Edinburgh: a Canongate walk

White Horse Close

After our recent visit to the Scottish Parliament, we walked slowly up Canongate exploring the closes, or courtyards, to either side. Canongate itself is over 800 years old, and was a separate burgh from Edinburgh until 1856. Its name comes from the Augustinian Canons of Holyrood Abbey who, in the 12th century, were given permission by the king to build on either side of the path, or “gait”, between the Abbey and the Old Town of Edinburgh.

Immediately opposite the parliament is White Horse Close (above) which takes its name from an inn which once stood there. The buildings have been restored, but still give a good impression of how the courtyard must have looked hundreds of years ago. Zoom in on the window above the stairs and you will see that it is dated 1623.

Further up Canongate is 17th century Panmure House, once home to the economist and philosopher Adam Smith. It’s currently undergoing renovation so it was hard to get a photograph to do it justice.

Panmure House

Not all the closes hide new buildings – tucked away in Crichton Close is the Scottish Poetry Library (1999).

Scottish Poetry Library

Next we explored Canongate Kirkyard – like all these places, apart from the Poetry Library, somewhere I’ve walked past many times without investigating. I was surprised how extensive the Kirkyard is.

The next close was my absolute favourite – Bakehouse Close is home to Acheson House, built in 1633 for Sir Archibald Acheson and now the home of Edinburgh World Heritage. The Acheson family crest, a cock and trumpet, is above the door.

Why do I love it so much? The information panels on the wall about Rangers Impartial List, a 1775 guide to 66 of Edinburgh’s prostitutes. Many of the closes in the Old Town housed brothels, and Acheson House was one of them, then known as the Cock and Trumpet after the crest. The list pulls no punches in assessing the women’s appearance and skills – I hope you can enlarge the panels sufficiently to read some of it. I particularly like Mrs Agnew, a “drunken bundle of iniquity” who would think nothing of a company of Grenadiers at one time. At 50!

A couple of shots as we made our way to our next stop – the Tolbooth Tavern on Canongate peeking through an archway, and a further example of modern buildings behind old ones. These are student flats, with a lovely view of Salisbury Crags.

Another 17th century mansion is Moray House, now owned by the University of Edinburgh. The buildings round about comprise the University’s School of Education.

Next up is Chessel’s Court with this traditional 18th century Edinburgh ‘mansion style’ tenement, originally built to provide better accommodation for relatively wealthy residents of the Old Town. Back on Canongate, we were observed by a strange statue which is said to represent the Emperor of Morocco.

Finally, we turned the corner into St Mary’s Street, the site of Boyd’s Inn where Dr Johnson stayed in 1773 on his way to meet James Boswell for the start of their journey to the Hebrides. I liked the shop opposite with its rather cross looking bull!

From here, we headed across to the New Town and our visit to the ice sculptures which I’ve written about previously. I was soon to find out that it was possible to shiver even more on this bitterly cold December day!

I hope you’ve enjoyed your tour through part of old Edinburgh. I’m linking to Jo’s Monday walks – the blue skies of Portugal should warm you up after this chilly post!

65 thoughts on “Edinburgh: a Canongate walk

  1. BeckyB January 13, 2018 / 12:30

    oh this is wonderful, really must return to Edinburgh – ooh there’s another thought for our reunion. Be warmer in the Spring too!


    • Anabel Marsh January 13, 2018 / 13:24

      Well, that would certainly be easy for me – though maybe not so fair on you!

      Liked by 1 person

      • BeckyB January 13, 2018 / 13:48

        Can fly from So’ton – so once we know dates I would just need to check out prices.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Birgit January 12, 2018 / 12:12

    I’m late but I am here! I would love to live in that old part of town because it looks so medieval. I laughed at the prostitutes’ descriptions especially the one you mentioned and the other about her teeth being tolerable


    • Anabel Marsh January 12, 2018 / 12:47

      They were certainly very frank in their descriptions!


  3. lisadorenfest January 12, 2018 / 07:15

    So many goodies here! I wish I’d known you when I visited Scotland, Guess I will just have to come back.

    That cock and trumpet family crest has now got me thinking about what I want my family crest to be (Perhaps a unicorn and rainbow 🦄🌈😁)


    • Anabel Marsh January 12, 2018 / 07:43

      That sounds good! Of course, the unicorn is Scotland’s national animal and appears on our coat of arms so you’d be in good company.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. pommepal January 11, 2018 / 02:09

    A fascinating walk through your part of the world Anabel


  5. Jessica (Diverting Journeys) January 10, 2018 / 14:13

    Lots of interesting sites on this walk! Love the cock and trumpet crest, but I’m most intrigued by Rangers Impartial List, which sounds very much like Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies…which was published by an H. Ranger, so now I’m rather curious if this is somehow an offshoot of the London version. I’ve always wondered how they were compiled – did Tytler (who has a rather apt name for the job, if it’s pronounced the way I think it is!) actually visit all the ladies in question himself, or did he have correspondents? From what I know of Boswell, I wouldn’t be surprised if he was a correspondent!


    • Anabel Marsh January 10, 2018 / 15:54

      Interesting! Ranger’s maybe published a whole series in different cities. I read elsewhere that Tytler (I’d pronounce it that way too) found the research for the Edinburgh guide so exhausting he didn’t do one for Glasgow. Make of that what you will…

      Liked by 1 person

  6. anotherday2paradise January 9, 2018 / 20:19

    I enjoyed strolling through history with you, Anabel. What a picturesque place this is and with so much to take in. 🙂


  7. hilarymb January 9, 2018 / 18:47

    Hi Anabel – what an enlightening part of the world … fascinating to see so many gems – thanks for giving us an insight … when I visit Edinburgh – an area to add in to the list … lovely post – cheers Hilary


    • Anabel Marsh January 9, 2018 / 19:15

      Thanks Hilary! Glad you enjoyed it, it is indeed a fascinating area.


  8. maristravels January 9, 2018 / 15:49

    No one can deny that the ladies of Acheson House had stamina: a company of Grenadiers indeed. Reminds me of the line in the lovely Victoria Wood song about Brenda “… could handle half the tenors in a male voice choir”.
    I really feel I know your Glasgow now after all your Posts.


    • Anabel Marsh January 9, 2018 / 16:05

      Ooh, yes, I remember Brenda! Victoria Wood sadly missed.


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