Edinburgh Old Town Part 2

3rd June 2020

Around St Giles Cathedral.

Following on from our cross-roads in Edinburgh Part 1. where the Royal Mile splits Bank Street and George IV Bridge…

We continue down the mile and this part is called The High Street… The David Hume Statue sculpted by Sandy Stoddart and placed in situ in 1997 is a welcome addition to this part of the Royal Mile. This statue has prompted a new tradition, if you rub his toe you will be gain intelligence. I wonder if all the tourist know why they are rubbing his toe? Well, David Hume, the patron saint of all Atheists, might not approve! But Mr Stoddart believes the action will be passed down the generations. “We are seeing the birth of an ancient tradition with all this toe rubbing”. “What we are seeing is the future – they will be doing this 100 years from now” Toe rubbing could be interpreted as a vacuous tourist activity but those doing the rubbing were “taking the first step on the road to the aesthetic life”!

It is so ironic that David Hume, a man of such intelligence, should now have his toe adored!

Philosophy students have been known to touch the statue for knowledge since it went up in 1997. Some other rather interesting quotes out there are…

Chris Corry, 19, a second-year student at Edinburgh University, made sure he touched the statue before his philosophy exam. Mr Corry passed all his exams and is quoted as saying “I really didn’t work very hard so maybe touching Hume’s toe had something to do with it”.

Bob Watt, who lifted his three grandchildren to touch the toe said “I got them to climb up and rub it. When they came down, I tested them, and they were much wiser.”

Source for above quotes are from The Scotsman Newspaper.

If you ask us, we just love the statue for its art and craftmanship!

Walking on from this point the House of Edinburgh shop is locally owned and sells authentic Scottish clothing, gifts and products www.kiltane.com

Right next door is the Specialist Whisky Shop. Do not be fooled by its central location in the heart of the tourist trail, this is a serious whisky shop with one of the best collections of Scotch whisky in Edinburgh. The staff are truly knowledgeable and are on hand to help you or talk with you about what new arrivals they have in store. They ship too, so there is no excuse not to buy! www.royalmilewhiskies.com

Immediately after Royal Mile Whiskies is Marchbrae www.marchbrae.com they, and the James Pringle shop, are really excellent and offer a fantastic collection Scottish made clothing and products.

Advocates Close – go on take that picture! It is without doubt one of the best closes on the Royal Mile for three reasons! One, look down this close for a wonderful view of Princes St and the Sir Walter Scott monument (1865). Two, it is just lovely to explore this narrow close. Three, it houses one of our favourite bar and kitchens in the Old Town - The Devil’s Advocate www.devilsadvocateedinburgh.co.uk it serves fabulous food and drink including a fine whisky bar!

Back up on to the Royal Mile and if you couldn’t get a table at Devil’s Advocate (you should pre book), then there is always the next fabulous restaurant – Angels with Bagpipes (again, you should pre book)! Named after Angels playing bagpipes carved in to the beautiful wooden interior of the Thistle Chapel in St Giles Cathedral which sits opposite this restaurant. As well as the main restaurant it also has a dining room, only large enough for 4 people, that suspends above the Close and has floor to ceiling windows on either side. It gives a really unique perspective on the Close. It’s best to phone ahead and book as it’s popular. We love Angels with Bagpipes and although on a busy street, it still has an excellent menu of local Scottish produce served up by friendly staff. www.angelswithbagpipes.co.uk

St Giles Cathedral – This is the high Kirk of Edinburgh and is centred at the heart of Scotland’s capital city. St Giles was founded in 1124, and in the 16th century became the centre of the Scottish Reformation. The church is regarded as the home of World Presbyterianism. It is a beautiful church and well worth spending some time in here, there is a lot to read and look at, and the general ambience is peaceful and thought provoking. Do not miss the Thistle Chapel (1911), even if it’s just to admire the craftmanship. The tomb of Archibald Campbell, Marquess of Argyll (beheaded in 1661 a stone’s throw from the church) is striking and the Robert Burns Memorial Window (installed in 1985) is beautiful. The Cathedral’s bells were installed in 1700 and there is nothing like the sound of them ringing around this part of the Royal Mile – you get a chime every 15 minutes!

As you are looking at the iconic crown spire of St Giles from the Royal Mile you will notice the funny octagonal structure sitting on the street. This is Edinburgh’s Mercat Cross and we Edinburgh people do love this structure, which is quite funny as it is very much overshadowed by the huge cathedral it sits next to! Used for different types of Proclamations over a long period of time, it is topped with a carved unicorn, Scotland’s national animal. The plinth the unicorn sits on is thought to date to the 15th century but the Mercat Cross in its present form wasn’t built until 1866, replacing the original which was demolished in 1756.

Another new addition to the Royal Mile here is the Adam Smith Statue (1723 – 1790) a key figure of the Scottish Enlightenment along with David Hume and many more, he is a much-studied figure in the world of economics. Thanks for dividing up the workload Adam!

Another man worthy of note here is the James Braidwood statue (1800 – 1861). He founded one of the world’s first municipal fire service in the city of Edinburgh in 1824.

On the east side of St Giles is old Parliament House (1639 – 1707) and is an outstanding example of 17th century building. It is a complex of several buildings with additions in 1807 – 1810. The Signet Library within this complex of buildings offer a lovely afternoon tea and has a good lunch menu too www.thesignetlibrary.co.uk     

I must say the area around St Giles Cathedral is one of our favourite spots on the Royal Mile. It has a nice bustle and there is plenty of room here due to the space around the cathedral and the old civic square which was created in front of Parliament Hall. Here, traditionally the square enabled the gathering and viewing of the riding of Parliament, in which members of the Scottish Parliament moved by procession to and from the building. You can learn more about Edinburgh and the Royal Mile on one of our private Edinburgh tours.