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Burns In Edinburgh

Got plans to celebrate Burns Night? Our national bard’s birthday is celebrated every 25th January in a blaze of whisky, haggis, poetry and ceilidhing, but did you know there are every day references to Robert (Rabbie) Burns scattered around Edinburgh?

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1. Lady Stairs Close, Lawnmarket

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Burns’ first lodgings in Edinburgh were in Baxters Close in the Lawnmarket, which has unfortunately since been demolished. However, you can check out Lady Stairs Close which now houses the Writer’s Museum dedicated to Burns, Robert Louis Stevenson and Walter Scott.

2. The Burns Window, St Giles Cathedral

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Head along to St. Giles Cathedral and see the famous Burns Window. This caused a great deal of comment and controversy when first installed, Burns being an infamous drinker and womanizer didn’t exactly mirror Presbyterian values. The green lower section is meant to represent Burns’ love of nature, the inspiration of many of his poems, and the upper section is vibrant red representing a metaphor in one of his most famous poems, the red rose.

3. No. 243 High St. Anchor Close

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This was where Burns met with his fellow members of the Crochallan Fencibles. This convivial club was the brainchild of Scottish obstetrician William Smellie. Whenever a new member was initiated into the club, Smellie would fire insults at them to try and provoke their temper. Burns impressed so much during his initiation, that it became a regular feature for he and Smellie to face off in a battle of the wits.

4. Canongate Kirkyard

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See the memorial stone of Agnes Maclehose (otherwise known as Clarinda) in Canongate Kirkyard, designed by H S Gamley. Agnes and Burns met in Edinburgh, and wrote each other love letters under the names 'Sylvander' and 'Clarinder'. However, Burns’ interest eventually petered out, and he sent Agnes * Ae Fond Kiss in a farewell letter. Also look out for the monument to poet Robert Fergusson, back left of church corner. Burns requested this to be created, due to Fergusson inspiring him to also become a poet.

5. Burns Monument

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Hike up Calton Hill to see the graceful Burns Monument. This was erected after much discussion starting with Mr. John Forbes Mitchell in Bombay in 1812, and finally the proposal was taken up in 1819, after a meeting at the Free Mason's Tavern in London. The building originally housed a white marble statue of the poet - now in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. Edinburgh and District Burns Clubs Association still meet here regularly.

6. The National Gallery of Scotland

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See the famous original Alexander Nasmyth portrait of Burns, painted when he (Burns) was 28 years old. He is shown fashionably dressed against a landscape, supposedly to symbolise his rural background in Alloway, Ayrshire.

7. Leith’s statue of Burns

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Never one to be outdone by other neighbourhoods, Leith has its own statue of Burns at the corner of Junction of Bernard Street and Constitution Street. Designed by David Watson Stevenson, the statue was unveiled 15 October 1898, with additional panels unveiled 7 March 1901.

8. The Blind Poet

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The Blind Poet on West Nicolson Street is named after Dr Thomas Blacklock, an Edinburgh-based poet who lost his sight through contracting smallpox, and who played an important part in Burns’ career. Burns was considering emigrating to Jamaica when he received a letter of encouragement from Blacklock who ‘belonged to a set of Critics for whose applause I had not even dared to hope’. Burns promptly set his sights on Edinburgh.

9. Potterrow

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See where Agnes Maclehose, former girlfriend of Burns, lived for the final 25 years of her life, at 14 Calton Hill (commemorated with a plaque). Prior to this, Agnes lived on our very own stomping grounds – at General's Entry in the Potterrow! She was living there when she first met Burns.

10. The White Hart Inn

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Not many pubs can say for sure that they were frequented by our national bard. Established in 1516, The White Hart Inn is one of the oldest and most established pubs in Edinburgh. In addition to Burns, they also claim William Wordsworth and murderers Burke and Hare (who allegedly used to stake out their victims here) as past patrons. Eek!

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