Winner: Walking Tour Company of the Year in Scotland

Edinburgh Walks are delighted to announce we have been awarded Walking Tour Company of the Year in Scotland. Thank you to those that voted for us in the Travel & Hospitality Awards.

Edinburgh’s interesting connection to Michael Palin’s new book Erebus

Very recently the great traveller, writer and ‘Python’ Michael Palin has published a book called Erebus, about the great ship of that name HMS Erebus of the British Royal Navy. It is a very interesting read

The new Michael Palin book Erebus

but it is the last adventurous journey of this ship that interests me the most as she was joined on this trip to seek out the North West Passage in the frozen hinterlands of 19th century Canada by HMS Terror. And as I have written previously, one of the Officers onboard HMS Terror has a strong Edinburgh connection so I thought I would update this story.

I have written before about The Dean Cemetery, to the rear of The Dean Gallery in Edinburgh. It is an interesting place and many of those that lie peacefully here have a fascinating past, most from Georgian and Victorian society.

As you pass through – on one of the walks available from – you come across the dark Celtic Cross which tells the fascinating story of Lieutenant John Irving of the British Royal Navy.

Irving was born and brought up in Edinburgh. Educated at The Edinburgh Academy, he lived at 106 Princes Street, Edinburgh now a shoe shop occupied by Russell & Bromley.

Family home of Lt. John Irving R.N.

Irving was part of Sir John Franklin’s expedition to find the North West Passage that left Kent, England in 1845 on board HMS Terror. The other Royal Navy ship in the party was HMS Erebus.

Having wintered at Beechey Island, they thereafter set out to find the Passage, but became locked in the ice for two years. By June 1847 Franklin, twenty Officers and Seamen died, but Irving and 104 other survivors landed on King William Island and tried to march further South into Canada, some 250 miles away. They perished in this venture.

Many expeditions were sent out to trace the crews, and it was in June 1879 that Lieutenant Frederick Schwatka’s American Searching Expedition found Irving’s grave near a place called Camp Crozier, the remains identifiable by the presence of a silver medal engraved ‘Second Mathematical Prize, Royal Naval College. Awarded to John Irving Mid-summer. 1830’, lying nearby. His remains were returned to Edinburgh and on the 7th January 1881 he was buried in the Dean Cemetery.

The tableau on the Cross appears to show the survivors leaving Erebus and Terror to commence their march South.

A synopsis of the terrible affair is also on the cross. However, it brought to mind more recent information that adds colour to this story.

Dr. John Rae was a qualified surgeon from Orkney in Scotland who was employed by the Hudson’s Bay Company after his arrival there in 1833. He stayed in the Moose Factory area for around 10 years and in this time assimilated with the local native Canadians. He learned their vital survival skills, though his insistence of dressing like a native was frowned upon. Dr. Rae assisted in two searches for Erebus and Terror and their men, but abandoned the search for Franklin in 1854 after learning that the expedition had ended in disaster and that the last survivors having been forced to resort to cannibalism.

In April 1854, Rae had heard from an Inuit that a group of 40 white men had been seen four years previously pulling a boat and sledges South along the West coast of King William Island. From what he was told, Rae decided the men had died in the winter of 1850, after ice had crushed their ships. Some years later, Rae learned that the Inuit had discovered 30 bodies and a number of graves and it appeared the men had died of starvation. But the report of cannibalism caused a scandal which was not accepted by Victorian Britain and, in particular, Franklin’s widow. Even Charles Dickens wrote of his disbelief. But in May 1859 following another expedition, skeletons were found of some of the last survivors and they appeared to confirm that the men had resorted to cannibalism.

Dr. Rae eventually returned to the UK, but his courageous deeds in the snowy wastelands of Northern Canada were never truly recognised….until 2014. On 30th September 2014 a simple plaque was unveiled to Rae in Westminster Abbey in London, England. This plaque is adjacent to a memorial to Franlin.

But there is more……. Also in September 2014 the Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the discovery of a ship to the West of King William Island, South of the Victoria Strait. This ship has been confirmed as HMS Terror’s sister ship, HMS Erebus. Work continued to find Irving’s ship and on 12th September 2016 HMS Terror was found… a place called Terror Bay on King William Island. It appears yet again that authorities had taken a long time to listen to the words of the local Inuit as to where these ships may lie.

So, although Irving was interred in the Dean Cemetery 137 years ago his story and that of the Franklin Expedition continues to evolve to this day.

Why don’t you arrange a walk to The Dean Cemetery and many other places of interest in Edinburgh with Edinburgh Walks. Go to or call the number on the website.

The Leith Boys

Today is the anniversary of the Quintinshill Rail Disaster which occurred on 22nd May 1915, the worst train accident in UK history. Quintinshill is in a sparsely populated part of southern Scotland, not far from the English border and the accident occurred between three trains.

One of the trains contained Territorial Army Troops from the 1/7th (Leith) Battalion of the Royal Scots, who were en route to embark at Liverpool for Gallipoli during the 1st World War.

The Dalmeny Street Drill Hall where the troops had left Leith

The troops had left Leith earlier from their drill hall in Dalmeny Street, Leith. The Drill Hall is now an arts and community craft centre called Out of the Blue.

Dolmens Street Drill Hall

It still retains much of the feel and space of a drill hall and one could imagine how busy and business-like it was on the run up to the 1/7th Leith Boys heading off to war.

Within the Drill Hall

Around half the soldiers on the troop train perished, though the precise number was never exactly known because of the poor condition of the corpses and the fact that the roll of Officers and Men was also destroyed in the accident. However it seems agreed that the number of around 210 of Leith’s finest did not survive.

The funeral cortege in Pilrig Street, heading for Rosebank Cemetery

The bodies were returned to Leith on 24th May 1915 and a funeral for the Officers & Men was held. The cortège took four hours to pass from Dalmeny Street, up Leith Walk and down Pilrig Street to Rosebank Cemetery.

Pilrig Street, how it looks now.

The bodies were interred at a special site within Rosebank Cemetery and a service is held in commemoration annually.

Memorial to the 1/7th (Leith) Battalion, Rosebank Cemetery

Commemorative Cross

Memorial Plaque

Leith’s Coat of Arms from the Memorial

It would be easy to forget the sacrifice of the men of the 1/7th (Leith) Battalion, Royal Scots and this terrible accident. The former Drill Hall (Out of the Blue) is open to the public and can be visited most days. There is a great café within. Rosebank Cemetery is also open on a daily basis and the Memorial to the Men is on the far North West corner.

You can also visit these places as part of a walk into and around Leith with Edinburgh Walks (


Walks for Concierge & Reception Staff

Well the ‘beast from the east’ has struck Edinburgh in late February and early March, with most public transport at a standstill because of the Siberian conditions and premises shut because of staff shortages or lack of trade, but that will not curtail our offer to Concierge & Reception staff from a select group of Edinburgh’s top hotels.

This was so successful at the end 2017 that we are repeating the offer of a free (up to) 4 hour walk around Edinburgh – and/or Leith – for staff to acquaint or re-acquiant themselves of our beautiful city during the month of March 2018. It is particularly good for staff new to the city or for new hotel openings. It can also help as part of a team bonding exercise.

Edinburgh Walks conduct private and some small group guided walks to Edinburgh & Leith that are proving popular. History (royalty, war, crime & punishment), literature (from Scott, Burns, Stevenson to Harry Potter), the arts (festivals, museums, galleries & architecture) and film & television (Outlander & Avengers) seem to be the themes most visitors look for. But some also like to get off the well worn tourist trail with walks through the New Town, over Arthur Seat, along the Water of Leith to Stockbridge or down to the Port of Leith and we provide these too.

Have a look at our website on and if you want to take part, let us know on



Outlander film locations in Edinburgh

We have been asked to add some pictures of a couple of locations from the TV serial Outlander. We’ve chosen to show photographs from two sites in the Royal Mile area of Edinburgh as they are within reach of most visitors and can be visited as part of a guided walk with Edinburgh Walks (see


Tweeddale Court is a location from Season 3, Episode 6 ‘A. Malcolm’ showing scenes from 18th Century Edinburgh.

Entrance to Tweeddale Court, Royal Mile, Edinburgh

View of the upper apartments in Tweeddale Court, Royal Mile, Edinburgh.


Bakehouse Close is also a location from Season 3 and is known as Carfax Close in the programme. This is where we find “Alexander Malcolm’s print shop” where the characters Jamie and Claire get back together again after some time apart.


Bakehouse Close looking towards The Royal Mile (Canongate), Edinburgh

Bakehouse Close with the white Acheson House adjacent.

And a still photo from the Outlander programme;

And how Bakehouse Close looks in the episode.


For visits to these and other Outlander locations within Edinburgh, please use for more information or look at our Walks page.




Christmas has arrived early

Now that the days are shorter and colder, we approach Christmas and New Year in Edinburgh.

The build up to the celebrations have started already with the Edinburgh Christmas Markets, Bars and Eateries, Ice Rink and Music Venues all up and running. Here are some pictures taken this week….

Princes Street Gardens East from Market Street

From the Mound Plaza. The Market is on three levels, full of places to eat drink and buy……

Next to the Walter Scott Monument, the largest such monument to a writer in the world

Statue of Thomas Chalmers,mathematician, moral philosopher, political economist & theologian. A penny for his thoughts….

Chalmers’ statue is in the fine splendour of George Street and he is inside here….

Which is inside here. It’s like he has been ensnared by a giant jellyfish.

Edinburgh used to be a very conservative place running up to the festivities when a tree, gifted by the people of Norway for our close friendship in World War II, would sit on the Mound and a very few Christmas lights were displayed elsewhere running up to the Hogmanay (New Years Eve) celebration. It seems we now have a 6 week run up to Hogmanay and the party goes on for another week after that. And we are all the better for it……

Do try to come to Edinburgh city centre for these festivities as it really does keep the city vibrant during our Winter months.

For more information about the Edinburgh Christmas and New Year celebrations and for details of guided walks around the city and Leith at this time, please contact us on

A bit of a Muddle…

Whilst walking around Edinburgh and its northern neighbour Leith you pick up clues to different times.

You would have thought the Councillors of Edinburgh city and their counterparts in the then separate town of Leith would have got along and that laws and facilities would have been the same, with them being such close neighbours. But, no…..

Leith had traditionally been run from Edinburgh Council, but by Acts of the U.K. Parliament in 1827 and 1833 Leith became a separate burgh from Edinburgh. This allowed Leith to make their differences with Edinburgh clearer. Leith ran their own Police and Fire Service, a separate criminal court, Town Hall and Councillors and more importantly, had their own bye-laws.

But two instances really bring home the difference between the two places.

The Bier Hoose bar was formerly known as The Boundary Bar and stands on the old boundary line between Leith and Edinburgh on the main street called Leith Walk opposite the top of Pilrig Street. As you can see from the above picture, there are three double doors (the middle one is open here) which are in line with the building. There are additionally two entrance/exit doors sunken into the shopfront. These two sunken doors were very important for this public house.

The door closer to Leith (below the sign Bier) was subject to Leith Liquor Licensing Laws. However

the door closer to Edinburgh was subject to the City’s Liquor Licensing Laws. So the same bar had two liquor licenses from two Licensing Authorities. Not a recipe for success? Well things went well until the end of the drinking day. Because Leith revellers were allowed to drink half an hour later than their Edinburgh friends, so ‘time’ would be called on the Edinburgh side of the Boundary Bar and everyone who wanted to keep on drinking – i.e. everyone – would move round to the Leith side of the bar. This all changed after the highly controversial plebiscite of 1920 to bring Leith under the jurisdiction of Edinburgh. Although Leithers voted by a 6:1 majority to stay separate, amalgamation took place with Leith and Edinburgh bye-laws became coterminous.

Another discrepancy between city and town was the public transport system.

Up until 1899 the entire stretch of Leith Walk between both Edinburgh and Leith could be travelled using the horse-drawn tram service, even though cable drawn trams were introduced into Edinburgh from 1888. It was in October 1899 the Edinburgh’s transport authorities decided to lay cables to the boundary with Leith. It took Leith another six years to withdraw their horse drawn trams, with the decision being made to introduce electric trams. So from 1899 what became known as the ‘Pilrig Muddle’ was introduced.

Edinburgh had introduced cabling throughout the city to pull its trams and Leith did not follow, introducing another form of traction. Travelling from Leith to Edinburgh or vice versa meant getting off your vehicle at the boundary – by the Boundary Bar – and getting on the next service to complete your journey. Of course, people travelling the opposite direction had to do the same and it caused a lot of stress and heated argument. This could not continue. The Pilrig Muddle ended in 1922 when Edinburgh relented and became electrified too so the service could run on one system.

Edinburgh and its trams still have a love hate relationship. The new tram system from the Airport only started a few years ago but the initial plans to take it into Leith were not followed through and it terminates presently near the top of Leith Walk. Maybe in the near future we will see that system run into Leith as promised and stop a similar muddle for those wanting to get from the Airport into Leith without the requirement to change in the City Centre.



For walks in Edinburgh and Leith, please contact Edinburgh Walks on




The forgotten scientist

Another former Edinburgh resident worthy of remembrance is James Clerk Maxwell. I regularly pass his home and his (relatively) newly erected statue on George Street, but his name was out of public consciousness for quite a time.

James Clerk Maxwell

Born in 1831 in an upstairs bedroom (now called the Motorola Room!) of a fine Georgian terraced house at 14 India Street, Edinburgh, Maxwell was the son of a solicitor who had also inherited the estate of Glengair in Galloway, Scotland. At the age of 10 he attended Edinburgh Academy and then went on to study at Edinburgh University from 1847-1850. He later studied at Cambridge


University and, at the very young age of 25, became the Professor of Physics at Marischal College – now part of Aberdeen University.

Whilst at Aberdeen, Clerk Maxwell studied the composition of Saturn’s rings. Scientists had been trying for many years to understand why they did not simply break up as they appeared to be solid, or crash into or move away from the planet. In 1859 he wrote an essay “On the stability of Saturn’s Rings” which won him the Adam’s prize and £130 from St. Johns College, Cambridge. He contended that the rings were made of many small parts orbiting Saturn as opposed to one solid ring. This could not be proved at the time, but was later confirmed by the Voyager space probe in the 1980’s.

After this his knowledge and expertise was sought from universities around the UK. Clerk Maxwell continued his research in a number of fields, including astronomy and mathematical physics.

His work played a key role in Albert Einstein’s special theory of relativity and Einstein said “The work of James Clerk Maxwell changed the world forever.” From the understanding of electromagnetic waves – which helped the development of radio, television and modern telephony – and discoveries in telescopes and photography Clerk Maxwell was a truly great man.

But it took until 2008 for him to be recognised by his home city with a statue in the splendid New Town of Edinburgh, not too far from where he was born.


The plinth has his four equations of electromagnetic theory thereon. The statue itself shows Clerk Maxwell sitting, holding a rotating disc of colours which he used for the understanding of our vision and light. His dog Toby sits beneath him. I’m not sure which dog this is as he reportedly had several dogs in his lifetime, all called Toby.

If you join one of our walks – see – you can find out more about this fascinating man that was forgotten by his home city for so long.

And the madness begins…..

Edinburgh in August is a busy place…….A very busy place.

It is when the Edinburgh Festivals take a grip on the city. Where locals, performers and visitors alike are squeezed into our theatres, halls, pubs, restaurants and streets and it seems like half the world is here. The Festivals are the third largest ticketed event in the world, after the Olympic Games and World Cup Football (Soccer) competitions. Last year alone, the Fringe Festival had over 50,000 performances. Add to this the Official Edinburgh Festival, Arts Festival, Book Festival, Television Festival and others and the ticket sales grow and grow. This in a city with a population of under 500,000.

And it is also great fun…….

I walked down the Royal Mile in the Old Town and into the Mound Plaza in the New Town at the weekend and this is what I encountered

Security Barriers very much in evidence this year. And then the madness….

Promoting a show

Street portrait artists

More portrait artists

Street performers


More street performers……

It really can get too much. It’s as well then that Edinburgh Walks guides are aware of places to go for a bit of peace and quiet, for sober reflection even, away from the very busy streets. Just 1-3 minutes from the artists, musicians and performers are places of tranquility, like (South East) Princes Street Gardens where you can take a picnic and chill, re-charge your batteries and head out again to take in some more cultural highlights.

Not much going on down here.

Within sight of some of the performance areas.

Let Edinburgh Walks guides take you round this beautiful city and dip in and out as the madness ensues. Go to

Views from The Pentland Hills

The Pentland Hills rise to the South of Edinburgh and became a regional park in 1986. Approximately 35 sq miles in size the park is used as farmland and open pasture, but also by walkers, skiers, mountain bikers and anglers for recreational purposes. There is evidence the land has been tended for several thousand years and there is archaeological proof of temporary Roman occupation after their arrival in AD79.

I was out over The Pentlands this week and took some photographs from the top of Harbour Hill.

The above pictures show the Forth Bridge (b.1890, in red), taking the main rail line north over the Forth Estuary from Edinburgh and the South to Fife, Dundee and Aberdeen and the North. Also the Forth Road Bridge (b.1964) which is a much used road bridge that substituted the ferry from South Queensferry to North Queensferry in Fife. And lastly, there is the Queensferry Crossing (b.2017) which is to open imminently. The last bridge has been built to take traffic pressure from the Forth Road Bridge.

Then I turned to get a view of Edinburgh and it was looking great against a misty slate grey sky.

As well as the tree plantation and reservoir in the foreground, you can clearly see Edinburgh Castle to the left of mid-ground and the rest of the Old Town to its right. To the far right of mid-ground, the volcanic Salisbury Crags of The Queens Park is clearly visible. Then in the distance the Forth Estuary and over to the Kingdom of Fife.

From a wider viewpoint, the City of Edinburgh.

It is easy to get out to The Pentland Hills from Edinburgh by public transport and if you get this opportunity to see Edinburgh from another angle, then give it a go.