One of the most famous Edinburgh attractions, Greyfriars Bobby, has lately been exposed by Dr Jan Bondeson as a Victorian PR stunt, conjured up by the cemetery’s tour guide and a local restaurateur. They encouraged the mongrel to stay by feeding him and even replaced him with a lookalikie when their cash-dog inconveniently died. On hearing this story I went to sniff out other dogs more dazzling than Bobby…
The eminent physicist James Clerk Maxwell found animals easier to get on with than humans. His Irish terrier, Toby, rests beneath his feet in Alexander Stoddart’s sculpture on George Street. Maxwell used to explain his theories to Toby, and examine his eyes with a homemade ophthalmoscope to try and understand colour blindness. Look carefully and you will see, just above Toby’s head, some missing rivets in the chair upholstery: this demonstrates the second law of thermodynamics, which is, as Toby would have known, that things fall apart (especially when chewed).
Inside the King’s Stables Road entrance to Princes Street Gardens hides a statue of a three-legged St Bernard–Spaniel cross called Bum, who in the late 1800s wandered the streets, not of Edinburgh, but of her twin city, San Diego. He became so well known that San Diego adopted him as their unofficial mascot and stamped his picture on their dog licences. Bum lived out his days giving children rides on his back and being fed by the top restaurants - signs in their windows proudly declared, “Bum eats here”.
Robert Louis Stevenson wrote, “You think dogs will not be in heaven? I tell you, they will be there long before any of us.” His own pet Skye Terrier, Cuillin, is commemorated in a bronze statue of Stevenson as a young boy outside Colinton Parish Church, where he used to visit his grandfather, a minister there.
Sir Walter Scott was another great literary lover of dogs, and they frequently appear in portraits of the writer. There is even a breed of dog, Dandie Dinmont Terriers, named after a character that appears in Scott’s novel, Guy Mannering. You can see Scott’s favourite dog, Maida, a wolf and Deerhound cross, named after the Napoleonic battle, curling at the foot of the Scott Monument statue.
Hidden away in a corner of Edinburgh Castle is the Cemetery for Soldiers’ Dogs. It’s a little walled garden just above where the one o’clock gun is fired – although it can only be viewed from above, you can make out the headstones. Faithful residents include Dobbler, who was buried here in 1893 after having trekked across half of Asia and Africa with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.
The Great Lafayette, in his time more famous than Houdini, loved his dog Beauty so much that he literally fed her to death. In a dramatic theatrical accident (of which more in the book) he died four days later and they are buried together beneath the same flamboyant monument in Piershill cemetery.
Secret Edinburgh, an Unusual Guide is a new book about hidden places in Edinburgh that even the most informed of residents might not realise are there. Interesting art, buildings, gardens and walks that get overlooked because they don’t have signage or big PR machines to let everyone know about them, are off the beaten track, or are simply hidden in plain sight.
Hannah Robinson’s ‘Secret Edinburgh, an Unusual Guide’ is available online and from all good outlets.