The Tale of Greyfriars Bobby

05 May 2022

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, 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, the 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.

Bobby passed away in January 1872, aged 16 years old, and as a final token to his loyalty, was buried close to his master in the kirkyard.  

A granite fountain with a statue of Bobby can be found opposite Greyfriars Kirkyard – a permanent memorial to this faithful pup.

Where to pay tribute to Bobby in Edinburgh

1. Greyfriars Kirkyard

Grey Friars Graveyard With Tourist

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 Greyfriars Kirkyard. He 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

 Grey Friars 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 doggy hero.

3. The Museum of Edinburgh

Museum Of Edinburgh External (1)

Housed within the 16th century Huntly House, one of the iconic and historic buildings on the Royal Mile, The Museum of Edinburgh tells the tale of Edinburgh through the ages through a variety of fascinating exhibits.

It is here that you’ll find the collar that was given to Bobby in 1867 by the Lord Provost.

4. Greyfriars Bobby’s Bar

Exploring can be tiring work – rest weary legs and refuel at the Bobby-inspired Greyfriars Bobby’s Bar on Candlemaker Row.

Opened daily, they serve a variety of beers, wines and spirits, as well as classic pub dishes.

 

Cara Jasmine Bradley is a 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.