“There really aren’t any plaques around for these things. If you were gonna put a plaque up everywhere in Edinburgh Rabbie Burns got drunk you’d need five thousand of them, and there ain’t anyone’s got that kinda money.”

On Saturday I went with a group of students from my residence on a literary pub crawl around Edinburgh. The tour was led by Allan Foster, the author of The Literary Traveller in Edinburgh and The Literary Traveller in Scotland. He greeted us on the Royal Mile, then took us to a tiny pub called The Royal Oak often frequented by Ian Rankin, author the hugely popular Inspector Rebus novels. If this little pub had been completely empty when we got there we still probably wouldn’t have all fit in.

The locals responded with slightly hostile bewilderment when thirty students came to loiter in the doorway and take turns to shuffle to the bar to buy a pint. “What? Did you all just get off a bus or somthin’?”

Pub tour.

First stop after The Royal Oak was the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, where Arthur Conan Doyle studied with Doctor Bell, the inspiration for Sherlock Holmes. Right behind that is a building where Charles Darwin studied, which is right next to the private medical school where Burke and Hare sold the bodies of their victims for dissection (the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s short story The Body Snatchers), the same building that Stevenson visited to see a friend recovering from a leg amputation. A man who became the inspiration for Long John Silver, probably the world’s most famous fictional pirate.

Then we headed over to a pub called The Maltings, previously frequented by a Scots language poetry collective. Inside we found Ian Rankin. Unsurprisingly Rankin didn’t introduce himself to our gaggle of literary tourists, but stayed hunched over the bar with two wizened looking men who looked like they could have easily been the inspiration for the cranky, drunken detectives from his books. He didn’t participate in the Hens’ night karaoke either.

We then ambled through George Square, the heart of the University of Edinburgh’s main campus, where Sir Walter Scott lived and Alexander McCall Smith was first published. We heard stories about J.K. Rowling, J.M. Barrie and the world’s favourite bad poet William McGonagall.

The tour was great fun. I really couldn’t be studying English Literature any place better than Edinburgh.

Advertisements