An Edinburgh dog trail

Jackie Buckle, pet and history enthusiast and volunteer for the Blue Cross Pet Bereavement Support Service, takes us on a dog-themed tour of Edinburgh…

There are no fewer than five dog-related statues and memorials in Edinburgh city centre, all happily within walking distance of each other. Here’s where you can find them:

  1. Greyfriars Bobby statue and gravestone

Statue – Candlemaker Row, Edinburgh EH1 2QQ. Gravestone – Greyfriars Kirkyard, 1 Greyfriars, Edinburgh EH1 2QE

Type the words “dog statue” into a Google image search and up pops Greyfriars Bobby – a cheeky looking Skye terrier who is perhaps the most famous of all loyal dogs. Over 220,000 people visit Bobby’s statue every year, [1] something that was quite evident as I tried to photograph the little dog amid the enthusiastic crowds gathered round him.

Bobby is believed to have been the pet of a certain John Gray, who died from tuberculosis in 1858 and was buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard. According to the well-loved legend, Bobby refused to leave his master’s grave, pining there for 14 years until he too died. Bobby’s devotion was reported in a local newspaper and he soon became a celebrity. People were particularly keen to witness his one o’clock trips from the graveyard to Mr Traill’s coffee house, where no doubt, many would have stopped themselves to imbibe some refreshment.

As Bobby’s fame grew a number of artists came to paint his likeness and a postcard featuring one of these pictures and Bobby’s story was produced for people to buy as a souvenir. Soon the little dog drew the attention of the wealthy Angela Burdett-Coutts, a leading member of the ladies’ section of the RSPCA and a keen philanthropist. On a visit to Edinburgh, Angela met Bobby and was so taken with him that she commissioned a celebrated sculptor called William Brodie to create a bronze likeness of the terrier to go atop a drinking fountain.

The inscription on the fountain reads as follows:

A tribute to the affectionate fidelity of Greyfriars’ Bobby. In 1858 this faithful dog followed the remains of his master to Greyfriars’ Churchyard and lingered near the spot until his death in 1872.

Jackie 1

The one and only Greyfriars Bobby. If you go to see him please do not rub his nose for luck (even though it may be tempting!) as it is causing damage to the statue.

It seems like the perfect story of doggy devotion, however, all is not quite what it seems…

After conducting extensive research, the author Jan Bondesson has found some, let’s say, inconsistencies in Bobby’s story. In his book, Bondeson recalls the tales of a great many so-called cemetery dogs. [1] Like Bobby, these were thought to be keeping long vigils on their master’s graves, however, further investigations have revealed that they were more likely to have remained at the cemeteries due to the food and attention they were receiving. None of these dogs are as famous as Bobby and many have been forgotten. It is no doubt due to Angela Burdett – Coutt’s wonderful monument that the wee terrier’s story has been kept alive.

So was Bobby just another of these cemetery dogs? It seems more than likely. Dr Bondeson believes he was simply a stray who was so well treated by those at Greyfriars that he decided to stay. In truth, much of the information passed down about him seems a tad dubious. For a start, as we know, he was featured in a number of photographs and paintings early on. However, as Bondesson notes, the dog shown in these early pictures looks quite different from the one depicted in later paintings and indeed the dog portrayed in the statue. One obvious inconsistency is that the early dog had up-pointing ears! Is it possible that the first dog died and, alarmed at the loss of trade to the cafe and the drying up of sales of souvenir postcards, another dog was brought in to replace the first and perpetuate the story? Bondeson certainly thinks so.

Furthermore, far from ‘lingering at the spot’ of his master’s grave as the inscription on the monument states, Bobby was in fact often seen sauntering around the district, visiting various local businesses for snacks, including the odd piece of steak!

Of course none of this means that dogs do not care for and miss their owners, however, I must say that it makes me rather happy to think that both dogs seemed to have lived happy and contented lives, rather than a sad existence pining for a long dead master.

Jackie 2

Bobby himself (i.e. Bobby number 2) is buried just inside the churchyard at Greyfriars where, in 1981, The Dog Aid Society of Scotland unveiled a granite memorial to him. Many people still leave sticks, toys and dog biscuits here.

Jackie 3

The Greyfriars Bobby Pub has Bobby memorabilia on show and when I visited they also did an excellent smoked cheddar pie – recommended with a pint of Nicholson’s ale!

Directions: From Greyfriars Kirkyard walk north-west on Candlemaker Row, take the first exit at the roundabout onto Cowgatehead. Continue onto Grassmarket and turn right onto King’s Stables Road. Enter Princes Street Gardens on your right (opposite the NCP carpark) to find Bum (0.4 miles/8 minutes)

 

  1. Bum

Just inside the entrance to Princes Street Gardens, King’s Stables Road, Edinburgh EH2 2HG.

An interesting aside to Bobby’s story is its association with an all-American dog. In 1978 Edinburgh was twinned with San Diego and the Lord Provost gave the mayor of the Californian city a bronze copy of Greyfriars Bobby, which was installed in Gaslamp Quarter Park beside San Diego’s own celebrity dog, Bum. Bum was so-named because… well, basically because he was a bit of a bum; going round picking fights, cadging food and even drinking alcohol. In fact, it was during an altercation with a bulldog that he was hit by a train, losing half his right foreleg.

Jackie 4

The all-American Bum. Notice his shortened front leg.

In 1989 Bum and Bobby were declared ‘brother dogs’ and a copy of Bum’s statue was shipped to Edinburgh. The Americans very much hoped that Bum would be installed next to Bobby but Edinburgh council weren’t so keen on the idea, partly due to lack of space and possibly, according to Bondeson as they didn’t want this obscure, American reprobate anywhere near their Saintly Bobby! [1] Instead Bum can be seen lying at the entrance to Princes Street Gardens, somewhere that was still a part of Bobby’s stomping ground.

Directions: From Bum continue north-east in the gardens towards Edinburgh Castle (0.5 miles / 10 mins)

 

  1. Soldier’s dog’s graves

Edinburgh Castle, Castlehill, Edinburgh EH1 2NG. Entrance fee.

Jackie 5

Cemetery for soldier’s dogs and regimental mascots in the grounds of Edinburgh Castle.  

Edinburgh is, of course, famous for its beautiful castle, but how many of its thousands of visitors, I wonder, spot the little garden with the graves of pets of army officers and regimental mascots? While it is not possible to enter the garden itself, good views can be obtained from above of the 26 memorial stones that Historic Scotland have identified here, the oldest dating back to the 1840s.

One of those remembered is reputed to be the German Shepherd, Khan, a family pet who, along with many other domestic dogs, were volunteered for service during WWII by their owners [2].  In 1944 Khan and his handler, Corporal Muldoon of the sixth battalion of the Cameronian (Scottish Rifles), were sent to the Dutch island of Walcheren to overcome German forces. Unfortunately, their boat attracted heavy fire and capsized. While Khan made it safely ashore, Muldoon soon began struggling in the water. Aware his master was still at sea Khan swam back out, and, despite heavy enemy fire found his handler, whom he pulled to shore. Khan was awarded the Dickin Medal (the PDSA award for bravery) and both dog and man survived the war with Khan spending the rest of his life with his grateful handler. [3]

If, like me, you are a fan of little pet cemeteries like this you are in very good company. It seems it also struck a chord with that much-loved Scottish poet, Robbie Burns, who was himself a great dog lover, and who commemorated the graveyard in verse:

”Berkin dugs here lie at rest
”The yappin worst, obedient best
”Sodgers pets and mascots tae
”Still the guard the castle to this day.”

Directions: From Edinburgh Castle walk east on Castlehill towards Castle Wynd N, turn left onto Ramsay Lane. Ramsay Lane turns slightly right and becomes Mound Place, turn left to stay on Mound Place, turn left onto The Mound. Now head east towards Edinburgh Waverley rail station and find the Scott monument alongside Princes Street, near the station. (0.4 miles/8 mins)

 

4. Sir Walter Scott

  1. Princes St Gardens, Edinburgh EH2 2EJ. See the statue by day and at night when it is lit up.

It can be no surprise that the Scott monument, thought to be the largest memorial in the world to a writer, features Sir Walter’s deerhound, Maida, gazing up at him lovingly. Scott was a great admirer of dogs, having owned many during his lifetime and being greatly affected by their loss. In fact, Scott seems to have pondered deeply over the deaths of his pets: one of his many observations on the matter states:

“I have sometimes thought of the final cause of dogs having such short lives and I am quite satisfied it is in compassion to the human race; for if we suffer so much in losing a dog after an acquaintance of ten or twelve years, what would it be if they were to live double that time?”

After Scott himself died, a competition was held to design a monument to his memory. Enter joiner and carpenter George Meikle Kemp. Son of a poor shepherd, Kemp had a burning passion for architecture but no qualifications. This it turned out didn’t matter as much to his surprise and delight, he was given the contract.

If you feel fit and don’t suffer from vertigo, it is well worth climbing the narrow, spiral staircase to the top of the Monument. It’s nearly 300 steps in all, but there are opportunities to rest on the way and you can admire some amazing views across Scotland’s capital while you get your breath back! There are 68 mini statues on the monument, each representing a character from one of Scott’s books, and if you look closely you may spot the farmer Dandie Dinmont from the novel Guy Mannering. Dinmont has a little terrier at his feet in his statue and interestingly this little terrier went on to become a recognised breed, known as, you guessed it, the Dandie Dinmont terrier. [4]

The sight of this enormous monument, with all its intricate miniature sculptures, is something to behold but sadly its story is not without tragedy. A few months before it was due to be inaugurated, Kemp was walking along the Union Canal to his home, when it seems he must have lost his way in the fog, falling into the water and drowning.

Kemp is buried in St Cuthberts churchyard in a grave facing the monument he designed.

Jackie 6

Within the columns Kemp’s 200ft high, gothic tower is a marble statue of Sir Walter Scott himself with his dog Maida, by the sculptor, Sir John Steell.

 Directions: From the Scott Monument walk east towards Waverley Bridge. Cross over the bridge and turn left onto Princes Street. Turn right onto South St David St. Continue north onto St Andrew Square. Find Maxwell at the junction with George Street on your left. (0.2 miles/5 mins)

 

5. Maxwell and Toby

22-26 George St, Edinburgh EH2 2PQ

Before discovering this statue I must admit that I’d never heard of the physicist James Clerk Maxwell despite the fact that his ideas have paved the way for things we find invaluable today such as photography, TV, radio and even the Internet.

In 2008, a statue to Maxwell was unveiled in Edinburgh to mark the 175th anniversary of his birth. It shows him sitting on a chair with his ‘colour wheel’ and his Irish terrier Toby by his side. Maxwell was thought to prefer the company of animals to people and it is said that he would talk to Toby, outlining his latest theories to the little dog’s non-discerning ear. He would also examine Toby’s eyes with an ophthalmoscope in his efforts to understand colour blindness.

No surprise then, to see Toby incorporated into the statue. In fact, when it was being designed, Dr Duncan of The Royal Society of Edinburgh was keen to include the dog in order to make the statue more appealing. James Rautio of Sonnet Software in the US who helped fund the project concurs, saying: “Without the dog, from a child’s point of view this is just some big statue of some dusty old guy that grown-ups insist is important.” [5]

     I have to agree. I must admit (a little guiltily) that many times in London I have walked past statues of humans without really seeing them. Statues, sadly, have a tendency to hide in plain sight. Add a dog or a cat to the monument, however, and I am immediately more engaged!

I hope you enjoy visiting all these lovely statues in the beautiful city of Edinburgh as much as I have.

Jackie 7

The eminent physicist James Clerk Maxwell (1831 – 1879) with his dog, Toby.

Jackie’s book on the world’s pet statues and memorials – Monumental Tales – is available on Amazon and via The Lutterworth Press

(Photos: Jackie Buckle)

 

References

  1. Bondeson, J., Greyfriars Bobby: The Most Faithful Dog in the World, Amberley Publishing, Stroud
  2. 2. Shute, J., Unsung heroes: the brave dogs who fought in WWII, Telegraph, 26th September, 2015
  3. Wikipedia – Rifleman Khan https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rifleman_Khan
  4. Edinburgh City of literature, Sir Walter Scott – Father of the Dandie Dinmont? http://www.cityofliterature.com/sir-walter-scottfather-dandie-dinmont/
  5. Rautio, J.C., Maxwell’s Home Preserved, His Statue Unveiled, but the Final Word Is from a Child, IEEE Microwave Magazine, June 2009

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s