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Get to know Greyfriars Bobby

20 November 2018

Greyfriars Bobby is one of Edinburgh's most popular tourist attractions, but how much do you really know about they city's favourite dog? Travel writer Cara Jasmine Bradley lifts the lid on one of Edinburgh's most enchanting tales...

Edinburgh is a mystical city with an impressive collection of intriguing graveyards and churches. While every Edinburgh churchyard offers something unique, there are none quite as captivating as the Greyfriars Kirkyard, which we discovered during our visit one cold autumn afternoon.

Before my trip to Edinburgh, I was shamefully ignorant to the story of Greyfriars Bobby… That was until I took one look at his magnificent statue, researched his story, and spent the majority of our stroll around the Kirkyard fiercely trying to convince myself that I wasn’t crying.

The grave that inspired Tom Riddle? Forget it! There is a more alluring tale to be told within the mysterious depths of Greyfriars, and although I am a huge fan of all things Harry Potter, I actually found myself yearning to delve deeper into Bobby’s story more than any other.

Bobby, born in 1856, was a Skye Terrier who spent over 14 years guarding the grave of his beloved owner. While there are various versions of events, the most popular and traditional story portrays a heartbreaking recital of Bobby’s life.

John Gray and Bobby began their journey together when Bobby was just a puppy. John – a dedicated nightwatchman for the Edinburgh City Police Force – carried out his duties with his trusty companion night after night. Over the course of two years, the pair developed an unbreakable bond.

After John’s untimely death in 1858 (due to tuberculosis), Bobby refused to leave John’s grave until the day he died himself.

Despite constant coaxing from locals and visitors alike, Bobby braced himself against torrential rainfalls, bitter winters and blisteringly hot summers to stay by his owner’s resting place.

The rumours about this little dog began to spread far and wide, and Bobby soon had quite the fan base. People would travel from across the country and beyond to catch a glimpse of this remarkable legend that was still very much unfolding.

In 1867, Lord Provost of Edinburgh presented Bobby – who had become quite the extraordinary local mascot - with his very own collar. This gesture signified that Bobby was a licensed dog, meaning that he was protected against the new law that had recently been enforced, which stated that all unlicensed dogs would be destroyed.

A makeshift shelter was constructed within the Kirkyard for Bobby to rest in, all the while still remaining firmly by his master’s side.

Bobby passed away in January 1872, aged 16 years old, and as a final token to his loyalty, was buried close to John Gray’s grave.

I felt humbled to have shared Bobby’s touching story, all the while sat in the very place he would have resided all those years ago.

We stumbled across the statue of Bum the Dog as we made our way back through the Princes Street Gardens. Bum, a three-legged Saint Bernard cross, was San Diego’s version of Greyfriars Bobby, and the pair have been compared fondly over the years. Poignant due to Edinburgh and San Diego being ‘twinned’ as cities in 1977, the tale of Bum the dog was well received across the Atlantic. Unlike Bobby, Bum was a stray, who lost his leg during an accident on a train track, which saw his canine companion killed.

Bum the dog was cherished by the local townsfolk. As Bobby had in Edinburgh, Bum became a bit of a celebrity on the streets of San Diego. Bobby actually has his very own statue in San Diego, too!

Where to pay tribute to Bobby in Edinburgh

1.Greyfriars Kirkyard

This is the obvious place to begin when embarking upon a Greyfriars Bobby montage of memories. Bobby’s grave can be found immediately inside the gate of the Kirkyard. Bobby was buried close to his much-loved John, ensuring that the pair’s astonishing bond will never be broken.

It is not uncommon for doting visitors to leave sticks, dog toys and flowers on Bobby’s grave.

The engraving on Bobby’s headstone reads: “Greyfriars Bobby – died 14th January 1872 – aged 16 years – Let his loyalty and devotion be a lesson to us all.”

2. Greyfriars Bobby statue

Located just in front of the entrance to the Greyfriars Kirk, this monument pays tribute to Bobby in the form of an adorable life-like statue. My advice would be to plan your visit around peak-times, as hundreds of fans flock to this very spot every day to pay their respects. We actually had to cross the road when we walked past, as there were people spilling off the pavements, all eager to get a closer look at their hero.

3. The Museum of Edinburgh

The Museum of Edinburgh is a deliciously quirky building, which can be found on Canongate. Here, you can actually view the collar given to Bobby by Lord Provost in 1867.

4. Greyfriars Bobby’s Bar

With such a strain on your emotional wellbeing bound to take its toll, why not round off your Greyfrairs Bobby tour with a stop at this Bobby-inspired establishment? Situated behind Bobby’s Statue on the strikingly historic Candlemaker’s Row, this bar is open seven days a week, and serves a variation of dishes from its main and specialty menus. Why not really embrace Bobby’s homeland with a traditional ‘haggis, neeps and tatties’ starter?

5. Romanes & Paterson

Fancy your own slice of the Bobby story to take away with you? Then pop into Romanes & Paterson on Princes Street, which is proud to sell an assortment of Bobby merchandise, from sweet little figurines, to the novel adaption of Bobby’s journey.

6. Princes Street Gardens

If you would like to see Bobby’s American buddy, then head into West Princes Street Gardens where the statute of Bum the dog can be found. Bum is located in a quiet spot by the entrance on King Stable’s Road.

Cara Jasmine Bradley is a 25 year old creative writer from Manchester, who combines her love of travelling with her passion for writing. As well as travel articles, Cara is also particularly keen on writing children’s fiction.