I am now at the gates of Edinburgh; but before I come to describe the particulars of that city, give me leave to take it in perspective, and speak something of its situation, which will be very necessary with respect to some disadvantage which the city lies under on that account.
When you stand at a small distance, and take a view of it from the east, you have really but a confused idea of the city, because the situation being in length from east to west, and the breadth but ill proportioned to its length, you view under the greatest disadvantage possible; whereas if you turn a little to the right hand towards Leith, and so come towards the city, from the north you see a very handsome prospect of the whole city, and from the south you have yet a better view of one part, because the city is encreased on that side with new streets, which, on the north side, cannot be.
The particular situation then of the whole is thus. At the extremity of the east end of the city stands the palace or court, called Haly-Rood House; and you must fetch a little sweep to the right hand to leave the palace on the left, and come at the entrance, which is called the Water Port, and which you come at thro' a short suburb, then bearing to the left again, south, you come to the gate of the palace which faces the great street. From the palace, west, the street goes on in almost a straight line, and for near a mile and a half in length, some say full two measured miles, thro' the whole city to the castle, including the going up the castle in the inside; this is, perhaps, the largest, longest, and finest street for buildings and number of inhabitants, not in Britain only, but in the world.
From the very palace door, which stands on a flat, and level with the lowest of the plain country, the street begins to ascend; and tho' it ascends very gradually at first, and is no where steep, yet 'tis easy to understand that continuing the ascent for so long a way, the further part must necessarily be very high; and so it is; for the castle which stands at the extremity west, as the palace does east, makes on all the three sides, that only excepted, which joins it to the city, a frightful and impassable precipice.
Together with this continued ascent, which, I think, 'tis easy to form an idea of in the mind, you are to suppose the edge or top of the ascent so narrow, that the street, and the row of houses on each side of it, take up the whole breadth; so that which way soever you turn, either to the right, or to the left, you go down hill imediately, and that so steep, as is very troublesome to those who walk in those side lanes which they call Wynds, especially if their lungs are not very good: So that, in a word, the city stands upon the narrow ridge of a long ascending mountain.
On the right side, or north side of the city, and from the very west end of it, where the castle stands, is a lough, or lake of standing water; there is, indeed, a small brook runs thro' it, so that it cannot be said to be quite standing water. And we were told, that in former days there was another lough on the south side of it, which, being now filled up, is built into a street, tho' so much lower than the high street, or ridge, that, as I said before, the lanes or wynds between them are very steep.
It is easy to conclude, that such a situation as this could never be picked out for a city or town, upon any other consideration than that of strength to defend themselves from the suddain surprizes and assaults of enemies: And, tho' the building is so ancient, that no history has recorded the foundation, either when, or by who, or on what occasion it was built; yet, I say, it seems most natural to conclude, that it was built for a retreat from the outrages and attempts of the Picts or Irish, or whatever other enemies they had to fear.
On the top of the ridge of a hill, an impregnable castle and precipice at one end, a lough, or lake of water on either side; so that the inhabitants had nothing to defend but the entrance at the east end, which it was easy to fortify.
If this was not the reason, what should have hindered them from building the city in a pleasant, delightful valley, with the sea flowing up to one side, and a fresh water river running thro' the middle of it; such as is all that space of ground between the city, as it now stands, and the sea, or Firth, and on the south shore, whereof the town of Leith now stands?
Here they had had a noble, a pleasant, and a most useful situation, a very fine harbour for their trade, a good road in the Firth for their ships of burthen, a pleasant river, which, with small art or charge, might have been so drawn round the city as to have filled its ditches, and made its fortifications as impregnable as the two loughs did the city, and as the French, when they fortifyed Leith, found easy to do. Or had they gone to the south side of the city, beyond the deep lough, which, they say it was, and which is now called the Cowgate, and extended the city towards Libertoun, and towards Good-Trees, where now stands the delightful seat of Sir James Stuart, late Lord Advocate of Scotland, and the ancient seat of Craigmiller, the seat of Sir Alexander of Craigmiller. Here had been a plain large enough to have contained a second London, and watered on the south part with a pleasant brook, sufficient, by the help of pipes, to have carried water into every street, and every house.
These things they did not foresee, or understand in those days; but, regarding immediate safety, fixed on the place as above as a sure strength, formed by Nature, and ready at their hand. By this means the city suffers infinite disadvantages, and lies under such scandalous inconveniences as are, by its enemies, made a subject of scorn and reproach; as if the people were not as willing to live sweet and clean as other nations, but delighted in stench and nastiness; whereas, were any other people to live under the same unhappiness, I mean as well of a rocky and mountainous situation, thronged buildings, from seven to ten or twelve story high, a scarcity of water, and that little they have difficult to be had, and to the uppermost lodgings, far to fetch; we should find a London or a Bristol as dirty as Edinburgh, and, perhaps, less able to make their dwelling tolerable, at least in so narrow a compass; for, tho' many cities have more people in them, yet, I believe, this may be said with truth, that in no city in the world so many people live in so little room as at Edinburgh.
On the north side of the city, as is said above, is a spacious, rich, and pleasant plain, extending from the lough, which as above joins the city, to the river of Leith, at the mouth of which is the town of Leith,at the distance of a long Scots mile from the city: And even here, were not the north side of the hill, which the city stands on, so exceeding steep, as hardly, (at least to the westward of their flesh-market) to be clambered up on foot, much less to be made passable for carriages. But, I say, were it not so steep, and were the lough filled up, as it might easily be, the city might have been extended upon the plain below, and fine beautiful streets would, no doubt, have been built there; nay, I question much whether, in time, the high streets would not have been forsaken, and the city, as we might say, run all out of its gates to the north.
This might have been expected, if the city had been in a state of increase, for the trade having flourished, as was reasonably expected upon the Union, the inhabitants had likewise encreased; whereas, there being reason to doubt that this is not the case, but rather the contrary, we cannot talk of this as prospect in hope.
Having thus considered the city in its appearance, and in its present situation, I must look next into its inside, where we shall find it under all its discouragements and disadvantages, (and labouring with whatever inconveniences) a large, populous, noble, rich, and even still a royal city. The main street, as above, is the most spacious, the longest, and best inhabited street in Europe; its length I have described; the buildings are surprising both for strength, for beauty, and for height; all, or the greatest part of free-stone, and so firm is every thing made, that tho' in so high a situation, and in a country where storms and violent winds are so frequent, 'tis very rare that any damage is done here. No blowing of tiles about the streets, to knock people on the head as they pass; no stacks of chimneys and gable-ends of houses falling in to bury the inhabitants in their ruins, as we often find it in London, and other of our paper built cities in England; but all is fixed, and strong to the top, tho' you have, in that part of the city called the Parliament-close, houses, which, on the south side, appear to be eleven or twelve story high, and inhabited to the very top.
From the palace gate, westward, this street is called the Cannon-Gate, vulgarly the Canni-gate, which part, tho' a suburb, is a kind of Corporation by itself, as Westminster to London; and has a toll-booth, a prison, and a town-guard by itself, tho' under the government of the provost and bailiffs of Edinburgh as Leith itself also is. In this part of the street, tho' otherwise not so well inhabited as the city itself, are several very magnificent houses of the nobility, built for their residence when the court was in town, and on their other occasions, just as was the case in the Strand between London and Whitehall, before the encrease of the city prompted the building those fine houses into streets. Of those the Duke of Queensberry's, the Earl of Wintoun's, the Duke of Roxburgh's, and the Earl of Murray's are the chief; the first and last are very magnificent, large and princely buildings, all of free-stone, large in front, and with good gardens behind them, and the other are very fine buildings, too many to be described.
At the upper, or west end of this street, and where it joins to the city, is a gate which, just as Ludgate, or Temple-Bar, stands parting the city itself from the suburb, but not at all discontinuing the street, which rather widens, and is more spacious when you are thro' the gate than before. This gate, or Bow, is called the Nether-Bow, or, by some, the Nether-Bow port.
Just at this port, on the outside, turn away two streets, one goes south to a gate or port which leads out of the city into the great road for England, by the way of Kelso, and is called St. Mary Wynde; and, on the right hand of it, another port turns away west, into the low street, mentioned before, where was a lough formerly filled up, and is called the Cowgate, because, by this street, the cattle are driven to and from the great marketplace, called the Grass-market, where such cattle are bought and sold, as also where is a horse-market weekly, as in Smithfield. This street, called the Cowgate, runs parallel with the high street, but down in a bottom, as has been said. But to go back to the Nether-Bow Port, as this turning is on the left hand going into the city, so on the right hand goes another street, which they call Leith Wynd, and leads down to a gate which is not in the city wall immediately, but adjoining to a church called the College-Kirk, and thro' which gate, a suburb runs out north, opening into the plain, leads to Leith; and all along by the road side, the road itself paved with stones like a street, is a broad causeway, or, as we call it, a foot way, very firm, and made by hand at least 20 foot broad, and continued to the town of Leith. This causeway is very well kept at the publick expence, and no horses suffered to come upon it.
At the turning down of this street, without the Nether-Bow port, which they call the head of the Cannon-gate, there stood a very great pile of building which went both ways, part made the east side of the turning called Leith Wynd, and part made the north side of the Cannon-gate; the whole was built, as many such are, for private dwellings, but were stately, high, and very handsome buildings, seven or eight stories: But great part of this fine pile of building was very unhappily burnt a few years ago; whether they are yet fully rebuilt, I cannot say.
We now enter the city, properly so called; in almost the first buildings of note on the north side of the street, the Marquess of Tweedale has a good city house, with a plantation of lime-trees behind it, instead of a garden, the place not allowing room for a large garden; adjoining to which are very good buildings, tho' in the narrow wynds and alleys, such as if set out in handsome streets, would have adorned a very noble city, but are here crouded together, as may be said, without notice.
Here the physicians have a hall, and adjoining to it a very good garden; but I saw no simples in it of value, there being a physick garden at the palace which furnishes them sufficiently: But they have a fine Museum, or Chamber of Rarities, which are worth seeing, and which, in some things, is not to be matched in Europe. Dr. Balfour, afterwards knighted, began the collection. Sir Robert Sibbald has printed a catalogue of what was then deposited in his time. The physicians of Edinburgh have preserved the character of able, learned, and experienced, and have not been outdone by any of their neighbours: And the late Dr. Pitcairn, who was the Ratcliff of Scotland, has left large testimonies of his skill in nature and medicine to the world.
It must not be expected I can go on to describe all the buildings of the city; I shall therefore only touch at such things, and go on. From the Nether-Bow, you have an open view up the high street. On the south side is the Trone kirk, and a little farther, in the middle of the street the guard house, where the town guard does duty every night. These are in the stead of our watchmen; and the town maintains two full companies of them, clothed and armed as grenadiers.
Those are as a guard to keep the publick peace of the city; but I cannot but acknowledge that they are not near so good a safeguard to the citizens, against private robberies, as our watchmen in London are; and Edinburgh is not without such fellows as shop-lifters, house-robbers, and pick-pockets, in proportion to the number of people, as much as London itself.
About midway, between the Nether-Bow and the Castle-Hill, is the great church, formerly it was called the cathedral, and was all one church, dedicated to St. Giles: But since the abolishing episcopacy, and that the Presbyterian church is now established by the Union, so as never legally to suffer another change; I say never legally, because it cannot be done without dissolving the Union, which I take to be indissolvable: Since this establishment, the cathedral church is divided into four parochial churches.
In one of those churches, which they call the new church, were seats for the Parliament, high commissioners, and the nobility, when the Parliament was assembled, tho' that occasion is now over: In a room, formerly a kind of consistory room, on the south side of the church, the General Assembly hold their meetings once a year, as also does the Commission of the Assembly in the intervals of the General Meeting, as occasion requires. In the great tower of this church they have a set of bells, which are not rung out as in England, for that way of ringing is not known here; but they are played upon with keys, and by a man's hand, like a harpsicord; the person playing has great strong wooden cases to his fingers, by which he is able to strike with the more force, and he plays several tunes very musically, tho' they are heard much better at a distance than near at hand; the man plays every day, Sunday and fast days excepted, at twelve a clock, and has a yearly salary for doing it, and very well he earns the money.
On the south side of this church is a square of very fine buildings, which is called by the name of the Parliament Close; the west side of the square, and part of the south, is taken up with the Parliament House, and the several Courts of Justice, the Council-Chamber, the Treasury, the publick offices, registers, the publick library, &. the court for the meeting of the Royal Boroughs, and several offices needful, when the independency of Scotland was in being, but now not so much in use. But as the Session, or College of Justice, the Exchequer, and the Justiciary, or courts for criminal causes still exist, the usual places for their assembling are still preserved. These buildings are very fine, all of free-stone, well finished, and very magnificent. The great church makes up the north side of the square, and the east remaining part of the south side is built into private dwellings very stately, lofty, and strong, being seven story high to the front of the square, and the hill they stand on giving so sudden a descent, they are eleven or twelve story high backward.
The publick part was first finished by King Charles I and an equestrian statue of King Charles II stands in the middle of the square; all the east part was burnt down by a most terrible fire; but 'tis rebuilt as fine as ever. The great opening into the High Street, being the only passage into it for coaches, is at the north-east corner, between the south-east corner of the High Kirk, and the opposite high buildings, and a little from the opening is the market-cross, where all their proclamations and publick acts are read and published by sound of trumpet. Here is the great parade, where, every day, the gentlemen meet for business or news, as at an Exchange; the usual time of meeting is from eleven to one. Here is also another passage at the north-west corner, which goes into the Land-market, and another passage down innumerable stone stairs, on the south side, leading into the Cowgate.
On the west end of the great Church, but in a different building, is the Tolbooth, or common prison, as well for criminals as debtors, and a miserable hole it is, to say no worse of it; tho', for those that can pay for it, there are some apartments tolerable enough, and persons of quality are sometimes confined here. The great church and this prison also standing in the middle of the street, the breadth and beauty of it is for some time interrupted, and the way is contracted for so far as those buildings reach on the north side.
But those buildings past, the street opens again to a breadth rather wider than before, and this is called the Land-market, but for what reason I know not. This part is also nobly built, and extends west to the Castle Hill, or rather to a narrower street which leads up to the castle.
At the upper end of this Land-market is a stone building, appropriated to several publick offices of lesser value, and is called the Weigh-house; for below stairs are warehouses, with publick weights and scales for heavy goods.
Here the High Street ends, and parting into two streets, one goes away south-west, and descending gradually, leads by the West Bow, as 'tis called, to the Grass-market, This street, which is called the Bow, is generally full of wholesale traders, and those very considerable dealers in iron, pitch, tar, oil, hemp, flax, linseed, painters' colours, dyers, drugs and woods, and such like heavy goods, and supplies country shopkeepers, as our wholesale dealers in England do: And here I may say, is a visible face of trade; most of them have also warehouses in Leith, where they lay up the heavier goods, and bring them hither, or fell them by patterns and samples, as they have occasion.
There are large gates in the city which they call ports, including those to the Cannon-gate.
- The Water-Gate, which is the east gate by the palace, leading out of the city towards Berwick, and is the great post road to England.
- The South Port, mentioned before, leading likewise into the road to Soutra Hill, and so to England by way of Kelso.
- The Cowgate Port, at the east end of the Cowgate, and entring from the street leading to the South Port.
- The College Port, or the gate going south by the wall of Harriot's hospital.
- The West-Bow Port, spoken of before in the middle of the street, mentioned above where the wholesale dealers dwell.
- The North Port, a gate leading from the butchery, or flesh-market, over the end of the lough.
- The Nether-Bow Port, spoken of at large, leading into the city from the Cannon-gate.
- The College-Kirk Port, at the bottom or foot of Leith Wynd.
- The West Port, which is the only gate in the west end of the city, and leads out to all the west and north parts of Scotland, and especially to Glasgow, to Sterling, and to the Queens Ferry, the two last being the principal passages into the north.
The markets in Edinburgh are not in the open street, except that in the High Street, where there is every morning an herb and fruit market, which yet abates before noon, and what remains then is no grievance. Besides this, there are several distinct market places walled in, and reserved for the particular things they are appointed for, and very well regulated by the magistrates, and well supplied also; as
- The Meal-market.
- The Flesh-market.
- The Poultry-market.
- The Butter-market.
- The Grass-market.
- The Horse-market.
Kept open, and in the same street just within the west port, with several others. There is also, in the street called the Land-market, a weekly market for all sorts of woollen manufactures, and some mercery and drapery goods, and also for linnen cloth.
But I must not omit the seminaries of learning, and the attendants upon them, nor the surgeons and apothecaries, with the great hospital, all which stand on the south side of the city; the first of them is the surgeons hall, or surgeon-apothecaries, for here they make but one profession. They have set up a large building all at their own charge, in which is their great hall, hung round with the pictures of all the surgeons of the city, that are, or have been since the building was erected, as also the pictures of Duke Hamilton and the late Lord Chancellor. They have also a Chamber of Rarities, a theatre for dissections, and the finest bagnio in Britain; 'tis perfectly well contrived, and exactly well finished, no expence being spared to make it both convenient and effectually useful.
In their Chamber of Rarities they have several skeletons of strange creatures, a mummy, and other curious things, too many to be particular in them here.
The Humanity school is kept in the same part, which is reckoned as a part of the university, as being employed in the finishing youth for the college. West of these is the college itself, they call it the university: But as it consists of but one college, I call it no more. However, here are all the usual methods of academick learning in their full perfection. The principal, or master, has a handsome dwelling-house and garden in the college: There are, besides a Professor of Divinity, four Regents, or Professors of Philosophy; a Professor of Greek, another of Hebrew, another of History, of the Mathematicks, and of the Civil Law.
The college has a very handsome public library; and, though not famous for number of books, is yet so for its being a valuable collection of antiquity, and has some very good manuscripts. The late Act of Parliament for settling the right of copies, has made provision for a constant supply of modern books, especially such as are printed in England; so the library is like to encrease, in time, to a great one.
Here was formerly a mint, but that is now laid aside, the Union having made one and the same coinage common to the whole island.
The churches in this populous City are but ten:
- The Cannon-gate Church.
- The College Kirk.
- The Trone Kirk.
- The New Kirk.
- The Old Kirk.
- The Tolbrook Kirk.
- The Haddocks Hole Kirk.
- The Lady Yester's Kirk.
- The Gray Friars Kirk.
- The West Kirk.
There are also many meeting-houses of the Episcopal party who call themselves Church of England, though they do not all use the English Common-Prayer. These are the dissenters in Scotland, as the Presbyterians are Dissenters in England.
There are also two churches at Leith, and very large and very full they are, and so indeed are all the churches in the city, for the people of Scotland do not wander about on the sabbath-days, as in England; and even those who may have no more religion than enough, yet custom has made it almost natural to them, they all go to the kirk.
They have also one very good custom as to their behaviour in the church, which I wish were practised here, namely, that after the sermon is over, and the blessing given, they all look round upon their friends, and especially to persons of distinction, and make their civilities and bows as we do here, for, by the way, the Scots do not want manners. But if any person come in when the worship is begun, he takes notice of no body, nor any body of him; whereas here we make our bows and our cringes in the middle of our very prayers.
I have now done with the city; the palace only, and the castle remain to be mentioned; the last is strong by situation, not much bettered by art, and far from being impregnable, as has been proved more than once. It is now of little use, unless for salutes, and firing guns upon festivals, and in some cases to lay up a magazine of arms and ammunition, and to receive prisoners of State.
The Governor has very good apartments, and so has the Lieutenant Governor, as also the Fort-major, and some other officers, and there are deep vaults in the rock, which they say are bomb-proof, and I doubt not but they are so, for they go down into them by a great number of steps. There is also a well of very good water in the castle, and it is carefully kept, but it is a prodigious depth. Here are not a great many guns planted, neither, indeed, is there room to place many guns, or use for them where they can be placed, the works being so very high.
The palace is a handsome building, rather convenient than large. The entrance is majestick, and over the gate a large apartment, which the Duke of Hamilton claims as housekeeper, or rather gate-keeper of the palace; within this is a large, irregular court, where, I must needs say, are very improperly placed the coach-houses and stables, which should much rather have been farther off, either in the park, or without the outgate: And, if here had been a barrack, or guard-house, like the Horse-Guards at Whitehall, it would have looked much more like a royal palace for the king. On either side of this court are gardens, yards the Scots call them, whereof one is like our apothecaries garden at Chelsea, called a physick garden, and is tolerably well stored with simples, and some exoticks of value; and, particularly I was told, there was a rhubarb-tree, or plant, and which throve very well. In this garden stands Queen Mary's Dial, which is a very curious one, but neglected.
Antiquity claims the fee simple here, and tells us that the church is still ground landlord; for, before the Reformation, this was a monastery; and, tho' it was converted into a palace before the suppression of religious houses, yet, that till then the monks had a fair apartment, and was therefore called Haly-Rood House, and they did but entertain the kings and queens in the other as a kind of Guest Mates, or, as we call them, lodgers.
But, be that as it will, the Reformation found a good house upon the premises, which served the kings for some ages before, and which King Charles II. after the Restoration, caused to be pulled down, except the two rondels, or towers, and built the whole fabrick new as it now stands. It is a firm, strong building, square in form, having one court only in the center; and the lower story being divided, the inner part makes a very handsome piazza, tho' the work is plain, and very little ornament, therefore not to be described as one author does by the pillars of the Exchange of London, which are set off with almost all the ornament art could invent.
The apartments are all upon the first floor, the offices below, and some upper rooms are allotted to the servants of the court when the court is there. I have not room to describe the particular apartments, nor is it of moment. The great staircase is at the south-west corner of the house, and the guard-chamber and rooms of state take up the south side of the house, as the king's lodgings do the east side, which the Lord Commissioner makes use of in time of parliament; and the west side would be supposed to be the queen's lodgings, if such a thing was to be seen again in Scotland, but at present are out of use. The north side is taken up with one large gallery, reaching the whole length of the house, famous for having the pictures of all the kings of Scotland, from King Fergus, who, they say, reigned Anno ant. CHR. 320. But, in my opinion, as these pictures cannot be, and are not supposed to be originals, but just a face and dress left to the discretion of the limner, and so are all guess-work, I see no rarity, or, indeed, any thing valuable in it. As to their later kings there may be some pretence to have their pictures from old preserved draughts, or from their coins or medals, and such may be, indeed, worth preserving; and, tho' they were but copyed again, it would have been worth seeing; but, as it is, I must confess it seems a trifling thing, rather than a gallery fit for a court.
The old Chapel Royal, or church of the convent, stands in its disshabile, ruined and decayed, and must fall down. In King James IId's time, the old council-chamber was consecreated for a chapel, instead of the ancient fabric; and there the Roman priests officiated for some time, promising themselves not only to restore the great ancient chapel, but even to seize upon the palace itself in the right of the Church, and make a noble monastery of it which it must be confessed might have been done with very little change: But their reign was too short for the undertaking.
On the side of the park was a part set out for fine gardens, and they are still called St Ann's Yards, that is gardens; but they have never been planted or formed.
I must now visit Leith, the sea-port of Edinburgh, as it is properly called: It is a large and populous town, or rather two towns, for the river or harbour parts them, and they are joined by a good stone bridge, about half a mile, or more, from the mouth of the river.
Up to this bridge ships of burthen may come, and, at high water, lay their sides close to the shore; but at low water people pass over on foot, even without the pier; but the water flows in the Firth near three fathom right up and down.
Here is a very fine key well wharfed up with stone, and fenced with piles, able to discharge much more business than the place can supply, tho' the trade is far from being inconsiderable too. At the mouth of the harbour is a very long and well built pier, or head, which runs out beyond the land a great way, and which defends the entrance into the harbour from filling up with sand, as, upon hard gales of wind at north-east, would be very likely: There are also ranges of piles, or break-waters, as the seamen call them, on the other side the harbour, all which are kept in good repair; and by this means the harbour is preserved, and kept open in spight of a flat shore, and a large swell of the sea.
On the other side the bridge is the remains of a strong castle, built by Oliver Cromwell to command the port, but demolished; yet not so much, but that a little expence and a few hands would soon restore it. Here the late rebel Highlanders made a bold stop, and took possession of it for one night; but not finding their friends in the city in any condition to join them; and the troops preparing to attack them, they quitted it in the night, and marched off to the Earl of Winton's house, as has been said. Leith, tho' it has a particular bayliff, is yet under the jurisdiction of the magistrates of Edinburgh, and is governed by them. The town had a great disaster a few years before the Union, by a store-house of gunpowder taking fire, which demolished almost a whole street of houses; the loss is not fully repaired to this day: Many lives also were lost, and many people miserably hurt and bruised, which, I think, should serve as a hint to all governments, not to suffer quantities of powder to be kept in populous towns.
This town was once very strong, when the French held it, as they did for many years against the Reformers, and were not at last driven out, but by an army from England, which Queen Elizabeth sent to assist the Protestants.
From Leith, the Firth, which is there, at least, two leagues over, holds that breadth for five or six miles, and then narrows a little beyond Cramond; and again at the Queens-Ferry, it is reduced to two miles breadth, and an island in the middle also.
There is also a ferry at Leith, the boats going from Leith to Burnt-Island, or, as the Scots call it, Bruntillian; but as 'tis no less than seven miles, and that sometimes they meet with bad weather, the passengers are so often frighted, that I knew several gentlemen that would always choose to go round to the Queens-Ferry, rather than venture over at Leith; this, I suppose, gave beginning to that homely piece of proverb poetry, that
There is never a laird in
But once a year he would give his estate for his life.
Queens-Ferry is not a passage over the water only, but a very good town also, and a Corporation. And here I must take notice of a thing which was to me surprising, I mean as to the quantity of herrings taken, and that might be taken in those seas. There was, at that time, a fleet of between seven and eight hundred sail of Dutch Busses come into the Firth, loaden with herrings, and their convoy with them, for it was in the time of the late wars; the Scots themselves had taken a vast quantity, for they said they had had a very good fishery all along upon the coast of Fife, and of Aberdeen, and the Dunbar men, and the Firth boats, were every day taking more; and yet the water of the Firth was so full of fish, that passing at the Queens-Ferry in a little Norway yawl, or boat, rowed by two boys, the boys tossed the fish out of the water into the boat with their naked hands only: But I shall have occasion to mention this again.
Between Edinburgh and this town the Marquess of Annandale has a small, but very pleasant house: And here I observed his lordship was making bricks, in order to build walls round his garden; a thing hardly to be seen in Scotland, except there. On the other hand, it is for want of brick walls that the wall-fruit in Scotland does not thrive so well there as it would otherwise do: And whereas they have no peaches or nectarines, or but very few, it is evident, had they brick walls they might have both; but the stone will not do it. The reflexion of the sun is not equally nourishing, nor does the stone hold the warmth of the sun, after it is gone, as the bricks do.
All the country between Edinburgh and this place, is thronged with gentlemen's houses, also as it was observed to be on the other side: But the beauty of all this part is Hopton House, built upon a delightful plain, and yet upon the edge, as we may say, of a high precipice; from whence you, as it were, look down upon the ships as they sail by, for you stand above the top-mast heads of them.
The house was originally a square; but the earl is now adding two wings to it, which will greatly add to the beauty of the building; the situation is so good, and gives so fine a prospect, as well to the sea as to the land, that nothing can be finer. It is exquisitely finished, both within and without; and besides family-pieces, the earl has some fine pieces of painting that are very curious. The stables and riding-place are by far the finest and most magnificent in Scotland; and his lordship, who delights in good horses, has the best, without comparison, in all the country. But it would be endless to dwell upon the description of gentlemen's seats, in a country where they are so numerous, and where, indeed, they are the chief thing of value that is to be seen.
From hence the Firth widens again, and soon after is three or four miles wide, and makes a safe and deep road, with good anchor ground; and if there was a trade to answer it, here might ride a thousand sail of ships of any burthen.
On the south-shore, upon a narrow slip or point of land, running far into the water, lies Blackness Castle, in former times infamous for the cruel confining state-prisoners, and especially such as were taken up for religious differences, where many perished, either by the unhealthiness of the place, or want of conveniences, or something worse. It might be of use, if the harbour, as I have said, was frequented; but as it is, there seems to be no occasion at all for it.
Farther west is Boristown Ness, a long town, of one street, and no more, extended along the shore, close to the water. It has been, and still is, a town of the greatest trade to Holland and France, before the Union, of any in Scotland, except Edinburgh; and, for shipping, it has more ships belong to it than to Edinburgh and Leith put together; yet their trade is declined of late by the Dutch trade, being carryed on so much by way of England: But, as they tell us, the Glasgow merchants are resolving to settle a trade to Holland and Hamburgh in the Firth, by bringing their foreign goods, e.g. their sugars and tobacco by land to Alloway, and from thence export them as they see occasion. I say, in this case, which is very probable, the Boristoun Ness men will come into business again; for as they have the most shipping, so they are the best seamen in the Firth; and particularly they are not sailors only, but even pilots for the coast of Holland, they are so acquainted with it, and so with the Baltick, and the coast of Norway also.
As I resolve to go through my account of the south part of Scotland first, I shall not pass the Firth at all, till giving you an account of the western part, I come back to Sterling Bridge, and there I suppose I may finish my next letter.
|To Letter 12 Part 1|