Edinburgh Book Lovers’ Tour
While in Edinburgh, the World’s first UNESCO City of Literature, I knew I’d find myself walking in the footsteps of literary giants just as I had in Paris but was thrilled when I stumbled upon a walking tour that guided me through its streets in search of them.
Strolling down the Royal Mile on my way to Edinburgh Castle, just past Deakon Brodies Tavern (the possible inspiration for Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde), a sing just outside of Lady Stair’s Close caught my eye. It was advertising the Edinburgh Book Lovers’ Tour and the book nerd in me took a virtual leap of excitement. What better way to go chasing literary giants in Edinburgh than to take a tour with the author of “The Literary Traveller in Edinburgh, A Book Lover’s Guide to the World’s First City of Literature“.
Later that week I went to the Writer’s Museum to meet up with our guide, Allan Foster, and the other literary fans awaiting the start of the tour. And how fitting we meet in front of the Writers’ Museum, one of Edinburgh’s a free attractions, that showcases the lives and work of a few of Edinburgh’s literary stars, Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson and Robert Burns.
A gentleman shows up in sandals, jeans, a worn Hawaii shirt and a classic beige blazer with brown patches on the elbows that silently screamed writer. He was quiet spoken but had an air of worldly confidence that I’ve only found in those who have travelled extensively. It was Allan Foster, our guide to his Edinburgh Book Lovers’ Tour! He charmed us with his tales of adventure when he hitchhiked to India back in 1969 and somewhere near Cowgate he was already engrossed in telling tales of writers like Oscar Wilde, whose lover whilst he wrote The Picture of Dorian Gray was a priest at a church in Edinburgh. We strolled by the buildings where J.M. Barrie was inspired by a literary editor for his character Captain Cook and where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle met Dr. Joseph Bell, the inspiration for his beloved Sherlock Holmes. We wandered past Robert Louis Stevenson’s favourite pub the Hispaniola, which was also the setting for one of Doyle’s stories. Great minds think alike! And even passing the University of Edinburgh who come to realize all the brilliant minds that had graced its halls like Sir Walter Scott, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and many more.
From the classic writers of the past to the celebrated writers of the present we learned of Scottish author Ian Rankin’s favourite pubs for himself and his best known character Inspector Rebus. Learned of the cafés where J.K. Rowling wrote part of Harry Potter, both this fake ones and the out of the way one that’s the legitimate one. Want to know where it is? You’ll have to take the tour to find out!
Foster also took us by where Alexander McCall Smith’s The Ladies Detective Agency was first printed and a past a line of flats where both Sir Walter Scott and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle once lived. We learned of the ‘writers block’, the cheeky name of a row of houses where all at once J.K. Rowling, Ian Rankin and Alexander McCall Smith once lived. Imagine the creative energy that lingers!
Foster litters his tour through Edinburgh’s literary history and present with quips of his school mate, Irvine Welsh, the author of Trainspotting and talks with McCall Smith where he mentions to him, (and I’m paraphrasing) “you wrote all these books and you’re rich and I wrote all these books and I’m broke.” To where McCall responds, “I think you’re writing the wrong books.” I couldn’t help but laugh.
Allan Foster may not be a world renown author like those he speaks of on his tour but he knows where to find the brilliant authors who’ve graced Edinburgh’s streets, knows their secrets, their haunts and their inspirations. Allan Foster’s Edinburgh Book Lovers’ Tour will take your away from the crowds of tourists and into the everyday breathing heart of Edinburgh where many of our favourite books have been written.
Have you been on a literary tour? I’d love to here about it in the comments below!
I was a guest of Allan Foster’s Edinburgh Book Lovers’ Tour and as always all opinions are my own.