Scottish Fiction in the Movies

Scottish Fiction in the Movies

In the first of our Blogs I covered Scottish history in the movies, but this week I am going to concentrate on Scottish Fiction in the Movies. To be precise, my look at Scottish Fiction in the Movies will focus on contemporary culture here in Scotland. It is an area in Scottish movies that writers have had so much to choose from whether it be the story of smugglers “cocking a snook” at the authorities, or about the drug culture of the central belt of Scotland that so nearly waylaid a whole generation of the 80s and 90s.

As always, you may have your own favourite movies that first introduced you to our culture. If they don’t appear in the five movies that I have profiled below, please don’t be disappointed. The movies that I have chosen are movies that struck a chord with me at different points in my life. From the days when my sister and I, as youngsters, would head along to the cinema for the Saturday matinee, to when I was dating as a teenager and I would head over to the cinema with my then girlfriend……hoping that the film choice was a good one. Here they are then in no particular order.

WHISKY GALORE

Whisky Galore was adapted from the book written by Compton Mackenzie. There are two versions of this movie with the first being released in 1949 and the second in 2016. It is always hard to beat the original of anything and every now and again this one is shown on terrestrial TV. 

The film is based on a true story when the ship the SS Politician floundered on the rocks off the Isle of Eriskay in 1941. On board were 50,000 cases of Whisky. In the movie the islanders of Todday circumvent the authorities and take great delight in smuggling the cases of whisky from the wrecked ship. It follows their attempts to free the valuable cargo and keep it out of the hands of the authorities. Much of the filming took place on the island of Barra in the Outer Hebrides. 

RING OF BRIGHT WATER

Ring of Bright Water is part of a trilogy written by Gavin Maxwell and if you haven’t read them, then they are definitely worth it. I was 9 years old when the movie was released. Our weekly tradition was to head to the small cinema of our local village on a Saturday. There we would watch the latest release at the afternoon matinee. 

This movie sticks so vividly in my mind because of the cheeky performance of Mij the otter who out acts Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna. The scenery, the wildlife, just the whole storyline hark back to a time when life was simpler and less hectic. If you manage to find a copy of this movie, be warned that it has a bitter sweet ending which at the time left many a young mind quite traumatised. 

It was mostly filmed on the West coast of Scotland around Oban and Ellanabeich.

LOCAL HERO

Here is another classic movie that hints at a David and Goliath scenario. In this instance the conflict is based in a small fictional village called Ferness on the west coast of Scotland. Hot shot executive, “Mac” MacIntyre,  from a Houston based oil and gas company has been sent over to Scotland to buy the village and the land around it in order that they can build an oil refinery. 

The film follows Mac’s attempts to convince the villagers to sell up. Unknown to him they are in fact fed up with their hard life, but they feign indifference to push the price up. The longer Mac stays in the village, the more he becomes more conflicted about what will happen to the tranquillity of the area if the sale were to go ahead. 

An action film it is not. But the scenery, the characters, the Northern Lights and even “mermaids” more than make up for this. With a predominantly Scottish cast, producer David Puttnam’s achieved a major coup. He did this when he secured Burt Lancaster to play the part of the owner of the oil and gas company. 

Most of the filming was in the little Aberdeenshire coastal village of Pennan and the beach at Camsdarach near Mallaig.  Other locations included Arisaig, the Ben Nevis Distillery, Fort William, Lochaber and Moidart.

TRAINSPOTTING

I personally never managed to relate to this film. But that’s maybe because it followed the exploits of a group of heroin addicts in a run down part of Edinburgh. Based on the novel written by Irvine Welsh, it was directed by none other than Danny Boyle. In it are some well known names such as Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle, Jonny Lee Miller and Kevin McKidd. The movie went on to build a cult following, so much so that twenty years later there was a followup. 

As far as the British Film Institute were concerned they ranked it at No.10 in their Top 100 British Films of the 20th century. The film explored the seedier side of Edinburgh that tourists are most unlikely to visit. Despite the cooking up of heroin, the associated violence, the almost ‘out of body’ scenes while going cold turkey, the film takes advantage of some of Edinburgh’s city centre locations.  

The soundtrack for the movie is wide ranging but is well suited to the subject matter. The first genre of music is based on the 1970s and includes Lou Reed and Iggy Pop. Then there is the Britpop influence of the 90s with bands like Blur and Pulp. Mixed in amongst this is the techno-dance genre such as Underworld and Ice MC. 

Clearly the movie was a success as it grossed £12 million in the domestic UK market and $72 million in the international market. For a seven week filming schedule and a total budget of £1.5million it was a great return on investment. Watch this if you like your reality “real.”

ON A CLEAR DAY

This film is another personal favourite of mine. It didn’t get the recognition it deserved. Peter Mullan plays Frank who at the age of 55 is made redundant from the shipyard on the River Clyde that he has worked at for 36 years. 

Sinking into a deep depression and suffering a violent panic attack, Frank realises that he needs to find some focus in his life. 

After a “booze cruise” over the English Channel Frank makes a major decision. He decides that he will focus his efforts on swimming the English Channel. With the help of only his closest friends he begins training for this major challenge. His journey to reach his goal explores relationships along the way not just with his former colleagues but with his son and his wife. 

If you like your movie with a bit of hardship and sadness, but also a good dollop of Glaswegian humour along the way then this is a great movie to watch. 

If you are planning a visit to Scotland and want to include some of the locations from your favourite Scottish movies, then let us know. We can either build it into one of our core tours or you can choose our Custom Tour option. Take a look at our Tours page for further information.

Other Movies in this Category

  • When Eight Bells Toll
  • Shallow Grave
  • Gregory’s Girl
  • The Debt Collector
  • The Winter Guest
  • That Sinking Feeling
  • Sweet Sixteen
  • My Name is Joe

Scotland in the Movies

Scotland in the Movies

I think that it would be fair to say that one of the main reasons that people from all over the world have been inspired to visit our country is because of Scotland in the Movies. Scotland in the Movies can encompass a whole range of genres. So, rather than throw a whole mix of movies at you, I have decided to split this up into different genres to be covered in different articles as follows:

  • Scottish History
  • Scottish Contemporary Culture
  • Music in Scottish Movies
  • Scottish Popular Fiction
  • Scottish Science Fiction & Fantasy
  • Sport in Scottish Movies
  • Bollywood in Scotland

Scotland is very fortunate to have some of the most beautiful and picturesque but at the same time wild and rugged scenery that you can find anywhere. It has a land mass of just over 30,000 square miles which is comparable with countries like Austria, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates. For many people who visit Scotland for the first time, when they look at a map of our tiny island, they could be mistaken for thinking that Scotland is just this wee plot of land on the very northern fringes of England. In fact, Scotland is almost exactly a third of the area of the entire UK. 

So, why have I rambled on about the size of Scotland? Despite its size, Scotland punches way above its weight if we look at the range and depth of filming that has taken place here. Believe it or not, the first moving picture was shown in Scotland on 13 April 1896 at the Empire Palace Theatre in Edinburgh. However, the very first Scottish made film ‘ The Departure of the Columba from Rothesay Pier’ was screened in the same year at the Skating Place in Glasgow. In the early to mid 20th century, for many people throughout Britain and the rest of the world, their only impression of Scotland was what they saw on the big screen. 

So, over the next couple of weeks, I am going to post an article on each of the genres listed above. Because a couple of the genres have so many films to choose from, I will choose the top five in each. I know that this will invite comments of why didn’t I include ‘such and such’ a film. However, there have literally been hundreds of films and movies made over the last 100 years, so please forgive me if your favourite doesn’t appear in any of the top 5. 

In this first article, perhaps not surprisingly, we are going to look at specifically Scottish history in the movies. Scottish history is generally what inspires people to visit Scotland particularly if they have some family connection. This connection may be from two or three generations back when their ancestors emigrated from Scotland to make a new life in another country. 

However, we find that in most cases it is the locations that are used in the different movies that really draws visitors to Scotland. It is hard to deny just how breathtakingly stunning the view of Glen Etive is when James Bond makes the journey back to his family home in Skyfall; or perhaps, it is the backdrop of some of our most historic castles and palaces as used in the most recent Outlaw King. However, just to get the movie and location juices flowing, here are our top 5 Scottish history movies. 

BRAVEHEART

Braveheart was released in 1995. If you haven’t heard of Braveheart, where have you been? This movie directed by Mel Gibson was based on one of our most iconic heroes William Wallace. It won five Oscars including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Cinematography.

The various backdrops used in the movie are a feast for the eyes. However, some of the filming took place not just in Scotland but also Ireland. The main locations used in Scotland were Glencoe, Glen Nevis and Mamore Mountains

Now it is just worth pointing out for those that are not aware that although Mel Gibson won Best Director, he took a bit of a liberty with our actual history. Factually, chunks of the storyline were inaccurate but overall the content painted a true picture of a subjugated nation fighting for its rightful freedom from the tyranny of England. 

When my wife and I went to watch this movie at the cinema, we lived in England. At the end of the movie, I think that the largely English audience were so stunned that you could have heard a pin drop. The movie deservedly has to be in the top 5. If you haven’t yet watched it, do it now!

If you want to visit locations linked to William Wallace, we can customise a tour for you or build it into our Edinburgh & Stirling Castle Tour. For further details go to our Tours page.

ROB ROY

There have been two versions of the legend that is Rob Roy. The first was a Disney produced film released in 1953 called Rob Roy, the Highland Rogue. However, we think that the 1995 version is more authentic despite portraying Rob Roy as a real life hero. 

The movie itself was never going to be able compete with the box office success of Braveheart. However, Liam Neeson gives a very credible performance as the 18th century Rob Roy who takes every opportunity to give every Englishman he meets a good kicking. For us Scots he is revered as our own Robin Hood. For the English, however, he was the Rambo of the day. Even when it looked like the game was up he would miraculously manage to escape their clutches to fight another day. 

Yet again it is the Highland scenery which steals the show with filming again taking place in Glencoe, Glen Nevis and on Rannoch Moor.

STONE OF DESTINY

Released in 2008, this is based on a true story. The Stone of Destiny is believed to be the stone which all Scottish monarchs were crowned on going as far back as the mid 9th century. However, the stone was stolen by King Edward I of England during the Scottish Wars of Independence and taken to London where he had it placed under the English throne at Westminster Abbey.

Fast forward to 1950 and we find ourselves following the plans and the final execution of taking back the stone from Westminster to Scotland by a small group of idealistic Scottish nationalists. 

The film uses a number of locations including Arbroath, Glasgow University, Paisley Abbey and Glenfinnan Viaduct as well as locations in England. 

Having succeeded in their plan, the stone was eventually handed back over to the authorities and the stone was returned to Westminster. It wasn’t until 1996 that the then Prime Minister John Major decided that it should be returned to Scotland. If you visit Edinburgh Castle, you can get up close and personal in the vault where it is held along with the Honours of Scotland.

OUTLAW KING

This was released in 2018 and much to the surprise of many Scots actually turned out to be a good watch about our other iconic hero Robert the Bruce. It does not cover the entire period of his reign but only from the period commencing in 1304 up until his first major successful battle in 1307 at the Battle of Loudon Hill. Chris Pine who played the part of Bruce delivered a superb performance depicting well the pain and the agony that this King had to go through before finally achieving the first of many victories. 

It follows the Bruce’s guerilla war against the much larger and better equipped English army led by King Edward I. The producers did not shy away from using as many locations as possible in the making of this film. Doune Castle, Linlithgow Palace, Dunfermline Abbey, Craigmillar Castle, Glasgow Cathedral, Isle of Skye, Glencoe, Loch Lomond and many more get to take a bow in this tour de force of a film. 

MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS

Coming hot on the heels of Outlaw King is this movie following the bleak struggle of Scotland’s Queen Mary played convincingly by Saoirse Ronan. 

Upon her return from France following the death of her husband Mary takes up her position as the monarch of Scotland. The movie loosely chronicles her attempts to retain her grip on power whilst ruling over a country that has reformed itself from a Catholic to a Protestant nation. 

In addition, we see how her choice of husband does not help her cause as well as the constant plots by her enemies to bring her down. Overriding all of this is a suspicion by Queen Elizabeth of England that Mary also has her eye on the English throne. 

Again it is the locations that are amongst the biggest winners of the movie with scenes at Blackness Castle, Glencoe, Glen Feshie, Linlithgow Palace and coastal scenes in East Lothian.

OTHER MOVIES IN THIS CATEGORY WORTH CHECKING

Macbeth 1997 I

vanhoe 1952

Bonnie Prince Charlie 1948 – pretty dire and bombed at the Box Office

Robert the Bruce

Centurion

The Eagle

The Queen

Mrs Brown

Hamlet 

Valhalla Rising

The Railway Man

To End All Wars

Robert Owen’s New Lanark Village

Robert Owen’s New Lanark Village

Early Life

Socialist, philanthropist and Utopian idealist Robert Owen was born on this day in 1771. He was originally born and brought up in Wales in a working class background. He was exceptionally bright whilst at school and as a pupil-teacher helped to teach the younger children. Who could have imagined that his early upbringing would play such an important factor in Robert Owen’s vision for New Lanark village.

Working initially in the textile trade in London, he then moved to Manchester where he supervised the running of a spinning mill. Love and marriage to Caroline Dale was what eventually brought him to Glasgow. In the early 1780s, his father-in-law David Dale had purchased the land near Lanark which included the fast flowing waters of the Falls of Clyde. The mills built in the early 1780s were successfully powered by the water and the community there became known as New Lanark. 

New Lanark – The Early Days

Although Dale built a thriving business it grew on the back of a workforce of over 1,100 of which 362 were adults. The remainder were children! Although this may seem obscene, for the time it was normal. The children at New Lanark, many of whom were orphans, were well-clothed, treated well with nourishing meals and kept in comfortable and clean accommodation. The remainder of the children were from many families of Highlanders who had been displaced by the Highland Clearances. Entire families lived and worked at New Lanark.

Having taken over the running of New Lanark in 1799, Robert Owen almost lost New Lanark in 1806. America placed an embargo on the export of cotton, thus pushing the price of cotton up. However, with the aid of new partners he was able to save New Lanark and with it bring in a “new society.”

Robert Owen’s New Lanark Vision

Amongst many of the changes that he brought in were:

  • Good quality purpose-built living quarters for all families.
  • A Sick Fund was established to care for ill workers and families.
  • A Savings Bank into which a small percentage of a worker’s wage would be deposited.
  • Education for all children from the age of 18 months up to age 10, later extended to 12 years of age. 
  • Each evening the school would remain open for youngsters aged 10 to 20 who had worked in the mill during the day, to continue further education if they wished.
  • A village shop was set up where quality food was sold at barely above cost price, thus improving the overall health of the workers.

These and many other new practices brought visitors from all over Britain and America to see how Owen was able to make this “new society” viable and economically sound. This very short video gives an overview of what Owen managed to achieve and why New Lanark became something that like minded business owners aspired to.

As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, New Lanark has been maintained and restored back to exactly as it was in the 19thcentury. As a conservation village, and to remain true to its original appearance, all repair and restoration work is carried out using appropriate traditional materials and workmanship, and blending in with the existing historic fabric. 

If time permits, New Lanark should be on everyone’s list of places to visit. Let Edinburgh Cab Tours build it into one of our Customised Tours.

Virtual Tour of Calton Hill

Part 6

In Part 6 of our tour of Edinburgh, we will take you on a Virtual Tour of Calton Hill and the surrounding area. Calton Hill is just one of several hills in and around the city centre of Edinburgh. Like most of the rocky outcrops, they are volcanic in origin. Unlike the rock that Edinburgh Castle sits on and Arthur’s Seat, Calton Hill does not immediately suggest that it is of volcanic origin. If you simply want to take our Virtual Tour of Calton Hill, just click on the video below.

REGENT ROAD

As one approaches Calton Hill from the east, you will travel along the Regent Road. This is the main route connecting the London Road and the A1 to the entrance to Princes Street in the New Town. Although Regent Road is the main route,  there is a second road called Regent Terrace. The Terrace is raised above and immediately north and runs parallel to Regent Road. The houses built on Regent Terrace are considered to be amongst the finest in the New Town and were designed for the “fashionable and wealthy” in mind. 

THE OLD ROYAL HIGH SCHOOL

On the south side of Regent Road, there is the quite impressive Burns Monument and on the north side is the former Royal High School. Thomas Hamilton was the architect appointed to design both. The Royal High School was the first to be built with construction commencing in 1826 and finally being completed in 1829. His vision was for a neo-classical Greek style of architecture based on the Hephaisteion in Athens. The school remained in use until the new school was relocated in 1969.

The Old Royal High School

Ever since it has remained sadly neglected. Very briefly it had been short listed to be restored and used as the devolved Scottish Parliament. It has also been considered for use as a Scottish National Photography Centre, an artists’ communal workplace, and as a luxury hotel. Because of cost and the fact that the building is a Category A Listed building, none of those have gone ahead.

CALTON HILL

Calton Hill arguably has one of the best vantage points for views. It has views not just out over the Old and the New Town, but for as far as the eye can see north and south of the city. On the plateau of the hill can be found a number of quite impressive monuments. There are a number of buildings and monuments on the hill including the restored City Observatory and the Dugald Stewart Monument. However, the two most prominent monuments are the National Monument of Scotland and the Nelson Monument which we cover below.

NATIONAL MONUMENT OF SCOTLAND

The National Monument of Scotland immediately draws the eye to the area and really dominates the hill. Sir Walter Scott, along with some of his closest friends, was the mastermind behind the monument. As a result of the Napoleanic War, it was suggested that a monument should be built to commemorate the Scots who fought and lost their lives in this conflict. The design was to be a copy of the Parthenon in Greece.

After sixteen months, only £16,000 had been raised by public subscription. There was a promise of further funding from the City Council and the Parliament and so construction commence in 1826. However, when the initial funding had been exhausted, neither the Council or the Parliament provided the additional funds and so it was never completed. Instead of being known as a monument to the memory of the men who gave their lives, at has been known by a number of names; Scotland’s Folly, Edinburgh’s Disgrace, The Pride and Poverty of Scotland. 

NELSON MONUMENT

The Nelson Monument reminds many of our visitors of the leaning tower of Pisa or a lighthouse. However, this monument was built between 1807 and 1816 to commemorate the victory of Lord Admiral Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. It was at this battle that Nelson lost his life. From its original inception, the design was changed to save money. Instead of the original pagoda-like design, it was designed in the shape of a telescope, an item closely associated with Nelson. 

In 1851 and addition was made to the Nelson Monument in the form of a time signal. If one looks to the top of the monument, you can find a ship’s mast. At the base of the mast is a wooden cannonball which is raised a few minutes before 1pm. Then at precisely 1pm, the ball drops. This time signal was implemented due to its proximity to the nearby City Observatory. Mariners in the port of Leith no longer needed to make the long journey from the port to the observatory to calibrate their chronometers. Instead, they simply trained their telescope on the Nelson Monument and waited for the cannonball to drop. Eventually, this time signal was complemented by the One O’Clock Gun at Edinburgh Castle in 1861. 

CALTON GRAVEYARD

The Calton Graveyard was originally opened in 1718 and is the resting place of many notable Scots. Arguably the most famous inhabitant is that of David Hume, the Scottish Enlightenment philosopher, historian, economist and an extensive writer of his atheist beliefs. Despite the latter fact, he still has the largest mausoleum in the whole of the graveyard. 

However, it is the monument adjacent to his mausoleaum which draws most attention, the Scottish-American Soldier Monument. It is a striking monument and certainly not what you would expect to find in a Scottish graveyard. The monument was dedicated to Scottish-Americans who fought on both sides of the American Civil War. The monument was dedicated to them in 1893. Several of the soldiers named on the monument were repatriated and interred in the graveyard. However, it is the statue that stands atop the monument which surprises everyone; it depicts a standing Abraham Lincoln. At his feet is a young slave boy looking up to him and thanking him for freeing him from slavery. 

This is the only monument to the American Civil War outside of the United States, and the statue of Lincoln was the first statue of a US President to be erected outside of its borders. 

For a comprehensive list of the tours that we offer please click here.

Virtual Tour of Arthur’s Seat

Part 5

In Part 5 of our tour of Edinburgh, this time we will take you on a Virtual Tour of Arthur’s Seat and Holyrood Park.  This parkland area is popular with locals as well as visitors. It has a host of different trails throughout the park covering approximately 650 acres. For 360° views of the surrounding area, the summit of Arthur’s Seat cannot be beaten. Click on our virtual tour video below for some of the best views to be found in Edinburgh.

Holyrood Park

Traces of settlements dating back to the Bronze Age and beyond have been found in various parts of the park. Pieces of stone and flint tools confirm this. Many of the finds can be seen on display in the National Museum of Scotland.

The reason that the park itself is called Holyrood Park is because of its close association with the Palace of Holyrood House. The name of Holyrood Park is interchangeable with the Queen’s Park. If our monarch was a King then it would be called the King’s Park. The features within the park are reminiscent of those that you would find in the Scottish Highlands but just on a smaller scale. There are three lochs (lakes) within the park, as well as hills, cliffs and ridges. At one time it formed the main part of the royal hunting ground. 

The closest of the three lochs is St Margaret’s Loch and is within easy walking distance of the Palace. It was originally part of Prince Albert’s plan to improve the area surrounding the Palace. It was originally used for boating but now is home to a large population of swans, ducks and seagulls.

Arthur’s Seat

The two most obvious features that you can see from most vantage points of Edinburgh are Salisbury Crags and Arthur’s Seat. Salisbury Crags are a series of cliffs and ridges that can be found on the west side of the park. The rocky features of Salisbury Crags clearly show its volcanic origins. By the end of the 19th century the Crags had become popular amongst the burgeoning rock-climbing community. It was not without its risks because of the hazard from loose rockfalls. Eventually, the park rangers were given the responsibility of monitoring the Crags as well as the rest of the park. Climbers are required to obtain a permit to climb the Crags. 

However, the most popular climb for visitors coming to Edinburgh is to the top of Arthur’s Seat. This is the highest point in the park at 251 metres and can be approached from different routes. Most people park up at the car park adjacent to the Palace and walk from there. Depending on your level of fitness, it takes between 45 minutes to an hour to reach the summit. The views on a clear day are worth the effort.  Check the video above for the route to the summit. 

If you plan to visit Edinburgh in the future and want to build this into your tour with us, let us know and we can build it into your itinerary. Click here for further details of our tours.

Alternatively, visit Historic Environment Scotland for further information. 

Virtual Tour of the Canongate

Part 4

In our previous Virtual Tour we travelled down the High Street as far as the Netherbow Port and the World’s End Pub. If you missed this article click here for more information. In Part 4 we will follow our Virtual tour of the Canongate which is inaccurately considered to be the last section of the Old Town’s Royal Mile. In reality the Abbey Strand is the last part of the Royal Mile….but more about that later. Once we reach the Abbey Strand we will complete this part of the tour at the entrance to Holyrood Abbey and the Palace of Holyrood House. If you just want to get straight to the Virtual Video tour, just click on the link below. 

Origin of the Canongate

It would be fair to say that the Canongate is less commercialised than the remainder of the Royal Mile. Compared to the upper sections of the Royal Mile, closer to the Castle, there are less shops and more residential properties here. Add into the mix some very important historical buildings which reflect how this part of the Royal Mile evolved and was considered a separate entity to the original Old Town of Edinburgh.

So, let us start by explaining why the Canongate is so named. We have King David I who had a fondness for hunting to thank for this. His Royal hunting ground included the forest of Drumsheugh which encompassed much of the present-day parkland surrounding the Palace. However, on one of his hunts according to legend the King became separated from the rest of the hunters. A huge white stag that he had been hunting turned on him, and just as it was about to charge him, he claimed that a flaming cross appeared out of nowhere.  

In short, the King was saved and he thanked God for his good luck. To mark this event, he instructed the Augustinian monks to build a monastery near to the spot. Hence we have Holyrood Abbey. The monks were also referred to as Canons, and because they would frequently make their way up to the Old Town, the pathway became known as the Canons’ Gait and eventually the Canongate. 

The Old Tolbooth

Because this area fell outside the City Wall, it became a burgh in its own right. Therefore, like the Old Town, it required its own Tolbooth. It was from here that the burgh of the Canongate was administered. The Tolbooth that still stands to this day was originally constructed in 1591, the date engraved into the top left-hand window lintel. Eventually, when the city walls were dismantled, the Canongate was swallowed up into the jurisdiction of the Old Town and the city of Edinburgh. Now the Tolbooth has had new life breathed into it, and has a fantastic museum called the People’s Story.

Next to the Tolbooth, we have an equally impressive and important building, the Canongate Kirk. The Canongate Kirk came about because of the Catholic beliefs of King James VII. A catholic monarch ruling over a predominantly ardent Presbyterian nation was not a popular position to be in. So, the Canongate Kirk was founded in 1688 and completed in 1691 for use by the local townspeople. In the meantime the Abbey, where they had previously worshipped, was converted for use by the Order of the Thistle. The Order of the Thistle was an order that was reestablished by the King. The Canongate Kirk is now the Church used by our Queen when she visits Edinburgh.

Notable “inhabitants” of the Canongate graveyard include Adam Smith, the famous economist, and Robert Fergusson – a young poet who inspired Robert Burns. A lesser known individual is Agnes Maclehose, who it is claimed had an unconsummated affair with Robert Burns whom he wrote to using the cover name of Clarinda. 

The Palace of Holyrood House

Because the Canongate ends at the Abbey Strand, the most well-known building here is the Palace of Holyrood House. The construction of the Palace was originally begun by King James IV in the late 1400s. But due to his ongoing conflict with England he was to lose his life at the Battle of Flodden in 1513. And so it was left to his son King James V to complete the Palace. Thereafter, it became the preferred residence of the successive monarchs but was only a fraction of the size of the present-day palace.   The original palace was added to by order of King Charles II and by 1680 it was completed. Since then, there has been little change to the building apart from many of the interiors being changed to be used for different purposes.

In the immediate vicinity of the Palace can be found the Abbey Strand Centre which has just gone through a major restoration. For further information on this click here. On the opposite side of the road from the Palace, we can find the nation’s Scottish Parliament. Again, this building would require a whole post of its own. So, if you would like further information about it, click here. 

Virtual Tour of the High Street

Part 3

In Part 2 of our Virtual video tour of Edinburgh we took you on a short tour of the Lawnmarket. In this video we will take you on a virtual tour of the High Street. We begin opposite the City Chambers and travel as far down as the World’s End pub – more about the pub later. If you just want to get straight to the Virtual Tour just click on the video below. For further details of our tours click here.

The City Chambers

As you leave the eastern side of Parliament Square, sitting back from the High Street is the City Chambers. It is almost as if the building is trying to hide itself away from view. However, when this was originally built in 1753, it was designed to remove the makeshift traders who carried out their business on the High Street. To reduce the congestion, the City Council demanded that they relocate here to the Royal Exchange. Eventually, the traders moved back out onto the High Street and carried on trading where they had left off. Instead, when the Tolbooth was demolished in 1817, the City Councillors chose to take ownership of the Exchange and ever since our City Council has sat here.

The Mercat Cross

Opposite the City Chambers is the Mercat Cross which was the meeting place of the townspeople. It was where the Lord Provost of the City Council would make any official announcements. Royal proclamations that had originated in London would be made four days later here, as it would take a horseman this long to ride here. Although it is a fine piece of masonry, it cannot claim to be the original Mercat Cross. The original one was removed in 1756 and this one took its place in 1885. Only part of the column which the Unicorn sits on is the original. 

Adam Smith Statue

Only yards away from the Cross is another fine statue of one of Edinburgh’s former famous inhabitants, Adam Smith. For those who are not familiar with this gentleman, he was a Scottish economist and philosopher of the 18th Century. Some of his teachings on business and economics are still studied in university. Probably his most famous writings are contained in the book, “The Wealth of Nations.” It is no surprise that he is considered the “Father of Economics.”

John Knox House

Further down the High Street can be found John Knox House, now a time capsule of a different period in our history. It can lay claim to be the oldest property on the Royal Mile dating back to the 1470s. What it can’t lay claim to is that the “Great Orator,” John Knox himself, actually lived here. The couple who lived here at the same time John Knox was living in Edinburgh were James Mossman and Maria Arras. They were Catholics, and John Knox was Protestant. The records show that they lived here and there coat of arms with their initials on it is firmly fixed to the building. 

Why it is called John Knox house is open to conjecture. Could it be that when the Council were widening the High Street, and the building was due for demolition, they had a change of heart and saved this building? Then to give it historical significance, they named it John Knox House? Who knows. Sadly for James Mossman he became only a footnote in history despite being Mary Queen of Scots’ goldsmith. In fact he came to a rather sticky end after the Lang Siege of Edinburgh Castle in 1573. Because he carried on minting coins with her likeness on them, he was executed. 

Netherbow Port

Finally we come to the end of the High Street on the traffic light junction where the World’s End Pub sits. The name of the pub is very apt as this is where the Netherbow Port was located. It was one of the main gateways in the the wall that enclosed the city. Visitors and citizens would pass through the gate of the Netherbow Port to enter or leave the city. For many of the poorest inhabitants of the city, they never ventured out of through the gateway. The lived their entire lives inside the city wall so for them this location really was the “end of the world” for them. The gateway, like the city wall and many of the buildings on this section of the Royal Mile was demolished in 1764 to make the flow of traffic and people easier. 

Virtual Tour of Edinburgh – Part 2

Part 2 – The Lawnmarket

In Part 1 of our Virtual video Tour of Edinburgh we took you on a short tour of Castlehill and Edinburgh Castle. Following on from this in Part 2 of our Virtual Tour of Edinburgh, we come next to the Lawnmarket. It is a significantly longer section than Castlehill. Along it are a number of very interesting features including the Highland Tolbooth Kirk, Gladstone’s Land, Deacon Brodies, St Giles Cathedral and the Signet Library.  All of these are worth taking a look at when you visit Edinburgh. If you take one of our tours, we are able to cover so much more for you. But click on our video below for a taster of what we cover.

Highland Tolbooth Kirk

If we begin at the top of the Lawnmarket, we can’t help but come face to face with the Highland Tolbooth Kirk. This gothic style building was built between 1842 and 1844 and was initially built to house the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. It also had a congregation whose church services were carried out in Gaelic before eventually locating to Greyfriars Kirk.  Now the building is home to the headquarters of the Edinburgh Festival, as well as housing the Hub café. 

Gladstone’s Land & Deacon Brodie’s

Only a short distance down from here can be found Gladstone’s Land. This is one of the older buildings on the Royal Mile and was originally built in the mid 1500s. The present building was redeveloped in 1617 by Thomas Gledstanes. In the early 1930s it was at risk of being demolished but was rescued when it was purchase by the National Trust of Scotland.  While restoring the building, incredibly they found the original painted ceilings which had been covered by centuries of wall coverings. 

Only a short walk down from here on the opposite side of the street, you come to Brodie’s Close. If you walk down the Close, you come to Deacon’s House Café, on the original site of Brodie’s workshop. Deacon Brodie was an (in)famous individual in the mid-18th century. Despite being a respected gentleman and town councillor, he hid a much darker side which was to be his downfall. However, his story deserves a post all of its own which we will cover in the future.

Crossing over the traffic junction, on the south east corner, you will find a plaque. This confirms that the last public execution in Edinburgh took place here in 1864. Directly opposite is the entrance to High Court of Edinburgh, scene of many high profile trials.

St Gile’s Cathedral

Finally, on this section of our virtual tour we can see St Giles “Cathedral” in all of its glory. You can’t help but notice it with its splendid crown spire. Although there has always been a church here possibly as far back as the 9th century, much of the church is of a much later construction. What we can say for certain is that it would have once been a Roman Catholic church. However, during the Reformation of the mid-1500s all trace of Catholicism was removed and it thereafter became a Presbyterian church. Very briefly thanks to Charles I, it was elevated to the status of Cathedral together with its own Bishop of Edinburgh. However, riots resulted and eventually it reverted to a Presbyterian church. But to this day it is still referred to as St Giles Cathedral.

This completes the overview of the Lawnmarket. However, there is so much more that we cover on our tours. So if this has whetted your appetite take a look at our tours or follow us on Facebook for further details.

Virtual Tour of Edinburgh – Part I

Part 1 – Edinburgh Castle and Castlehill

Many people will not get a chance to visit the beautiful city that I call home – Edinburgh. Now is a particularly pertinent time as most of the countries around the world have suspended travel across their borders. So take our Virtual Tour of Edinburgh to see parts of our medieval city.

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Cab Tours, like all other tour operators here, should have been starting our busiest time of the year this month. However, COVID-19 has temporarily put that on hold. So, for our visitors who were booked to come to Edinburgh over the coming months, we are bringing Edinburgh to you.

Although this will never replace being here in person, we hope that you will enjoy the virtual tours of Edinburgh. We will be posting a series of virtual tours for your enjoyment over the next week or so.

Scottish Wars of Independence

So, to start your virtual tours of Edinburgh, we begin with the highest point in Edinburgh’s Old Town at Edinburgh Castle. Understandably, there have been different incarnations of Edinburgh Castle due to the numerous times that it has been attacked over the centuries. It changed hands several times between the English and the Scots during the Scottish Wars of Independence. The Wars began in the late 13th century and eventually ended in the mid 14th century. Significant damage was done to the Castle and eventually had to be rebuilt.

The Lang Siege

However, that was not to be the last time that the Castle was attacked. 1571 saw the longest siege ever to take place on Edinburgh Castle, finally coming to an end in 1573. It became known as “The Lang Siege.” The conflict this time was not between the Scots and the English. The Catholics held out against the Protestant Presbyterians on behalf of the deposed Mary Queen of Scots. When they were finally defeated, the Castle went through a period of major construction. Now it is Scotland’s most visited attraction. If you have enjoyed this virtual tour of Edinburgh but want to find out more information about Edinburgh Castle visit the official Edinburgh Castle website.

Although visiting Edinburgh, or indeed Scotland, may not be on your immediate horizon, take a look at our range of tours to give you some food for thought in the future.