To discover literary Edinburgh, you have to walk it, defying Robert Louis Stevenson’s “bleak winds” and exploring Dorothy Wordsworth’s “passes of dark stone”, simply because there is no other way of penetrating the ancient wynds, closes and creeper-ridden burial grounds of this city, whose literary past is written on its dark and hoary face.
(Allan Foster - The Literary Traveller in Edinburgh 2005)
Hi everybody !
It’s the end of summer already and days are shortening quickly but as most people are going back from their holidays and children carefully preparing their brand new school bags, some people are only about to set off, hoping that the weather will be fine, especially when they have chosen, as we have, to take the road to the north. No need to say how actively we’re preparing our trip to Scotland in September! Only a few days left now !
Weather forecast is sunny with a temperature of 30° in Bordeaux today (I should say only 30° since it reached 40° and even more recently). In Edinburgh it will be cloudy today with a temperature of no more than 17°. We’d better put ‘une petite laine’ in our luggage
What the weather will be like in Scotland next week I wonder… though it will be no problem for us as we’ve got used to the changing mood of the Scottish skies and even came to love it for the unique and surreal light effects it often creates on mountains and lochs.
Itinerary 7 will be another great tour around Scotland. We’ll always try to feel the sense of place wherever we’ll happen to be, discovering new areas, visiting or re-visiting big cities, towns and villages and trying to follow more closely on the steps of the most popular (and favourite) Scottish writers and artists: Robert Burns in Dumfries and Galloway, Hugh MacDiarmid in the Borders, George Mackay Brown and Edwin Muir in Orkney, Iain Crichton Smith, Neil Gunn, John Buchan… not forgetting in Edinburgh Robert Louis Stevenson, Conan Doyle, Ian Rankin, Muriel Spark, Alexander McCall Smith, JK Rowling… the list is long! In and around Glasgow we’ll follow the Mackintosh Trail: The Glasgow School of Art, The House for an Art Lover, The Lighthouse, the Hill House in Helenburgh, every gallery and museum where the works of the Mackintoshes are on display.
Maybe we’ll be able to join one or other of the many guided tours organized in Edinburgh, Glasgow and elsewhere in Scotland. Indeed that would be a very funny way to give life to our knowledge of the place and to enjoy pages of history or literature with people who are generally born storytellers and actors.
The choice will be difficult ! Here are some of them:
‘Edinburgh boasts a rich history filled with stories of ghosts and ghouls and it is a great place to experience a mysterious underworld.‘
Literary Guided Tours
‘What’s a literary city without literary tours?
Here you’ll find some of the best, liveliest and most informative tours you’re ever likely to come across. The tour season runs all year round, but if you are planning to go during August, remember to book in advance as tours frequently sell-out during the festival and holiday period.’
The Edinburgh Book Lovers’ Tour & The Literary Pub Crawl could not have found a better guide since they are led by Allan Foster himself , author of The Literary Traveller In Edinburgh and The Literary Traveller In Scotland, published by Mainstream.
‘Experience the dark and hidden world of best selling Rebus novels by Ian Rankin and discover the history and mystery of the real locations, with stunning views of some of Edinburghs unexplored areas.’
We’ll lack time as usual in Scotland but I’m sure we’ll come back from our month-trip with many colourful pieces to add to our great Scottish mosaïc.
To help me prepare this trip I’ve selected a number of books in my library:
The cover illustration of the book is a drawing of Sir Walter Scott’s house at 39 North Castle Street.
In the Preface of the book I’ve fallen upon a very moving and incredible anecdote :
‘Nowadays, our contemporaries are too close to write about with comfort, while no one survives from Stevenson’s Edinburgh days. That there are still remarkable links with the past, however, is shown for instance by a letter which appeared in the Sunday Express in 1968.
Fifty years before, as a schoolboy, the correspondent’s brother was sitting reading in the sunshine in Dundee, outside the Victoria Art Gallery, when he was approached by an old man who asked: “What are you reading, laddie?”
“Waverley,” was the reply.
“Take this shilling,” said the old man, “and I’ll tell you why.”
“When I was your age I was sitting in the sunshine reading one day when an old man came up to me and asked the same question, “Rob Roy” I replied.
He handed me a shilling and explained: “When I was your age I was siting reading in the sun one day in Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh when an old man came up to me and said, “What are you reading, my lad?”
“Heart of Midlothian,” I said.
“I wrote that book,” said the old man. “Here’s a shilling to remember me by;”
I hope that this will be a book to remember some of Edinburgh’s former inhabitants by.’
The foreword of this book has been written by Sir Compton Mackenzie and the beautiful illustrations of the city drawn by Edward Swann.
Treat this book like a treasure map…
(Allan Foster - The Literary Traveller in Edinburgh – Introduction)
‘I have tried to strike a balance between anecdote and narrative, and between those individuals who by virtue of birth, upbringing, residence or the subject matter of their work can be classed as ‘Edinburgh writers’ and the many visitors, who if not influenced in their work by Edinburgh, have at least responded to the city.
Over a hundred literary figures have been covered in the following pages and it has not always been possible to fully describe them or assess their importance, outside the confines of their relationship with Edinburgh.
Several hundred novels have taken the city as their backdrop and I have therefore also tried to give a flavour of some of them, and how writers have attempted to write about a capital that can be paradoxical and inscrutable. As such I hope this is not just a literary companion or guide but also a portrait of the city as seen by writers over the ages.’
(The Edinburgh Literary Guide by Andrew Lownie – Illustrated by Richard Demarco – Canongate Press 1992)
You know what? I’ve just discovered that my copy of the book had been signed ty the author !!! My library is full of unknown treasures
All the old favourites are here, including Scott, Stevenson, Boswell, Burns, Hogg, Fergusson and Garioch, as well as many more fleeting visitors, such as Mark Twain, Dylan Thomas and Daniel Defoe. Relating writers to parts of the city, Lownie marshals his facts well and presents them intelligently.
(Scotland on Sunday)
This is not a work of literary criticism but a mixture of literary guide and anthology, the story of writers in Edinburgh and how the city has been portrayed in literature, which grew from my own explorations of the city as a schoolboy and university student.
(The Edinburgh Literary Companion by Andrew Lownie – Polygon 2005)
Here’s another book by Andrew Lownie about Edinburgh. It is more recent (and as such probably easier to find), arranged differently. Instead of illustrations it contains nice colour photographs of the city. The two books are complementary.
The book is divided into five parts
- The Old Town
- The University Quarter
- The New Town
- The Villa Quarters
- Edinburgh Villages
At the end of the book there are very interesting annexes:
Edinburgh Literary Figures
Last but not least, let us follow the steps of the famous Inspector Rebus, created by one of Edinburgh’s most famous citizen.
‘A must-have for all Rebus fans …’
In Rebus’s Scotland Ian Rankin offers exclusive insights into the world Rebus inhabits, but also the place he came from – the rural Scotland of Rankin’s childhood. In writing his own autobiography, he unlocks the secrets of what makes John Rebus tick. Stunningly illustrated with photographs that reflect the places Rebus inhabits, Rebus’s Scotland gives a unique portrait of both Ian Rankin and his most famous creation, John Rebus.
(Rebus’s Scotland Ian Rankin – Orion 2005 – Photographs by Tricia Malley and Ross Gillespie)
By the way, this time I’ve decided to reduce the volume of my travelling library. I’ll try to compensate with my Kindle companion though some of my favourite writers seem to be quite reluctant to enter this new media.
Reading and travelling, travelling and reading… a journey often begins and ends with books. So let me share them with you in our fascinating quest of Scotland…
Bonne lecture !
A bientôt. Mairiuna.