Edinburgh – Did You Know?


Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital and my all time favourite city, is full to the brim with interesting tales, facts and histories that have built up over it’s very long lifetime. We wanted to share a few of the shorter gems(We’ll give the longer one’s a post to themselves :)) that we found whilst doing some research on Edinburgh, and hopefully you will find out something you did not know about this wonderful city…

Edinburgh has the nickname ‘Auld Reekie’, but did you know it was not given this name because of any Medieval open sewers or disgusting smell, but instead because of the smoke emitted by the coal and wood burnt in the cities buildings and homes.

Encyclopaedia Britannica First Edition

Encyclopaedia Britannica First Edition

The Encyclopaedia Britannica was first published between 1768 and 1771 in Edinburgh as three volumes, but this first edition caused controversy due to a detailed anatomy section which was said to contain ‘portrayals of the unmentionable parts of the human body’.

Edinburgh residents of the 17th century believed that rubbing the burnt ashes of dove’s droppings on their head would cure baldness!

Edinburgh Castle and the 'Nor Loch

Edinburgh Castle and the ‘Nor Loch

Princes Street Gardens are now a popular spot for relaxing on a sunny day, but it was once a body of water known as the ‘Nor Loch or North Loch. This Loch was heavily polluted in it’s later years after being the final destination for the cities sewage for a long time. It is a popularly held myth that the Nor’ Loch was the site of ‘Witch ducking’ in Edinburgh and the site of around 300 witch trials. ‘Witch ducking’ or ‘the swimming test’ was employed by Witchcraft prosecutors in some areas of Europe as a method of identifying whether or not a suspect was guilty of witchcraft. However, according to the Survey of Scottish Witchcraft there is little evidence that ‘Witch ducking’ was utilised as a means of identifying Witches in Scottish Witchcraft trials.

St Margaret's Chapel

St Margaret’s Chapel

St Margaret’s Chapel, found within the walls of Edinburgh Castle, is the oldest building in the city and is believed to be the oldest intact building in Scotland. Nearly every other part of the castle has been destroyed and rebuilt or replaced over the Castle’s history, during the many wars of Scotland’s past. It was built in the 12th century in memory of Queen Margaret, who is said to have died of a broken heart following the death of her husband King Malcolm III.

The National Library of Scotland

The National Library of Scotland

Edinburgh has more listed buildings than anywhere else in the world. Some of these include the National Library Of Scotland on George IV Bridge and The Supreme Courts Of Scotland on Parliament Square.

Colonel Nils Olav inspects the Norwegian King's Guard

Colonel Nils Olav inspects the Norwegian King’s Guard

Did you know the Colonel in Chief, Nils Olav, of the Norwegian Army is a resident of Edinburgh. He lives in Edinburgh zoo and happens to be a king penguin. The name ‘Nils Olav’ has also been given to two other king penguins who preceded the current Nils Olav as the King’s Guard’s mascot.

The Emancipation Monument on Calton Hill

The Emancipation Monument on Calton Hill

In the Old Calton Burial Ground, in the centre of Edinburgh, there is a memorial to the Scottish-American soldiers who died in the American Civil War which includes a statue of Abraham Lincoln – the first statue of the famous president ever erected outside of the USA.

John Knox House, or is it?

John Knox House, or is it?

John Knox House is situated in the middle of the world famous High Street portion of the Royal Mile, but if you look at all of the descriptions, they say John Knox is ‘believed’ to have lived in the house. There are no real records or evidence to say it is his home, and it is believed that this was made up by the Victorians on the basis that the house was of the correct age and in the correct general location.

On the 7th September 1801, Edinburgh was hit by an earthquake. It was felt in the north of the New Town but not in the south of the Old Town. No major damage was done, although it was accredited as having damaged a barn that collapsed a few days later and killed two shearers.

The death mask of William Burke and a pocket book made form his skin!

The death mask of William Burke and a pocket book made form his skin!

Most people will know the story of Burke & Hare, the 19th century bodysnatchers who murdered at least 16 people in order to supply medical students with cadavers. But less well known is the fact that the most well attended lecture in the history of Edinburgh’s medical school came in 1829 when the body of William Burke was itself dissected.

The Mound

The Mound

Unlike Arthur’s Seat, Calton hill or Castle Rock, the Mound was not naturally formed. It is in fact an artificial construction created in the 1780’s using earth from the foundations of Princes Street.

The Mound surprisingly has an electric blanket underneath it. In 1956 electric wires were put under the road to help in icy conditions but it proved unreliable and was given up a few years later.

'Edinburgh's Folly'

‘Edinburgh’s Folly’

The National Monument on Calton Hill is known as ‘Edinburgh’s Folly’ or ‘Edinburgh’s Shame’. It was modelled on the Parthenon in Athens, but money ran out and it was never completed. However this is not the reason Edinburgh has been described as the ‘Athens of the North’, that was due to the great amount of stunning (and complete) architecture and intellectual influence during the period known as the Scottish Enlightenment.

So how many of these interesting facts did you already know about? Which was your favourite? and would you like to find out more about this great city? Here are a few of our products that are a good place to start….


Not a Guide to Edinburgh – buy now on ScotClans >>


Edinburgh DVD – Buy now on ScotClans – 50% off >>


The Royal Mile and New Town – Buy now on ScotClans  – 50% off >>




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3 thoughts on “Edinburgh – Did You Know?

  1. Richard Ross Leslie

    I spent the first ten years of my marriage living in Edinburgh and working as an architect for the Bank of Scotland HQ on the Mound and the Johnston Brothers Architects in Leith and finally Crudens Construction in Musselburgh. I loved every moment in the city, my three sons were born in the Western General Hospital,very near our home. My late wife ,a nurse spent sometime working at the Eastern General Hospital,before we emigrated to Canada in 1969.
    I enjoyed all the items in your article,but St Margaret’s Chapel in Edinburgh Castle intrigues me,because I understand that Queen Margaret was born in Hungary and married King Malcolm111 and in 1607 or thereby Count Bartoff or Bartholmew also from Hungary came to Scotland and became a friend of the Queen and the Court and for his work for the Royal Family he was given lands in Aberdeenshire,where with his help the Clan Leslie (my clan) was created or originated.It is a lovely chapel that has lasted through the tough ages of religious reforms and is a wonderful architectural feature as part of Edinburgh Castle.

  2. Richard Ross Leslie

    I spent ten years in Edinburgh in the 60s working as as architect working for a few firms,my three sons were all born in the Western General Hospital before we left to emigrate to Canada. We loved the city and miss it very much but keep informed of it progress.
    Of all the buildings in your article ,St Margaret’s Chapel in the Castle has lasted the ages of religious turmoil but still stands as major feature in the castle. My main interest is that Queen was born in Hungary before she married King MalcolmIII and in 1607 or thereby Count Bartholomew also from Hungary came to the court of the King and Queen and for his services was given lands in Aberdeenshire where he helped create the Clan Leslie (my clan).. The oldest building of the castle complex in an outstanding architectural feature for all to enjoy

  3. Ian Cameron

    Your article on Burke and Hare has one important detail which is wrong. They wre not body snatchers which is the popular term for resurrectionists, they were murderers, albeit that the first one was probably accidental when the were trying to rob someone and used too much force.


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