The writing's on the wall (and the floor)

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

If you know anything about Edinburgh, you know it has literature in its soul. What you may not know is that it also has literature in its masonry.

Here are three places in Edinburgh where words have leapt off the page and into the world, listed in ascending order of obscurity.

1. Canongate Wall

The charlatans and dreamers responsible for the creation of the Scottish Parliament got many things wrong, but some things they got so right. Edwin Morgan's poem is one; Canongate Wall is another. On a long, sloping, slightly awkward wall at the foot of the Royal Mile are engraved twenty-six quotations by Scottish writers on twenty-six varieties of Scottish stone. The chosen words range from the political to the spiritual and the sublime to the ridiculous. The following observation from Charles Rennie Mackintosh seems apt for me:

There is hope in honest error;
None in the icy perfections of the mere stylist.


Canongate Wall, Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh, EH99 1SP. More details here.

2. Makars' Court

I stumbled into Makars' Court when taking a shortcut through one of Edinburgh's countless closes, no doubt running late for something or someone. (For non-Scots, a close is a narrow alley between old tenements - the "s" in close is pronounced like the "s" in toast. A makar is like a Scottish poet laureate and is not, in fact, a type of parrot.)

This particular close, I discovered, is home to the Writers' Museum, which contains so many words that they've started to spill out onto the pavement. Everywhere you step, there's a snippet from a Scottish author under your feet. All pavements should be like this.

Makars' Court, Lady Stair's Close, Edinburgh, EH1 2PA. More details here.

3. A random office building

An area near where I work was under construction for what felt like five years. Probably because it was five years. When the brand new office building finally opened, a gleaming behemoth of thinly-covered concrete and glass, it looked, well, pretty much exactly like every other office building in Edinburgh.

Until I happened to cut through the alley that separates the two halves of the development (another day, another shortcut, welcome to my life) and was drawn up short by the engraving running the length of the sandstone wall. It depicts a simple line drawing of the Edinburgh skyline, together with the most ego-stroking description of Edinburgh in history, courtesy of Alexander McCall Smith:

This is a city of shifting light, of changing skies, of sudden vistas. A city so beautiful it breaks the heart again and again.

Well, Sandy, I don't know about that, but we certainly know how to jazz up a piece of stone.

Atria, 144-148 Morrison Street, Edinburgh, EH3 8EE. No more details. Soz.


Images: 1. By me 2. Via the Scottish Parliament 3. Chris Scott via Krakow City of Literature 4. Atria Edinburgh

6 boats moored

  1. The third one is the extension to the Conference Centre. I've walked past there so many times and was recently in the offices opposite it - nice view of the pool on the roof ;)

    1. You were very possibly in my office! Our client suite overlooks the pool. It is *extremely* distracting.

  2. I love it! What an unusual way to share words. I'll put it on my list of things to see when I visit Edinburgh.

  3. I love the canongate wall and admire it whenever I walk past. Even my hubby who detests the parliament building admits it's nice

  4. I am very much looking forward to seeing these all soon.


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