Scotland Street, Edinburgh

Scotland street

I may have told you before about my love affair with Alexander McCall Smith, or more specifically, his characters. The wise lady detective in Gaborone, the inimitable Edinburgh philosopher Isabel Dalhousie, the pompous Professor Dr Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld, the wonderfully quirky characters in 44 Scotland Street – I want to know them all. Just think of the dinner party discussions…

Scotland Street, Edinburgh

44 Scotland Street

Last time I was in Edinburgh, I wanted to have a look at Scotland Street, and dragged the girls along to New Town.

Have you read the series? It was first published as a serial novel in the Scotsman and is all about the slightly dysfunctional residents of 44 Scotland Street and their joys and tribulations: there’s sweet, 6-year-old Bertie with his pretentious and unsympathetic mother Irene. There’s the formidable anthropologist Domenica McDonald and her friend-later-fiancé, poet and painter Angus Lordie and his beer-lapping dog Cyril. There’s the conceited building surveyor Bruce, Pat, the student on her second gap year, the kind and awkward gallery owner Matthew and many more. Their lives intersect in weird and wonderful ways.

Scotland Street, Edinburgh

While there is no number 44, there is a Scotland Street. I can easily picture any of the characters running up the stairs and unlocking a heavy wooden door in this street.

Interestingly, bricked up spaces replace windows here and there. This, I’ve been told, is because of an ancient window tax. In 17th century Britain, property taxes were paid depending upon the number of windows. The tax was repealed in the mid-19th century. Yet, more then 150 years later, windows are still missing.

New town, Edinburgh

Nearby, is the elegant Drummond Place – and a gated garden. Little Bertie hides from his mum here, dreaming of being a normal boy and not take any more forced saxophone or Italian lessons, or yet another completely unnecessary session with the psychiatrist. Peeking into the pretty garden, I can almost see him.

The Cumberland Bar, Edinburgh

Many of the characters in Scotland Street frequent Big Lou’s and sometimes the Cumberland Bar. Big Lou’s is fictional, the Cumberland Bar is real. I had expected a sleek, modern bar; the real Cumberland Bar is more of a neighbourhood pub. Makes sense, I suppose. A sleek, modern bar probably wouldn’t allow a dog having a dish of beer under the table.

On a freezing, rainy day, Cat and I ducked in to Valvona & Crolla, a favourite of Irene’s (and Bertie’s). This is Edinburgh’s oldest Italian deli/restaurant. In my mind’s eye, I had pictured a spacious, high-ceilinged room with large windows, facing a busy street. In the real Valvona & Crolla, the restaurant is at the back of the deli, rather low-ceilinged, and with no windows. The deli shop, on the other hand, has a huge, delectable selection of cured meats, cheeses, olives, all sorts of Italian goodies.

When next I read about Bertie and his mum having cappuccinos, I’ll see them at a table in the real Valvona & Crolla, Bruce will be doing business dealings in the real Cumberland Bar, and all the characters will come and go through the doors of a real Scotland Street Georgian house. Bricked up windows and all.


unesco logo

The Georgian New Town is part of the UNESCO World Heritage site Old and New Towns of Edinburgh.
Here are more UNESCO World Heritage sites around the world.

Do books inspire your travels?

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44 Responses to “Scotland Street, Edinburgh”

  1. Lisa 10 January 2013 0324 #

    I’m a big fan of Alexander McCall Smith as well and when I read the lastest Scotland St. or Isabel Dalhousie I ache to go back to Edinburgh to see the places he mentions for myself! Loved your photos and description – hopefully I’ll see them soon!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 11 January 2013 1007 #

      Glad to hear it. Isabel Dalhousie is probably my favourite character.

  2. ItalianNotes 10 January 2013 1110 #

    I haven’t read Alexander McCall Smith, but I love your description of the characters and the setting. I’ve always been immensely fascinated by physical visits to more or less fictional places.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 11 January 2013 1007 #

      Yes, me too. I’ve ended up in the strangest places because of that.

  3. Muza-chan 10 January 2013 1111 #

    Very beautiful architecture 🙂

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 11 January 2013 1008 #

      The Georgian architecture of New Town is very elegant.

  4. InsideJourneys 10 January 2013 1500 #

    Trust the Brits to impose a window tax!
    I’ve not ready any of his books but I can see why they’d inspire travel. I was intrigued by Nancy Drew’s travels that I used to imagine myself visiting the places she did. I outgrew her years ago but but not the impulse to travel and explore.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 11 January 2013 1012 #

      Oh yes, I remember reading about Nancy Drew on a ranch in Arizona solving a mystery. I wanted to be there.

  5. [email protected] 10 January 2013 1619 #

    I haven’t read any of his books but you have inspired me to read one with your beautiful descriptions of the characters and the photos of the places they frequent. I already feel as though I know them.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 11 January 2013 1012 #

      Thanks for your kind words, Jenny.

  6. Average Traveller 10 January 2013 1855 #

    Edinburgh is on my list to visit the next time I’m in the UK so perhaps I’ll read some of these stories on the way there. Thanks!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 11 January 2013 1012 #

      Thanks for stopping by.

  7. Jen 10 January 2013 1908 #

    Yes! I have been known to plan many a visit because of a book that I have read. I have a Smith book on my reading list. I am going to have to pick it up next!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 11 January 2013 1013 #

      I love his writing style.

  8. Vera Marie Badertscher 10 January 2013 2020 #

    Sophie, You KNOW that books inspire my travels, which is why I write them at A Traveler’s Library. (My ten best new travel-inspiring books is coming next Monday.) This post would be perfect over there, as a matter of fact. In many cases, I’ve discovered organized tours to the specific locales in a city featured in a book. Is anybody doing that for Scotland Street?

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 11 January 2013 1015 #

      Of course I know 🙂 Will keep an eye out next Monday. I don’t think there are any organised tours, but the Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature Trust has created a Walking Trail pdf.

  9. Books and movies inspire travel. From your words I can tell how much you enjoy these books. it was fun visiting the area with you!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 11 January 2013 1016 #

      Thanks, Debbie.

  10. budget jan 10 January 2013 2324 #

    They certainly do Sophie. I visited Liguria because of a Annie Hawes travel memoirs – Extra Virgin and Ripe for the Picking. We had a day out from where we were staying in Ceriana inland from San Remo and caught a bus to Diano Marina and then a local bus to Diano San Pietro (where the book was set). It was wonderful to see the actual area the books were set in and on the way we stopped at Imperia, a wonderful town that we would not otherwise have visited. I do not know the books you have described, but your words have bought them to life and I know how much fun it would have been seeing these places for yourself.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 11 January 2013 1018 #

      Interesting. I’ll google Annie Hawes now. Always on the lookout for books that gives a great sense of place.

  11. Margaret 11 January 2013 0703 #

    How fun! I also love to find streets and places mentioned in books when I travel.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 11 January 2013 1018 #

      I think there are many of us 🙂

  12. I always love your posts – always make me think – I read a book once about the life of Michaelango (Agony & Ecstasy) and it make my trip to Italy so much better.

    I also host a weekly link-up on Fridays that I am trying to get new recruits for – it’s called Friday Daydreamin – asking everyone to link up their favorite post of the week – hope you can link up this week! Thanks!

  13. Leigh 11 January 2013 1557 #

    I love Alexander McCall Smith’s books – and although they didn’t propel me to Botswana they made the visit to the country more interesting. I don’t know the 44 Scotland Street Series but they sound like a good read. Certainly the adventure books I read capture my imagination and make me want to relive the experience – well some of the time.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 17 January 2013 1416 #

      Know exactly what you mean about Botswana – and have a post coming up about it 🙂

  14. Travelogged 11 January 2013 1926 #

    I love that series (much more so than the Botswana detective one), and I had read them before I went to Edinburgh in August 2010 but I didn’t track down the sights like you did. I would be kicking myself, except that with this blog post you saved me the trouble 🙂

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 17 January 2013 1425 #

      I love all his series. 🙂

  15. Turkey's For Life 12 January 2013 1320 #

    That bar looks like just my type of bar! 🙂 What a shame no one has ever thought to replace those windows. Sure there won’t be a tax on them now.

    We travelled to Oxford once just to see what we could recognise from the Inspector Morse books. Great when you stumble across a real life building that’s mentioned in a story.


    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 17 January 2013 1426 #

      Ooh, Morse. And Lewis. Another great place to explore, Oxford is.

  16. D.J. - The World of Deej 12 January 2013 2349 #

    I had not heard of Scotland Street until now…Fun stuff, and great pics…

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 17 January 2013 1426 #

      Thanks, Deej.

  17. Ana O 13 January 2013 2008 #

    I love the idea of literature-inspired travel. Back in November we went to Boston for a few days. I Harvard I tried to imagine attending a lecture by Jorge Luis Borges, a great Argentinean author who was a visiting professor in the late sixties.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 17 January 2013 1427 #

      I love that so many like doing this 🙂

  18. Andrea 14 January 2013 1014 #

    It is fun to explore the settings of fictional characters when travelling, I agree! We recently did a television show sites tour and that was really enjoyable. Love Edinburgh!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 17 January 2013 1427 #


  19. wandering educators 15 January 2013 1605 #

    I love his books – and I really love these photos and your article. YAY!!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 17 January 2013 1427 #

      Thanks 🙂

  20. Andrew Graeme Gould 18 January 2013 0202 #

    An interesting tour through those quaint streets, Sophie. I’m currently reading some of the Travelers’ Tales Guides series volumes that I bought a few years ago, and then forgot about. These are made up of excerpts of writings by many travel writers, and are most insightful. I’ve just checked, and they have a website these days with many titles.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 23 January 2013 1637 #

      Interesting – thanks for sharing, Andrew. Will look it up.

  21. Abby 21 January 2013 0602 #

    It is the single-most important reason I read historical fiction, so these places come alive, and I want to visit them.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 23 January 2013 1637 #

      Know what you mean 🙂


  1. Don George Picks Fiction Writer's Travel Literature | A Traveler's Library - 18 January 2013

    […] walking tour of Edinburgh from the Guardian and in a recent blog post from Anne-Sophie Redisch about 44 Scotland Street.)  McCall Smith chooses to write about his reasons for wanting to visit certain places–many […]

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