A journey through Robert Burns’s Edinburgh

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Burns moved to Edinburgh in 1786 and, although he only lived there for just over a year, he left a memorable mark on the city

Robert Burns is often more associated with Alloway and Ayrshire, but Scotland’s national poet had many connections to Edinburgh too, writes Gillian McDonald.

This plaque commemorating the now demolished Edinburgh house where Burns lived can be found on the wall above the entrance to Lady Stairs Close.

This plaque commemorating the now demolished Edinburgh house where Burns lived can be found on the wall above the entrance to Lady Stairs Close.

Moving to Edinburgh

When Burns first arrived in Edinburgh, he set up home in Baxter’s Close, just off the Royal Mile.

The close has long-since been demolished, but a commemorative plaque marks the spot where it once stood.

The inscription (which reads "In a house on the east side of this close, Robert Burns lived during his first visit to Edinburgh, 1786") can be found on the wall above the entrance to Lady Stair’s Close.

Published by Creech

Shortly after becoming a resident, Burns met with William Creech, who went on to publish the first Edinburgh edition of Burns’s poems.

Although Creech’s house on Market Square (now known as Parliament Square) was demolished in 1817 when the area’s streets were widened, you can still visit the spot of land where the pair met.

The property was reportedly the "east most shop immediately behind St Giles Cathedral, facing the Market Cross".

Burns even wrote two poems about Creech: the Lament for the Absence of William Creech (usually known as Willie’s Awa) about Creech leaving Edinburgh to visit London, and On William Creech - a stormy verse which was written following an argument.

A meeting of minds

During Burns’s time in Edinburgh, a very famous gathering of minds happened in the home of philosopher, Adam Ferguson.

Although the building no longer stands, an original wall and commemorative plaque mark the spot where Sciennes Hill House was located, close to The Meadows.

In 1787, Ferguson hosted dinner for several esteemed guests, including Robert Burns and a young Walter Scott (who was only 15 years old at the time).

After dinner, Burns spotted some lines of prose written on the wall. When he asked who they were by, only Scott knew.

Scott later recalled how the Bard rewarded him "with a look and a word which, though a mere civility, I then received and still recollect with very great pleasure".

The case of Margaret Burns

Rose Street was another key location during Burns’s time in Edinburgh.

It was there where Margaret Burns, a local prostitute who became a curiosity for the poet, worked from her brothel.

Neighbours often complained about Margaret bringing male and female companions home, and not being discreet or quiet about it either.

The complaints eventually landed the woman in court, and the poet took pity on his fellow Burns and followed the trial intently.

Margaret went on to win her trial after a lengthy battle, but she died soon after. Burns then wrote her an epigram, Under the portrait of Miss Burns.

The setting of Ae Fond Kiss

Burns moved to Dumfriesshire in February 1788, but he returned to Edinburgh for a final visit in 1791.

This time, he lodged at the White Hart Inn in the Grassmarket.

The pub, which was founded in 1516, is one of the oldest public houses in Edinburgh, and it remains open to this day.

The White Hart was where Burns bid farewell to his lover, Agnes 'Nancy' McLehose, before she left for Jamaica.

Nancy was the inspiration for Burns’s poem, Ae Fond Kiss, and he sent her a copy of the manuscript after their final meeting.