Literary Edinburgh

Is it the water? The rain? The stones? The haggis? What makes Edinburgh so rich in writers cherished around the world?

What city would build such a monument to a writer as Sir Walter Scott merited? Who else could compete with Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson, J. M. Barrie, Robert Burns, and – my modern favorites – Ian Rankin, Alexander McCall Smith, and (be still my heart) J.K. Rowling? It is a rather stunning collection of literary giants.

We took a tour today of some of the landmarks related to these luminaries, which fittingly began outside of the Writers’ Museum.

We moved on to Parliament Square, shown above, where Sir Walter Scott would have been in and out of the lawyers’ chambers. And then to the famous medical school of Edinburgh, where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle honed his first craft and learned the science of forensic medicine and brilliant diagnostics from Joseph Bell.

And then there is the mortuary where Ian Rankin’s Rebus often finds himself, and the pub nearby where he goes to think about crime.

Where did J.K. Rowling work on her first Harry Potter book? On the second floor of this café, evidently owned by her brother-in-law. Sacred ground.

And from her window, just across the street, was the pub where Conan Doyle, Stevenson and Barrie often drank, then known as Rutherford’s. I wonder if that inspired her at times.

There were other homes and pubs and landmarks, so overall we were quite impressed by the rarefied air that we were sharing with giants old and new.

We also had time to visit Gladstone’s Land, a surviving 17th century high-tenement house situated on the Royal Mile. The “Land” was originally built in 1550, but was bought and redeveloped in 1617 by prosperous Edinburgh merchant and burgess Thomas Gledstanes. The work was completed in 1620. Its prominent site indicates the affluence of its owner. However, not only did Gledstanes reside there, he let out parts of the building to an assortment of tenants of different social classes (another merchant, a minister, a knight, and a guild officer, so the restored building allows an insight into varieties of Edinburgh life of the period. The original renaissance painted ceiling in the bedroom is spectacular.

Our day actually started with a reunion with Fiona and Alasdair, whom we met on a Cezanne tour in Aix-en-Provence many months ago. It was wonderful to spend some time with them on their home turf and continue the conversations we started in France.

And in between our talking and our touring, there were just some lovely moments in the city on a busy Sunday.

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