public water outlet and over on the right hand side of the
road is the fascinating Museum
of Childhood which invokes many an adult’s memory; like most public museums
entrance is free. Moving on you’ll soon reach another traffic light crossing
with St Mary’s Street on the right and Jeffrey Street on the left. Here the
High Street is transformed into The Canongate. Cross over to move on down the
Cannygate. (If you need to find one of Edinburgh’s rare Post Offices there
was still one towards the bottom of St Mary’s Street on the right painted vivid
red.) Having crossed make a quick diversion into Jeffrey Street on the left
with its excellent view of Calton Hill. On the hill you’ll see what appears
to be an ancient Greek ruin. This was intended to be a memorial to the Battle
of Waterloo built by public subscription. Funds were insufficient causing it
to be nicknamed Edinburgh’s Disgrace to this day. Napoleon went over big with
the Common People of Scotland,
hence the apathy. You should also see, lower down, a tall obelisk in Calton
Cemetery. Ignorant Edinburghers call this “Cleopatra’s Needle.” Truth is it’s a
memorial to five unfortunate men unlawfully transported to Australia for daring
to promote votes for ordinary people; only one returned. The public eagerly
subscribed to that project.
To the right of The Disgrace is a narrow telescope
like tower with a flagpole bearing a large ball on top, this is a memorial
to Lord Nelson. The ball is
a later addition and drops immediately the Castle’s One o’ Clock Gun is fired.
Local kids will assure you the gunner’s aim is always accurate. Truth is
it is synchronised electronically with the gun. Why at One not Noon? We Scots
are noted for our thrift. What looks like an old castle is also set on the
hillside, this is the remains of the now disused Calton Jail. A black flag
was flown in its heyday when a hanging was scheduled. It replaced the Tolbooth
Jail we passed earlier. There is also an insignificant memorial to Burns
confused with another dedicated to the philosopher Dugald Stewart.
Walking along Jeffrey Street will eventually
bring you to The Edinburgh Dungeon, a macabre, historically inaccurate, tourist
spot. But it’s great fun. Apart
from this the cross streets have little else to recommend them. Move on
back down the Canongate sticking to the right. You’ll come to St John’s Close which contains the HQ of the Scottish Royal Arch and the Knights of St
Canongate Kilwinning is adjacent. There is another execution cross just
outside the Close in the centre of which idiots ignorant of its significance
set a white St John’s Cross. Do have a chuckle en-passant. On the left
an adjacent Close the entrance of which bears the gilded arms of The Shoemakers’
Guild. Many mistake it for a Masonic Lodge.
Two adjacent pointed pillars on plinths indicate
the gates of Moray House (my old school). In a summer house of this building
the scurrilous 1707
the Parliaments Act was signed. Officials did the dirty deed there as
the People wanted their blood elsewhere! Locate the house’s small balcony.
There was a wedding party in progress when captive Montrose came up the hill
prison cart. It stopped just opposite as the jailers knew his old enemy
of Argyll was present. Legend has it Argyll hadn’t the guts to look Montrose
the face but peered out from behind a curtain. Montrose was later hanged
higher up the road at the site outside St Giles.
Moving on there’s a double-gabled white building.
Originally Huntly House, it’s now The Museum of Edinburgh. (The Huntly’s were
mortal enemies of
Among fascinating items here you’ll learn how an Earl St Clair at the
time of James VI got his nephew and fellow pupils of The Royal High Academy
out of a murder charge. There is also a wonderful model of the old Canongate.
Across the street is a large building with
a gilded clock sticking out the front. This is The Peoples’ Story Museum, well
worth a diversion.
can see how ordinary people lived in earlier times and even learn more
about those Five Scottish Martyrs and their obelisk. While photography
in the Museum a declaration must be signed that any photographs will
neither be distributed nor used commercially. The building was originally
Tollbooth. Look for the cylindrical tower similar to that at St Giles.
A little further down we find Holyrood Kirk and its fascinating churchyard where many’s a distinguished citizen lies interred.
is among them and on the church wall to the right of the building
to be the grave of David Riccio, Mary Queen of Scots’ confidant and
maybe lover. It was transported here from its original location at
kirk, by Edinburgh standards, is not really all that old being built
by order of James II. The Holyrood congregation was moved from the
Knights of the Thistle could have the church for their chapel. Stick
to the left and peek in a few Closes.
Closes? Originally narrow alleys leading to
large tenements, tenants used their key to open the barred door then closeing
(sic) it. Originally
gained access by running a metal ring over a serrated bar but remaining
examples of those are rare. The better your Class of society the
higher you lived
above the stench.
Stay on this side but watch out on the right
for The Scottish Parliament Building, a fiasco 800% at least over Budget and
about 4 years after schedule.
To me it resembles a huge cruise liner crashed into a beachside
resort by a tsunami. Opposite this monstrosity look out for White
look at the lovely building in front of you. Seem familiar?
Well millions of copies of its image has been reproduced and distributed
on labels for White Horse Scotch. Bothwell and Dr Johnson were
Inn was operational.
The Canongate soon ends at the gates of Holyrood
Palace but the old houses before the palace were Sanctuary buildings for centuries.
The poet Coleridge
was a regular
resident sheltering from his debtors; all in Sanctuary were allowed
to walk in the adjacent King’s Park on Sundays.
I’ll leave the Palace to its Guides but get
Ye into the ruined Abbey. Although partially damaged by two English invasions
under Henry VIII
during The Rough
Wooing the major carnage was wrought by Edinburgh Protestants
after the expulsion of James II. Look for the stone sarcophagi
the bones of Scots
Royalty. These were desecrated as their ancient occupants were,
naturally, Roman Catholic. King, Queens, and Lords of Yore
all destroyed ... Oh
Under no circumstances miss a walk in the Palace
Gardens, only opened to us commoners in recent years. Enjoy the stunning
views but watch
sundial on a triple layered octagonal base. In his ponderous
“Dwellings of the Philosophers.” The mystical charlatan
Fulcanelli gives this
despite never having seen it. The beautiful artefact was found dumped in
a corner of the grounds and reset up during 19th century Palace restorations,
being a new
Fulcanelli claims the Thistles depicted symbolise the Order
of Knights of the Thistle to
which he ascribes Templar-like secret activities. Fact
the Order was set up by James IV but it only existed briefly
a futile attempt to curry favour with the Scots Lords. The sundial was originally
erected on the orders of James V to commemorate his marriage
to Marie de Guise and bears
of Scotland, Thistle,
de lys, and England, Rose. Despite Fulcanelli’s imaginative
claims the Rose, in this context, has no mystical significance.
regarded himself as
rightful claimant to the English throne just as his daughter
was later to do at her
mother’s instigation, hence its inclusion. Fulcanelli even gets the King who
built it wrong, the cypher on it is IVR (Iacobus Vth
Rex), as I recall he
had it as
a beautiful artefact, possibly created by the same
architect who designed Linlithgow’s Falkland Palace.
Thus ends our walking tour. Now ...
To The Gilmerton
Cove on the City’s edge. If you can handle stairs
a must. You
at The Tron
mentioned above or your hotel should be able to organise
something; two years ago the
tour started at 7 pm. Have a look and form your own
opinion then reflect on Mc Rae
trying to locate it while drinking beer almost directly
above in the 1960s.
Other more distant venues where the Tron could
help? Cramond has an old Roman camp but they marched
out a couple of
years ago now,
them drilling. Then of course Rosslyn Chapel but beware of the rubbish some of the
Guides spew out.
Zealand’s city of Dunedin is named after Edinburgh whose Gaelic name
Èideann (from Brythonic Din Eidyn, meaning ‘Fort of Eidyn’). Scots names
capital city include Edinburrie, Embro and Embra. One of the city’s nicknames is “Athens of the North,” apparently because its old town overlooks the rest (like the Akropolis) and
because Edinburgh has a distinguished tradition of higher learning. Another
nickname, referring to tremendous pollution during the Industrial Revolution,
is “Auld Reekie,” which is Scots for “Old Smoky.” And what’s on top of Old Smoky? The famous, large Edinburgh Castle of course! — Oh — and this ain’t a small thing either — the proper English pronunciation of the name “Edinburgh” is not “Eedinburgh” but “Eddinburrah” or “Ednbrah.”
For those who are medically oriented The Museum
of Surgery is good value but it’s hard to find
the afternoon. To
get there start
Tron, cross the road, and walk to the right,
away from Princes Street. A 10 minute walk
you to Surgeon’s
its massive gates,
enter there. Walk on to the first street on
the left (Hill Place I think) and you will come to
the middle of a
are behind the old Surgeons’ School so do not
reflect on what may remain buried in
Turn left when you see the Garden and the
Museum is upstairs in the last building on
by the corner;
the sign. This
old time surgery to modern techniques. There
are also wax images of some of Edinburgh’s
For a range of top class restaurants take
a walk down Leith Walk which runs off from
End of Princes
About 5 minutes
sculptures, adjacent to those is the OMNI cinema and restaurant complex with a wide
international cuisine. For
those who like such
are two adjacent night clubs. The road
widens here and on the other side are a few
other good eating places. For curries with
a difference “The Ghurka Brigade” serves
right, walk up
this side of
the street and take the first right again,
then again into Broughton Street where there
are two top fish and chop shops that deep
fry just about anything.
Let’s end with a paradox. Walk along Princes
Street a few blocks, then turn uphill
into Hanover Street walking on
the right hand
of George IV in full regal glory. Rather
an optimistic depiction as he was merely
and the same
did a closet
the sculpture? Cross George
Street and walk a few yards down the
right hand side, carefully avoiding traffic, have
carefully at the statue from
this perspective and
why giggling young lady students like
to pose beside it. Is George waiting for his
As a finale cross the street again, walk
along with the statue behind you. Look for and enter The Dome which
has to be one of the world’s most imposing pubs, serves great meals too.
And so ends the suggested tours around my City.
To me the best recent book on Scots
History is Magnus Magnusson’s superb
a Nation. Another beauty
is Capital of the
Mind by James Buchan
which tells how Edinburgh launched
The Age of Enlightenment. Lots
of information on
of the 18th
The Illustrated Guide to Rosslyn
Chapel by Rev John Thompson, Chaplain
Rosslyn, when written
in 1892 is
for a visit
the Chapel. This new edition is
available from The Grand Lodge
website and Bro
gives an Introduction that is worth
the cost of the
Robert Cooper’s recently published The
Rosslyn Hoax shatters all
and Masonic influence
The novels of Alexander McCall
Smith involving ordinary Edinburgh
are an excellent
read. Try 44 Scotland
The Sunday Philosophers
Ian Rankin’s detective mysteries
involving Inspector Rebus
explore the City’s
dark undercurrents of
of the latest
is The Naming
of the Dead; another, Set
in Darkness, involves Rosslyn
the average local’s
reaction to the