Edinburgh - “Auld Reekie”

Who Said What? 

Who Said What About Edinburgh, sometimes called Auld Greekie - the “Athens of the North” for its love of scholarship, and once known as Auld Reekie, for its reeking coal smoke.


Pompous the boast, and yet a truth it speaks
A ‘modern Athens,’ fit for modern Greeks.
— James Hannay, in The Edinburgh Courant, 10 November, 1860

George Street and Charlotte Street are no longer occupied by douce Edinburgh burghers trying to pretend they are ancient Roman senators. 

Only the sociologically inclined should linger around the high Castle of Edinburgh or the palace known as Holyrood House at the other end of the Royal Mile...The area has been stripped and tidied and is presided over by government custodians in uniforms like cops. It has the same atmosphere as a harlot in prison clothes. —-SCOTLAND: THE LAND AND THE PEOPLE, by Donald Cowie, 1973 by A.S. Barnes and Company, Cranbury, NJ and London: Thomas Yoseloff Ltd., London ISBN 0-498-01169-0

on Edinburgh’s MONUMENT to Sir Walter Scott

Fellow citizens, this statue seems most beautiful to the eye,
Which would cause Kings and Queens for such a one to sigh,
And make them feel envious while passing by,
In fear of not getting such a beautiful statue after they die.

— from The Burns Statue, poem by William Topaz McGonagall, considered Scotland's Worst Poet, born in 1830, in Cowgate, Edinburgh

Most of the denizens wheeze, sniffle, and exude a sort of snozzling whnoff whnoff, apparently through a hydro-phile sponge. —-Ezra Pound, quoted by Hugh McDiarmid (C.M. Grieve), as Epigraph to Edinburgh, Lady Poet, 1943

Edinburgh’s New Forth Bridge

Edinburgh’s New Forth Bridge

Scotland’s Original Zoo? John Nicoll (1590-1667) records in his Diary the first pay-per-view of exotic animals brought to Edinburgh - a camel and a baboon! At this tyme, thair wes brocht to this natioun ane heigh great best, callit ane Drummodrary, quhilk being keipit clos in the Cannongait, nane hade a sight of it without thrie pence the persone, quhilk producit much gayne to the keipar…Thair wes brocht in with it ane lytill baboun, faced lyke unto an aip. —- John Nicoll, Diary


Here we shall see much to remind us of bygone times; and as we pass the now poor-looking houses and glance at the slatternly dames and ragged, dirty children who are all about, we shall gladly go back in imagination to days when these houses were homes of lords and ladies, of scholars and divines, and when the very elite of old Scotland here made promenade. —-Picturesque Scotland; its romantic scenes and historical associations described in lay and legend, song and story, © Francis Watt 1849-1927

Who indeed, that has once seen Edinburgh, with its couchant rag-lion, but must see it again in dreams, waking or sleeping? My dear Sir, do not think I blaspheme when I tell you that your great London, as compared to Dun-Edin, ‘mine own romantic town’, is as prose compared to poetry, or as a great rumbling, rambling, heavy epic compared to a lyric, brief, bright, clear, and vital as a flash of lightning.

You have nothing like Scott’s monument, or if you had that, and all the glories of architecture assembled together, you have nothing like Arthur’s Seat, and above all you have not the Scotch national character; and it is that grand character after all which gives the land its true charm, its true greatness. 
— Charlotte Bronte, Letter to W. Smith Williams 1850

Edinburgh had no sewage system. the method of garbage disposal in the Old Town was to shout 'Gardy-loo' and throw everything out the window. Gardy-loo was a warped version of gardez l'eau (approximately French for 'watch out for the water!') - except it wasn't just water the warning referred to. Effluence, sewage, dead cats, anything you didn't want in the house came out the window...In the narrow, festering closes behind the Royal Mile raw sewage was ankle-deep in the streets and the North Loch slowly turned into a stinking, fetid sewer. Living at ground level in the back tenements was a truly harrowing experience. But, if living at ground level was wretched, living in the stinking, diseased and rat-infested underground chambers - with sewage seeping in from above - was unbearable. Yet people did bear it as there was no other place for them to go. —-THE TOWN BELOW THE GROUND: Edinburgh's Legendary Underground City by Jan-Andrew Henderson. Mainstream Publishing, Edinburgh and London, © Jan-Andrew Henderson, 1999. 

It's hard to pick out a single characteristic shared by the people of Edinburgh. In fact it's hard to say what you even call them. Edinburghians? Edinburghers? We've settled for Edinburghers. It may sound like fast food but it's easy to spell. —-Barry Gordon and Jan-Andrew Henderson in WHO WANTS TO BE AN EDINBURGHER? The Quiz Book for Edinburgh's Bright Sparks,© Black & White Publishing Ltd. Edinburgh 2004

The Grassmarket is a broad enclave down a hill nearby, and in the good old days it knew constant riots and public executions. Now all is swept clean and the stones no longer stink of blood. —-SCOTLAND: THE LAND AND THE PEOPLE, by Donald Cowie, 1973 by A.S. Barnes and Company, Cranbury, NJ and London: Thomas Yoseloff Ltd., London ISBN 0-498-01169-0

Edinburgh is a rancid stew of lawyers, bankers, politicos, journalists, arty types, friends of the English, educationalists, soft bastards and priests, lost in a private world of intrigue and futile self-advancement. —-FAINTHEART: An Englishman Ventures North of the Border by Charles Jennings, Abacus, Time Warner Books U.K., www.TimeWarnerBooks.co.uk; © 2001 by Charles Jennings ISBN 0349114404

This accursed, stinking, reeky mass of stones and lime and dung. —-Thomas Carlyle, Letter to his brother John, 10 February 1821

The Canongate is dingy and dirty, and for all our memories of departed greatness and their fragrance, the odour of the place is not fragrant: indeed, truth to tell, the very scum of Edinburgh, in more senses than one, seems to find its level amongst the remains of Scottish nobility. —-Picturesque Scotland; its romantic scenes and historical associations described in lay and legend, song and story, © Francis Watt 1849-1927

For lovers of odd, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival is always a sellout!

When I lived there, very few maids had shoes and stockings, but plodded about the house with feet as big as a family Bible, and legs as large as portmanteaus. —-Sydney Smith, Letter to Lady Mary Bennet, 20 December 1820


See yon hamlet, o’ershadowed with smoke; 
See yon hoary battlement throned on the rock; 
Even there shall a city in splendour break forth,
The haughty Dun-Edin, the Queen of the North;
There learning shall flourish, and liberty smile,
The awe of this world, and the pride of the isle.

— James Hogg, The Queen's Wake, 1819

I... am not sorry to have seen that most picturesque (at a distance) & nastiest (when near) of all capital Cities. —-Thomas Gray, Letter to Thomas Wharton, c. 30 September 1765.

What a wonderful City Edinburgh is! - What alterna­tion of Height & Depth! - a city looked at in the polish'd back of a Brobdignag Spoon, held lengthways - so enormously stretched-up are the Houses!  —-Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Letter to Robert Southey, 13 September 1803

Nae Heathen Name shall I prefix
Frae Pindus or Parnassus; 
AULD REEKIE dings them a’ to sticks
For rhyme-inspiring Lasses.

— Robert Burns, To Miss Ferrier, 1787

It was a patriarchial Fife laird, Durham of Largo, who had the honour of giving to Edinburgh the sobriquet of "Auld Reekie." It appears that this old gentleman was in the habit of regulating the time of evening worship by the appearance of the smoke of Edinburgh, which he could easily see through the clear summer twilight from his own door. When he observed the smoke increase in density, in consequence of the good folks of the capital preparing their supper, he would call all the family into the house, saying — " It's time, noo, bairns to tak the buiks, and gang to our beds, for yonder's Auld Reekie, I see, putting on her nichtcap." —-Robert Chambers, in Scottish Treasure Trove, Edited by George Blake, John O'London's Little Books,circa 1925

Baxter made a good remark about Princes Street, that it was the most elastic street for length that he knew; sometimes it looks as it looked tonight, interminable, a way leading right into the heart of the red sundown; sometimes again, it shrinks together, as if for warmth, on one of the withering, clear, east-windy days, until it seems to lie underneath your feet. —-Robert Louis Stevenson, Letter to Mrs Sitwell, 4 October 1873


Tho' many Cities have more People in them, yet, I believe, this may be said with Truth, that in no City in the World so many People live in so little Room as at Edinburgh. —-Daniel Defoe, A Tour through the Whole Island of Great Britain, 1724-7


This iconic city, with its many layers of dramatic history, its cobblestones and eerie closes, offers a variety of walking tours. You might start with the Edinburgh Dungeon, and come up for air to explore Edinburgh Castle, and go for a few drinks, then get mightily spooked with either a ghostly bus tour...or a tour of some haunted vaults. During the Edinburgh Festival, it is VERY hard and expensive to get a room in and around Edinburgh. Book ahead in summer! Here are some accomodations options

and more... Car Hires/Rentals