Background to Coal Mining in Medieval Scotland

The history of coal mining in Scotland can be traced back hundreds of years. Numerous coal mines were created throughout the central belt of Scotland, predominantly in the Lothians, Fife and Kilmarnock. However, the earliest coal mining can be traced back to the Cistercian monks who had settled in various parts of Scotland. However, two monasteries in particular, Newbattle in Midlothian and Culross in Fife are recorded as being among the earliest coal mines. 

The monks can be credited with the key which would unlock the future prosperity of Newbattle and Culross through coal mining. During this period, early travellers wrote with awe when they came across the “black stones which burned.” Sadly, for the monks their coal mining business was limited by how deep that they could dig. But this problem would be solved by one man in the mid to late 16th century. His name was Sir George Bruce, reputedly a descendant of King Robert the Bruce. 

Coal mining by medieval monks

He was granted the lease of Culross Abbey’s collieries. Thanks to technical experience he acquired whilst travelling through Europe, he was able to continue where the monks had left off. Three of the major obstacles in coal mining which had defeated the monks was the limited depth that they could dig to, poor ventilation and poor drainage. Where the monks had only been able to dig to a depth of 30 feet, his various innovations overcame these obstacles and allowed coal mining to a depth of 240 feet. 

By 1625, his coal shafts stretched over a mile out below the Firth of Forth. Without his innovations this would have been impossible. He even took advantage of a small tidal island in the middle of the Firth of Forth. He had a circular brick wall built around it complemented with a jetty which allowed ships to dock alongside before taking their cargo to Europe. The success of Bruce’s mine was to be seriously damaged in the March of 1625 because of one of the worst storms that the country had experienced. A year later Bruce died and his coal mine with him. It was at this point that coal mines in other areas expanded their operations. 

Background to Coal Mining in Victorian Scotland

Fortunately for visitors, less than ten miles south of Edinburgh, we are fortunate to have a first-class resource at the National Mining Museum Scotland. The former Victorian “superpit” – the Lady Victoria Colliery has been preserved and is open to the public for both guided and self-guided visits. It really opens your eyes to the hard lives endured by miners and highlights the history of coal mining in the area, right back to the time of the monks at Newbattle Abbey.

In many respects, like Culross, coal mining was initially carried out by the monks of Newbattle Abbey nearby. But over time, the monks would rent or lease out the land to wealthy lords who would then provide their own workforce to work the mines.  Over the subsequent centuries the landowners began to develop huge coal mines on their land. As had been already proven by George Bruce in Culross, it was potentially a lucrative business. With cheap labour came big profits. Until 1842, mines were run almost like slave plantations with the people who lived on the land being employed by the landowners to work down the pits. Whole families would be employed in coal mining. 

Children’s Employment Commission

As a result of the three-year investigation into working conditions in mines and factories in the four nations of the United Kingdom, the Report of the Children’s Employment Commission was published in 1842. It consisted of thousands of pages of interviews with children as young as five who were actually employed to work in the coal mines. Why such young children were employed is very much down to the fact that industrialisation was expanding at pace. Children, on average, were five times cheaper to employ than an adult, yet were expected to work the same hours. In coal mining that could mean 14-hour shifts. The youngest and smallest children were used to climb into the confined spaces of machinery in order to clear a jam. This was commonplace in the mills but also took place in the coal mines. 

Children pushing and pulling the carts from the coal face – sketch from the Commission Report

Page after page of discussions and interviews with children who were employed in the coal mines make for dismal reading. This report finally lifted the lid on the working and living conditions of young children perpetuated by the very landowners and industrialists of the day. It couldn’t have come as a shock to them, but it certainly did to those who had no inkling of how coal was mined and how it was brought to market. Here is just one account from an eleven-year-old boy.

William Kerr, 11 years old, coal-bearer:

Miners' cottages in Newtongrange
Miners’ Cottages – photo courtesy of National Mining Museum Scotland

Wrought below five years. Goes down at five in morning, returns six and seven at night. Gets my bread as other laddies do. Carries coal on my back. Can fill a basket of 5cwt. in six journeys. It is 150 fathoms from father’s room to pit bottom. I am o’er sair gone at times, as the hours are so long and the work gal sair. Never have the opportunity to get some sleep. 

Sadly, parents had no choice but to put their children to work in the mines as this was what their employers expected. Generally, most mine owners provided accommodation for their workers which they paid for from their wages. Owners expected generation after generation to be employed in their mines. Girls who also worked in the mine would fall pregnant at the earliest opportunity to escape the horrors of the mine. They would go on to have many children. It was not uncommon for there to be twelve children and more in a family, all of them eventually being employed in the mine. Having worked long 12-14 hour shifts, they would return to their pitiful one-room cottage, where they would hopefully get something warm to eat. Then they would collapse into a deep sleep before doing it all again.

So What Changed?

What you may ask changed as a result of the Commission Report? You may be surprised to learn that actually not a lot changed. The Mines and Collieries Act 1842 passed by Parliament, prohibited all underground work for women and girls and boys younger than age 10! Not surprisingly the Act was watered down with amendments when it reached the House of Lords. A number of the Lords were either coal mine owners or had vested interests in them. Similar attempts to delay were made when the Abolition of Slavery Act was put before Parliament in the late 1700s. In 1887 the minimum age for boys to be able to work underground was raised to twelve. And it wasn’t until 1900 that another Act was passed that raised the age of employment for boys from twelve to thirteen. 

As time went on further legislation was enacted to improve the safety of workers working underground. Furthermore, a limit was imposed on the number of hours that miners could work under ground to 8 hours in every 24-hour period. In 1912 after the national coal strike had lasted 37 days, the Coal Mines Act was passed which established a minimum wage for the first time.

The Establishment of the Lady Victoria Colliery

It was during this period of change that the Lady Victoria Colliery became established. Thanks to an amalgamation of the Marquess of Lothian’s coal company and that of Archibald Hood, the Lady Victoria was established. It operated from its opening in 1895 until its eventual closure in 1981. At its inception in 1895 it was the largest colliery in the county of Midlothian.

19th century Lady Victoria Colliery
Lady Victoria Colliery – photo courtesy of National Mining Museum Scotland

Hood who had already worked in the South Wales collieries, brought his considerable expertise to bear at the Lady Victoria. Not only did he want to improve working conditions for his workforce, but he also wanted to improve their living conditions. The rows of miners’ properties still exist to this day with their own little plot of garden and are a testament to their construction. 

The Lady Victoria’s location was chosen to exploit the type of coal that could be mined in the area. They were called “Parrot” and “Splint” coals and were in high demand. But it meant that the shaft had to be sunk to a greater depth than previous worked coal seams. This meant sinking to a depth of in excess of 400 metres. In fact, the Lady Victoria shaft was eventually sunk to a depth of 510 metres

Boom Period of the Mid-20th Century

Coal miner at the coal face
20th century mining – photo courtesy of National Mining Museum Scotland

Over time, thanks to improvements in technology, chain-type cutters increased the volume of coal that could be extracted. These were then replaced by shearer loaders along with armoured conveyors that were used to transport the coal from the coal face. In the same year that the colliery was nationalised, it produced the equivalent of 1,246 tons of coal per day. By 1951 it was producing 2,000 tons per day. With increased mechanisation it resulted in a reduced workforce together with less hard manual labour. 

By the 1970s the Lady Victoria had been superceded in scale by two other collieries in Midlothian, namely Bilston Glen and Monktonhall who had workforces of 2,150 and 1,600 respectively. In total there were thirteen operational collieries in Midlothian and that was just one county. By the time the Lady Victoria closed in 1981, 87 years after it had opened, it had produced almost 40 million tons of coal. 

Nationalisation of the Coal Mines

Coal mining industry strikes
Coal mining strikers

In 1947, there were 20 collieries, but they were taken into state ownership and came under the umbrella title of the National Coal Board. It meant an improvement in conditions, wages and Trade Union rights. In the early years of nationalisation, it was a fairly prosperous period for the coal mining industry. Sadly, though decline began to set in, and by 1984 Midlothian was the scene of some of the most acrimonious action by the miners’ strike. Although the Lady Victoria Colliery, now the National Mining Museum Scotland, closed in 1981, Bilston Glen managed to last out until 1989 and Monktonhall until 1997. Both sites were demolished not long after their closure. Now you cannot find a single trace of either. You would never be able to tell that a coal mine had been in operation at either location. 

National Mining Museum of Scotland

Despite this, however, we are fortunate that the Lady Victoria Colliery was preserved.  Thanks to Historic Scotland, now titled Historic Environment Scotland, the entire colliery was categorised as a List ‘A’ building. It can lay claim to being one of the best-preserved Victorian collieries in Europe. In fact, on the day that I visited the colliery, a Polish film crew were there filming for a documentary that they were putting together. 

Although the site in total covers four acres, the public area occupies a smaller proportion of the overall site. Thanks to funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the European Regional Development Fund and Historic Scotland, it has become a popular visitor attraction for visitors staying in Edinburgh. It is also a place of learning for youngsters living in the Midlothian who can learn about the history of this area. 

Although some areas of the colliery are in a derelict state, thanks to a Scottish Government-funded conservation project in 2009 many of the vital working areas have been preserved. In addition, the more exposed parts of the colliery have been made more resistant to the elements. With the work that has thus far been carried out, it now makes many parts of the colliery more accessible for visiting groups. 

The old and new power stations had most of the machinery removed. In their place, these buildings were converted into what is now the visitor centre and exhibition spaces, both of which are fantastic. The exhibitions in particular go into great depth about the history of coal mining not just in Midlothian but throughout the UK. What makes this visitor centre so important is that younger generations would otherwise not be able to appreciate the important role that coal played in society. 

It wasn’t just used to power industry and power stations, but it also heated our homes. Now as we move towards more cleaner forms of power, particularly from renewables, the use of coal and fossil fuels are anathema to contemporary thinking and policy.  I’ll bet if you asked anyone under-12 what coal was used for, they would find it hard to believe that our parents and grandparents would put lumps of coal into a fireplace for heating. I can distinctly remember my mum telling me to go out to the coal bunker and fill up the coal scuttle (bucket) as the fire was low!

Tours of the Lady Victoria

If you do decide to visit the National Mining Museum Scotland, you can either book tickets online to take a self-guided tour or a guided tour. On the self-guided tour, you will be provided with an audio tour that will guide you around the facility. Alternatively, you can book a tour with a guide who is an ex-miner. On the day that I visited, my guide was Jim Lennie who was a miner at Bilston Glen Colliery. He was fantastic and was able to give first-hand accounts of his time working in coal mining. Here’s what Jim has to say about his time as a coal miner and why it is important that today’s younger generations should visit the Museum.  

As well as visiting the National Mining Museum, why not include other fantastic sites and attractions in the surrounding area such as Rosslyn Chapel, Glenckinchie Distillery, Gilmerton Cove, Arniston House. If you are not sure about getting there under your own steam, why not check with us here at Edinburgh Cab Tours and let us build an itinerary for you or visit our Tours page for more ideas.


Is it Worth the Trip?

Visitors to Edinburgh will inevitably feel obliged to tick off all of the “must see” places in the Old and New Town.  But what if there was something just that little bit different within a short bus ride? Look no further than Colinton Tunnel & Station that sits close to the Water of Leith. It has been beautifully adorned with murals by a local community group. The nearby village of Colinton has a number of quaint little places for coffee or meals for anyone who needs refreshment.

Map of walking route
Walking Route from Colinton Tunnel to Lochrin Basin, Fountainbridge

The hardier and more adventurous visitor could combine this with a walk back into town from Colinton Tunnel following the Water of Leith Walkway. Alternatively, if the walkway proves too circuitous, one could join the Union Canal at the halfway point at Longstone. This would provide a more direct route back to the Fountainbridge area of Edinburgh. 

Either way, it makes for a great half day adventure. For directions on how to get there, refer to the last part of this blog. 

However, in this blog we want to focus on the Colinton Tunnel, it’s history and why it is worth visiting for the mural alone.  

History of the Area

First of all, it might be worth pointing out that the Colinton Tunnel up until the early 1960s still had an active railway line operating through it. In its earliest incarnation, the railway track was known as the Balerno line. This was a branch line coming off the main Caledonian Edinburgh to Carstairs line at Slateford. 

In the late 1860s, the Balerno line was strongly supported by the mill owners and farmers who believed it would make the transportation of products and animals easier. Despite objections from landowners, it finally received Royal Assent in 1870.  By 1874 the line was completed at a total cost of £134,000. 

Train on Balerno Line
Train on the Balerno Line

The main users of the railway line were the mill owners who manufactured textiles, paper and snuff. Interestingly, at one point there were as many as six snuff mills in the area, believed to be the greatest concentration of snuff mills in the world. In addition, the railway line was used by two stone quarries, a tannery and a salt works. Eventually, the line was also used by Edinburgh based residents seeking an escape from the city. As Balerno and Currie began to expand, residents there began to use the line to commute into the city centre.

Sadly, however, with the advent of bus transportation passengers began to switch their allegiance. 

The last train ran on 4th December 1967 and by 1968 the rail track was removed. Stations and any other equipment were also demolished. Thankfully, the original rail route was put to good use and the Water of Leith Walkway was eventually created in 1980. The route begins by Balerno High School and runs for over twelve miles all the way to the docks in Leith. The most attractive part of the route is where it passes through the Dean Village and Stockbridge. But almost any part of the route is pretty and so peaceful. 

In the earliest days of the line closure, the Colinton Tunnel was bricked up and remained closed until well into the 1970s. With the creation of the Water of Leith Walkway, the tunnel was reopened. After some restoration and ongoing maintenance a very simple mural showing the Balerno Pug, a steam engine, was added to the tunnel. 

Disappointingly over a period of time the tunnel became dirty and worn. As with many remote locations the tunnel became a target for antisocial graffiti. It became an area to avoid particularly after dark.  Added to that, the history of the area was being tainted and the local Colinton village economy was already showing a decline. The tunnel’s time had come and with the right support it was believed that something special could be done with this historic tunnel.

Cometh the Hour, Cometh the People

It would be incorrect to say that one man was responsible for restoring the tunnel as this was a truly community effort. Numerous community associations, societies and Trusts were supportive from the beginning and a wide ranging group of organisations  were generously forthcoming with funding. 

For any mural to be painted onto the tunnel walls, it was essential that it represented the local and surrounding area. Thanks to the guidance of Mike Scott, the Tunnel Chairman and under the direction of artist Chris Rutterford, they were able to create a visual feast for the eye. The Colinton Tunnel project team came up with the idea of using the imagery from a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson.

Robert Louis Stevenson

R L Stevenson statue as a boy
Statue of Robert Louis Stevenson as a young boy in Colinton

As a youngster Stevenson was a frequent visitor to Colinton. His maternal grandfather was the minister for the church in Colinton. It is most likely that he would have travelled to Colinton either on foot from the New Town, or possibly on the back of a wagon or cart.

However, towards the end of his time while studying at Edinburgh University or during the remainder of his time in Scotland, he would have quite likely left from the station at the eastern end of Princes Street. This would have been a far quicker journey.

It would be nice to think that these journeys were the inspiration for the poem that he wrote many years later called “From a Railway Carriage.” It paints such a wonderful picture of the sights and sounds that Stevenson saw as he made his way to Colinton.

I am sure that if he were alive today he would find it hard to believe that the poem he wrote would be so vividly illustrated on the very tunnel that he used to travel through 160 years earlier. Here is the poem. If you read it with the rhythm of a train trundling through the countryside, you can just picture the images that Stevenson was conjuring up.

From a Railway Carriage


Robert Louis Stevenson

Faster than Fairies, faster than witches,

Bridges and houses, hedges and ditches, 

And charging along like troops in a battle,

All through the meadows the horses and cattle,

All of the sights of the hill and the plain

Fly as thick as driving rain,

And ever again, in the wink of an eye,

Painted stations whistle by.

Here is a child who clambers and scrambles,

All by himself and gathering brambles,

Here is a tramp who stands and gazes,

And there is the green for stringing the daisies!

Here is a cart run away in the road

Lumping along with man and load,

And here is a mill and there is a river,

Each a glimpse and gone forever.

Chris Rutterford was highly enthusiastic for this theme and set to work sketching his initial thoughts. These sketches became the direction of travel when they finally started illustrating the tunnel. As well as the scenes that Stevenson wrote about in his poem, Chris wanted to portray the history of the area. This would include references to the farms along the way, the historic industrial connections located on the Water of Leith and the military connection with nearby Redford Barracks.

In fact, if you look closely at the image with the piper; he is a representation of the Pipe Major at the Army School of Highland Drumming and Bagpipe Music at Redford Barracks. The barracks are only a few hundred metres away from Colinton Village. In the image, for the more sharp eyed amongst you, you will see the regimental badges of the all of the units that have been based there since the barracks opened in 1919.

Pipe Major from Redford Barracks

As one leaves the tunnel at the eastern end as if you were heading to Edinburgh, there is a wonderful mural of the “Balerno Pug.” This was the actual steam engine that would have run on the Balerno Line. The colour of the engine belong to and was the corporate colour of the Caledonian Railway Company which operated this particular route and many of the routes heading out west.

A little know fact about this particular scene is that all of the people on the platform are actual local residents. The exception to this are the three famous World War I poets who are included in the scene; Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon were being treated for “shell shock,” now known as PTSD at the nearby Craiglockhart War Hospital. This is now a campus belonging to Napier University. The third gentleman is Robert Graves who travelled up from London in 1917. All three of them played golf a the nearby Barberton Golf Club.

Balerno Pug at the Platform

If you want to see the entire length of the mural in the tunnel, click on the link below which will take you to the video on our Youtube channel.

How to Get There

I can’t recommend a visit to this beautiful landmark enough. I think that this artwork truly breathes the life and history of the area. Why not put this on your list of places to visit? You can start by walking from the Lochrin Basin canal path at Fountainbridge in Edinburgh. Your 90-minute walk will bring you to the Colinton Tunnel and the village of Colinton itself.  Or alternatively, you can do it in reverse. See the map above for directions.

Once there you can recharge your batteries at one of the inviting pubs, coffee shops or restaurants. From there just walk up to the top of the village, and take a No.10 or 16 bus back into town. The No.45 also comes through Colinton and can be picked up from the High Street, Chambers Street or Lauriston Place if travelling out from Edinburgh. If in doubt, just ask one of the locals for directions to the bus stop. They are always willing to help. Alternatively, you could make the same journey in the opposite direction. 

Alternatively, you can incorporate a visit to the Colinton Tunnel on one of our local tours. For further information, go to our Tours page

If you need further information or wish to make a donation towards the maintenance and upkeep of the tunnel please go to

Other great references related to the tunnel, the village and the surrounding area can be found at the following: – Colinton Tunnel info – Balerno branch line – The Water of Leith Conservation Trust – Robert Louis Stevenson site  – Colinton village history  – the mills of Juniper Green


The 1886 International Exhibition was officially opened by the grandson of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, or Prince Albert Victor to give him his full title on 6 May 1886. The exhibition was held in the Meadows and it ran for 6 months and was hugely successful. 


The International Exhibition was one of several that took place throughout the United Kingdom during the reign of Queen Victoria. The most famous of the exhibitions that took place was the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace in London in 1851. But many other cities around the UK seized the opportunity to create their own exhibitions and draw people from around the country as well as many from overseas. 

Glasgow followed Edinburgh’s lead and produced their own International Exhibition in 1888 and 1890. The differences between the two cities and their respective exhibitions became apparent. Glasgow had experienced huge growth in manufacturing and ship building, comparable with many English industrial centres. It enabled them to put on far larger exhibitions than Edinburgh. Having seen some of the pitfalls that befell the organisers of Edinburgh’s exhibition, they were able to ensure that they didn’t make the same mistakes.

Edinburgh was already considered to be a major tourist centre with Edinburgh Castle sitting majestically over the Old Town. Nonetheless, the International Exhibition would simply be the icing on the cake for visitors to the city. Visitors would see the contrast between the old medieval town of Edinburgh, and Scotland’s future thanks to the entrepreneurs who contributed to the exhibition both financially and with their displays. 


Two critical factors would play a part in securing the International Exhibition; funding and a suitable exhibition site. Were it not for the efforts of the Lord Provost of Edinburgh, Thomas Clark, the exhibition may never have taken place.  After initial ‘sour grapes’ from Glasgow City Council, both Edinburgh and Glasgow Councils contributed the largest donations to the Guarantee Fund. The rest was made up from exhibitors and investors. 

There were a number of green belt or parkland areas that could have been chosen but in the end, the organisers plumped for the Meadows. For those not familiar with the Meadows, it is a 63 acre of parkland on the south side of the city. It was originally known as the Borough Loch and was formerly one of the main water supplies for the city. A piped water supply from the hills beyond Comiston in 1621 put an end to that. Then in 1722, the Borough Loch was completely drained and gradually landscaped into the park that it is today. 

The Meadows

One important factor that initially held up the exhibition was the 1827 Act of Parliament. This Act prohibited any form of construction on the Meadows. Up until it was suggested that the exhibition should take place here, the Meadows had been used for grazing of animals, and for leisure. In fact it was here that the earliest football teams played their matches. Edinburgh’s two football teams Heart of Midlothian and Hibernian played their first Derby match on 25 December 1875. 

In any case, a deputation approached the Council with a request to build a temporary exhibition at the Meadows. Possibly because the Council had already contributed funding for the exhibition, it was agreed that the Meadows could be used. 


In less than a year the building that would house the exhibition was completed in time for the official opening on 6 May 1886. The building itself was a major achievement and visitors to the exhibition were in awe at its scale. Inside there were rows and rows of exhibition space. Many of the exhibits were from all corners of the globe and for many of the visitors it opened them up to a new world.

William Wallace

As well as the overseas exhibitors, there were the home-grown exhibitors including industrialists, textile manufacturers, artisans, catering and restaurant owners, civil and military engineers, shipbuilders and the agricultural sector. They even transported one of the Caledonian Railway company’s steam locomotives into the building. And naturally, no exhibition would be complete without representation by the National Exhibitors of Scotch Malt Whiskies. It was a display designed to show the rest of the world just what Scotland was about. 

As if to impress the visitor of the ‘Scottishness’ of this exhibition, the Grand Hall was grandeur personified. A huge statue of William Wallace took centre stage  but shared the space with other artefacts of Scottish nationalism from centuries gone by. 

One part of the exhibition consisted of a compete reconstruction of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile around the area of the Netherbow Port and John Knox House. In a space 200 feet long and 65 feet wide, twenty one buildings were constructed. They were recreated in the style that would have been encountered before the Netherbow Port was demolished in 1764. They even employed reenactors to dress as the Town Guard from that period. It was an amazing spectacle. 

However, what would have been most fascinating for almost all of the visitors would have been the 3,200 electric lamps which illuminated the Exhibition building and grounds. Today electricity and electric lighting are taken for granted. But for Victorian Scotland this was akin to ‘black magic.’ There was even an electric train ride that visitors could take along the northern side of the exhibition area. Who would have imagined that a concept that was first demonstrated 135 years ago, is now something that our world is quickly having to adapt to as the combustion engine is now less attractive?

There were a total of three royal visits, the most highly anticipated was by Queen Victoria herself in the August during her Summer holiday to Balmoral. Visits by other prominent dignitaries encouraged more visitors to attend. Added to this there was an ever changing programme of entertainments which meant that if visitors returned, they would most likely see something that they had not seen before. 


By the time the International Exhibition came to an end on 31 October 1886, 153 days after it was officially opened, it could account for 2,769,632 visitors. That was equivalent to over 18,000 visitors a day. One of Britain’s most famous travel agents, Thomas Cook, was integral in providing packages for visitors from all over the country to come to Edinburgh. 

By the time the exhibition had come to an end and after all overheads, including the dismantling of the exhibition building, a total profit of £5,600 had been made. In today’s terms that is equivalent to around £750,000. That is not really a lot. But what the exhibition did do was to put the city of Edinburgh on the global map and ensured its future as a holiday destination. This it has retained to this day. 

Cherry Blossoms in the Meadows

For anyone visiting Edinburgh, the Meadows are within a 10-minute walking distance from the Old Town. On a clear sunny day it is a wonderful place to retire to for a little peace and quiet and to escape from the hordes of visitors trying to capture yet another ‘selfie.’ The tree-lined paths are stunningly beautiful as can be seen in the image above. Edinburgh Cab Tours are able to include this in any of our city tours. For further details please visit our TOURS page.

The Battle of Culloden – 16th April 1746


The Battle of Culloden took place on the 16th April 1746.  It marks the day that the last full-scale battle took place on British soil. In this year 2021 it is also the 275th anniversary of this brutal battle. The Battle of Culloden has been commemorated annually, as well as misrepresented and mythologised depending upon who is recounting the details of this truly bloody battle. 

Some say that it was a battle between the Scots and the English armies, others that it was a battle between the rabble Highlanders and the more refined Lowlanders. It is even suggested that it came about as a result of the Highland Clearances. None of these are correct. In fact, the seeds of discontent could be traced as far back as the death of King James VI of Scotland (James I of England). 


His son Charles I attempted to impose the rituals of the Church of England on the Scots resulting in the drawing up of the National Covenant. It also caused more division particularly amongst Highlanders who predominantly followed the proscribed Catholic faith. The following decades of strife and religious wars resulted in Charles I being executed and England becoming a republic led by Cromwell. The Scots, however, recognised his son as their King and he was crowned King Charles II. With the death of Cromwell Charles was restored to the English throne. Eventually his younger brother became King James VII (James II) on his death. 

At this point it all started to unravel for James because of his Catholic beliefs. To further complicate matters when his Catholic wife gave birth to a son, there was consternation in the Parliament that the monarchy would thereafter be wholly Catholic. At the invitation of Parliament William of Orange and his wife Mary were invited to become King and Queen, thus exiling James. William and Mary were only able to become monarch by virtue of Mary being the daughter of James. The critical matter was that they were Protestant.

Although this was considered satisfactory in England, there was still huge support for the exiled James amongst both Protestants and Catholics. It was at this point that we see the rise of Jacobitism, supporters of James. The first Jacobite Rising took place in 1689 but after initial success they were finally subdued by government forces. There wouldn’t be another uprising by the Jacobites until 1715 and shortly after in 1719. Both of which were unsuccessful. 

In the interim period there had been significant changes on the political front. Scotland had been forced into an Act of Union with England in 1707 which resulted in the Scottish Parliament being dissolved and a number of Scottish politicians sitting in Westminster. For many Scots this was seen as a sell-out by Scottish nobles and elite who had fallen on hard times because of a failed colonial adventure to colonise Panama. 

Charles Edward Stuart – “Bonnie Prince Charlie”

With the failure of the 1715 and 1719 Jacobite Risings in support of James Francis Edward Stuart, son of the exiled King James VII, many would think that was the end of the rebellion. However, there was a young upstart who would prove that there was still some mileage in pushing forward with the Jacobite cause. This young man who was 20 years of age was none other than Charles Edward Stuart, otherwise known as Bonnie Prince Charlie. He had been brought up with the firm belief that both his father and grandfather were the rightful Kings of England and Scotland. By virtue of this fact, he believed it was his birth right to regain the throne for his father and ultimately for himself. And so, he set himself on the path to Culloden. 

Although Charles who was based in Paris had sought the help of the French King Louis XV, none had been forthcoming. So, on a wing and a prayer and a belief that he had the support of the Highland clan chiefs, Charles set sail for Scotland where he planned to raise an army. He also wrote to the King to prove that he was serious about his rebellion but still seeking his support with manpower. 

His Arrival in Scotland

When he landed in Scotland in July 1745, there was much scepticism amongst the Highland chiefs and not much of an appetite for conflict. This was further compounded when they learnt that the promised French troops had not transpired. But Charles with his consummate charm and diplomacy promised so much that he was able to persuade some of the Highland chiefs to support his cause. 

By September the Jacobite Army under the leadership of Charles and Lord George Murray, was making its way to Edinburgh. With little resistance they were able to take the city. Charles based himself at Holyrood Palace. The first battle to take place between the Jacobites and the government forces was at Prestonpans, just outside Edinburgh. With this success he was able to gain more supporters. More importantly, he was given a promise from France that he would be supplied with money, men and weapons.

The Highland chiefs were not entirely convinced. They were even less so when Charles laid out his plans to invade England. The chiefs were really only interested in returning Scotland to the status quo. That meant dissolving the Act of Union and reinstating the Scottish Parliament. But Charles had loftier plans. After much persuasion, the Jacobites did eventually make their way south in the belief that they would increase their numbers with Jacobite supporters south of the border. Sadly, this did not happen. 

With every conflict that took place they suffered more casualties. But incredibly against all the odds, they made it as far as Derby, only a hundred miles from London. By this stage the government was in disarray. But the Scottish chiefs were not convinced by Charles’s promise of additional French troops arriving soon to bolster their forces. Furthermore, they believed that the government forces facing them were far larger than they actually were.

Retreat and Chaos

With the onset of winter and the lack of supplies and provisions, they finally persuaded Charles to return to Scotland. This would allow them the time to regroup, build their numbers and supplies. 

It was a fatal error which would eventually lead them to their fate at the Battle of Culloden. By the end of December, the Jacobites had finally crossed back over the border into Scotland. Most would have expected this to mean that they were safe. However, the government forces were in hot pursuit. 

By the time that some of the Jacobite army had reached Inverness, the government forces were already making their way from Aberdeen to Inverness under the command of the Duke of Cumberland. By the 15 April 1746, Cumberland’s troops were encamped at Nairn approximately 12 miles from Inverness. Because this was Cumberland’s birthday he had issued his troops with extra spirits rations. Charles thought that the troops would not be expecting an assault and would be the worse for wear. This would be the ideal opportunity to ambush them and so he persuaded his chiefs to march the twelve miles and attack before dawn. It was essential that they reached the camp by two in the morning. As it was, they were still four miles away and Lord George Murray called a halt. Instead, he turned his troops around to take them back to where they started on Drummossie Moor. 

The Battle Commences

By this stage, the Jacobite army was exhausted and hungry and were ill-prepared for battle. The decision to do battle here was taken by Charles despite Murray’s advice that it would not be to the advantage of the Highlander form of attack. The ground was rough and not at all suitable for a Highland charge, particularly as they would be under artillery attack from government forces. 

Despite little appetite for battle, the Highland chiefs led their clans on to the battlefield and lined up facing the government forces. It is estimated that there were approximately 7,500 government forces against 5,500 Jacobites. It is likely that there were even less Jacobites on the battlefield because of exhaustion from making their way back from Nairn. 

At midday on the 16th April Charles ordered his artillery to open fire with little effect. The government forces having learnt their lesson from previous encounters with the Jacobites were far enough away that they suffered little to no casualties. Gradually, bit by bit, they moved forward with their front-line troops firing grapeshot from their muskets and their heavier artillery laying down fire. The result was devastation in the Jacobite ranks. 

The Jacobites had no choice but to charge. However, the distance that they had to cover over the rough and boggy ground left them at a serious disadvantage. They were picked off by the government forces. Some of the Jacobites did in fact reach the government lines but outnumbered, outfought and outmanoeuvred the Jacobites suffered heavy casualties. Rank after rank of government forces laid into the Jacobite troops. In less than an hour the battle was over. 

Although the clip below is taken from the Battle of Culloden sequence in Outlander, it really gives a feel for the brutality of battle.

On the battlefield alone, around 1,250 Jacobites were killed in contrast to only 50 government forces. It was truly a bloodbath. But it was what happened afterwards that shows the inhumanity of man. The Duke of Cumberland had ordered that no quarter was to be given. Any survivors on the battlefield were to be finished off. Those that had managed to escape were to be hunted down and executed. This policy of ‘extermination’ was extended into the Highlands and resulted in not just men but women and children being murdered. It is no surprise that Cumberland thereafter earned himself the nickname of “The Butcher” because of his actions at the Battle of Culloden.

The Aftermath

As a result of Culloden, many things changed in Scotland. For sure the Highlander way of life changed for ever. The clan chiefs who had fought against the government forces were either executed on the spot or taken to London for a show trial before being executed. Highland culture was outlawed. Tartan could not be worn and bagpipes were outlawed as an instrument of war. Highlanders forfeited their weapons. Jacobite estates were forfeited and Highlanders were evicted, many resorting to emigration to the New World or migrating to the cities to make a new life. 

As for the Prince, he was to spend the next six months on the run. Eventually, he was rescued by a French expedition and returned to France. Although initially welcomed back to France as a hero, he was eventually expelled from France under the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle. During the remainder of his life, he spent most of his time drinking, until he suffered a stroke and died on 31 January 1788. His attempt to regain the throne for his father brought to an end, once and for all, the Stuart dynasty which had ruled over Scotland since 1406.

In Conclusion

It can truly be said that the Battle of Culloden was one of the darkest days in Scotland’s history. Many patriots died on this day and in the days, months and years after. As we look back, it was also an equally dark day for the government forces, including the Highland regiments that fought for them. The brutality, savagery and murder of so many prisoners and wounded will never be forgotten. Even some of the government forces were horrified by the actions of their comrades who, after all, were “only following orders” by the Duke of Cumberland. 

Visiting the Battlefield

If you are planning to visit Scotland and you want to learn more about the Battle of Culloden, the National Trust for Scotland visitor centre at Culloden is arguably one of the best visitor centres in Britain. There is a superb exhibition inside with artefacts from the battle and a timeline of the preceding events leading up to it. There is surrounding audio video that puts you in the thick of the battle, allowing you to experience the horrors of battle. Then you can walk out on to the battlefield and physically see where the two sides formed up before launching into battle. There are marker stones that represent the various clans that participated in the battle.

So, if you are heading anywhere near Inverness make sure to call in at Culloden. Edinburgh Cab Tours are able to include this in any itinerary for your private tour to the Highlands. Check our tours page for further details.


As far as bridges go, it is instantly recognisable. As far as engineering is concerned it was way ahead of its time. I can only be talking about the Forth Bridge or the Forth Rail Bridge as some prefer to refer to it. The Forth Bridge was officially opened on the 4th March 1890, some seven years after the project began. 


The Forth Bridge really was the pinnacle of bridge building and was a major success for Scottish engineering in the 19th century. It was not believed possible that a bridge could be built across the Firth of Forth that would be able to sustain the weight of a train for such a long distance. However, thanks to a young engineer by the name of Thomas Bouch he was able to demonstrate that perhaps it could be possible. We will come back to Bouch a little later. 

Queen Margaret

So, how did people travel north from the central Lowlands of Scotland with such a major obstacle as the Firth of Forth in their way? They basically had two choices. They could either make the long journey overland to Stirling where they could cross the Forth via the Stirling Bridge.  Alternatively, they could take the ferry crossings from various departure points over to the northern shores of the Firth of Forth. This was a commonly used route for Catholic pilgrims making their way to the shrine of St Andrew. Ferries were used as far back as the 11th century thanks to Queen Margaret, herself a devout Roman Catholic. 

It wasn’t until 1936 that a road bridge was built across the Forth at Kincardine. This was managed by building this bridge at a point where the Forth narrowed enough for engineers to build it. The bridge also had a swinging central section that allowed larger ships to still travel further upstream. With increasing volumes of road traffic, there was a demand by the 1950s for a much larger bridge. This eventually came about with the construction of the Forth Road Bridge in 1964. But that is for another article.


Although ferries and ships had monopolised the transportation of people and goods for centuries, there was a new kid on the block, in the shape of the rail industry. For engineers and the industrialists, the rail network was going to revolutionise transportation. No longer would industry be totally reliant on seaborne and canal transportation. Railroads would enable them to get the raw materials to factories far more quickly. But equally important, they would be able to get their goods to the consumer even more quickly and much further afield. 

Thomas Bouch

But the railroad companies had one or two hurdles to overcome. In the case of Scotland there were major rivers that had to be crossed. Three in particular were to be problematic. On the west coast we have the River Clyde, on the east coast we have the Firth of Forth and in the north east is the River Tay. This is where our aforementioned engineer Thomas Bouch comes on to the scene. He had to persuade the rail companies that he could come up with a solution for their problems. In 1849 he devised a system where trains could be floated over the water on floating platforms much like pontoons. 

This impressed the directors of the North British Railway company enough that they listened to his idea of building bridges across the Tay and the Forth. He was given the go-ahead to begin construction of a bridge across the Tay in 1871 and two years later the foundation stone for a bridge to be built across the Forth was laid. 

He completed the Tay Bridge and it went into full operation. Sadly in 1879 it collapsed in a terrible storm while a train was crossing it. It is believed that 75 people lost their lives in the disaster. It wasn’t the only loss, as Bouch lost the contract to build the bridge across the Firth of Forth and he himself died the following year. It is safe to say that the rail companies had become risk averse. 

Depiction of the Tay Bridge Disaster


It is at this point that the aspiration to be build a bridge across the Forth could have disappeared completely were it not for two men, Benjamin Baker and John Fowler. Both were highly reputable engineers who had been instrumental in the creation of the London Underground. In addition they were responsible for railway stations and rail bridges around the UK and the rest of the world. They were highly regarded and so their proposal was taken far more seriously. 

There were a number of factors that enabled the construction of the Forth Bridge but without the advances in the manufacture of steel it probably wouldn’t have been possible. Remember that many bridges up until this point had been built from iron. Secondly, Baker and Fowler proposed a steel-built cantilever bridge WITH an unheard of double railway track. Furthermore, it would be required to stretch over a mile and a half from end to end at a height of 151 feet above the Forth at high tide. 

The technological know-how that went into the design of this bridge was years ahead of its time. But it was a turning point and a watershed in the reputation of British engineering.

Once their design was given the go ahead, they then sub-contracted the construction of the bridge to William Arrol. Arrol was the classic Victorian ideal of a self-made man. He came from a working class background initially working as a youngster in a cotton mill before becoming a blacksmith’s apprentice at the age of 14. He learnt his trade with a firm of Glasgow bridge makers and having saved enough money he set up his own company and built his first bridge for the North British Railway company across the River Clyde. 

He had originally been contracted by Bouch to build his suspension bridge but when Baker and Fowler won the replacement contract, they immediately secured Arrol to build their vision for the Forth Bridge. Arrol’s work ethic was unrelenting. He would spend two days a week on the construction of the new Tay Bridge, two days on the Forth Bridge, a day at his Dalmarnock factory before heading down to London for two days of consultation with Baker and Fowler. All three men would eventually be knighted for their work and services to the engineering world. 


  • The three cantilever structures that support the bridge are over 100 metres high. 
  • The total weight of the structure is over 50,000 tonnes.
  • Over 6.5 million rivets were used in its construction.
  • Approximately 4,600 men were employed in its construction both on site and at the factories where the parts were manufactured.
  • Over 60 men died in its construction but it was the number of injuries that were truly mind-boggling, with over 26,000 entries just in one log book. Sadly, many hundreds were left crippled. 
  • However, a welfare fund was set up to take care of men who were injured and wages were much higher than the industry standard.
  • Work was carried out both above AND below the surface of the Firth of Forth. 
  • Working 100 feet below the surface of the Forth, compressed air was pumped into the chambers where the men worked to build the huge granite foundations that the bridge would sit on. 
  • The bridge was completed in December 1889 but then underwent months of testing. 
  • Trains with twice the bridge design load were sent across to test the bridge capacity, and this was design during the height of a Scottish winter with high winds and low temperatures.
  • On the 4th March 1890, the Forth Bridge was officially opened by the Prince of Wales, later to become King Edward VII. 
  • To this day, over 70,000 rail journeys are made across the bridge. 
  • At the outbreak of the Second World War, the bridge was the backdrop for one of the earliest dogfights between the German Luftwaffe and the British RAF.
  • In July of 2015, on its 125th anniversary, the Forth Bridge was recognised as a World Heritage Site. 


Anyone visiting Scotland should try to include a visit to the small town of South Queensferry. From here you will be able to take in fantastic views of the Forth Bridge. Edinburgh Cab Tours are able to incorporate a stop at South Queensferry to get one of the best views of the Forth Bridge. We can incorporate it into our Edinburgh Y St Andrews Tour or why not include it in your Edinburgh Tour. Full details can be found on our TOURS page.

Even better there is a boat trip that takes passengers from Hawes Pier out to Inchcolm island and passes directly under the Forth Bridge. Alternatively, if travelling north/south by train you will be able to travel across the bridge and truly feel like you are living a part of history. 


The Battle of Roslin which took place on 24 February 1303, surprisingly has hardly featured in the accounts of major battles that took place during the Scottish Wars of Independence. The two most notable battles of the period are the Battle of Stirling Bridge (1296) and the Battle of Bannockburn (1314).  Stirling being the ‘Gateway to the Highlands’ has perhaps stolen the mantle of being the most strategic stronghold in all of Scotland particularly during the Scottish Wars of Independence. 


Robert the Bruce murdering John Comyn

And yet when we take a look at the events that led up to and during the Battle of Roslin, this should surely have a higher prominence in the history of Scotland’s fight for independence. It is possible that the battle did not get due recognition because the Scots army was not led by either of our most iconic heroes, Robert the Bruce or William Wallace. In fact, the Scots were led by John Comyn who was a bitter rival to Robert the Bruce. Perhaps for this fact alone, he and the Battle of Roslin have been airbrushed out of Scotland’s history. Remember that Robert the Bruce murdered Comyn on the altar of Greyfriars Church in Dumfries in 1306.

The Battle of Roslin

But be in no doubt that this was a huge battle. Early accounts suggest that the English Army was split into three divisions consisting of up to 30,000 men. On the Scottish side there were approximately 8,000 men. There are some that would argue that the English numbers were significantly less. Maybe the figures were exaggerated as part of Scotland’s pro-independence propaganda and was designed to motivate more Scots to the cause. 

In any case, the Scots were seriously outnumbered but it did not deter them from taking on this English army. The English army had advanced into Scotland on what can only be described as yet another punitive campaign. When John Comyn got wind of their encampment in the Roslin area, he and his small army travelled twenty miles overnight. Before first light they pounced on the English army, slaughtering the vast majority and taking some high value prisoners as bargaining chips.


Whilst the Scots were dividing the spoils of war, the second division of the English army had been alerted by some of the fleeing soldiers. 

Comyn hadn’t realised that there was yet another part to this army. Quickly replacing their horses with English horses and redistributing captured weapons to their vassals, Comyn prepared his men for this onslaught. Remember the Scots had ridden and marched overnight so would already be tired. The second battle lasted longer than the first and it was bloodier. There were more Scottish casualties in this second round of fighting but against the odds, the Scots were victorious. They achieved this by the inspirational and motivational leadership of John Comyn and his right-hand man, Simon Fraser. 

Kill Burn – where the water ran red with blood for three days

When the Scots realised that there was a third division on its way, they put all of the English prisoners to the sword. It is little wonder that the shallow stream that ran through the battle area became known as the Kill Burn as it ran with blood for three days afterwards. Some question why the English would have divided up their forces in the first place. But this was standard practice particularly where there were huge numbers of troops. They would have encamped each division in a different area to provide more space. Also, it is most likely that this English army was split up to go in different directions with different objectives. 

Final Victory

At the end of the third battle, it has been suggested that fewer than 3,000 English actually survived. This means that if the high figure of 30,000 English troops fought at the Battle of Roslin, then up to 27,000 were killed by the Scots. And this by a force of no more than 8,000. Therefore, it is debateable that the Scots fought a force that was three times their size. However, it cannot be denied that this battle was a major battle that seriously increased support for Comyn and his fight for independence. 

The Aftermath

King Edward I of England

But as with any defeat of this nature, King Edward I of England would not let this go unanswered. The following year in 1304, he raised another huge army which he led personally into Scotland. He laid waste wherever he went, capturing castles and fortresses placing English Lords in charge of them. Scottish nobles were forced into pleading loyalty to him. The following year in 1305, William Wallace who had long been a ‘thorn in his side’ was betrayed by a Scottish noble, John Stewart of Mentieth.  As a warning to the Scots, Wallace was taken to London where he was tried and brutally executed. 

So, perhaps because of the events that took place in the years immediately after the Battle of Roslin and Edward’s dominance over Scotland, the battle faded into insignificance. 

Interestingly, the area of the battle site is now farmland and consists of Research Centres which are part of the University of Edinburgh. The Roslin Institute which is where ‘Dolly the Sheep’ was conceived, sits on the western edge of the battlefield. In fact, the institute is no more as it has been bulldozed to make way for a new housing development. Not far from here there is an area called Shinbanes Fields. From time to time, in centuries gone by, farmers would find human bones when ploughing the fields. This could explain the unusual name ‘Shinbanes’ meaning shin bones. 

Other place names in the area include Hewan Bog and Stinking Rig. It is believed that both names were given as it is where many of the English were hewn down in battle. Their bodies were afterwards buried in the area and thus we have the name Stinking Rig because of the rancid smell that emanated from there. 


As a keen metal detectorist, I have approached the University of Edinburgh seeking permission to detect on the land. However, all requests have been declined. Perhaps that is best because it is quite possible that the area could be a mass burial site. But if it were ever to be excavated what secrets could it throw up? Certainly, when archaeologists and historians have investigated the area of the Battle of Bannockburn they have turned up very little physical evidence of a battle taking place there. 

But the area of the Battle of Roslin could literally be a treasure trove of information that would throw so much more light on the way battles were fought back in the early 14th century. 

If this is something that would be of interest to visitors to the Edinburgh area, then this can be incorporated into a visit to Rosslyn Chapel. From Rosslyn Chapel it is only a short 10-minute walk to the Battle of Roslin monument. The scenery is beautiful and it is so peaceful. This can be included in our Rosslyn Chapel tour or a tailored tour to your requirement. Check out our Tours page on our website.

Other Areas of Interest Nearby

Also nearby is Hawthornden Castle which has some underground caves, said to have been used by both Robert the Bruce and William Wallace during different times. Further out from Roslin, is the small village of Temple which can lay claim to being one of the earliest sites used by the Knights Templar when they were outlawed on mainland Europe. 

Eric Liddell – Missionary and Athlete

On the 21st February 1945, Eric Liddell,  one of Scotland’s greatest athletes died. If you are trying to remember why the name Eric Liddell sounds familiar, it may be because of the successful film Chariots of Fire. It is quite possible that if the film had not been made then Eric Liddell, although well known here in Scotland, would have just been a footnote in history. 

Early Life

He was born not in Scotland but in China on 16 January 1902. He was born to Scottish missionaries the Reverend and Mrs James Liddell who served in China. Eric and his brother Robert were educated in China until the age of six and eight respectively. His parents then sent them back to England where they were educated at Eltham College. This was a boarding school for sons of missionaries. 

Throughout his formative years Eric Liddell participated in various sports playing Rugby and Cricket. But because of his speed on the track, he also competed in athletics. Whenever his parents came back from China for a break from their missionary work, they would normally stay in Edinburgh. It was here that Eric eventually based himself when he decided to study at Edinburgh University. 

While studying at Edinburgh University, he continued to compete in Rugby and Athletics. So fast was he on the track that he became known as ‘The Flying Scotsman’ in press articles. It was even suggested that he was a future potential Olympic winner. Although he would go on to compete at the 1924 Olympics, he also represented Scotland at Rugby. 

In 1923 he won the AAA Championships in athletics in the 100-yard race where he set a British record of 9.7 seconds that would not be equalled for 23 years. He also won the 220-yard race in 21.6 seconds. Remember that this was at a time when there were no modern tracks. These were cinder tracks and the athletes ran in pretty rudimentary running shoes compared to nowadays. 

Eric Liddell winning his race

As a devout Christian he also followed in his parents’ footsteps by preaching the word. He was invited to preach at various student events and because of his sporting prowess, he often attracted huge numbers to his events. 

Olympic Gold

Eric Liddell was selected to represent Great Britain at the 100-metre event.  However, contrary to the depiction in Chariots of Fire that he refused to compete at the eleventh hour because his event took place on a Sunday, the Christian Sabbath. In fact, the decision had been made several months before, and instead he trained for the 400 metres. His performance to date at this distance was modest by comparison to some of the other international runners. 

However, he made it to the 400-metre final. On the morning of the event, Liddell was handed a note by one of the team coaches. It was a reference from the Book of Samuel and read,

He that honours me, I will honour

He recognised the quote immediately.

Unfortunately, Liddell was placed in the outside lane and was unable to see his competition behind him so he had no choice but to race not just the first 200 metres as a sprint but the whole race. He won the race and also broke the Olympic and World Record in a time of 47.6 seconds. Together with his bronze medal a few days earlier in the 200 metres, they were his greatest athletics achievement. 

Because he was born AND also died in China, some of China’s Olympic list of achievements cite Liddell as their first Olympic champion. 

His Missionary Work

Statue of Liddell at the Internment Camp

Thereafter, Liddell returned to China to carry on his work as a Christian missionary as his parents had done before him. Occasionally, he would compete at 200 and 400 metres whilst in China. He competed in the South Manchurian Championships and was victorious at the 1930 North China Championships. 

On one of his breaks back in Scotland in 1932 he was ordained a Minister of the Congregational Union of Scotland. On his return to China, he became married. Eventually, by 1941 due to Japanese aggression it was decided that Liddell’s wife and his daughters would return to Britain while he would carry on working at the Mission. 

Sadly, he along with other missionaries and ex-pats were interned at the Weihsien Internment Camp when the Japanese troops invaded. He saw out the remainder of his life in internment, eventually dying from an inoperable brain tumour. He died only five months before liberation. 

Places of Interest – Edinburgh

There are numerous locations in Edinburgh that visitors can visit that are related to his time here in Edinburgh. Probably the most notable is in Morningside at Holy Corner. Holy Corner got its name from the fact that there is a Church on each of the four corners of the junction. It was here at the Morningside United Church, whilst studying at Edinburgh University, that he practiced and preached as a devout Christian. Eventually, the Church outgrew its premises and sold the building and moved across the road to a larger building which is now the Eric Liddell Community Centre.

Inside the original church is a beautiful stained glass window depicting Eric Liddell, winning a race in his trademark style with his head thrown back, mouth wide open, with arms flailing madly. His American rivals at the 1924 Olympics had laughed and mocked his style. But Liddell was to have the last laugh when he beat them in the final.

Stained Glass Window of Eric Liddell

Appropriately, the stained glass window incorporates the reference from the Book of Samuel, “He who honours me, I will honour”. No better epitaph could be attributed to the man. He lived his life by his Christian beliefs.

If you have an interest in Eric Liddell and the places linked with the man, ask us to include them in your city tour of Edinburgh. Go to our TOURS page for further details.


The 8th February 1587 will go down in history as the day that Mary Queen of Scots became one of Scotland’s most iconic historical figures. It was on this date that Mary Queen of Scots was executed under the instruction of her cousin Queen Elizabeth I of England. Her execution was inevitable after spending 19 years as a prisoner of Queen Elizabeth. 

Mary’s entire life involved political intrigue, a long standing dispute between two monarchies, failed romances and religious turmoil. All of these and more would effectively lead her on the path to her eventual death. 


Mary was born on 8th December 1542, and was anointed Mary, Queen of Scots 6 days later after the death of her father King James V. She was born at Linlithgow Palace, a favourite palace of the royal family and their court. 

Linlithgow Palace

At this time Scotland had suffered a serious defeat at the Battle of Solway Moss and James had taken it badly.  So much so, that he was confined to his bed. However, he awaited the news that his wife would give birth to a son to carry on his dynasty. When he learnt that he was the father of a daughter, Mary, it is claimed that this finally finished him off. 

He is alleged to have said in his final hours,

“It came wi’ a lass, it’ll gang wi’ a lass”.

This implied that it ‘began with a girl and it will end with a girl’. He clearly didn’t have high hopes that there would be any longevity in Mary’s reign or indeed his dynasty.

The Palace, Stirling Castle

Mary would be crowned the following year at the age of 6 months in Stirling Castle. Until she reached adulthood, Scotland would be ruled by a regent. Already the first political and religious battle took place between the Catholic Cardinal Beaton and the Protestant  Earl of Arran. The Earl succeeded in becoming regent. 

Alongside this internal conflict was pressure from the English King Henry VIII to have Mary Queen of Scots married off to his son Edward. This would further cement his plan to unite England and Scotland and increase his empire and power. 

This did not go down too well with many of the Catholic Scots nobles. The Protestant faction, however, saw its value. Ultimately, King Henry II of France proposed a marriage between Mary and his son Francis. And so in 1548, Mary sailed for France where should would spend her formative years.


Francis & Mary

Mary spent a very happy upbringing in France, surrounded by her closest friends, the Four Maries. She was brought up as a devout Catholic and betrothed to be married to Francis. They eventually married and became King and Queen of France in 1559 after the unexpected death of Henry II. 

The marriage would only last a year as Francis died from illness. Without a role, and because of her mother, Mary de Guise’s death, Mary had little choice but to return to Scotland. It was not the same Scotland that she had left – as she was to find out. 

Returning to Scotland in the August of 1561, on the one hand she was welcomed  by her subjugated Catholic subjects. On the other hand because of the Protestant Reformation she was viewed with suspicion by the Protestants. But Mary, as Queen of all Scots, advocated tolerance of both religious beliefs. She would practice her Catholic religion privately at Holyrood. Meanwhile all of Scotland would follow the Presbyterian Protestant faith under the leadership of John Knox. 

This religious conflict would be the first of her many problems to come. 

Darnley & Mary

Her next challenge was to find a suitable husband in order to secure her dynasty. She married her cousin Lord Darnley, also Catholic, in 1565 at Holyrood Palace. In the meantime, the English Queen Elizabeth saw this marriage as a threat to the English throne as both Mary and Darnley through their lineage had a direct claim to the English throne. 

Mary quickly fell pregnant and was due to give birth in the middle of 1566. Darnley, in the meantime had become jealous of Mary’s close relationship with her private secretary, David Rizzio. Darnley’s supporters murdered him in cold blood in front of  the Queen. 

Craigmillar Castle

In June 1566 Mary gave birth to her son at Edinburgh Castle. Mary retired to Craigmillar Castle just outside Edinburgh due to illness in the November of the same year. However, it is claimed that this was an opportunity for Mary and her supporters to conceive a plan to get rid of Darnley. Accounts would later suggest that Mary was not a party to this. 

In any case, the following year Darnley was killed in a botched explosion at the Kirk o’ Field believed to have been orchestrated by Lord Bothwell.  Bothwell who was still married at this point, had his own plans to force Mary to marry him. 

In the May of 1567, Mary was abducted by Bothwell and it is suggested that he may have raped her. Shortly after, having been kept at Dunbar Castle for a period, Bothwell and Mary returned to Holyrood Palace where they were married under a Protestant service. He thought that this would satisfy the Protestant nobles but they too turned against them. So not only did the Catholics think that the marriage was unlawful but there was also a serious Protestant backlash. 

Following a potential battle between Mary’s supporters and the Protestant Lords at Carberry Hill, Mary finally surrendered and was imprisoned at Loch Leven Castle. 


After one last attempt to reclaim her throne and take control of Scotland, Mary was defeated at the Battle of Langside. She retreated to England and sought the protection of her cousin Queen Elizabeth I. Sadly her hopes were dashed and she was housed in a ‘place of safety’ at Bolton Castle. 

Two years later Mary was moved to Tutbury Castle where she was effectively now under house arrest. The political wheels were now set in motion that would effectively seal her fate. English nobles cajoled and debated with Queen Elizabeth I that her cousin was a threat to her monarchy. But without evidence, she was not prepared to seal her death warrant as she was still Queen of a sovereign nation. 


There are numerous accounts that these letters show that Mary was involved in the planning of Darnley’s  death, and that she also laid claim to the English throne. Lady Antonia Fraser, acclaimed biographer of Mary, came to the conclusion that the letters were forgeries. The French language and grammar used in them were so poorly written that they could not have been written by someone of Mary’s upbringing.

But they were to be used against her in her trial. Although she was imprisoned for almost twenty years, everything came to a rapid conclusion over a period of a few months thanks to these letters. From being found guilty of treason in the October of 1586, finally on 7th February 1587 Queen Elizabeth I signed her death warrant. She would be executed the following day. 

Mary Queen of Scots Death Warrant signed by Queen Elizabeth I

Mary Queen of Scots remained calm and noble to the end. Her final words were,

“Into thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit”. 


Mary’s reign may be described by some as disastrous. However, she was a skillful monarch, and was in fact politically astute. It was the timing of her reign that was to be her undoing. The rise of Protestantism would conspire against her Catholic beliefs which she never rejected. She was a tolerant woman who wanted her divided nation to live in peace alongside one another.

Mary Queen of Scots – Linlithgow Palace

She was living in an era when it would be difficult for any woman to rule over an otherwise patriarchal society. She saw off many claimants to her throne. 

Probably her greatest failing was her taste in men. Darnley played his own game but she remained steadfastly against his intentions to be become King of Scotland in his own right. Bothwell was a Machievellan “streetfighter” who used brute force to attempt to dominate her. 

If religion, politics and society had been any different in her day, it is quite possible that she would have been not only Mary Queen of Scots but also of France and England. 

She did leave one very important legacy. With the birth of her son James, the Stuart dynasty eventually united the two countries of England and Scotland on the death of Queen Elizabeth I. The Union of the Crowns would be followed just over one hundred years later by The Treaty of Union when Scotland and England formed one United Kingdom.

Some would say that this was a disaster for Scotland or its saviour. But that is a discussion for another time.

If you want to learn more about Mary Queen of Scots, we can highly recommend her biography Mary Queen of Scots by Antonia Fraser. Equally, there are movie versions of her life which provide an overview. Mary Queen of Scots (1971) starring Vanessa Redgrave and Glenda Jackson is an entertaining romp through her life. However, the more gritty Mary Queen of Scots (2018) starring Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie provides an unglossed version of events.

And remember Edinburgh Cab Tours provide a variety of tours that can incorporate visits to iconic locations with close links to Mary Queen of Scots. Check our TOURS page or ask us to build your own bespoke and customised tour.

Jedburgh Abbey


Any visit to the Scottish Borders could, or more accurately, should include a visit to the beautiful little town of Jedburgh. It tends to compete with the visitor’s affections if they are considering instead visiting Melrose Abbey and Abbotsford House. Jedburgh is well worth a visit because it  has one of the best-preserved medieval abbeys out of the trio of abbeys which include the aforementioned Melrose Abbey and Dryburgh Abbey.

All of them can be found in the Scottish Borders.  Jedburgh can be reached from Edinburgh in about an hour and thirty minutes if driving there directly. Alternatively, it will take you twenty minutes if you have stopped off in Melrose to visit Abbotsford House, the home of Sir Walter Scott. Interestingly, he also had an important legal connection with Jedburgh. 

Jedburgh also has a restored jail that came about as a result of prison reforms in the late 1700s. Just outside the town itself is Ferniehirst Castle which should be visited if you belong to the Clan Kerr. And for anyone with a fascination for medieval royalty, there is a fantastic Visitor Centre at the 16th century house that Mary Queen of Scots stayed at for a month in 1566.

Read on for more details about the highlights of the town or why not click on the video link below for a tour of the town by Edinburgh Cab Tours.


Jedburgh Abbey is without doubt the town’s biggest draw.  You can’t help but be impressed as you approach this architectural masterpiece. It most likely occupies a site that belonged to an earlier religious community. It is quite possible that religious worship took place here for more than 1000 years.

It was initially founded as a priory at the behest of King David I in collaboration with Bishop John of Glasgow in around 1138. It was during this period that David was keen to further the Roman Catholic faith and he did this by founding a number of Abbeys and Priories. Probably the most famous of those is Holyrood Abbey in Edinburgh. But in the Scottish Borders, as well as Jedburgh Abbey, you can also find Melrose and Dryburgh Abbeys. 

King David invited the Augustinian order of Canons to set up the priory in Jedburgh. The same order were also responsible for creating Holyrood Abbey in Edinburgh, so were held in high regard by the King. Shortly after the King’s death, the Priory was elevated in status to that of an Abbey.

As the visitor walks around Jedburgh Abbey it is easy to spot some of the most impressive Romanesque and Gothic architecture that can be found anywhere in Scotland. Sadly, the location of the Abbey was to be its downfall. Situated as close to the Scottish-English border as it was, it was a clear indication that David was sending a message to the English King that David’s control extended right up to the border. The abbey was to be his most impressive architectural gem and also a target for any invading English army. 

In years to come, during the Scottish Wars of Independence in the late 1200s and early 1300s, the English King Edward I used the Abbey as a lodging house. He went so far as to appoint an English Abbott to ensure that the Augustinians knew who was in charge.

Much later during the Rough Wooing of the 1540s that the Abbey was to come under serious attack. Because the Scots had rejected the English demand to marry Mary Queen of Scots to King Henry VIII’s heir Edward, the English laid waste to Scotland. Jedburgh was a prime target. Despite this it still retains many of its original features. 

With the Protestant Reformation in the 1560s, the Catholic faith was outlawed. The Canons were permitted to see out their lives at the Abbey but maintenance of the Abbey declined. Eventually, parts of it were pulled down to be recycled to build other parts of the town.  

If you do visit Jedburgh, you must include the Abbey. And if you do, make sure to climb up to the top of the towerhouse for fantastic views out over the abbey. Be aware that it involves quite a steep, narrow climb up and down a spiral staircase. Anyone, who struggles with too many steps, or confined spaces may just want to give this a miss. 


Jedburgh also has a very well preserved and restored prison – Jedburgh Castle Jail. The great prison reformer John Howard advocated wide reaching reforms in 1777. Up until then prisoners were thrown into one communal jail where men, women and children were incarcerated together. Conditions can only be described as horrendous, violent and insanitary. Some longer term prisoners never made it out and the weak were most at risk.

Jedburgh Castle Jail

Part of Howard’s recommendation advocated single cells with all prisoners separated. Their diet was to be significantly improved. But the prisoners were also ordered to spend their daytime hours in hard labour. In addition, they were permitted to exercise in the fresh air in the exercise yards and were required to participate in religious education. The changes improved the conditions for prisoners and it was hoped that this would help to rehabilitate them.

By 1877, small county jails like this were phased out and prisoners from throughout Scotland were transported to the much larger purpose built prisons in Edinburgh, Greenock, Barlinnie and Aberdeen. 


It is claimed that Mary Queen of Scots came to Jedburgh for a few weeks in 1566. Holding court there she required a suitable place to stay and so she rented this house…..although there is debate whether it was this exact house. Whatever the case, it is a fine example of a house built in the early 16th century. 

But because of its connection with Mary it was restored in the early 20th century and was opened to the public in 1930. Inside Mary Queens of Scots House, it has been turned into a museum that explored her life and those around her. There are many artefacts that relate to the period of Mary’s reign and is well worth spending time at it.

The exhibitions explains how she was betrayed  and eventually forced to abdicate before escaping to England. Here she mistakenly believed that her cousin Queen Elizabeth would provide her with protection. Sadly she was to spend the remaining twenty years of her life in captivity before being executed. 


Other places of interest in Jedburgh’s town centre include the site of the original Council building where trials would have been held. It was here that Sir Walter Scott, in his role as a defence lawyer, made his first appearance in 1793 as shown on this commemorative plaque. 

Directly opposite in the Market Place square is a monument commemorating the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1887.

Further around from here can be found a house with a plaque on it which claims that Bonnie Prince Charlie stayed there on his ill-fated retreat back into Scotland in the November of 1745.

The town library bears the motto above the door entrance “Let there be Light” which identifies it as being a library that was funded by Andrew Carnegie. One of many that can be found throughout Scotland as well as many other countries around the world.

Finally, for any descendants of the Clan Kerr, less than two miles from the town Centre is Ferniehirst Castle. The earliest Kerr’s lived in this area as far back as the 1300s. The undercrofts that support the present castle can be traced back to 1470. But it is most likely that there would have been an earlier castle most likely made from timber.

When the 3rd Lord Jedburgh died in 1692 without heirs, the castle passed to the Lothian branch of the Kerry family whose family seat is at Newbattle House near Dalkeith. Incredibly from 1933 to 1983 the property was obtained and run as a business by the Scottish Youth Hostel Association. But in 1983 Lord and Lady Lothian redeemed the lease and set about refurbishing the Castle. Normally, the castle is only open to the public during the month of July and you must book in advance. Again it is one of those gems that is worth visiting. 

Remember that Edinburgh Cab Tours can take groups to the Scottish Borders and can tailor the tour to your exact requirements. For further details please take a look at our Tours page. 

Burns Night

Us Scots will jump at the chance of a celebration and that is why on 25th January we celebrate what has come to be known as Burns Night. Along with St Andrews Day and Hogmanay (New Year), Burns Night is a time for friends and family to get together. 

But what is the purpose of Burns Night and why does it figure as highly as Hogmanay and St Andrews Day? This is the day that Scots not just in Scotland but all around the world celebrate arguably Scotland’s greatest poet Robert Burns. His poetry was to earn him the title of Scotland’s National Bard.

The earliest celebrations began after his death in 1796. Nine of his friends chose to celebrate him every year thereafter on 21st July, the date of his death. So, why are we celebrating on 25th January? At some point in the past people felt it was more appropriate to celebrate the birth of Burns and so we now celebrate on this date. He was born in 1759, and some would say he died far too young at the age of 37. But his was a life well lived.


Born in Alloway, Ayrshire of farming stock, he was home educated by his father with periods away to further his education. However, belonging to a farming family, he was required to return at harvest time. The family moved several times to work different farms but never able to improve their lot in life. 

Birthplace of Robert Burns
Birthplace of Robert Burns – Image Credit: DeFacto

Possibly as early as 1774, at the age of 15, Burns was already writing poetry. They were normally poems written to woo the women in his life at that time. With financial difficulties hanging over the family, Burns was due to take up a position as a “bookkeeper” (assistant overseer of slaves) at a sugar plantation in Jamaica in 1786. Whether this actually sat comfortably with him it is difficult to tell but a few years later he wrote “The Slave’s Lament” which suggests that he wasn’t. Added to this was the fact that the movement for the Abolition of Slavery was gathering pace. 

It was also around this time, that his marriage to Jean Armour had soured although he was to go on to father nine children with her, of which only three survived. Returning to farming he also took up the position of Exciseman, just in case the farm failed.

Eventually, he made his way to Edinburgh as his writing of both poems and traditional songs attracted much attention. After his death, his wife Jean Armour had to go to the Court of Session in Edinburgh to ensure that she and the family would benefit from the publication of a four-volume edition of his complete works. 

His Works

So, what did Burns write about and what style of writing did he prefer? Because of his upbringing and education, his subject matter was wide and varied. He wrote about politics and was not averse to being highly critical. He wrote about republicanism – remember that he lived during the period of the French Revolution. 

He also wrote about poverty, the hardships of the working-class man, sex and sexuality, religion and its place in society and was profoundly proud of his Scottish cultural identity. Conversely he was not averse to poking fun at the Scottish psyche. 

He was an accomplished poet and writer choosing to write mainly in the more commonplace dialect of the Scots language but also in Scottish English. Likewise, where appropriate he was known to write the same verses in both Scots and English, particularly where he was trying to achieve a certain effect. 

Burns Night Celebrations

So, what normally happens on Burns Night?

What started out as small intimate gatherings amongst friends has morphed into large “commercial” events. Quite often corporate events will use Burns Night as a night for a get together – at least during pre-COVID times. 

The format, if a larger gathering, consists of a general welcome and announcements. It begins with the Selkirk Grace which has nothing to do with the town of Selkirk. Although not written by Burns, it is claimed that he delivered it at a dinner given by the Earl of Selkirk.

In Scots language:

Some hae meat and canna eat,

And some wad eat that want it,

But we hae meat and we can eat,

Sae let the Lord be thankit.

In English:

Some have meat and cannot eat, 

And some would eat that want it,

But we have meat and we can eat,

So let God be thanked.

After the grace, the Haggis will be carried in on a silver platter. It will be piped in by a piper and placed before the man who will recite Burns’s famous “Address to a Haggis”. At the appropriate moment in the address, the addressor will take a dagger and stab and cut open the Haggis. Normally, all attendees will have already started tucking in to their Haggis, Neeps and Tatties while this is going on. 

Haggis, Neeps and Tatties

At the end of the meal there are normally a number of toasts made including a “Toast to the Lassies”, and replies can be made. Sometimes this can also include a “Toast to the Laddies” normally made by one of the ladiespresent. The final toast will be to the “immortal memory” of Burns himself. The event usually concludes with everyone singing one of Burns’s most famous songs “Auld Lang Syne”.

It goes without saying that copious amounts of whisky will flow at a Burns Night. 

If you want to learn more about Robert Burns, we can highly recommend a visit to Robert Burns Birthplace and Museum in Ayrshire. There is also the fantastic Writers’ Museum which not only pays homage to Robert Burns but also, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson. It can be found in Lady Stairs Close, just off the Lawnmarket section of the Royal Mile.

However, you plan to celebrate Burns Night, have a great evening.