Secrets of Edinburgh unveiled in quirky guide

Granton harbour is like 

stepping back in time.
Granton harbour is like stepping back in time.
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IT will direct you to a little corner of the wild west, the world’s oldest masonic lodge, a museum dedicated to boxing and a “mistake library” charting the history of financial ineptitude.

A new guide to Edinburgh is lifting the lid on some of its most closely guarded secrets.

Dunbar's Close , named after the writer David Dunbar.

Dunbar's Close , named after the writer David Dunbar.

Writer and filmmaker Hannah Robinson has spent two years researching her debut book, which features more than 120 entries from all over the city. Billed as an alternative to “tourist traps and crowded landmarks”, Secret Edinburgh is also described as “an indispensable guide for those who thought they knew Edinburgh well.”

It will highlight the final resting place of the German illusionist The Great Lafayette, who died in a blaze at the old Empire Theatre and was buried alongside his beloved dog, Beauty.

There are details of how to track down a tribute to Huang Kuan – the first Chinese graduate from a European university.

The book includes the site of a vast military citadel in Leith, which was instigated on the orders of Oliver Cromwell and became home to Scotland’s first newspaper. Other points of interest include a boulder used to plug a hole in a Norwegian ship off Leith which prevented it from sinking in 1937.

Old Calton Graveyard, Edinburgh.

Old Calton Graveyard, Edinburgh.

Little-known sites include the Stones of Scotland, a circle of stones in Regent Road Park which were collected from every local authority in Scotland, instigated by the late artist George Wyllie.

Other curiosities include “ghost trees” which have refused to die in the middle of a filled-in loch in the Lochend area, a secret garden tucked off the Royal Mile which dates back to the 17th century and an antique book library in Debenhams department store.

The headquarters of Masonic Lodge No 1, which is reputed to date back to 1504, is in a Georgian town house in Hill Street, while there is a masonic museum at the Grand Lodge of Scotland’s headquarters on George Street.

Among the capital’s curiosities are the UK’s first museum dedicated to boxing, which is in Leith at the home of the oldest club in Scotland dedicated to the sport, and the world’s first “Library of Mistakes,” in the city’s West End, which features more than 2,000 volumes of tales of mismanagement.

Author Hannah Robinson.

Author Hannah Robinson.

Secret Edinburgh also highlights a little-known statue of Abraham Lincoln and a courtyard featuring quotes from literary figures on its paving stones.

Ms Robinson, 45, who was brought up in the Stockbridge area, said: “I spent around two years researching the book and I hadn’t actually heard of about two thirds of the entries when I started out.

“You don’t really know you own city as well as you think you do. I think you only really explore somewhere properly when you go there on holiday and buy a guide book. There were loads of things that I discovered myself during the research.

“There are so many places to discover in Edinburgh away from the really crowded main tourist areas and some wonderful stories behind them.

“When we know a place well we forget to explore,get complacent, forget to look, take the same routes and don’t stop to investigate. But it’s amazing how much is hidden in plain sight.”

The Edinburgh World Heritage Trust, which leads efforts to promote some of the lesser-known sites of historical interest in the Old and New Town, will mark the launch of the new guide on 1 June with a special walking tour around some of its highlights.

Director Adam Wilkinson said: “Most visitors only scratch the surface of the cities they visit. Most residents accidentally take for granted the places they live.

“This book delves deep into Edinburgh’s rich history and the stories its special places tell, nudging its reader to find delight in the esoteric details, and to go and explore our wonderful and beautiful city with fresh eyes.”