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Edinburgh Fringe Festival – Survival Guide

Edinburgh Fringe Festival – Survival Guide

Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2017 – Complete Survival Guide

Tips and tricks to help you survive and enjoy the worlds leading arts festival.

Edinburgh Fringe Festival is underway for the 70th time, making it the largest, longest-running arts festival in the world. The festival attracts hundreds of thousands of people from around the globe, in-fact, during the month of August, Edinburgh’s population almost doubles, going from around 502,000 to a street-bursting 1.1m. With all the shows, people and activities it can be hard not to feel slightly overwhelmed by it all.

So, here is our quick survival guide to help you navigate your way through Edinburgh Fringe Festival and enjoy it.

Edinburgh Fringe 2017 | Street Performer

Tip 1: Embrace the weird, wacky and wonderful.

The Fringe Festival, as you would expect, attracts a fair few interesting characters, whom at first, may be intimidating. Where are you likely to come across these people? Most likely, The Royal Mile. The long, historic road plays host to a bunch of eccentric street performers and ‘alternative artists’. You can expect to see the most pierced woman in the world, a man playing saws like violins, bagpipers and less-than-official characters from well-known franchises such as Star Wars, Pokemon and Lord of The Rings.

Be warned, if you stop to take a photo with/of a performer, some expect you to pay. Obviously, you don’t have to unless they have explicitly mentioned they only allow photos with/of them for a fee. However, even those without signs explaining the need for a cost expect you to pay anyway, and if you don’t, they can become unkind. It is very rare that this becomes the case.

Tip 2: Pack for anything and everything.

Edinburgh is famous for its rich history, famed authors and fascinating architecture – not it’s weather. So, be prepared for rain, wind and a kilt-frosting breeze. However, while the weather is usually glummer than summer, that does not mean you’ll be spending your trip soaked and cold. The weather can be as unpredictable as one of the many headlining comedians. One day it can be 24 degrees (Celsius) and not a cloud in the sky, then, the next day will be 8 degrees (Celsius) and pouring it down with rain – sometimes, these drastic changes aren’t days apart. They can be hours. One minute you’re eating an ice-cream from one of Edinburgh’s best ice-cream parlours, the next minute you’re ducking for cover from a sudden rain shower.

So, pack clothes for the sun and the rain. You may experience all the seasons in the space of a day.

Edinburgh Fringe - Free Fringe

Tip 3: Don’t just go to paid shows.

People commonly avoid the free shows, under the assumption that they are worse, only because they are ‘less exclusive’. But, paid shows are not always better, some free shows are among the best of the whole Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The reason some shows are free is simply that the artist/performer can’t afford to perform in the bigger venues or there just isn’t room in the time table.

Tip 4: Don’t overbook.

It’s tempting, we know. But don’t fill your days and nights with booked shows, you want to give yourself time to explore Edinburgh, and you never know what else may grab your attention last-minute. You will also need to take into consideration the distance between venues. You may have a show booked that finishes at 13:30 and then your next booked show starts at 13:45 but, it’s on the other side of town. Nobody wants to be the latecomer to a show, especially not a comedian/comedienne – unless you want them to mock you for the remainder of the performance.

Edinburgh Fringe | Arthurs Seat

Tip 5: Forget the Fringe.

You will start to tire of the festival. You will tire of drinking, laughing and sitting in a dark, crowded room. But don’t worry, you’re in Edinburgh, a city filled with stories, monuments and nature. So, take a breather from the shoulder-to-shoulder hustle of the Fringe and explore Edinburgh. Take a walk up Arthur’s Seat, browse one of the museums, visit Calton Hill or go on a historical tour to uncover the dark past of the city. After you’ve taken a break and taken in some of the beautiful scenery and fascinating history of the city you’ll be ready to jump back into the excitement of the Fringe.

Flyers | Edinburgh Fringe

Tip 6: Flyering will annoy you.

You cannot walk around Edinburgh during the fringe and not be handed a flyer/leaflet. It just can’t be done. For some reason, comics, actors, musicians and other performers rely on this age-old marketing method to spread awareness about their respective shows and performances. You can barely take more than a few steps before being greeted by an extended arm holding a flyer, attached to that arm is usually a member of the cast/crew of the advertised show, but often they are hired by the more famous acts to drum up some buzz. While there is no way to fully stop the annoyance of people offering you flyers left, right, centre and even diagonally.  You can do subtle things to let the ‘flyerer’ know you aren’t interested in collecting an encyclopedic collection of Fringe show flyers. When you are eating, they tend to leave you alone, and when you tend to be in a rush, most people recognise that and don’t wish to slow you down by stopping you and talking about the show they are promoting. One thing that will attract more flyers than you can count is, you guessed it, flyers. Once a flyerer sees you accepting a flyer from someone else or sees you carrying a flyer, they will be next in line to stop you for a chat about ‘The show critics are calling the best of this years Fringe’.lyering can be annoying, but it is important to respect those handing them out. You never know, you may find a hidden gem of a show you would never have gone to because of a flyer. Keep in the spirit of the Fringe.

Flyering can be annoying, but it is important to respect those handing them out. You never know, you may find a hidden gem of a show you would never have gone to because of a flyer. Keep in the spirit of the Fringe.

Bonus Tip: Stay at one of The Edinburgh Collection’s city centre hotels.

Our Edinburgh accommodation includes the 5-star boutique hotel The Howard in Edinburgh’s New Town as well as one of the most renowned 4-star hotels in Edinburgh, Channings – your haven from the hustle and bustle of the festival. To this can be added the historic 3-star Old Waverley Hotel on Princes Street, right in the heart of all the August mayhem. The 4-star Holyrood apartHOTEL Serviced Apartments Edinburgh just off The Royal Mile, giving you easy access to some of the most renowned Fringe venues.

The Edinburgh Collection has recently welcomed a new hotel to their eclectic portfolio of city centre properties – Haymarket Hub Hotel. Located directly opposite Haymarket Railway Station, it is in a prime location to explore Edinburgh and stay connected with the Fringe. Guests are treated to a free complimentary smartphone during their stay and will have access to Sky Sports, Sky Movies and Sky Entertainment in their rooms – for free.

Edinburgh in July 2017

Edinburgh in July 2017

Edinburgh July 2017

Things to do in Edinburgh this month

Festivals, music, markets, galleries and activities to keep you busy in July

Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival
(14 – 23 Jul)

Image result for edinburgh jazz and blues festival 2017

Getting Edinburgh’s festival season off to a swinging start, the Jazz & Blues Festival, The biggest of its kind in Britain, is sure to delight all those in attendance. This ever-growing festival has everything from big band favourites to skiffle, ragtime and freeform jazz on the menu at over 1000 shows that’ll make even the fringe blush.

Polar Extremes at Dynamic Earth
(1 Jul – 28 Aug)

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With the heat of summer, why not stay cool at Dynamic Earth. Their Polar Extremes exhibit is full of polar-themed activities for the whole family to enjoy. Uncover a world of incredible experiences in some of the most extreme environments on Earth. Tour the amazing galleries, get your hands on a real iceberg and much more as part of your dynamic exploration of the coldest places on earth.

Edinburgh Food Festival
(26 – 30 Jul)

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Welcoming over 250,000 people last year, Edinburgh Food Festival returns for it’s third year celebrating the finest of Scotland’s food and drink. The festival takes place in George Square Gardens, where artisan producers and stallholders will fill the festival grounds while foodie talks, debates and demos will put the cherry on the top. It completely free to enter, you pay for food and events separately.

Edinburgh Art Festival
(27 Jul – 27 Aug)

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Edinburgh Art Festival was founded in 2004 and it has quickly become the UK’s largest annual festival of visual art. Its aim is to bring together Edinburgh’s popular galleries, museums and artist-run spaces, alongside new public art commissions by established and emerging artists for an exciting programme of special events.

It’s Alive!
(1 Jul – 18 Sept)

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The Museum of Childhood displays a world of automation. Starring clockwork characters. In our cabinet of wonders, see forty astonishing automata from the last two centuries. Meet a beautiful musician who has long outlived her creator and a magician who performs his hundred-year-old tricks.

Also happening…



Edinburgh on Film

Edinburgh on Film

Edinburgh Film | The Edinburgh Collection


Where Hollywood meets Holyrood.

Edinburgh is known for its festivals. Most notably, the Fringe Festival. Every year millions of people come to the city throughout the month of August to experience the 70-year-old event. However, the fringe is not the only festival that draws a crowd to the city. Also taking place is the Book Festival and Military Tattoo in August, The Jazz and Blues Festival in July and the International Film Festival in June.

Edinburgh has always been a city that can captivate the tourists who walk down its cobbled streets or peer up at the century-old architecture. The city has a feeling of magic, an air that makes you wonder about the past and gets you curious about the future. So, it does not come as a surprise to know that Edinburgh has been the inspiration for many stories both on the page and on the screen.

To get you ready for the Edinburgh Internation Film Festival, here is a list of the films that use Edinburgh’s unique landscape, buildings and streets.

Trainspotting and T2

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Perhaps the most famous film ‘series’ based and filmed in Edinburgh. The film holds a special place in the hearts of Edinburgh residents as an almost claim to fame. When watching the iconic original film and the recent sequel, look out for the following places; Arthurs Seat, Regent Bridge, Old Town, Scottish Parliment, Forth Bridge and St Stephens Stockbridge.

The DaVinci Code

Image result for da vinci code edinburgh

Based on the best-selling novel by Dan Brown. Robert Howard directs Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou in this page-to-screen adaptions. The film does not heavily feature Edinburgh. However, it does feature the often overlooked Rosslyn Chapel. The Chapel has its mysteries outside of the movie. Beneath the floor of Rosslyn is a massive underground vault, of which was sealed in 1690 and has remained that way ever since. Of course, as you would expect, there has been a lot of speculation as to what, or who lies within the vault.

Cloud Atlas

Tom Hanks returns to Edinburgh in this mind-bending sci-fi film. This film is an ambitious one in which the story spans five centuries. It is a complicated film to explain, even after viewing you will find yourself confused, yet satisfied. However, if you watch it for just one reason and one reason only. Make said reason Edinburgh. The city is used as a beautiful backdrop to the 19th century period where one of the characters climbs the Scott Monument daily to clear his mind.

(Old Waverley Hotel is the building on the left on the image above)

Sunshine on Leith

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Known as ‘McMamma’ Mia, Sunshine on Leith is a musical comedy that uses the songs of The Proclaimers, of ‘I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)’ fame. This film is perhaps the most Scottish on this list. Scottish actors, accents, music, setting, clothing and spirit. It is about the characters Davy and Ally, who must relearn how to live in Edinburgh after serving in Afghanistan. It is a ‘Feel-Fabulous Film’ to which Edinburgh is the perfect location.

One Day

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Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess star in this love story about two people from different strokes of life. It is based on the famous novel of the same name, written by David Nicholls. Edinburgh provides a lovely backdrop for the film, and you could argue that it even acts as a supporting character to the characters of Hathaway and Sturgess.

The 39 Steps

Hitchcocks ‘The 39 Steps’ being filmed by Arthurs Seat

A few adaptions of John Buchan’s novel have been made and set in Edinburgh. Most famously, however, is the film ‘The 39 Steps’ by the great Alfred Hitchcock. It is a universally praised film and has been named the 21st greatest British movie ever made, and in 2011 ranked it the second-best book-to-film adaptation of all time.

Chariots of Fire

Chariots of Fire | Film Edinburgh | The Edinburgh Collection
Eric Liddel (Ian Charleson) talks to Sybil Gordon (Alice Krige) at the foot of famous Edinburgh landmark, Arthurs Seat

This Oscar-winning historical drama about Scottish Olympic athlete, Eric Liddel. The film was released in 1981, but Edinburgh looks almost identical today as it does in the movie. The film follows Eric Liddel, a devout Christian who runs for God and thus refuses to compete on a Sunday and  Harold Abrahams, an English Jew who runs to overcome prejudice.

The Railway Man

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View from Calton Hill in the film ‘The Railway Man.’

Colin Firth stars in this dramatic war film depicting the life of an Edinburgh-born Railway enthusiast turned POW. Edinburgh isn’t the movie’s main backdrop, no, that honour goes to Thailand, and it’s Burma Railway Line, also known as ‘Bridge of Death’. When Edinburgh is shown, you see the gorgeous views from Calton Hill (as pictured above) and of course, Waverley Railway Station.

Avengers: Infinity War

Marvel Studios | Avengers Infinity War | The Edinburgh CollectionSet Phots! (Left: Royal Mile, Centre Top: Spiderman on the castle, Centre Bottom: Green screen in Waverley Station. Right: Canongate stunt tests)

Anyone who was in Edinburgh throughout March/April 2017. You may have noticed Edinburgh become a huge film set. This was of course for the new film production of Marvel Studios billion dollar blockbuster film Avengers: Infinity War. Eagle-eyed fans may have spotted stars, Tom Holland (Spider-Man), Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye) and Elizabeth Olsen (Scarlett Witch) around the city.

One photo that seemed to catch the attention of a lot was that of Tom Hollands Spider-Man atop the Castle. Perhaps preparing for an epic web-sling over the historic Old Town.

Better yet, the film is not just being filmed in Edinburgh. It is going to be set there. The sets were littered with Scottish props and odes to Edinburgh. So, once the movie is released, it should see a huge boom in tourism to the city.

Honourable Mention

Harry Potter Franchise.

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While JK Rowling’s globally recognised stories about the young wizard Harry Potter were no set in Edinburgh and the films were not shot in the city. You can see when walking through the city, where she got the inspiration for her Wizarding World.

5 Things To Do In Edinburgh in June 2017

5 Things To Do In Edinburgh in June 2017

Things To Do in Edinburgh June 2017


Our picks of must-do activities in Edinburgh this month

June welcomes the start of summer, the longest day of the year. However, more excitedly, it marks the start of the festival season in Edinburgh. Which means, of course, there is plenty to do in and around the city.

Edinburgh International Film Festival
(21 June – 2 July)

Disney Pixar Cars 3 | The Edinburgh Collection

The Edinburgh International Film Festival was established in 1947, and it is renowned around the world for discovering, promoting and showcasing the very best in international and independent cinema. Some stars come to the Scottish capital to promote their respective films. So, keep your eyes peeled as you may catch a glimpse of  Holywood’s elite strolling down the cobbled streets of Edinburgh.

This year, Disney Pixar’s ‘Cars 3’ will be making it’s UK Premiere at the festival.

Also, If you’re into film, don’t miss Film Fest In The City: Open Air Cinema (16 – 18 Jun).

Let’s Circus! in the Grassmarket
(17 – 18 Jun)

Lets Circus | The Edinburgh Collection | June 2017

The Greater Grassmarket and the highly respected travelling circus school and performance company ‘Let’s Circus‘ will be bringing their acrobatic circus show to the Grassmarket, for free.

The event promises to be great fun for both adults and children alike. From 11.30 am until 3.30pm, the public can take part in the free circus school, learning activities such as Tightwire, trapeze, unicycle and acrobatics, and enjoy the comfort of the Outdoor Circus Ring.

Castle Street Summer Fair
(5 – 11 Jun)

Castle Street Summer Fair | The Edinburgh Collection | June 2017

Castle Street Summer Fair is filled with vibrant stalls offering high-quality, hand-made products from skin care to fashion, homewares, glassware, ceramics, woodcraft, jewellery and accessories, etc.

Edinburgh Whisky Festival
(17 Jun)

Whiskey Festival | June 2017

Edinburgh Whisky Festival is, once again, to be held in one of Edinburgh’s most iconic Georgian venues, The Assembly Rooms. Usually it a site that deals with banquets, weddings, conferences and film showings. On June 17, it will play host to Scotland’s most famous drink – whisky.

Royal Highland Show
(22 – 25 Jun)

Royal Highland Show | The Edinburgh Collection

The Royal Highland Show is one of Scotland’s most iconic events. This year it will be celebrating its 177th year. The Royal Highland Show lays its primary focus on showcasing the very best of farming food and rural life.

It promises to be a great day out for everyone of all ages. You will be able to get up close to the country’s top quality livestock, taste exceptional food & drink and experience rural living at its most vibrant.

Of course, that isn’t all. A few other notable happenings include;

The Best Ice Cream in Edinburgh

The Best Ice Cream in Edinburgh

Ice Cream | The Edinburgh Collection


Our guide of where to go for ice cream in Scotland’s capital city.

Finally, the sun is out – but probably not for long. So, we have streamlined your search for a delicious, refreshing ice-cream so that you can enjoy as much time as possible in the Scottish sun. You’re welcome.


Mary's Milk Bar | Ice Cream

Mary’s Milk Bar is one of those hidden gems that once you find it, you tell everyone about it. It is a Milk Bar that is reminiscent of the 1920’s – 1960’s with its simple, retro interior. It is an ice cream parlour which serves homemade gelato made from fresh and local ingredients, and the flavours frequently change depending on what ingredients are available.

We recommend: Milk Chocolate and Lavender Sundae


Taste of Italy | Ice Crea,

Serving one of the best freshly made Gelatos outside of Italy, It is surprising how few people know this favourite Italian cafe sells ‘Crema Gelato.’ You can enjoy your ice cream in a wafer cone, and you can tailor it to your particular sugary need, decorate it with sweets and chocolate and enjoy it as you walk around Edinburgh. Or, alternatively, go inside and enjoy one of their sundaes – If there is space, of course, it is known to get very busy.

We recommend: Italian Gelato in a cone, with sprinkles


You can easily get your sweet tooth fix with their ’18 classic and funky flavours.’  Or, in true Willy Wonka style, you can indulge by mixing one of their fifty chocolate bar options into a milkshake, hot waffles or an ice-cream.

We recommend: Raspberry Snowball Sundae


Affogato is a single spot where you can enjoy 18 classic and creative flavours of ice cream made fresh on the premises, using the highest quality ingredients and sourced locally where possible. Affogato is dog-friendly and even has a unique dog-only gelato, so your dog won’t feel left out.

We recommend: Two Scoop Vanilla Nutmeg Gelato


Located in a cute, restored Police Box in Edinburgh’s Old Town is Over Langshaw Ice Cream. Make a visit to enjoy delicious ice cream made at their Over Langshaw Farm in the heart of the Scottish Borders with fresh, vibrant ingredients.

We recommend: Rocky Royal Mile


The Best Edinburgh Gardens

The Best Edinburgh Gardens

The Edinburgh Collection | Edinburgh GardensEDINBURGH GARDENS…

…where the grass is greener

Edinburgh is famous for its beauty. It is known around the world for its intricate architecture and unique buildings and streets. You just need to take on look at Edinburgh’s Old Town to figure out why tourists are attracted to the stunningly, well-kept buildings.

However, an often overlooked attribute to Edinburgh’s beauty, are its many gardens.

Princes Street Gardens

Best Edinburgh Gardens | Princes Street Gardens

Princes Street Gardens is located in the centre of Edinburgh’s World Heritage Site, tucked between New Town and Old Town. It is listed in the Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes in Scotland and has geological and botanical scientific interest. However, it hasn’t always been a beautiful public garden. No, you see, it has a dark past from when it was known as Nor’ Loch.

Princes Street Gardens is right opposite Old Waverley Hotel

Dr. Neil’s Garden

Edinburgh Gardens | Dr Neils Garden

Dr Neils Garden, or, Edinburgh’s Secret Garden as it is often referred to, is one of the most stunning gardens in Scotland today. It lays next to the lovely Duddingston Kirk at the foot of Arthurs Seat. You will spend hours admiring the care, dedication and imagination that comes with this garden.

Dr Neils Garden is at the foot of Arthurs Seat, near to Holyrood ApartHotel

Royal Botanic Gardens

Edinburgh Gardens | Royal Botanic Gardens

Dunbars Close

Edinburgh Gardens | Dunbar Gardens

Dunbar’s Close on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh’s Old Town is a hidden gem. The garden has been laid out in the style and character of a 17th-century garden.

Dunbar’s Close is located just off the famous Royal Mile which is a few minutes away from Holyrood ApartHotel

Malleny Gardens

Edinburgh Gardens | Malleny Gardens

Malleny Gardens is a hidden delight on the outskirts of Edinburgh. It plays host to a luscious 3-acre walled garden set in a landscape of woodland, with colourful herbaceous borders and collections of old roses. You will be able to surround yourself with clipped yew trees planted in the 17th Century along with delightfully scented flowers.

Malleny Gardens is located on the outskirts of Edinburgh. So, if you wish to visit, you will need to arrange transport.

If you’re staying at one of our hotels, we’ll be happy to help arrange this for you.

#WordPoetryDay – Scotlands Best Poets

#WordPoetryDay – Scotlands Best Poets



Scotland boasts some of the finest poets in the world, and we know it. Few countries celebrate their writers and poets in the way that Scotland does theirs. Sir Walter Scott has a massive Gothic-Esque monument in the centre of Edinburgh, and Robert Burns has ‘Burns Night’ – a night where not only Scotland but a significant portion of the world celebrate the Scottish poet and his culture.

Edinburgh Collection | Scott Monument
The Scott Monument towering over Princes Street

There are, as you might gather, a lot of great Scottish poets, and all of them are talented and influential in their own talented and creative way, so it is nearly impossible to rank them, at all. So, to compromise, we have listed our five favourites, based on who believe to be the most influential and time-honoured.

Sir Walter Scott

Edinburgh Poets | Sir Walter Scott
Sir Walker Scott (image source: Wikipedia)

Sir Walter Scott is well known for his ‘Waverley Novels’. These novels were, for nearly a century, among the most popular and most widely read books in all of Europe.

As well as being a prolific writer around the globe, he was also a prominent member of the ‘Tory’ establishment in Edinburgh. Sir Walter Scott, additionally, was a very active member of the Highland Society and served as President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh from 1820 – 1832.

Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive!” – Sir Walter Scott.


His monument is located right opposite the Old Waverley Hotel, book a room with a view

Robert Burns

Edinburgh Poets | Robert Burns
Robert Burns (image source: Wikipedia)

Robert Burns is one, of few poets to have a dedicated night named after him. On Burns Night or Burns Supper, people around the world indulge in Scottish produce and practice the culture. Bagpipes are played, kilts are worn, and poems are read.

Burns is commonly referred to as the national poet of Scotland and is celebrated worldwide. But ‘Rabbie’ wasn’t just any old poet, no, far from it. He is regarded as a pioneer of the Romantic movement and even after his death, he continued to inspire. He is cited as being a great source of inspiration to the founders of both liberalism and socialism.

Perhaps his most famous poem is one that many people don’t even know is penned by this Scottish icon. ‘Auld Lang Syne’ is the song that many adults drunkenly sing as the clock bells ring out, welcoming the New Year.

Suspense is worse than disappointment.” – Robert Burns.

Robert Louis Stevenson

Edinburgh Poets | Robert Louis Stevenson
Robert Louis Stevenson (image source: Wikipedia)

Robert Louis Stevenson is perhaps best known for his Shilling Shocker entitled ‘The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ inspired by infamous Edinburgh resident, Deacon Brodie. Or his children’s book ‘Treasure Island’. But he also tried his hand, as most writers do, at poetry.

Robert Louis Stevenson was a literary celebrity during his lifetime, and he now ranks as the 26th most translated author in the world. His works were the objects of admiration by other literary greats such as fellow Edinburgh resident Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of Sherlock Holmes and literary heavy-weight (in two senses of the word) Ernest Hemingway.

It was said that Stevenson “seemed to pick the right word up on the point of his pen, like a man playing spillikins.”

“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.” – Robert Louis Stevenson


Stevenson’s house is located just a few streets away from The Howard hotel, book your stay in literary history.

Liz Lochhead

Edinburgh Poets | Liz Lochhead
Liz Lochhead (image source: Scottish Poetry Library)

Liz Lochhead was the Makar or National Poet of Scotland between the years 2011 and 2016. She is perhaps best known for her writing style, ‘Scots English’. She sometimes even writes in plain Scots.

She is one of few remaining authentic, traditional Scottish poets, and despite her time in Canada and New York, she remained proud of her heritage and didn’t change her voice or her message.

“If aw his hums and haws were hams and haggises, the country wad be weel fed!” – Liz Lochhead

Alison Cockburn

Edinburgh Poets | Alison Cockburn
Alison Cockburn (image source: Electric Scotland)

Alison Cockburn was more than just a famous poet. She was a socialite known for her sense of intelligent humour. During the 18th-century, during the enlightenment in Edinburgh, Cockburn collated an impressive circle of friends including two Scottish poets Walter Scott and Robert Burns and also, the prolific Scottish philosopher David Hume.

She was an indefatigable letter-writer and a composer of parodies, squibs, toasts and “character sketches”, which, back then, was a favourite form of composition.

I’ve seen the smiling of Fortune beguiling, I’ve felt all its favours and found its decay” – Alison Cockburn

#NationalStorytellingWeek – Day Five – Deacon Brodie

#NationalStorytellingWeek – Day Five – Deacon Brodie

Deacon Brodie



Edinburgh History

Today, Edinburgh is known as the beautiful, cultural and historic capital city of Scotland. However, this hasn’t always been the case. Edinburgh has been home to people for over 10,000 years (obviously not the same people) but it wasn’t until the end of the 7th century when they started to even slightly resemble a anything that would be considered a community. In 638 a Celtic fortress was built and that is where the city, as we know it today, began.

It wasn’t until King David I of Scotland came and established an official royal settlement there in the 12th century that things really started to pick up steam.

Within two centuries, writers from across Europe began to refer to Edinburgh as the ‘Capital of Scotland’ and sure enough, it stuck. But that expansion came with growing pains. Up until the end of the 16th century the city was still confined by the snug defensive walls that surround the city. So, rather that growing outwards, buildings began to ascend and climb higher. Some building even reached the height of eleven stories, and this is before the skyscraper era. As you can imagine, all these people living in such a small area started to cause quite a problem. For a long time, Edinburgh was known as one of the filthiest, over populated urban cities in Europe. The high rise tenement buildings were absolutely packed with people.

Beneath the buildings were vaults (a delightful cross between a basement and a dungeon) and as the city started to attract more and more immigrants, they tended to find themselves packed into these shadowy vaults.

However, this was all about to change.

New Town

In the 1760’s the city reinvented itself. The idea, to build a whole new town directly opposite the old one. The town planners had a clean slate so created a grid system opposite Nor’ Loch. As construction went on over the next few years, which had originally jest been a dumping ground for sewage (and supposedly used for witch dunking) was filled in and became what is now known as Princes Street gardens.

When you come to Edinburgh, all those beautiful, ornate buildings you see – The National Gallery, Old Waverley Hotel, Jenners etc. All of it was built on the human waste of Old Town. New Town was, without-a-doubt, stunning. It was modern, beautiful and it quickly drew enlightened minds from around the world. Edinburgh, before too long, picked up the nickname ‘Athens of the North’ (this is mainly credited to Calton Hill which is known for its Ancient Grecian monuments.) With it’s rising popularity among the upper class, Edinburgh soon attracted rich and elite business owners, demanding a market for luxury products. All those magnificent Georgian townhouses basically begged for new custom furniture and decor, right? Those new and wide roads just roared for a new cart to be rode around on them.

New Town, quickly became Rich Town.

A strong divide

Because New Town was built higher up on elevation to Old Town there was a real, literal divide between the two. If you lived in the southern side of New Town you could walk out of your front door and, quite literally, look down on the poor.

As the 18th century transitioned into the 19th century, Old Town continued to suffer in the ever-growing shadow of New Town. Between 1750 and 1850 the population of Old Town tripled from 60,000 to nearly 180,000. Most of those newcomers had to make do and settle into the old part of the city and with them, came illness.

Edinburgh had become a city with a split personality. Old Town represented poverty and weakness whereas New Town represented hope, strength and financial wealth – it was rare for anyone to see both sides. If you were born in the damp, dark, slums of Old Town it was likely that you were going to live there, work there, and even die there. New Town was in a very similar situation. It was a place of knowledge and progress and the people who lived there knew that, so in their own eyes, they were superior to the poor.

However, Edinburgh wasn’t unique in it duality. People, you see, are more than capable of leading a double life as well.

Old TOlbooth
The Old Tolbooth

The untraceable thefts

William’s first crime could be viewed as an act of mercy, maybe – if you ignore all the illegal bits. His friend in Grassmarket was mourning the loss of his son. The boy was barely a teenager and he had been charged with a crime and all the evidence pointed towards his guilt and was set to be hanged in the next few days. One the eve of the planned execution, the two men went down into the Old Tolbooth building (a mix between a courthouse and a jail) and made their way to the jailkeeper. They brought with them a large amount of alcohol and while the father made sure that the jailkeeper drank a lot, and then a lot more, William went and found the cell that was holding his friends son and picked the lock. The boy was smuggled out, but he needed a place to stay, a place where eyes would be off him until he found a way to leave the city. Here is where William Brodie proved just how cunning he was. He took the boy to Greyfriars Kirkyard and then took him to the tomb of George MacKenzie. William broke into the crypt and hid the boy inside.

In 1786, Brodie stepped up his life of crime. He managed to get hold of a counterfeit key which granted him access to a locked desk drawer in the offices of Johnson & Smith – bankers in the Royal Exchange. He stole a pile of money, valued today at around £100,000. William Brodies life as a criminal was going well. But, what’s that saying? You need to spend money to make money. William did just that. He hired a small handful of associates to help him on his ever-increasing heist jobs. .

On Christmas eve of the same year they underwent their first job as a team. They broke into a high end jewelers called Bruce Brothers they walked away with around £50,000 worth of goods. Proud of their work as a team, Brodie and his heist team took on a long string of jobs spanning around 10 months. Late in 1787, they somehow managed to gain access to the room in Edinburgh University where the ceremonial mace was kept. Brodie and his team made off with it with relative ease. The city went crazy with rumours, the city was plagued by a thief/thieves that could not be caught. As you could imagine, shopkeepers everywhere were scared of becoming the next victim. People even started to ramp up the stories of a supernatural presence. It wouldnt be 18th century Edinburgh without a few whispers of the supernatural.

William Brodie and his team weren’t going to be caught anytime soon, but not because they were talented, which they were. But because everyone was looking in the wrong place. A master thief going around stealing expensive items could only be the act of a poor man from Old Town, right? Nobody would expect a member of town council to commit such crimes, for what need would they have. William Brodie was a deacon and head cabinet maker for the city. He inherited the cabinet business from his father, He inherited a lot: four houses, the cabinet business and a bank account worth around £1.6m in today’s currency. Brodie was an upstanding, respected and emulated man in Edinburgh. His position in the council made it easy for him to commit his crimes. As the master carpenter, he was often called to repair the cities security mechanisms, front doors to shops etc. All of this work gave William Brodie access to all the keys necessary to gain access to all these buildings.

But, you can only keep a secret for so long. Sooner or later, the world is going to find out the truth.

A Scene from ‘The Beggar’s Opera’

Brodie‘s influences

Brodie hasn’t always been criminally inclined, so historians say. When he was a child, he was obsessed with a play called ‘The Beggar’s Opera’The play’s story centres around the world of thieves and the upper class women who loved them. The main character is the charming and dashing leader of a whole gang of criminals who also managed to balance not one but two mistresses. This character must have had some appeal to the young William Brodie, as he grew older and older, he took on more and more of the characters persona.

Brodies Lives

Brodie was also an avid gambler, he was part of a secret gentleman’s club called ‘The Cape’. He managed to balance the gambing addiction, a full time job and city appointments, he still managed to find time to father 5 children by 2 separate women, without either of the women knowing the other even existed.

You can probably imagine that paying for this lifestyle wasn’t easy, which is where his night-time hobby came into the picture. As good as he was at being a thief, he never seemed to stopped.

Excise Office
Excise Office

 The last heist

In 1788, Brodie began to plan the biggest heist of his long career as a thief. It would also prove to be his last. The job? An armed robbery of His Majesties excise office. The building where all the tax revenue of Scotland was kept locked up. He assembled his team and the plan was put into action. Unfortunately, this time they had no key.

The events of the night aren’t clear, but we do know that Brodie and his team managed to gain access to the building. Brodie stayed outside of the door to keep as lookout while the others gained access to the loot. It was then that an excise official returned to the building, why he came back remains unknown. When William Brodie saw the man, he turned tail and ran, leaving his team abandoned, they still managed to escape but not with the large fortune that was promised to them by Brodie.

Some of the team felt it would be more profitable to just turn Brodie into the police. But Brodie was nowhere to be found.

 Amsterdam and Capture.

William Brodie fled the country and headed to Amsterdam. While he was away the story broke back in Edinburgh and William Brodie’s carefully orchestrated double life quickly shattered leaving the city in shock. Brodie was caught in Amsterdam and sent back to Edinburgh where a trial was set. It went on for 2 days with very few breaks. He was eventually found guilty of theft and sentenced to death by hanging.

A crowd of over 40,000 gathered to watch the execution in 1788. They had come to see a hanging, they had come to see one of the New Town elite get the treatment of an common Old Town pick-pocket, they had come for justice.

Despite this, Brodie appeared in a good mood that day, he dressed in his best suit and wore a powdered wig and even helped the executer tie the noose around his neck and pulled the hood over his head. His final act was to pull an handkerchief from his pocket and dropped it into the crowd. Rumors circulated that he designed or even built the platform that he was hanged on. Another legend suggests that he had inserted a tiny metal pipe into his throat to stop his neck from breaking and then a french doctor would come and take him to safety. Sadly, none of this is true.


Maybe its the fact that it gives you the ability to live out fantasies, maybe it’s to do things you aren’t usually able to do, maybe its just the thrill of it, whatever it is, the idea of double lives is certainly attractive. It is, according to historians, what got William Brodie into it in the first place.

The saying goes that our true self is who we are in private and makes you wonder, who are we? Really.

It’s a question that another Edinburgh citizen tried to answer almost a century later, a writer. He had written a play in his youth about William Brodie that he called ‘The Double Life’. Sadly, it was a commercial flop and this was taken personally by the writer. He felt he had a personal connection to Brodie, his parents even owned furniture that had been hand crafted by the master thief himself. The story was something that always stuck with him, even far into his writing career. In 1885 he was sick in bed, and one night he awoke from a deep sleep with a plot to a book in his mind. Surely, this would satisy his publishers demand for a cheap new thriller or a ‘Shilling Shocker’.

Today, that novel is one of the best selling thrillers in all of British literature. If it weren’t for William Brodie, we wouldn’t have the book at all. So, let’s thank Robert Lewis Stevenson for his novel, which he called, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

#NationalStorytellingWeek – Day Four – Nor’ Loch

#NationalStorytellingWeek – Day Four – Nor’ Loch

Nor Loch



Early history

Once a marsh, Nor’ Loch was part of the natural defence of the Edinburgh Old Town. Because the Old Town was built on a steep ridge (still clearly visible today), it expanded on an east-west axis, eastwards from the castle; expansion northward, as would happen with the later New Town, was extremely difficult at this point. The Nor Loch was thus a hindrance to both invaders and town growth.

In 1460 King James III ordered the marsh to be flooded in order to further strengthen the castle’s defences.

At that, is how Nor’ Loch came to be.

Middle Age Edinburgh

Middle Ages to 19th century

As the Old Town became ever more crowded during the Middle Ages, the Nor Loch became similarly polluted, by sewage, household waste, and general detritus thrown down the hillside. Historians are divided on whether the loch was ever used for drinking water.

Nor’ Loch was used for a variety of things, spanning way further than your average castle defence. Some of it’s uses include;

  • Witch Trials: It is a popularly held myth that the Nor’ Loch was the site of ‘Witch ducking’ in Edinburgh. ‘Witch ducking’ or ‘the swimming test’ was employed by Witchcraft prosecutors in some areas of Europe as a method of identifying whether or not a suspect was guilty of witchcraft.
  • Suicides: The Nor Loch was a popular spot for suicide attempts during its existence.
  • Crime: The loch appears to have been used both as a smuggling route and as a site for the punishment of crime.

It was a very handy, multi-purpose Loch.

In 1763 the eastern end of the Nor Loch was drained to allow construction of the North Bridge although frequent floods both then and now, threatened to “resurrect” it.

Draining of the western end was undertaken 1813 to 1820, under supervision by the engineer James Jardine to enable the creation of Princes Street Gardens. For several decades after draining of the Loch began, townspeople continued to refer to the area as the Nor Loch.

#Scaredinburgh Side note.

In 1628, a man called Sinclair confessed to committing incest with his two sisters. All three were sentenced to death, but it was said that the clergy commuted the sentence on the younger sister. Sinclair and his older sister were placed in a large chest with holes drilled in it and thrown into the loch to drown. Two centuries later, in 1820, the chest was rediscovered by workmen digging a drain near the Wellhouse Tower of the Castle. Although later 19th-century accounts report only two skeletons being found in the chest, the noted antiquarian Sir James Skene of Rubislaw, who was present at the work in the gardens, reported that the skeleton of a tall man was found between those of two women, suggesting that the younger sister had indeed also been executed.


Edinburgh Collection | Princes Street Gardens Present Day

The popular Princes Street gardens now stands where Nor’ Loch once did. Hundreds of people visit it per day, in summer children play on it and people ‘sunbathe’ (there isn’t much in the way of sun in Scotland). Little do they know, the history of what used to be.


#NationalStorytellingWeek – Day Three – Greyfriars Bobby

#NationalStorytellingWeek – Day Three – Greyfriars Bobby

Greyfriars Bobbys



Greyfriars Bobby is possibly one of Edinburgh’s best known stories. The story has even been made into a couple of films, including one by Walt Disney!

Bobby was a watch dog owned by a police constable called John Gray. His master sadly died in 1858 and Bobby spent the rest of his days lying on his master’s grave in Greyfriars Kirkyard (now very haunted.) The keeper of the kirkyard tried to evict poor heartbroken Bobby on many occasions, however, he failed every time. Bobby would not leave the grave of his owner. In the end, the keeper relented and gave him some shelter by John Gray’s grave.

Greyfirars Bobby John Gray
Grave of John Gray (Greyfriars Bobby’s master)

There is a rumour, unable to be proven fact or fiction, that on hearing the one o’clock gun, Greyfriars Bobby would leave the grave for the nearby coffee house which he frequented with his master and there he would receive a meal. Bobby was beloved by all the local people and they were all happy to look after him.

For fourteen years until his death in 1872, Bobby never left his masters side.


The statue of Greyfriars Bobby is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Edinburgh, it is located in front of Greyfriars Kirkyard where Bobby has a memorial headstone where people often place sticks.