Neil Sowerby hangs out with the ghosts of Greyfriars Bobby and The Bodysnatchers
THE Missing Bone of St Giles Cathedral sounds like a shaggy dog story. Especially since in this ‘High Kirk of Edinburgh’ a canine welcome is always extended. Alas, this refers to a certain incident in Reformation times when the precious arm bone of the saint himself was plundered by relic hunters.
Don’t miss cobbled Circus Lane, an Instagram hit, after which a grassy interlude is a priority. Edinburgh is blessed with an abundance of wide open green spaces
Enough ancient artefacts remain in this 12th century sanctuary to sate the eagerest of ecclesiastical geeks. Be warned, though. There are sandstone pillars aplenty to tempt any accompanying hound to cock a leg for an Auld Reekie ‘leekie’. Just keep an eye out if you take McFido in with you.
Why then is this august pile so dog-friendly? It’s all down to its most famous minister, the Protestant firebrand John Knox. A convert from the Catholic priesthood, he had to flee to Europe when Bloody Mary restored the old faith, only returning in 1559 when Scotland was about to become officially Presbyterian.
While travelling on the continent Knox’s close friend, John Craig, fell ill and his life was somehow miraculously saved by a dog. When he made it back to Scotland he told the story to Knox, who promptly allowed dogs the freedom of the church, and today they are still welcome.
There’s a plaque in the cathedral car park on the Royal Mile, marking the approximate site of Knox’s grave, but it’s not the most famous memorial in Edinburgh’s Old Town. That honour must attach to the statue up by George IV Bridge of the archetypal faithful pooch. Skye Terrier Greyfriars Bobby famously spent 14 long years guarding the grave of his owner, who had died of consumption. On his own passing he was buried near him in Greyfriars Kirkyard, said to be the world’s most haunted cemetery.
Here you’ll find graves protected by a framework of iron bars called mortsafes. Iron coffins were also in common use to protect newly buried cadavers from body snatchers. Most famous of these so-called “Resurrection Men” were Burke and Hare. Resident ghost? Check out the Mackenzie Poltergeist, spirit of a notorious 17th century ‘hanging judge’.
Alas, despite Bobby, the free to enter burial ground is out of bounds to hounds. That’s the case with many other of the city’s big draws, culminating in Edinburgh Castle. Of course, no one would expect a pet to relish a night-time ghost walk or the haunting subterranean experience of The Real Mary Kings’s Close (a perennial favourite of ours). ...
Fortunately there are lots of attractive alternatives inside and out that led Edinburgh to be named the UK’s most dog-friendly city in 2021. So many hotels cater for canines these days, among them our Edinburgh base, The Moxy at Fountainbridge. I’d stayed before at the same mega-cool chain’s Glasgow Merchant City branch, so knew what to expect. It's as warmly hospitable to its pet guests as it is to the human variety. Provided your dog is under 35kg he or she is in. You pay a £15 premium for the basket and bowl in your room. Just as welcoming is the complimentary cocktail for you and your (human) partner on arrival. After settling in it’s less than a 15 minute walk to both New and Old Towns.
An essential pit-stop en route to either is the first of many pet-friendly bars – the Hanging Bat on Lothian Road. In a decidedly shack-like interior a blackboard charts 20 rotating, cutting edge beers, six cask, 12 keg, while the bottle menu lists 150 craft exemplars and 35 gins. Their motto is “Happiness is measured in schooners”.
A more traditional, dog-friendly pub, and arguably the most famous in town due to its Ian Rankin/Inspector Rebus affiliations, is The Oxford Bar at 8 Young Street in the New Town. Around the corner for cocktails with your canine there’s the floral, louche Badger & Co on Castle Street, a Wind In The Willows inspired bar in the former townhouse of its author, Kenneth Grahame.
Tempting but our hearts were set on upmarket Stockbridge – Edinburgh’s dog-central quarter. The most atmospheric route there is the shady Water of Leith Walkway, which takes in the Union Canal, historic Dean Village and the Royal Botanic Garden (alas, the latter does not allow dogs but neighbouring Inverleith Park does). We caught the Stockbridge Sunday Farmer’s Market, where every man and his dog seemed to be stocking up on gourmet treats – honey, fish, venison, artisan miso, fruit and veg and, perfect brunch ballast, portions of giant paellas.
Stockbridge’s main drag, Raeburn Place, features an Oxfam bookshop offering genuine bargains alongside a raft of canine boutiques. Most bars are dog-friendly, too, one pick being the light and airy Stockbridge Tap, which is the perfect place for a pooped pup to snooze while its owners raid one of the city’s best craft beer selections. Other bar recommendations include St Bernard’s (sic), Hector’s and St Vincent’s.
After all this, another head-clearing walk is de rigueur. Nearby don’t miss cobbled Circus Lane, an Instagram hit, after which a grassy interlude is a priority. Edinburgh is blessed with an abundance of wide open green spaces. Princess Street Gardens in summer has too many recumbent human bodies in the way. Pass on to Calton Hill, say, home to Scotland’s National Monument. A homage to Athens’ Parthenon, it has been left unfinished for 200 years and offers spectacular views.
It’s a gentle climb to the top of Calton. Big brother Arthur’s Seat offers an altogether greater challenge for you and the active dog in your life. The 251-metre dormant volcano is the highest peak in the 640 acre Holyrood Park with its network of tracks ranging from easy to rough scramble. Less tiring would be to take one of the Edinburgh Bus Tours, which welcome well-behaved dogs on board.
If the rain comes calling (or you’ve had enough of Edinburgh Festival street theatre) the Royal Mile boasts a bolthole you wouldn’t have expected to be dog-friendly but is – the Camera Obscura and World of Illusions. The city’s first ever custom-built visitor attraction (1853) features five floors of interactive hands-on optical illusions and mind-bending diversions such as mirror maze, shrinking room and vortex tunnel.
Suitably disoriented, it’s a 10 minute toddle down the High Street to arguably Edinburgh’s most dog-friendly hostelry, the Tolbooth Tavern, originally built in 1591 as part of the original Canongate Tolbooth and said to be haunted (like almost everywhere in these parts). It even offers a menu for dogs – a choice of chicken, rice and veg or fish, pasta and veg, with three separate portion sizes geared to the size of your pet.
We suspect big-hearted Greyfriars Bobby might have ordered the haggis, neeps and tatties stack from the humans’ menu.