Edinburgh set for “Democracy Trail” attraction

Stops on the trail could include Greyfriars Kirkyard. Picture: TSPL
Stops on the trail could include Greyfriars Kirkyard. Picture: TSPL
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CENTURIES of political intrigue, debate, conflict and turmoil in Scotland’s capital are to be brought to life for the city’s ­newest tourist attraction.

Edinburgh’s spell in the global spotlight as the independence campaign reached its climax has inspired the creation of Scotland’s first “Democracy Trail”.

But the new venture – which will initially take the form of a book, with regular live tours to follow – will stretch back more than 500 years.

The links between some of the capital’s best-known landmarks and pivotal events in history are highlighted in the new guide, which is said to follow “the emergence of democratic thought and action in Scotland.”

Two of the city’s leading historians and storytellers have joined forces to create Scotland’s Democracy Trail, the literary version of which will be published next week by Luath Press.

Donald Smith and Stuart McHardy put the guide together after testing out a walking tour around key locations in the Old and New Towns in early September. It sold out every day for a week. Their guide goes back to the late 15th century, looking at the impact of characters such as philosopher John Mair, and the historian George Buchanan, with the tour ending at the Scottish Parliament, and a round-up of the referendum campaign and its possible legacy.


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Key early episodes include the Scottish Reformation, the staging of the 16th century play A Satire of the Three Estates, which challenged those in power, and the signing of the National Covenant for religious freedoms.

Among the locations are the Mercat Cross, the focal point for some of the capital’s most violent protests and riots, the Old Calton Burial Ground, with its memorial to 18th century political martyrs, and Regent Road, focus of a democracy vigil in the 1990s, which ran for five years, until 1997 when a new Labour government promised a devolution referendum.

Mr Smith said: “We go right back to medieval kings and queens and bring the whole story right up to the referendum and the aftermath. The big story isn’t really about a Yes or No to nationalism, it’s really all about the advance of democracy.

“Mr McHardy said: “There is an awful lot of stuff in Edinburgh’s history which has been swept away and brushed under the carpet. So much has been suppressed over the years and I think now is the time to be revisiting the past.”

Gavin MacDougall, director of Luath Press, said Mr McHardy and Mr Smith would train guides. He added: “Boston [in the US] already has a freedom trail and there is a radical walking tour in New York. Nobody has given anything like this much thought in Edinburgh before. Even the Scottish Enlightenment is overlooked in the city, which was its seat.”


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