With dark alleyways, historic buildings and an enchanted castle illuminated at night, Edinburgh, Scotland has inspired writers and poets for centuries. The first UNESCO World Heritage City of Literature, Edinburgh overflows with inspiration for stories and poetry. Museums, ghosts of the past, and edgy new writers populate this city, all making their mark on the culture. Stop for a coffee in the right place and you could easily be sitting next to a renowned author lost in thought whilst penning the next big novel.
Inspired by a Dual City
“At the time, most bodies worked on by anatomists were cold indeed. They were brought to Edinburgh from all over Britain — some came by way of the Union Canal. The resurrectionists — body-snatchers — pickled them in whisky for transportation. It was a lucrative trade.”
“But did the whisky get drunk afterwards?”
Devlin chuckled. “Economics would dictate that it did.”
Ian Rankin, The Falls
Visitors to Edinburgh will encounter the historic Old Town and the more modern New Town, replete with Georgian architecture, as they explore the city. Divided by Edinburgh’s High Street, this anomaly has been an inspiration to writers. This is the city of Jekyll and Hyde, whose author Robert Louis Stevenson was captivated by the dual sides of town. Stevenson also took ideas from the real life character of Deacon Brodie who lived off the Royal Mile. By day, he was a respectable cabinetmaker, but at night he turned into a vicious thief who returned to rob his customers.
Today visitors can learn more about Robert Louis Stevenson by visiting the Edinburgh Writer’s Museum (website), which occupies the historic Lady Stair’s House built in 1622. One of the exhibits is the wardrobe that was owned by Stevenson and made by Deacon Brodie himself. The museum also houses collections relating to Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott, who also lived in the city. (Free Admission; Hours: Monday – Saturday 10am – 5pm, Sundays in August 12 – 5pm)
Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde was an inspiration for another Edinburgh writer, Ian Rankin. Many of his Inspector Rebus novels were set in and around the city from Fleshmarket Close to The Falls. Visitors can revisit some of the settings for these famous crime novels by taking part in a walking tour of the places associated with Inspector Rebus. The Oxford Bar on Young Street is popular with writers and also famous as the pub where Inspector Rebus enjoyed a drink.
In Edinburgh there are clues to the literary culture all over town. The statue of Sherlock Holmes stands in Picardy Place. This is the birthplace of his creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, another Edinburgh crime writer. He was taught by a surgeon in the city, Joseph Bell, who was renowned for his meticulous attention to detail and widely believed to be the inspiration for Holmes.
Just outside Edinburgh lies Rosslyn Chapel (website), which shot to fame following the publication of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. The chapel is noted for its mystical connection with the Knights Templar and has many symbols carved into its stones. Wander around through and the more you look at the symbols, the more you see. (Admission: Adults £9, Reduced £7, 18 & Under Free; Hours: Mon – Sat 9:30am – 6pm, Sun 12pm – 4:45pm; Last Admission 30 minutes before closing.)
Magical Castles and Intriguing buildings
Wherever you look in Edinburgh, the city holds inspiration for a writer. Perched on its rocky crag, Edinburgh Castle is a landmark in the city and especially magical when illuminated at night. Viewed from many points in Edinburgh, it really is the stuff of fairy tales, as well as steeped in legend and history.
The author JK Rowling penned the early Harry Potter novels in Edinburgh and often sat in the Elephant House Café on the George IV Bridge which overlooks the Castle. This is a haunt for many a writer these days and a popular place to enjoy coffee. Catch up with an occasional game of Quidditch on The Meadows where Potter fans gather to recreate the sport.
Wander around Edinburgh and you will see a hidden city reveal itself, courtyards behind darkened alleys, bars carved out of underground vaults, and gardens tucked behind tall buildings, all just waiting to be discovered. It is little wonder that writers are drawn to this famous city, captivated by the history and atmosphere. As Ian Rankin has said of Edinburgh, “The stories are in the stones.”
Rachael Rowe is a freelance travel writer currently working on a guide to Edinburgh. Catch up with her travels at www.rachaelrowe.com.