Take a walk: Edinburgh Old Town

panorama of Edinburgh

From the Radisson SAS Hotel walk down High Street to World's End Close on the right.

The name World's End Close derives from when this was the last alleyway before leaving the Old Town of Edinburgh. Note also the World's End Bar on the corner. Where the traffic lights are now, there once stood the Netherbow Port. This was one of the gateways that protected the city in time of war. It was demolished in 1764. Cross the road and move uphill to John Knox's House, on the right.

The great Scottish preacher and religious leader, John Knox, is believed to have lived here between 1561 and 1572. His rhetorical writing style and powerful pulpit deliveries earned him the description, ‘the thundering Scot'. The house has a stone and timber frontage and dates from around 1490. Described as ‘architecturally curious' it's an outstanding example of a town house of this period. Walk uphill a short distance to Paisley Close.

On November 24 1861 a 12-storey building in Paisley Close collapsed, killing 35 people. Rescuers had almost given up hope of finding any more survivors when they heard the faint cry of, ‘Heave awa', lads, I'm no deid yet'. The words of this young lad, Joseph Mclvor, who was pulled from the rubble, are commemorated above the alley's entrance. Continue uphill through the traffic lights (traffic permitting) to Fleshmarket Close.

In old Edinburgh most markets were held in the streets. Sometimes over-imaginative guesses are made about what the 'fleshmarket' could be. It was in fact the meat market. Move up to Anchor Close.

Anchor Close is named alter a tavern which stood here in the mid-18th century. Walter Smellie, the Edinburgh printer, had a workshop in the alleyway around the same time. He is famous for printing the first 'Encyclopaedia Britannica' here in 1771 and printed Robert Burns' poetry in 1787. Move up to the City Chambers, on the right through the archways.

The statue in front of the City Chambers is of Alexander the Great and his horse Bucephalus. Built between 1753 and 1761, the City Chambers building was originally intended as an Exchange for the merchants of Edinburgh. It wasn't popular and was first used as a meeting place for the Town Council in 1811. It's the only 18th-century public building in the Royal Mile. Up through the next set of traffic lights, turn right into Wardrops Court, the hexagonal towered building to the left is Lady Stairs House.

Set in a beautiful courtyard, Lady Stairs House was originally constructed by Sir William Gray in 1622. It was restored by the Earl of Roseberry in 1897 and he gifted it to the city in 1907. It is now a literary museum dedicated to Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns, and Robert Louis Stevenson. Robert Burns actually stayed in an alleyway called Baxters Close, that ran through here, when he was in Edinburgh in 1786. Go up the steps, out to the street, turn right and the first building under the arches is Gladstones Land.

Thomas Gledstanes and his wife Bessie Cunninghame bought this property on December 20, 1617. They extended it 23ft out into the street, creating the present arcade, the sole survivor of this 17th-century practice in Edinburgh. Gledstanes was a merchant who traded in a variety of products including 'plumbdanes', which were prunes. The property now belongs to the National Trust of Scotland who decided in 1978 to restore the building, recreating its 17th-century atmosphere. Move uphill until you reach the Castle Esplanade.

The Castle Esplanade, which was widened in 1816, was used as a parade ground for the soldiers garrisoned in the Castle. Before this, the area was covered by grassy slopes and was often used as an execution site. It was also a popular spot for young courting couples, although probably not on hanging days! Now move downhill on the opposite side of the street, and stop at the front of the large church on the right.

Completed in 1844 and designed by James Gillespie Graham and Augustus Pugin, the Tolbooth Church has an impressive octagonal gothic spire which is 73m high and Edinburgh's tallest. This building is now the home of the Edinburgh International Festival. Cross carefully and continue straight on looking for Brodie's Close on the right.

The famous Deacon Brodie had a family home in Brodie's Close. He is said to have been the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson's, 'Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde'. By day Deacon Brodie was highly respected, even on the Town Council, but at night he turned burglar and thief to feed his gambling habit and maintain a wild night life. When he was caught it caused a great scandal, and his daytime respectability could not save him. He was hanged on October 1, 1788. Now cross the next road and the church in the open area in front of you is St Giles.

There has been some sort of church on the site of St Giles Cathedral since AD 854. The oldest part of the present building is the central pillars which date back to 1120. The distinctive crown spire of 1495 is one of Edinburgh's best-known landmarks and was once used as a prison. This was not popular with the parishioners because the prisoners in the tower seemed to derive great satisfaction from dropping pebbles on the church congregations below. It is also important to note that the Edinburgh Tollbooth, or prison, used to stand beside the church. It was demolished in 1817 but the centre of the building is still marked by the heart shape in the pavement just beside the road. Walk down to the small octagonal tower behind St Giles.

The mercat or market cross was the focal point of life in Old Town of Edinburgh. It was here that public announcements and Royal Proclamations were made. The 'Croce' is first mentioned in a charter of 1365 and used to stand in the middle of the street. The present Cross has parts of the original but was extensively rebuilt in 1885. Walk downhill to the next church on the right

Founded in 1633, the Tron Kirk church is named after the 'tron', or public weigh-beam, which was situated nearby. It is no longer in use. When it was excavated a late 16th-century close was found, called Marlin's Wynd. It lies deep in the foundations of the building. Each year the Tron is the focal point for thousands of Edinburgh people who gather to celebrate 'Hogmanay' or New Year. No doubt they are all joyous at the thought of spending another year in this wonderful city. Cross the road and the Radisson SAS Hotel is ahead of you on the right.

Reproduced by kind permission of Scottish Tours, www.scottishtours.co.uk

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