Edinburgh home to literary haunts
By Margaret Deefholts
Special to KTW
ur guide, Angus, makes his point.
“Literary Edinburgh is to ‘wurrdaholics’ what Scotch whisky is to alcoholics,” he says, his blue eyes twinkling.
It’s an observation that would have likely been echoed by the literary giants who lived and worked in Scotland’s most-invigorating city.
It has been said Edinburgh is as much a character as it is a city.
It looks out at the world with eyes that have seen days of joy and nights of passion.
Its face has been weathered with time and experience.
It has carried on its shoulders the weight of its people’s history and traditions.
Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Walter Scott, J.M. Barrie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle all lived here and drew their inspiration from the bustle of the streets, the men who drank ale at the taverns, the adventurers who tarried here for a season, the women who inspired them and the villains who skulked in the dark corners of the city’s byways.
It has captured the imagination of contemporary novelists, too — Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus hounds criminals who lurk in the murky depths of the city, Alexander McCall’s characters inhabit 44 Scotland Street and the personalities that enliven his Sunday Philosophy Club series are all part of Edinburgh’s city scene.
Although J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter tales aren’t set in Edinburgh, this is where she wrote and completed the books that took the world by storm.
So, I decide to walk in the footsteps of literary fame for a day while exploring the Royal Mile — a historic street that runs from Hollyrood Palace at one end to Edinburgh Castle on the other, a road whose very stones resonate with tales
of romance and intrigue.
Small enclosures known as closes lead off the main street, each with their own stories and secrets.
In Anchor Close, I cock my ear trying to catch the clatter of a printer echoing down the centuries as the first edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica rolls off the presses.
At Boswell’s Court Close (now the Witchery Restaurant) I wonder what Samuel Johnson would have chatted about while dining there with his biographer, James Boswell?
Would Robbie Burns, who once
lived in Baxter’s (Baker’s) Close, have downed a wee dram
or two at nearby Deacon Brodie’s Tavern?
And, what mission was Daniel Defoe on when he worked as a secret agent for the British in a room
Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson and Robert Burns are literary icons, but what did they actually look like?
To find out, I climb the uneven steps to the Writers’ Museum in the 17th-century building known as Lady Stair’s House.
The young Sir Walter is soft featured and has a slightly dimpled chin above his high collar.
Stevenson has a narrow, clever face, with a droopy moustache, and Robbie B. — ever the darling Scottish bard — is
a dashing young
I can see why his romantic dalliances set the ladies’ hearts a-flutter.
The museum is a treasure house of manuscripts, first editions and letters, deserving of at least three hours’ browsing time.
At the centre, I begin to understand why the Scots have such a vibrant literary heritage.
The tradition of oral storytelling has endured for centuries and the centre has story sessions that entertain everyone — wee bairns, their parents and their grandparents.
Anna Burkey, our guide at the centre, proudly points out her city was the first ever to be awarded UNESCO City of Literature status.
Among those bizarre, but true, oral tales is the story of Deacon Brodie, who lived in Brodie’s Close.
By day, Brodie was a pious, well-respected citizen and city counsellor.
By night, however, he was a womanizer, gambler and thief.
He was eventually convicted and given what Angus calls
“a suspended sentence” — he was suspended by the neck from a hangman’s noose.
Deacon Brodie, despite his notoriety — or perhaps because of it — achieved immortality.
He was the inspiration for Stevenson’s schizophrenic Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
After lunch, with time whizzing by, I pay a quick visit to the Elephant House Cafe, unimpressive but for its claim to fame as one of the places where Rowling wrote the early Harry Potter stories.
It is filled with student types, tourists, and a noisy babble of conversation.
Edinburgh’s vitality is like oxygen in the bloodstream, a rush of images, places, lives and dreams.
Mesmerizing and compelling — and also just as Angus says, “intoxicating and addictive.”
Travel Writers’ Tales is an independent newspaper syndicate that offers professionally written travel articles to newspaper editors and publishers. To check out more, visit www.travelwriterstales.com
If You Go:
Where to Stay: Apex Waterloo Place Hotel. A well located, comfortable and friendly 4-star establishment with a long history of hospitality in Edinburgh.
A Bibliophile’s Guide:
The Writers Museum: http://www.edinburghmuseums.org.uk/Venues/The-Writers--Museum.aspx
Scottish Storytelling Centre: http://www.scottishstorytellingcentre.co.uk/
National Library of Scotland: http://www.nls.uk/about/index.html
Guide to the Royal Mile: http://www.edinburgh-royalmile.com/
The Elephant House café and restaurant: http://www.elephanthouse.biz/
Literary Pub Tour: www.edinburghliterarypubtour.co.uk
Inspector Rebus’s Edinburgh: http://www.ianrankin.net/pages/content/index.asp?PageID=146
Rebus Tours: http://www.rebustours.com/
About Alexander McCall Smith: http://www.contemporarywriters.com/authors/?p=authc2d9c28a16ae81fe9egtv3d0860f
Visit Scotland: www.cometoscotland.com/ca