Each of these trails tells a different story. Using the materials provided you can use it like a self-guided tour at a museum, or like a literary treasure hunt. Edinburgh is rich in half-forgotten literary treasures. We hope that you enjoy uncovering them.
If you are in Edinburgh you can download the smartphone app and walk in the footsteps of the early writers around the city. If you are not in Edinburgh then you can explore the trails virtually using the website, from anywhere in the world.
Mary Queen of ScotsRead More
The tragic history of Mary Queen of Scots has inspired writers from Friedrich Schiller to Liz Lochhead. This trail explores Mary’s life and the events of her turbulent reign, including the Scottish Reformation, as depicted by writers of her own time.
The story begins with her arrival at Leith as a French Catholic queen in a Protestant land, celebrated by the court bard Alexander Scott. It leads up to the famous “Casket Sonnets” found at Holyroodhouse, possibly written by Mary herself, which were used as evidence of her involvement in the murder of her husband Darnley. The trail runs from Edinburgh Castle down the Royal Mile, over the shoulder of Arthur’s Seat down to the village of Duddingston, overlooking Craigmillar Castle.
The KingsRead More
From James I to James VI, many of Scotland’s ruling monarchs were also accomplished writers. But their literary influence did not end here. Scotland’s royal courts were hubs of literary activity, of European reputation and significance. This trail tells the story of court writing in Scotland. It includes writing by the sovereigns themselves, by the writers for whom they acted as patrons, and explores the literary and cultural movements they spearheaded. It also explores writings dedicated to the monarchs by the royal tutors who educated them, and the heady and sometimes dangerously political world of court writing.
The trail starts in Leith at the Royal Yacht Britannia, where the poem The Kingis Quair recalls James I of Scotland setting sail for France as a boy. It goes via Calton Hill and the National Portrait Gallery, where you can find pictures of all the Scottish kings. It is possible to finish Part I of the trail here, or carry straight on to Part II, which begins at Point 5 with the entry of Charles I into Edinburgh through the West Port, and finishes at the Mercat Cross with Montrose’s elegy for Charles’s execution.
The MakarsRead More
“The Makars” is the name given to three early Scots poets who lived during the 15th and early 16th centuries. Their names were Robert Henryson, William Dunbar, and Gavin Douglas. The word makar (maker) means “poet”. Like the Greek word “poeisis”, from which “poet” derives, it emphasises the idea that writing poetry is an intricate and highly skilled art (the poet as craftsman).
This trail explores some of the works of these three major poets, visiting locations including sites associated with their poems as well as modern sites designed to preserve and remember Edinburgh’s traditions of literary “makars”. It runs from St. Margaret’s Loch near Arthur’s Seat, through Edinburgh’s Old and New Towns, down by Dean Village and along the Water of Leith to finish in the Royal Botanic Gardens. It is possible to split the trail into two, finishing Part I at Makars’ Court in the Lawnmarket. Part II starts at Point 7 in Moray Place.
Playwrights and PlaygoingRead More
Edinburgh’s early history is more renowned for its poetry than its theatre. This is because, unlike London, Edinburgh had no public theatres until the Theatre Royal was founded in 1767. But traces of earlier theatrical events remain, from the political drama Ane Satyre of the Thrie Estaitis by Sir David Lindsay of the Mount, to the civic pageantry surrounding royal events in the city. This trail uncovers Edinburgh’s early theatrical history, including sites associated with theatrical performance, events that influenced famous dramas like Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and follows in the footsteps of one of Edinburgh’s earliest literary tourists, the London playwright Ben Jonson who walked all the way from London to Edinburgh in the summer of 1618.
This trail climbs Calton Hill, the site of one of the earliest-known court performances in Edinburgh, follows in the footsteps of Jonson through Abbeyhill and up the Royal Mile, and finishes in the graveyard of Greyfriars Kirk where the Scottish Renaissance writer and Latin dramatist George Buchanan lies buried.
Ower Hill and by Dale: The Braid BurnRead More
Edinburgh is famous as a city of seven hills, a city of green spaces where you can enter the countryside without ever leaving the town. For centuries, Scottish poets have responded vividly to the beauty of the natural landscape, to the sight of grass and hillsides, yellow gorse and purple heather, the sound of birdsong and running water in the burns. This trail goes off the beaten track into the parkland around Edinburgh’s Braid Hills before climbing Blackford Hill to look down over the Firth of Forth. The writing on this trail explores the way that early Scots poets responded to this landscape, from Drummond of Hawthornden’s sonnets on the Firth of Forth to the strange and eerie Ballad of the Twa Corbies on Corbie’s Crag.
This circular trail roughly follows the Braid Burn. It starts in the Braid Hills Valley Park, goes via Braid Road and the ancient Buck Stane, through the trees over the side of the Braid Hills and down to Liberton Brae. From here it goes up Blackford Hill, down past the Hermitage of Braid, and emerges at the start of the walk, at Comiston Road where there are excellent bus links back into the city centre.