It’s a perfect pairing: literary gossip and pints. On a summer night in Edinburgh, Joni and I gathered with other bibliophiles at the Beehive Inn (left) on the atmospheric Grassmarket — a street lined with pubs, including the reportedly haunted White Hart Inn, where Robert Burns penned his poem “Ae Fond Kiss” and William Wordsworth later lodged. With two entertaining actors leading the way we set out on the Edinburgh Literary Pub Tour, strolling along the city streets, listening to their banter about writers with Edinburgh connections, from classic wordsmiths to comtemporary scribes like Alexander McCall Smith, and stopping at some pubs along the way.
At the Writers’ Museum (right), we delved into the history of three famous figures who hail from Edinburgh: Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson. Located in a 17th-century building reached by a narrow stone passageway, the museum has a section devoted to each writer with fascinating details about their lives from childhood through their illustrious careers. Robert Burns was the son of a poor tenant farmer before becoming an internationally celebrated poet. Stevenson, despite being plagued by health problems, led an adventurous life. He went to America in search of the woman he loved, sailed the South Pacific, and lived the last years of his life on the island of Samoa. (Look for more about Sir Walter Scott in the next blog post.)
Our literary adventures in Edinburgh — UNESCO’s first city of literature — ended with a visit to the Robert Louis Stevenson House, the writer’s childhood home at 17 Herriot Row, a townhouse located along Queen Street Gardens. It’s a private residence owned by the Macfie family. They occasionally accept overnight lodgers, and you can also arrange to have lunch or tea at the house. We savored fragrant Moroccan-style tea made with mint from the kitchen garden before being given a tour of the house. It was the perfect way to close the book on Edinburgh…going behind the closed doors of a literary landmark. –Shannon McKenna Schmidt