Given that you’re reading The Student, you probably live in Edinburgh—so why would you buy a tourism book about Edinburgh? You’ve curated your own list of favourite spots in town and learned to avoid the tourist-trodden motorway of Edinburgh Castle and the godforsaken hell that is the pavement outside the Elephant Café during lunch hours.
But that’s exactly why you should buy this book. 111 Places in Edinburgh That You Shouldn’t Miss is a travel guide for locals who think that there is nothing left for them to discover. Gillian Tait draws out the history and art nestled between every brick and cobblestone. Out of the 111, here are ten picks that highlight some of the lesser known oddities:
Barnton Quarry Bunker: Clermiston houses this Cold War bunker, which was built by the government in the 50s in case of nuclear war. Today it looks like something from a dystopian future rather than the fearful past.
Dovecot Studios: On a Friday afternoon this art studio allows viewing access to a team of weavers working in the back room that used to be a swimming pool. These artists produce beautiful and intricate tapestries and carpets.
Dr. Neil’s Garden: Becoming increasingly well known, this hidden garden on Duddingston Loch is a pleasant stroll away from Old Town and beautiful in the spring and summer.
Dundas House Banking Hall: Yes, apparently visitors are allowed in that formidable building in St Andrew Square and can gaze upon its gorgeous ceiling.
Lauriston Castle: About five miles from the city centre towards Cramond, this Medieval watchtower-turned-country-estate is well worth a bus trip. There are engaging guided tours that take you through centuries of history, along with an Edwardian family’s collection of art, furniture, and knick-knacks.
The Meadows Sundial: Tait uses the sundial as a focal point to introduce the history of the Meadows. The park used to be a reservoir for the city, and later was the site of the 1886 International Exhibition of Industry, Science, and Arts, which the sundial commemorates.
Mr. Wood’s Fossils: The fossil store in the Grassmarket was founded by a talented amateur palaeontologist and geologist who shook the academic world with his findings. Though Mr. Wood passed away in 2012, the shop is now run by his former assistant.
The Prestoungrange Gothenberg: This pub in Prestonpans was built in 1908 to mimic a project in the Swedish city of Gothenberg, which combated the excessive consumption of alcohol by redirecting a portion of pub profits to support other recreational activities. 95 per cent of the Prestoungrange Gothenberg’s profits still go towards art and history projects.
Springvalley Gardens Lane: In Morningside you can find the abandoned project of a local business owner who transformed the façades of a row of shops to look like the Wild West in the 90s.
The Witches’ Fountain: This Art Nouveau relief on Castlehill commemorates the thousands of people tried, and often put to death for witchcraft in Scotland in the seventeenth century.
It might at first seem like this book has an inconsistent idea of its audience: too general for a local and too specific for a tourist. For every strange find there is an almost painfully obvious one, for example Old College, and yes, the Elephant Café makes an appearance. One might wonder what kind of reader would both need to be informed of the landmarks that dominate the city and spend the time taking an hour-long bus ride to some of the more obscure places.
However, the descriptions of even the most obvious sites contain pieces of thoroughly interesting and lesser-known information. Even people who walk by them every day might be surprised to learn that Princes Street Gardens used to be a man-made loch and the Mound was built as a bridge over it to connect Old Town and New Town. This book can be an invaluable guide for locals who want to rediscover the city they thought they knew.
111 Places in Edinburgh That You Shouldn’t Miss is a fun and informative guide for anyone who wants to show visiting friends and family around like a proper tour guide, or just appreciate Edinburgh in a new way.
111 Places in Edinburgh That You Shouldn’t Miss by Gillian Tait (Emons Publishers, 2016)
Photo credit: Blythe Lewis