Edinburgh ranks high on my list of favourite Scots spots. It’s the Capital – and also Ian Rankin’s town. The award-winning Scottish crime writer created the Inspector John Rebus character, beloved by millions including yours truly, almost 3 decades ago – and Rebus is back, after a brief retirement! Read Rankin’s books and you will feel right at home in Edinburgh – albeit on your guard… Years ago, I spent like 5 days here to explore Rankin’s locations. I hiked up Arthur’s Seat and walked the Water of Leith all the way to the coast, rehydrating in pubs like The Ox and the Royal Oak. But it’s easier these days: enter Mr. Colin Brown and his Rebustours! Keep reading…
Before meeting Colin though, I did a “regular” tourist walking tour. I only had half a day, way too short of course but it’s all I had before an early flight out. I wanted to maximize my time and show that even a short stay can be an experience not to be missed. So, a-walking I went.
I arrived at Edinburgh Waverley Station: the only Railway Station in the world named after a novel. I walked up to Old Town through Fleshmarket Close (title of a Rebus book) – and I do mean “up”: these are some serious stairs! Dropped my backpack at the hotel right off the Royal Mile and back out I went. First up: get tickets for The Real Mary King’s Close tour. Wise to do this as early as you can, as they book out. They were able to squeeze me in for the 8pm slot. Ticket in my pocket, I went across the street to St. Giles Cathedral then on to the Castle, enjoying the views over town, Princes Street Gardens and the Scott Monument, which I think looks like a Gothic space rocket. Pretty day, partly cloudy, windy, brisk yet pleasant.
Via lively Grassmarket, with an actual market going on, I peeked in the Edinburgh Kilt Maker Shop. Then walked by several lodgings I’ve recommended and booked clients at, such as the Apex City, Apex Grassmarket, the charming old Hotel du Vin & Bistro, Fraser Suites, the luxurious Scotsman, the fabulous G&V and more, all in Old Town, my preferred locale. I strolled into Greyfriars Kirkyard, busy with walking tour groups from all over the planet even on this blustery February day. And, of course, I had to observe a moment at the statue of Greyfriars Bobby, the little dog of the late 1800s who pined away for 14 years at his master’s grave. The statue is black but his nose is all golden-shiny. Why? Stay tuned…
By now, it was time to head to the pub for the Main Event: Colin Brown of Rebustours. We met at the Royal Oak pub, a “Rebus spot” on Infirmary Street, corner with South Bridge, where Colin starts his Rebus tours. We talked Edinburgh, sightseeing, Scots and even Roman history, while enjoying a nice pint and the (daily) live music.
Actor, historian and Rebus expert, Colin is the only personally Ian Rankin-approved Guide to show visitors Rebus’s Edinburgh. He runs several other tours as well, mainly for small groups, with a variety of themes or even customized. Rebus tours run every Saturday at noon, no minimum size. If you want to book it, contact Colin in advance, via his website www.rebustours.com and he’s also on Facebook.
Colin is Edinburgh- born and raised and a fountain of local knowledge. When I mentioned Greyfriars Bobby’s nose, he explained that the dog’s nose is so shiny because people rub it for good luck! With recent maintenance, it was painted black again, causing a public outcry and the paint was hastily removed … Colin has many stories like this and whether you’re a Rebus fan or have a small group and are looking for a special personalized walking experience, keep Colin in mind. Or: just tell us what you want and we’ll coordinate it for you!
After the Royal Oak I did a second walkabout. From South Bridge then North Bridge, crossing above Waverley’s busy train tracks into “New Town”. How “new” is New Town? The first buildings here date from the 1700s! It’s all relative, like the “New Forest” on England’s south coast: created in the year 1086… Take a right on Princes Street and soon you’ll see Calton Hill on your left: walk up to see the National Monument, the Nelson Monument and the Dugald Stewart, featured as a foreground in many a shot over town. It was dusk when I started and dark by the time I had walked up and around. Pretty views over the Firth of Forth and Edinburgh at night, with the Castle nicely lit up. Oddly, the Scott Monument, so dominant in the daytime, was not lit.
Then back down to Old Town, for a tasty Indian dinner and my Real Mary King’s Close tour. The tour guide was a young man “in character”, playing a wealthy merchant from the 1600s who took us underground. He told us all about the history of the location, the Closes, the life and times of Mary King and others who lived there. It was fascinating to hear about the challenges they faced, from overcrowding, pestilence and lack of sewage to overcoming those challenges by inventing new ways to build, indoor plumbing, and rapid developments in medical knowledge improving health. Quite a story, and an hour well spent.
Walking back to my hotel, I felt quite satisfied about my brief yet action-packed stay. Woke up very early, walked down to Waverley Bridge and caught the 24/7 super-efficient Airport Express Bus 100: even at 5:30am it goes every 10 minutes and: was actually full of people! In 30 minutes and for a mere 4 pounds 50, it delivers you to the surprisingly small Edinburgh Airport.
Small as the Airport may be, I do recommend getting there early. You never know. My Aer Lingus check-in line for Dublin was short but next over at the Etihad counter, a couple hundred people were queuing up, making for long lines at Security. Note that for flights to the USA, Edinburgh does not have a USA Pre-Clearance setup yet like Dublin has, at the time of this writing (February 2016). There is talk it may come in the near future though. And, final tip: after Security, you’ll find plenty of shopping and several restaurants and bars. Since I was so early, I enjoyed one more Full Scottish breakfast, complete with a final dose of… haggis!