The Scott Monument is a Victorian Gothic monument located in the heart of Edinburgh in Princes Street Gardens. It is dedicated to the world-renowned Scottish writer Sir Walter Scott, the author of the novel Waverley, from which Edinburgh Waverly Train Station takes its name.
The tower is just over 200 feet high (61 meters), making it the largest monument erected to a writer anywhere in the world. Visitors can climb the 287 steps of the narrow staircase, which winds around the monument and connects to four viewing platforms that offer spectacular views of the city. Those who reach the summit can obtain a certificate commemorating their achievement.
The majestic Scott Monument — Photo courtesy of Iain Millar
Sir Walter Scott was born in Edinburgh in 1771. He trained as a lawyer but soon found his fame as a poet and novelist. He was an avid collector of Scottish folk stories and ballads, but is best known for his romantic historical novels – in particular Waverley, Rob Roy, Ivanhoe and The Heart of Midlothian.
Scott’s study of Scottish history led him to the conclusion that the long lost Honours of Scotland (the crown jewels) were hidden in Edinburgh Castle. The 1707 Act of Union between Scotland and England had stated that the jewels must remain in Scotland, but they had been stowed in a locked box for over 100 years. Thanks to Scott, they are now on display for the public to see.
Built from local Binny sandstone, the foundation stone of the Scott Monument was established on August 15, 1840, (eight years after Scott’s death), and it was completed six years later. George Meikle Kemp beat many established architects to win the competition to design the monument. Unfortunately, he drowned in the Union Canal before the monument was finished.
A time capsule was buried beneath the foundation stone of the structure, containing local newspapers, a subscription list, a full set of contemporary coins and a brass memorial plaque, which proclaimed Scott had ”given more delight and suggested better feeling to a larger class of readers, in every rank of society, than those of any other author, with the exception of Shakespeare alone.”
At the base of the monument stands an exquisite Italian marble statue by Sir John Steell of Sir Walter Scott and his dog Maida. A further 64 statues incorporated into the body of the monument depict characters from his novels.
On its completion, the monument met with a mixed critical reception. Charles Dickens declared it a failure, while Professor David Masson declared it was the finest monument ever raised to a writer. Nowadays, this iconic structure is one of Edinburgh’s most popular attractions.
If you do decide to climb the monument, be warned: it’s not an undertaking for the faint of heart. The worn spiral staircases are uncomfortably narrow, but the view definitely justifies the effort.