7 HIDDEN SECRETS OF THE ROYAL MILE IN EDINBURGH SCOTLAND
Stretching from the Palace of Holyroodhouse all the way to the majestic Edinburgh Castle, the Royal Mile is one of the city’s best known streets. Covering just over a mile, the Royal Mile is overlooked by historic, towering tenements, between which winding closes and secret stairways intertwine to create a secret world bursting with historic significance. From festivals to secret gardens, the Royal Mile has it all – and I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that it’s a must see for anyone visiting Scotland’s capital city.
Though we are moving shortly, we’ve been lucky enough to live in an apartment on the Royal Mile for the past six months. Living right in the centre of tourist mania (there are tour groups outside my window at least twice a day!) isn’t necessarily where I would choose to live long term, but it’s been so fun to live here while we’ve looked for a more permanent place in a different neighbourhood. As 4 of the 6 months we’ve lived here have been spent in lockdown, going for walks has basically become my hobby. And as such, I have walked along the Royal Mile a lot. Like a lot a lot. So today I thought I’d share a few secrets of the Royal Mile, from a girl who swears she’s been down every staircase and close* this street has to offer.
*A ‘close’ is basically a narrow alley between buildings leading to another street or courtyard. The Royal Mile is filled with them!
Curious to learn 7 secrets of the Royal Mile? Keep scrolling!
1. Chessel’s Court
While Chessel’s Court is a popular photo spot for instagrammers, there’s more to this heart backdrop than meets the eye. Local folklore suggests that Robert Louis Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde was partly inspired by the wicked acts committed by William Brodie against Adam Pearson, Secretary of Excise For Scotland, and former Chessels Court residents. It has been suggested that Stevenson was partly inspired by William Brodie, a distinguished Edinburgh citizen who led a secret criminal double life and met his demise in Chessel’s Court.
Brodie was deacon of the Incorporation of Wrights and Masons, member of the Town Council, and a skilled cabinet-maker. He socialised with the aristocrats of Edinburgh, and met Robert Ferguson and Robert Burns. However, he had a secret night-time occupation as the leader of a gang of burglars. This was necessary to support his extravagant lifestyle which included two mistresses, illegitimate children, and a gambling habit.
Brodie’s final crime was an armed raid on the Excise Office, then located in Chessel’s Court. It went catastrophically wrong and although Brodie got away he was later captured, brought to trial and hanged in 1788.
2. Dunbar’s Close
I have lived on the Royal Mile for over six months, but felt like Mary Lennox when I stumbled upon this 17th-century-style secret garden. Created in the 1970’s by Seamus Filor, the landscape architect wanted pay homage to Patrick Geddes, a 19th-century Scotsman specialising in science, philanthropy, and city planning. It was Geddes who dreamed of an Old Town revitalised by what he referred to as “pocket gardens.” This stunning garden is one of my favourites, and the perfect place to rest and enjoy nature in the midst of the hustle and bustle that can make up the Royal Mile.
3. Lady Stair’s Close
Originally built in 1622 and bought by Lady Stair in 1719, this close is home to the Writer’s Museum, a museum dedicated to the work of three of Scotland’s most prolific writers, Robert Burns, Robert Louis Stevenson and Sir Walter Scott. Unless you’re using google maps, this close is tucked away and can be difficult to find. Look out near the castle for the man with the owls. He is often posted at the entrance to this close on the weekends with his birds, and loves boasting that Vanessa Hudgens has held his falcon twice.
4. Gladstone’s Land
As you’re leaving Lady Stair’s Close, keep an eye out for one of Edinburgh’s oldest buildings. Marked by a golden eagle, this building is a prime example of an Old Town tenement. It was purchased by Thomas Gledstanes, a wealthy local cloth merchant, who extended it in 1620. Different parts of this six storey building were rented to people from different social classes of the time. Having been condemned by the city authorities, the building was saved from demolition in 1934 and following restoration can now be visited as a National Trust property.
5. Wardrop’s Court
It’s only fitting that a country represented by unicorns would have a myriad of other hidden mythical creatures throughout the capital city. Wardrop’s Court is home to two sets of these creatures in the form of ornate blue dragons. The two ferocious beasts facing the Royal Mile are the work of J.S. Gibson, handcrafted during the latter part of the 19th-century. The two at the back facing the opening to Lady Stair’s Close, are the work of Arthur Geddes.
The four beautiful dragons were restored to their former glory in 2012 by various groups, including, the City of Edinburgh Council, Edinburgh World Heritage, Brownie Old Town Trust, and the Geddes family.
6. John Knox’s burial site
Known as Scotland’s greatest Protestant Reformer of the 16th century, John Knox was a Scottish minister, theologian, and writer who was a leader of the country’s Reformation. So it may come as a surprise to know that his burial site is in a ….. parking lot??
Parliament Square, near St Giles’ Cathedral on the Royal Mile, was originally an adjacent burial ground, running down the slope of the hill to the south of the city. In the seventeenth-century, plans were made to reclaim the graveyard space and develop it as prime real estate. The bodies that had been buried were exhumed and transported to the nearby Greyfriars kirkyard, and a new parliament hall was built on the site beside the cathedral.
However, one burial marker remains in the parking lot of Parliament Square today. Under parking space number 23 is a stone marking the final resting place of John Knox. Unfortunately, the stone not so clear as to whether Knox is still buried there – differing versions of the city history can’t agree on whether his corpse was exhumed, along with the rest of the burials, or whether Knox was considered the one figure important enough to leave ‘at rest’ when the graveyard was cleared. Either way, I’m not sure I would want to be the one to use that parking spot!
7. The World’s End
World’s End Pub and World’s End Close mark, you guessed it – the world’s end. Following the Battle of Flodden and Scotland’s defeat by the English in the sixteenth century, Edinburgh sought to protect itself with thick city walls. The gates to the City, which formed part of the wall, were situated outside the pub and the brass cobbles in the road outside represent their exact location. As far as the people of Edinburgh were concerned, the world outside these gates was a dangerous place filled with murderers and thieves, hence the name, The World’s End.