Literary Edinburgh – McCall Smith – Friends, Lovers, Chocolate

One thing which I love to do on holiday is to read books about where we are visiting.  Not guidebooks, but fiction set in a particular city or county.  Think EM Forster’s “Room with a View” when visiting Florence, or Patrick Gale’s “Notes from an Exhibition” when in Cornwall, and you’ll understand what I mean.

Fortunately for those wishing to visit Edinburgh, there is a wide range of different types of fiction available to choose from – historical tales from Sir Walter Scott to the gritty crime fiction of Ian Rankin, and so much in between.  We’ve even had visitors to Craigwell Cottage heading straight to the Elephant House café on arrival, just so that they can soak up the atmosphere which helped JK Rowling to pen the early drafts of her Harry Potter series.

Elephant House Edinburgh

Big Harry Potter fans!

One author I’m really enjoying reading at present is Alexander McCall Smith.  I’ve worked my way through most of the 44 Scotland Street series and listened to the podcasts of the Dog Who Came in From the Cold, but the reading I’m doing over this winter holiday season is of the Sunday Philosophy Club series, featuring the moral philosopher, Isabel Dalhousie.

I was completely hooked as I started to read the second of the series, “Friends, Lovers, Chocolate“. Not only had the title captured my imagination, but the opening chapter is set as a mysterious character walks down the Royal Mile towards Canongate Kirk, where he means to visit the grave of Robert Fergusson, the young poet who inspired Robert Burns.

Statue of Robert Fergusson at Canongate Kirk

Robert Fergusson wintry statue Canongate Kirk

I fear Mr Burns would not be happy if he were to see the statue of his inspiration being treated with such lack of respect.

However, there are others who continue to revere the poet, including the mystery man of McCall Smith’s opening chapter.  In the graveyard of Canongate Kirk, you can visit the grave of Robert Fergusson.  Robert Burns paid for his gravestone to be erected, and wrote the lines of its inscription:

This simple stone directs Pale Scotia’s way

To pour her sorrows o’er her poet’s dust.

I hope that if you’re planning a trip to Edinburgh, you’ll consider adding some of the Sunday Philosophy Club series to your reading list, and I for one can’t think of a better way to spend some of my leisure time in Edinburgh, sipping hot chocolate in one of the cafés featured in the series, and walking the streets along with the characters of the book.

ScotlandHour – this is one of a series of features for ScotlandHour in January 2013 where the theme is “Burns, Creative Scotland, Arts and Culture”.  If you’re thinking of visiting Scotland, or want help in planning your visit here, then join us on Twitter for a monthly chat about Scotland – just search for the tag #ScotlandHour to join in.  Many tourism businesses and fans of visiting Scotland join in the chat on the last Wednesday of each month, from 9-10 pm (UK Time) on Twitter.  To find out about the full schedule for ScotlandHour 2013, visit my social media for tourism article.

Things to do when it rains in Edinburgh

We’ve come up with a list of some ideas for a rainy day in Edinburgh, focusing on activities within an easy walk of Craigwell Cottage. So grab a brolly and head out to enjoy these delights.  There’s so much going on in the Canongate area, that you could probably spend most of your time within 1/2 mile of the cottage!

Visit the Museum of Edinburgh


Until 2012 you could be forgiven for having walked past the Museum of Edinburgh without noticing it was there, but with its new paint colours, you certainly won’t miss it! A recent article in the local Evening News explains more about the paint colours, and the treasures within.

How to get there from Craigwell Cottage: Walk up Campbell’s Close to the Royal Mile, and turn right (uphill). Cross at the pedestrian crossing nearby and then walk up the left-hand side of the Canongate section of the Royal Mile until you see The Museum of Edinburgh.

Visit Dynamic Earth

One of the popular activities for visitors to Edinburgh is to climb Arthur’s Seat. From our living room window at Craigwell Cottage you’ll be able to glimpse views of people taking the high route along the top of Salisbury Crags, from which you can see (on a good day) views over the city to the Castle and the River Forth. But if it’s raining, you have the opportunity to find out more about the geological past of Scotland at the fabulous Dynamic Earth while you wait for better weather for your climb.  You can also find out more about local resident James Hutton, the father of modern geology.  He proposed that the earth was much older than originally thought.


We’d recommend: taking your time on the approach to the building as the very stones on the approach paths are examples of the different ways our land was formed. Also, make sure you don’t rush in to the Time Machine too quickly – some of the most interesting exhibits and facts are in the first room and it’s easy to miss them if you have younger children in tow, who are desperate to take the trip back in time.

How to get there: Walk up Campbell’s Close to the Canongate section of the Royal Mile, cross over at the pedestrian crossing and then turn left into Bull’s Close. Walk down to Holyrood Road, then turn left and you will see Dynamic Earth ahead of you.

Visit the Scottish Parliament

Whether your interest is architectural or constitutional, or even poetical, a visit to the Scottish Parliament should be on your itinerary for a trip to Edinburgh whatever the weather. Some of our guests have arrived at Craigwell Cottage all set with a plan to visit while debates are in progress.

If you want to do this, it will be important to time your visit for dates when the Scottish Parliament is in session. You’ll find all the information you need on the visit and learn section of the Scottish Parliament’s website.

We’d recommend: taking a look at the poetry wall for some wonderful words about Scotland and Parliament. You’ll find it on the side of the Scottish Parliament which borders the Canongate section of the Royal Mile.

How to get there: we like the view of the Parliament set in the surrounding city scape which you get when you approach from Abbeyhill, so from Nether Craigwell turn left down Calton Road, keeping to the narrow pavement to the left of the road, then cross Calton Road just beyond Robertson’s Close at the end of the road where you will see the Palace of Holyroodhouse to the left, Salisbury Crags in the centre and the Scottish Parliament to your left. Just like this:


Visit the Palace of Holyroodhouse and The Queen’s Gallery

As you’ve seen from the photograph above, we’re only a short distance from The Palace of Holyroodhouse and The Queen’s Gallery.

The Palace of Holyroodhouse is the residence of the Royal Family when they are in Scotland, and the gardens of the Palace provide the venue for the garden parties when the Queen and other members of the Royal Family present awards to Scots to recognise their achievements. For those interested in the story of Mary Queen of Scots, the Palace of Holyroodhouse is an essential visit when in Edinburgh.


The Queen’s Gallery is a modern addition, providing a space in which to display selections from the wide-ranging collections owned by the Royal Family. Exhibitions change twice a year, so you should check the website for details of which exhibition will be on when you’re visiting.

If there’s a break in the rain (and let’s hope so), then we’d recommend a visit to the beautiful gardens surrounding the Palace.

How to get there from Craigwell Cottage: it’s just opposite the Scottish Parliament, so follow the directions above.

Visit the Scottish Poetry Library

One of only three specialist poetry libraries in the UK, and the only one housed in its own purpose-built building, the Scottish Poetry Library can be found in Crichton’s Close.  It’s a warm and bright space to visit, and you can consult over 45,000 volumes as well as seeing the mysterious book sculptures or visiting one of their special exhibitions.  It was designed by Malcolm Fraser Architects, and is an interesting building architecturally as well as poetically!

Scottish Poetry Library

How to get there from Craigwell Cottage: head to the Royal Mile via Campbell’s Close, turn right and cross the Canongate at the pedestrian crossing at the Royal Mile Primary School.  Keeping to the left hand side of the road, find Crichton’s Close by turning left at Starbuck’s.

Go shopping in the Canongate, Royal Mile

We could send you off to an indoor shopping mall, such as Princes Mall or the St James Centre, both of which are just a short welly walk away on even the rainiest day, but if you’re armed with an umbrella, we’re sure you won’t mind dodging the puddles for a browse in some of the quirky and unusual shops we have very close to us in the Canongate section of the Royal Mile.

Let us know if you find others which are of interest, but here are some to entice you:

Cadenheads Whisky – check their Facebook page for details of whisky tastings in local pubs.

Carson Clark Gallery (now in St Mary’s Street)

Ye Olde Christmas Shop – where it’s Christmas all year round

Cranachan and Crowdie – for fine Scottish food and gifts

Pinnies and Poppies – artisan shortbread baker in St Mary’s Street

Ragamuffin – with branches in Edinburgh and Skye

We hope that with this small selection of things to do when it rains in Edinburgh, you’ll find plenty of reasons to grab your brolly and get out to explore the immediate surroundings when you’re staying at Craigwell Cottage. If you haven’t yet booked your stay with us, then here’s how to book a weekend break in Edinburgh.  For lots more ideas, we’ve created a Pinterest Board – CanonGREAT, Royal Mile, Edinburgh which has  a map showing all the locations.