Tours of Edinburgh

Articles about Edinburgh and Scotland by David Wheater

My Edinburgh

Articles about Edinburgh and Scotland by David Wheater, founder of Tours of Edinburgh.

The Walter Scott Monument, Princes Street, Edinburgh

Tours of Edinburgh The Victorian Gothic Sir Walter Scott Monument, East Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh, Scotland.jpg

The Walter Scott Monument, Princes Street, Edinburgh
by David Wheater of Tours of Edinburgh

My favourite monument in Edinburgh is, undoubtedly, the Scott Monument. Whenever I've been away, and climb up the steps from Waverley Station to see this gothic like rocket-ship come into view, it always makes me feel I've arrived home. The monument is one of the places we visit on my Edinburgh Photography Tour.

The Scott Monument is the largest monument to a writer in the world and is found in East Princes Street Gardens. Commemorating one of Scotlandʼs greatest writers, Sir Walter Scott, it is 200 feet tall with 287 steps (over four levels) to the top. The monument is adorned with 64 characters from his novels, alongside 16 statuettes of famous Scottish poets including Robert Bruce, Queen Mary, John Knox and Rob Roy. With fantastic views over the city, the climb to the top is certainly worth the effort. If you're nervous of heights and confined spaces, be warned, the top tier may not be for you, but the first level, which contains a Museum Room, is a much easier climb.

Sir Walter Scott was born in College Wynd in Edinburgh in 1771 and was a pupil of the Royal High School. He was dogged by poor health throughout his life and died in his beloved Borders home Abbotsford in 1832, aged 61. Despite his poor health, he produced an impressive series of 'historical novels' and poems full of great tales of adventure, mystery and romance which sold in huge numbers in the 19th-Century. His novels aren't in fact particularly historically accurate, but they certainly stirred the imagination of eager Victorians, who flocked to Scotland in their thousands to see this romantic land of mystery and adventure for themselves. Even today, his legacy helps boost the Scottish economy. Scott greatly increased Edinburgh's prestige and in 1822 he arranged the royal visit of King George IV - the first in over 100 years! Another of his great achievements was to help uncover the ancient honours of Scotland which had lain locked away in a trunk in Edinburgh Castle since the Act of Union in 1707. Today you can see the Scottish Crown Jewels, alongside the Stone of Destiny, in the Crown Room of Edinburgh Castle.

The monument was designed by joiner and self-taught architect, George Meikle Kemp, who won fifty Guineas in a competition to design the monument in 1836. He was said to be inspired by Melrose Abbey, Roslin Chapel and Gothic memorial crosses in Scotland and France, taking just five days to complete his design. Of humble origins and largely unknown, he entered the competition with the alias John Morvo. His unknown status caused a great deal of controversy at the time (including a recount), which dragged on for four years until the first foundation stone was laid on 15th August 1840 - Scott's birthday. The unknown Meikle Kemp was up against some very famous architects including William Playfair, so his triumph was a remarkable achievement. The monument cost £16,000 to construct and was officially opened on the 15th August 1846 by Lord Provost Adam Black. Sadly, Meikle Kemp did not survive to see the finished monument after drowning in the Union Canal in 1844.

The statue of Sir Walter Scott and his trusty deerhound, Maida, at the bottom of the monument was carved by sculptor Sir John Steell. The statue was carved from a thirty-ton block of Carrara Marble and, in 1846, was the first marble statue in Scotland. The statue is double life-size and at the opening ceremony Steell commented, "In being commissioned to execute the statue which has this day been placed in that beautiful, fairytale-like tower in the centre of the metropolis of our native land.... it implied also the sacred honour of handing down to posterity the lineaments of one whose memory will be cherished by ages yet to come". 

Two other statues of Sir Walter Scott can be found in the National Portrait Gallery and Parliament Hall by Sir Francis Chantrey and John Greenshields, respectively. His house at 39 North Castle Street in the New Town where he wrote some of the Waverley Novels has a small copy of the Scott Monument in the decorative fanlight above the exterior door.

Attraction Info
The Scott Monument
East Princes Street Gardens EH2 2EJ

You can visit the Scott Monument with me on my 5 hour Photography Tour of Edinburgh. To book please Email or call me on 07400 705 357.