From the tale of a little dog standing by his master's grave, to the cafe where a boy wizard was conjured into existence, from the largest monument to a writer in the world to the streets walked by a legendary teacher in her prime, Edinburgh has been a capital of the written word for centuries.
The city has also been home to some of the world's most significant thinkers, philosphers and publishers, and what better way to immerse yourself in Auld Reekie's ties to Books, Words and Ideas than by visiting the objects that tell the story themselves? Read on for a whistle-stop tour round some of Edinburgh's most historically significant objects.
South Bridge/Chambers Street
Begin your tour near the intersection where South Bridge and Chambers Street meet to get a view of Object 32 - The Golden Boy (binoculars optional but advised!) standing atop the dome of Old College. The 6ft statue was based on legendary Edinburgh boxer Anthony Hall, known for his impressive physique.
The statue of the golden boy holds his Torch of Knowledge high, a monument to Edinburgh's status as a city of learning and its long-respected tradition of academic excellence.
Continuing up Chambers Street until you reach the National Museum of Scotland on the left-hand side of the street will give you an oportunity to pop in (it's free!) and see Object 37 - a working scale model of the printing press used for two centuries to produce the Edinburgh-based Scotsman newspaper.
The model itself is a third of the size of the real thing; by creating scale-models of such machinery, the museum was able to exhibit the machinery powering industry and empire on its opening in 1866.
George IV Bridge
Opposite where Chambers Street meets George IV Bridge is the statue of a famous little dog - Greyfriars Bobby, otherwise known as Object 101. The statue of Bobby - and the story behind the faithful wee Skye Terrier - was chosen in a public vote as the final object in the Edinburgh's 101 Objects list, demonstrating how important he has come to be in Edinburgh's history.
You can find the real Bobby's collar in The Museum of Edinburgh, while the nearby Greyfriars Kirk graveyard also contains another Edinburgh literary reference - the grave of a certain Thomas Riddell, the inspiration for JK Rowling's You-Know-Who...
Time for a pub stop at Sandy Bell's at 25 Forrest Road to see Object 40 - a papier mâché bust of Hamish Henderson, sculpted from the pages of his books (with bottle Lagavulin) by Jan Miller. Hamish, a Scottish poet, collector of folk music, and a catalyst of the Scottish folk revival died in 2002 after having brought some of Scotland's finest folk music talent to Sandy Bell's over the years.
Walk from Sandy Bell's to the National Library of Scotland, home to Object 39 - a first edition copy of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark. 2018 marks the centenary of the birth of Muriel Spark - visit the exhibition at the National Library of Scotland. In the Makars’ Court, beside the Writers’ Museum, there is a flagstone commemorating her work.
Where George IV Bridge meets the Royal Mile you'll find Object 33 - a statue of rationalist thinker and philosopher David Hume (1711-1776). It’s only been there since 1995 but already a superstitious tradition has taken hold - one that it is arguably doubtful that Hume would have approved. You'll quickly notice that Hume's toe is shiny as a result of the multitudes giving it a rub for good luck.
The New Town
Continuing across the Royal Mile, down the Mound and into Princes Street Gardens, you'll find the unmissable Scott Monument piercing the sky. This, the largest monument to a writer in the world, is Object 35 and a dramatic sign of the value Edinburgh assigns to the written word. Sir Walter Scott's Edinburgh townhouse is located on North Castle Street, and he was important in rediscovering the Scottish Crown Jewels (Object 71). Buy a ticket for £5 and you can climb the Scott Monument for breathtaking views of the city.
Located around 149 Rose Street, Object 42 is a steel cut illustration by Astrid Jaekel of George MacKay Brown’s poem Beachcomber. The ornamented words to George MacKay Brown’s poem adorn the seven arched windows of the former telephone exchange at the west end of Rose Street - an arch for each day of the Beachcomber’s week.
If you still have some energy left, and don't mind walking a little further, read on below to complete your journey through Edinburgh's literary objects...
Object 41 is one of Edinburgh's many mysteries, but also one of its most endearing at that. Beginning in 2011, a series of miniature sculptures crafted from the leaves of books were found by librarians in the Scottish Poetry Library. To this day the identity of the talented sculptor has remained unkown.
Object 38 is Wilfred Owen’s personal copy of ‘The Old Huntsman’ by Siegfried Sassoon (1886 – 1967) signed on the flyleaf to mark ownership. Wilfred Owen (1893 –1918) was being treated for shell shock at Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh when he heard the author of this prized collection had been sent there too - during their stay in Edinburgh, the two became friends and encouraged each other in their writing.
Located at 8 Regent Road and with a fine view of the Old Town is Object 34 - the Burns Monument built in 1830. Although he lived in the city for only two years, Burns was alreayd becoming well known, and his impact on the city and Scotland as a whole was already apparent.