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The Stories Behind the Stories: How Edinburgh Revealed Her Secrets To Our Author Gillian Tait

Our newest guidebook is out: 111 Places in Edinburgh That You Shouldn't Miss! It is a great pleasure to have our author Gillian Tait here on the blog to share some of the most memorable experiences she had while researching her home city. We love to delight and surprise our readers, and it is equally wonderful when our local experts learn new stories along the way and share them with us.

How I found some of the special secret places of Scotland’s capital

Cramond Island

When I started researching this book, I was amazed to discover just how much of the city I’d never got round to exploring, after thirty years living in the compact historic centre. One thing I hadn’t appreciated was just how many havens of peace and natural beauty you can escape to within the city limits – hidden gardens, lochs, hills, parks and woodland. My favourite is Cramond Island, a wonderfully secluded spot that you can walk out to along a mile-long causeway when the tide is low.

The most spine-tingling surprise among my discoveries was definitely the fascinating subterranean site of Gilmerton Cove. I was in the outskirts of the city, in a car waiting at traffic lights, when I happened to notice a cottage with a small hanging sign – I thought at first it was an old pub. In fact it turned out to be the entrance to a mysterious underground network of rooms chiselled out of the living rock, hundreds or perhaps thousands of years ago. The most recent theory claims that it was a Druid temple. The cove (or cave) even has stylish built-in furniture– it’s as though the Flintstones had employed an interior designer from 20th century Milan!

Second only to my love of Scotland is my love of Italy, and it was my Edinburgh-based Italian teacher who alerted me to the hidden Gothic chapel and healing well of St. Triduana, in the tiny medieval enclave of Restalrig. This little hexagonal building has a very special atmosphere that reminded her of the ancient places of worship in her homeland.

My guide to St Triduana’s was a delightful elderly lady, an ex-librarian with a great fund of tales of the city. One of the stories she told me was about her great uncle, who had provided the plumed horses for the lavish 1911 showbiz-style funeral of the Great Lafayette, a world-famous American illusionist.

I’m a keen amateur singer, and it was some years ago when I was performing at the city’s Festival Theatre that I first heard this entertainer’s bizarre and tragic story. He was on a sell-out tour in Edinburgh in 1911 when his beloved (and seriously pampered) dog Beauty died. The heartbroken Lafayette insisted on burying her in a city cemetery, and was granted permission only on condition that the plot would also eventually contain his own remains. Just days later fire broke out in the theatre at the culmination of his act, and Lafayette was among the casualties. The graveyard where his ashes lie, between the paws of his canine friend, later became the site of Scotland’s first pet cemetery – a very moving place for an animal lover like myself.

111 Places in Edinburgh That You Shouldn't Miss is now available online and in book stores near you!

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