The Scott Monument, Edinburgh

On 15 August 174 years ago, the foundation stone of the Scott Monument was laid. It is still the largest monument to a writer in the world. The photograph shows the gardens as they are throughout much of the year – right now they are full of visitors to the Edinburgh Festival and much busier.

If you’ve ever visited Edinburgh, you couldn’t have missed it. The Scott Monument stands 200 feet tall at the end of Princes Street Gardens, facing the Castle, and commemorates the life and work of one of Scotland’s best-known and best-loved writers, Sir Walter Scott. It was designed by George Meikle Kemp, a joiner and self-taught architect, who was inspired by the romantic and picturesque ruins of Melrose Abbey, near to Scott’s home in the Borders. The decoration includes 64 statues of characters from Scott’s Waverley Novels.

The statue at the base of the monument, of Scott and his dog, was designed by Sir John Steell, who carved it from Italian Carrara marble. A little further to the east of Princes Street is another Steell statue, this time of the Duke of Wellington. A local joke runs that ‘This is the Iron Duke, in bronze, by Steell’.

I’ve climbed all 287 steps to the top and there is a wonderful view across the whole town of Edinburgh. The steps are carved within the stonework and they get narrower and narrower as you climb higher. The price of admission includes a certificate to show you climbed to the top – and there is a different route down so you can’t stop at the first level and claim you did the whole thing!

Charles DIckens didn’t like it, commenting ‘I am sorry to report the Scott Monument a failure. It is like the spire of a Gothic church taken off and stuck in the ground.’ He was quite right – that is exactly what it looks like, and when I was small I thought it was the spire of a great church that lay buried under Princes Street Gardens.

I’ve read most of Scott’s novels, and I like them, but I prefer his poetry. Some of it can be rather turgid, but his best has a freshness that remains after two hundred years. His “Hunting Song” is worth looking for, and little can match the wisdom of:

Twist ye, twine ye! even so, Mingle shades of joy and woe,

Hope and fear and peace and strife, Is the thread of human life.

For more about the Scott Monument, you can visit its website http://www.edinburghmuseums.org.uk/Venues/Scott-Monument

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