Edinburgh's forgotten Viking stone to get new home

It is one of the most historic relics to be found in the heart of Scotland's capital '“ but lies fenced off from the public in the shadow of the iconic visitor attraction it pre-dates.

The Swedish Runestone is not easy to see now but its planned new location in George Square will make it more accessible. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Now the city’s little-known “Swedish Runestone”, which has been Edinburgh since the 18th century, is set to be moved from its home in one of the most inaccessible corners of Princes Street Gardens after more than 200 years.

Edinburgh City Council has agreed to relocate the Viking Age gravestone, which features a runic message inside the form of a serpent, to a prominent location at Edinburgh University’s main campus in order to give it the attention it has long been denied.

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The 11th century stone, one of just three of its kind in the UK, has been in Edinburgh since 1787, when it was donated to the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland by one of its earliest members, Sir Alexander Seton. His uncle, George Seton, a West Lothian-born shipowner and merchant, became the banker to the Swedish king in the early 18th century and inherited Ekolsund Castle, a royal residence at Enkoping.

Originally located on the Royal Mile, it was later donated it to the Princes Street Gardens’ proprietors to ensure it was given a more prominent position overlooking the park, below the castle esplanade.

However safety and security concerns over the area below the spectator stands for the Tattoo have prevented access in recent years.

Its new home will see it move next year to a new landscaped garden in George Square, outside the school of Scandinavian studies and enter the National Museums of Scotland collection.

Donald Wilson, the council’s culture convenor, said: “I had never heard of the Swedish Runestone until the relocation proposals came up and I would imagine that would be the same for most people in the city, even though it has been in the gardens since the early 19th century.

“It will now be in a much more prominent and accessible position. It’s a significant historic relic with an astonishing story – it just shows you that this historic, ancient city never ceases to amaze.”

A spokesman for National Museums Scotland said: “We support the project to bring the Swedish Runestone into more prominent public view with appropriate interpretation so that people can see it and appreciate its significance. The fact that ownership will transfer to our collections means that the ongoing conservation of this important object will be assured and given due priority, safeguarding it for future generations.”