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Edinburgh: The First City Of Literature

The First City Of Literature

The written word is in DNA of Edinburgh, and nowhere
else celebrates it more enthusiastically.

BY STEPHEN MCGINTY

Edinburgh is a city cloaked in words, wrapped in sentences. The cobbled streets, the twisting wynds, the light-filled Georgian drawing rooms of the New Town and the tight stairwells of the Old Town are all draped in the printed page. You just need to know where to look, for Edinburgh is a city enraptured by the novel and willing to extend to its creators the greatest of honours.

No other city in the world has its principal train station named after a novel...and then, upon the death of the novel's author, erects the largest monument to a writer the earth has ever seen. And yet, for all of my many visits to this most beautiful of cities, I had yet to climb the 287 steps of the Scott Monument and gaze down upon the new glass roof of Waverley Station and out across the panoply of this Athens of the North.

It was a bright, cold, clear morning when I strolled along Princes Street toward the monument, its highly ornamented sandstone piercing the sky like a church spire. Inside was a seated Sir Walter Scott and his favorite deerhound Maida carved from Carrara marble, and circling around and above him to the heavens I saw scores of smaller statues carved into the Victorian Gothic tower: characters from Scott's novels, Scottish writers and poets through the ages, even a few Scottish kings and other notables of the land.

I began the twisting climb, which was more arduous than I imagined. By the midway mark my thighs were beginning to burn and my breath was short and shallow, rather undignified for one who considers himself reasonably fit. But prior to any reward must come effort, so I stoically clambered on. Before long I had reached the summit and gingerly peered over the edge to the tourists almost 200 feet below. Gazing out across the successive flights of steps of the Old Town rising toward the castle, this seemed an appropriate spot to begin my literary pilgrimage. The question was, "Where next?"

The full text of this article is available in the Summer 2017 issue of Scottish Life.

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Photos © Festivals Edinburgh; Helen Jones, Edinburgh International Book Festival; Edinburgh International Book Festival; Ross Graham / Scottish Viewpoint.