Retracing the city footsteps of Stevenson

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WE start at Lady Stair's Close, near the top of the Royal Mile and the site of the Writers' Museum, which houses the most significant Stevenson collection in the UK.

In the courtyard outside are several old-fashioned metal lamps, which played an important role in Stevenson's childhood.

The author was born to a wealthy family, but was a sickly child. His parents hired a nurse, Alison "Cummy" Cunningham, and she would entertain him by telling him stories.

"Stevenson had a fantastic memory for details," says Anna Burkey, a member of the Unesco City of Literature Trust which is running the tours.

"Outside his house in the New Town they had old-fashioned lamps, like those still standing in the close, which would be lit at night by men carrying long poles with candles on the end.

"Stevenson's nurse used to take him to the window every night to watch the men lighting the lamps, and he later wrote a poem, The Lamplighter, which was included in A Child's Garden of Verses, dedicated to his nurse."

From there it is just a short walk down the Royal Mile to...

Deacon Brodie's Tavern

The tale of Deacon Brodie was one which fascinated and inspired Stevenson. Brodie, the wealthy son of a respected cabinet-maker in Edinburgh's Lawnmarket, was elected Deacon Councillor of the city in 1781.

"At the time the city was being rocked by a series of high profile robberies on its wealthiest people, with police baffled as to how the gang managed to gain entry to the properties," says Anna.

"When it emerged that it was Deacon Brodie, who had been making wax impressions of his well-to-do customers' keys before using copies to enter their houses and rob them, the city was shocked."

A gentleman by day, at night Brodie was a gambler and a playboy, who committed the robberies to help pay off his huge debts and support several mistresses.

He was sentenced to hang, on a gallows he had designed and funded the year before. Brodie insisted he could cheat the hangman's noose by using a metal collar hidden by his shirt, and being spirited away when everyone thought he was dead. While this plan is believed to have failed - his body is thought to lie in an unmarked grave in Buccleuch Cemetery - there were reported sightings in Paris after his death.

Stevenson, whose father had furniture made by Brodie, used the two different sides of his character as the inspiration for one - or two - of his most famous creations, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

Continuing down the Royal Mile brings you to...

Advocate's Close

This boasts the oldest remaining house in Edinburgh, built in the 14th century. It was there in Stevenson's day when the author used to visit the area's bars and taverns.

Stevenson's family were famous engineers, with his father and uncle following in the footsteps of his grandfather Robert, making and maintaining Scotland's lighthouses. They took regular trips around Scotland's coast to check on their work, and Stevenson often accompanied them, later using the route to plot the journey of the Covenant in Kidnapped.

He was no engineer himself, however, and since his father did not want him to be a writer, instead had him study to be an advocate.

"Stevenson was not too fond of the profession, and spent most his time in the pub with his cousin Bob, swapping stories and eventually, in a bar in Advocates Close, starting up a secret society," explains Anna.

That society was the LJR, whose initials stood for Liberty, Justice and Reverence. Stevenson insisted the society have the motto: "Distrust everything our parents ever taught us". Across the road from the close stands the impressive...

St Giles' Cathedral

Stevenson travelled and lived abroad for much of his life, searching for a climate that would be better for his health.

In later life, after the death of his father in 1880, he lived on the Samoan island of Upolu, where as well as working with the natives he continued his writing.

On December 3, 1894, he died, probably of a cerebral haemorrhage, at the age of 44. The natives, who called him Tusitala, or "teller of tales", carried his body several miles upon their shoulders to the top of a cliff overlooking the sea, where he was buried.

"Stevenson was an immensely popular author in his time," says Anna. "He was probably comparable to JK Rowling in terms of sales. So his death was a huge shock to people around the world, not least in his home city, and funds were quickly raised for a memorial plaque inside St Giles'.

Around the back of the cathedral is...

Parliament Hall

The impressive law courts which witnessed the signing of the Act of Union in 1707, were where Stevenson spent much of his time while studying law.

A pipe smoker, he would often join others at the entrance to the hall where they would smoke and discuss cases. So common was this habit that the black marks where they would knock out their pipes are still visible on the walls today.

"Stevenson would sit in Parliament Hall and the law library, reading about cases, and notes still exist about what books he checked out," says Anna.

"Before he wrote Kidnapped, most of his books concerned the Highlands and the Jacobites, so we can assume he was starting to research the book."

This meticulous research not only lent a more realistic air to the book, but allowed him to base all of the characters in Kidnapped on real people. Continuing down the Royal Mile you come to...

South Bridge

Stevenson had little success as a trained advocate, only ever working on four briefs. Indeed, he was almost more accustomed to appearing on the other side of the bench, most notably for snowball fighting on South Bridge.

"Stevenson had a great ability to mix with all kinds of people, although in his writing he often liked to imagine himself as a hero," says Anna.

"After he was arrested for snowball fighting on South Bridge, he wrote that when they were marched into the High Street he 'realised he was a hero', which is an interesting insight into how he saw himself."

Head up South Bridge, and on the left, just across from Chamber Street, is...

Infirmary Street

Infirmary Street was the site of the old Royal Infirmary and Stevenson was frequently in the area, passing to and from the university and nearby taverns.

Stevenson was a regular visitor to the infirmary due to his poor health, and it was during a visit here that he saw a man who had a wooden leg, a memory he would later use in creating Long John Silver.

Back along Chambers Street, and passing the monument to Greyfriars Bobby, brings you to...

Greyfriars Kirkyard

Stevenson used to love visiting the kirkyard. He was not very religious, but his nurse, like his family, was extremely devout and used to tell him tales of fire and brimstone.

"She quite literally wanted to put the fear of God into the him and stop him misbehaving," says Anna. Stevenson's letters in later life show as a child he had a very real fear he was going hell, although he wound up an atheist.

In the kirkyard, which he remembered in his Picturesque Notes, he would sit on top of the gravestones, looking out at the city and talking to the gravediggers, one of whom told him tales of the bodysnatchers Burke and Hare.

Back outside Greyfriars, heading down Candlemaker Row brings you into the...


In Stevenson's day the Grassmarket was filled with disreputable characters and taverns, and was a popular hangout for poets and writers.

"Stevenson's Uncle Alan, who had himself once harboured dreams of being a writer before accepting the task of following in the family's business of lighthouse building, spent a great deal of time here," says Anna.

Inspired by his uncle, the young Stevenson used to sneak out his parents' house in the New Town to spend time in the closes of the Royal Mile and the haunts of the Grassmarket. The Grassmarket features only briefly in Kidnapped, but the vivid description shows Stevenson had clearly soaked up the atmosphere.

"The narrow arched entries that continually vomited passengers, the wares of the merchants in their windows, the hubbub and endless stir, the foul smells and fine clothes and a hundred other particulars too small to mention, struck me into a kind of stupor of surprise, so that I let the crowd carry me to and fro."

With thanks to Anna Burkey and the City of Literature Trust for assistance. Stevenson tours, leaving from the Writers' Museum in Lady Stair's Close, are being held at 11am and 2.30pm every Sunday in February


EDINBURGH and the Lothians are littered with places linked to Stevenson. Here are a few outside our city centre walk.


Stevenson was very fond of Lothian Road, along with other seemingly "disreputable" parts of the city, and it was one of his peculiar charms that despite being from a wealthy family he felt equally at home among those less well-off than himself.

He was known to love the stone stairs in his parents' house, as they allowed him to sneak in and out without being heard. "O for ten minutes - sixpence between us and the ever glorious Lothian Road, or dear Leith Walk," Stevenson wrote in a letter to Charles Baxter in March 1882.


Stevenson trained as an advocate at Edinburgh University, though he had no great love for his studies and he frequently played truant from classes to go exploring the city. He did manage to pass his admission to the bar at the age of 25, although the hard work and stress of studying caused him problems with his health.


Born in Inverleith in 1850, Stevenson's family home from 1857 was at 17 Heriot Row. An only child, he had a vivid imagination, and used to play frequently in Queen Street Gardens, where the pond became a sea full of pirates, surrounding an island laden with treasure.


One of the best known landmarks in South Queensferry, the Hawes Inn by the shore of the Forth was a place where a young Stevenson spent much of his time. He used to enjoy swimming and canoeing in the waters of the Forth, and would warm up afterwards with a welcome pint at the inn. And it was here that he chose to set the pivotal moment of Kidnapped, when David Balfour meets Captain Hoseason and is tricked into boarding the Covenant.


The young writer spent many of his summer holidays at North Berwick, and one of his earliest childhood memories is said to be his first train journey from Waverley Station out to the East Lothian town. From his grandfather's house at Anchor Villa he would explore the shoreline around North Berwick, and listen to stories of the people who used to lure ships onto the rocks. Nearby, at Yellowcraigs Park, Stevenson was said to have been inspired to write Treasure Island, after standing on a small hill and looking out to the island of Fidra in the Firth of Forth. The town still celebrates its connections to Stevenson with an annual festival dedicated to the writer, held every June.