In 2004 UNESCO designated Edinburgh as its first City of Literature. It's a fitting tribute because Scotland's capital has bequeathed ... more »to the world a number of literature's most enduring and resonant figures - even if the streets the characters ultimately roamed are not always those of the city that inspired them.
Sherlock Holmes has his origins not amid the swirling fog and clip-clopping hackney carriages of the streets around 221B Baker Street, but in the lecture theatres of Edinburgh University where the city native and medical student Arthur Conan Doyle learned much about deductive processes from the lectures of Dr Joseph Bell. And while the consumptive Robert Louis Stevenson wrote most of 'The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde' while enjoying the balmier climes of the English south coast, its inspiration lies in the story of the 18th-century miscreant Deacon William Brodie - respectable citizen, burgh councillor and dean of the cabinetmakers' trade guild by day, burglar and house-breaker by night. Caught in the act and tried, he eventually met his end on a scaffold of his own devising, and was claimed as an ancestor by Muriel Spark's luminous protagonist, the dazzling but flawed and dangerous Miss Jean Brodie.
The maverick schoolmarm transformed the lives of the 'little girls' she elected as the 'crème de la crème,' illuminating the drab greyness of 1930s Edinburgh - teaching them about art, travel and sex - and flirting with fascism.
This duality takes physical expression in Edinburgh in the contrast between the maze-like wynds and closes of the atmospheric Old Town, and the elegant crescents and squares of the Georgian New Town. The crime that lurks beneath the surface in both is probed by Ian Rankin's dishevelled but decent detective, Inspector Rebus, who shines a flashlight into many of the seamier and murkier aspects of city life in a series of highly-acclaimed and best-selling thrillers.
Another series of huge-selling books have their genesis in Edinburgh. JK Rowling famously drafted much of the early Harry Potter stories in Edinburgh cafés, and this walking route will take in the café near the model for Hogwart's, and the graveyard that inspired Lord Voldemort.
At one point Rowling, Rankin and Alexander McCall Smith, best-known as the author of the 'No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency' series, were Britain's best-selling writers - and all three were living in the south-western suburb of Merchiston - which inevitably became known as 'Writers' Block.'
The trail majors on contemporary writers but there are plenty of opportunities to bone up on writers from an earlier age, with exhibits on Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott in the city's Writers' Museum in Lady Stair Close, and various walking tours will explain their links with the city. less «