Become your favorite character for a day in Edinburgh

As readers of Alexander McCall Smith and Ian Rankin, each of whom set their stories in and around Edinburgh, it was easy to find landmarks that relate to the work of both authors.

7.18.16 AMS tourIn the background of the photo you see here is the street sign for Scotland Street. (There is no number 44). The series               44 Scotland Street recounts the goings-on of the people who live at that address. I think Lillian’s favorite is Bertie, the precocious, saxophone-playing little boy.


Thanks to a quiz app on Lillian’s cell phone, we had a pleasant introduction to the New Town and the landmarks used in the books. It was a bit surreal to find there really is a “Flotarium” (sensory deprivation tanks in which you float in salt water in the dark). The Cafe St. Honore is a couple of turns off a main street, with a charming facade.


The photo is from the restaurant’s web page.




We passed the Queen Street Gardens, which unlike the gardens along Princes Street, are private, behind locked gates.

7.18.16 AMS tour-005This made it a bit difficult to answer one of the questions on our tour app, (the inscription associated with this statue), but never mind. I’m sure there is some historic explanation, though I don’t much like the fact that a very extensive garden covers several downtown blocks yet is not open to visitors. Blog post discussion of Edinburgh’s private parks:

Edinburgh’s private parks–David Hill (The New Town Flaneur blog)

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New Town is called a masterwork of city planning, though it almost seems overly spacious to me. We found lovely neighborhoods in addition to the long streets of Georgian stone houses. I think I’d prefer a cozy mews to a stately home.


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A true manifestation of “location, location, location” are the apartments that are two stories below street level. You’ve heard of a walk-up. How about a walk-down?

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The Scottish National Portrait Gallery is one of the museums that the characters of 44 Scotland Street like, and it is also a favorite of Isabel Dalhousie, of the Sunday Philosophy series, also by Alexander McCall Smith. I like Isabel, and was happy to see the self-portrait of Samuel Peploe, among her favorite Scottish artists. Lillian and Neil decided to take a selfie with him.

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By this time, we were ready for a break, and it had to be at Valvona & Crolla, a venerable Edinburgh institution, and a favorite of Bertie and his mom. An early importer of fine Italian food, I thought we were mistaken about finding a cafe when we walked in. A long case lines one side, but if you keep walking and don’t get distracted by the meat and cheese, you turn a corner and go up a few steps and Voila! there is the cafe.  Everything was delicious.


That stop completed the McCall Smith tour, though I did go to Bruntsfield, Isabel’s domain. I didn’t see Isabel there, but she could have gone by, pushing Charlie in his stroller, while we were having coffee. At George Hughes & Son Fish, we bought some excellent Scottish salmon and some smoked haddock that with some bacon, onions, potatoes and a dash of double cream made a delicious chowder.

We haven’t embarked specifically on an Ian Rankin tour. I had my hair cut by a woman who lives in his neighborhood and says he does sometimes show up at the pub (“He can be a bit cranky,” she says.) I do enjoy seeing bits of Edinburgh that overlap with his writing. Now I know what they see when he and Siobean go out for a drive around Arthur’s Seat. I’ve seen Fettes Street (where the main police offices are located), and I’ve passed Gayfield Square and even St. Leonard’s (other police outposts in his books). I know that the Oxford Bar, his main character John Rebus’ watering hole, is visited by readers almost every night, but I think I’ll pass. I don’t want to make him cranky….7.21.16 Old Town-001






Ignore the menu, it’s Fleshmarket Close, site of one of Ian Rankin’s novels. There could be some very creepy stuff down there after dark.


It’s a great city for readers and their imaginations.


Published by winifredcreamer

I am a retired archaeologist and I like to travel, especially to places where you can walk along the shore or watch birds. My husband Jonathan and I travel for more than half the year every year, seeing all the places that we haven't gotten to yet.

4 thoughts on “Become your favorite character for a day in Edinburgh

  1. I stayed once in one of the Georgian houses in New Town, with friends. It was lovely with large high-ceiling end rooms and a back garden. But with all the stairs they had to move away when they got older…


    1. Hi Winifred,

      I was wondering whether you and Jon have a rented car in Scotland as you did in Norway? After Oxford is over this weekend, I am going to be in Yorkshire for the next 2 weeks or so….a long way from Scotland, but closer than DeKalb is to Peru! I’m wondering whether there is any way we could meet up for a few hours perhaps at Hadrian’s Wall or somewhere in that area of N.England? Just a thought, and it may not work out if you are heading North to Inverness in August.


      Gabe Holbrook


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