The dark side of Edinburgh

It’s Saturday and we’re in Edinburgh for an all-too-brief three-day visit blessed with magnificent warm and sunny autumn weather.


Lingering over a leisurely and excellent breakfast, including my newly re-discovered favourite, kippers at our hotel in Waterloo Place, my wife Kaye stumbles on an entry in  Lonely Planet for Rebus Tours. Now, if you’re an aficionado of crime novels or you’ve caught the TV series Rebus with John Hannah in the title role, you’ll immediately understand our excitement at this discovery. Here’s an unexpected opportunity to soak-up some of the local colour and flavour of novelist Ian Rankin’s best-known works.


So, without hesitation, Kaye picks up her phone and books the two of us for the noon tour. Down North Bridge and then South Bridge to the starting point, The Royal Oak, a Rebus pub! It’s below the road in Infirmary Street, more like an old cellar bar than a typical inner-city pub. There we meet our guide, Colin Brown, the lady publican and the other 10 members of our tour group. Colin conveys a suitably scholarly air and strikes an impressive appearance in his long-sleeve, heavy blue jacket, battered cream hat and a grey bag of goodies slung over his shoulder. Full grey beard complemented by matching, suitably anti-establishment hairstyle completes his distinctive appearance.


After Colin’s introductory remarks, which include the advice that we’ll all pay at the end rather than the commencement of the tour, we’re off down the narrow winding and quite hilly streets and lanes of Canongate in the Old Town. We stop almost immediately at the old city mortuary scene, as our guide explains in considerable detail, of some serious murder mysteries. Then it’s up the hill to the neighbouring venerable University of Edinburgh where such luminaries as Sir Walter Scott are commemorated in wall plaques.


On through the university grounds to the Old Surgeons’ Hall, now a museum, and Surgeons’ Square with explanations of the significance of these sites not only in the context of Rankin’s writing but also in the wider history of Scotland’s capital. And this is the pattern for the next two hours as we wend our way through housing estates, beneath the towering Salisbury Crags, the location for more dark and mysterious events, and on to the sprawling St Leonard’s Police Station, occupying an entire block. As we travel through the heartland of Inspector Rebus’ world with Colin reading from his voluminous folder, more thespian than guide, he seems to assume the character of Rankin’s hero, particularly when reading appropriate extracts from the latter’s cases. We all crowd closer, attempting to catch every detail, which is not easy when you’re also trying to photograph and record the surroundings.


By the time we arrive back at The Royal Oak, we’re not only far better-informed concerning Inspector Rebus and the somewhat dark and historic side of Edinburgh, rarely seen by tourists, but we’ve had an excellent two-hour walk! And, of course, we’ve met Colin, a real Scottish ‘character’. So, even if you’re not a Rebus fan, you should enjoy this off-the-beaten track tour, just refrain from revealing your ignorance of Rankin’s fictional hero. And, perhaps like me, as a result of this experience you’ll dip into one of the many Inspector Rebus adventures. In my case, his first, Noughts and Crosses.


When: every Saturday at 12.00 for two hours
Price: £10 (AUD $18.50) as at September 2017
Other Rebus Tours: ‘Secret Edinburgh’, ‘Walking with Scientists’, ‘McGonagall’s Feat’


Related articles:
Edinburgh’s five eeriest pubs
Edinburgh now easier
Edinburgh: blending old and new

Written by YourLifeChoices Writers

YourLifeChoices' team of writers specialise in content that helps Australian over-50s make better decisions about wealth, health, travel and life. It's all in the name. For 22 years, we've been helping older Australians live their best lives.

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