The Scott Monument, the world’s largest monument to a writer!
It stands like some gigantic gothic Victorian space rocket ready to lift off onto the Edinburgh skies over Princes Street. This famous city landmark, standing just over 200 feet high (6.1 metres), is the Scott Monument. And what is more you can climb the 287 steps to the top for unrivalled panoramic views out across the city. Beware! There is no lift.
Now included in Lonely Planet’s top 1,000 sights in the world – and described as ‘among the world’s spookiest buildings’ and ‘a spiky Gothic fantasy with more than a passing resemblance to a Thai temple’.
A brief history – why is the monument there?
The monument was built to commemorate Sir Walter Scott who died in 1832 following widespread feeling in Edinburgh that ‘something’ should be done’ in his memory. An open competition was duly declared with designs invited for a public monument to be erected to this great Scottish writer. The winning design chosen was by George Meikle Kemp who was actually a joiner and draughtsman by trade, and only a self taught architect. Kemp was awarded the contract to build the monument in 1838 and the foundation stone was laid 15 August 1840. Completed in the autumn of 1844 at a cost of over sixteen thousand pounds, the bulk of the monies were raised by public subscription. The Scott Monument was officially opened in August 1846. Unfortunately, the architect Kemp was not to see his work completed and his dream fulfilled. There was a tragic accident and he was drowned in the Union Canal walking home from the Princes Street site of the monument.
The structure is built from Binnie stone quarried from shale workings near to Linlithgow, and said to contain natural oils to aid preservation. However, the leeching of the oil from the stone together with the pollutants of Victorian ‘Auld Reekie’ (Edinburgh’s nickname ‘old smokey’) has left the monument looking a rather sooty black. The gothic design of the monument incorporates 64 niches containing statuettes representing characters from Sir Walter Scott’s works. Likenesses of 16 Scottish poets also adorn the pilasters which support the vaulted roof.
The centrepiece of the monument is a larger than double life size statue of Sir Walter Scott by Sir John Steell in white Carrara marble depicting him seated, and resting from his writings holding a quill pen. His dog Maida is by his side.
Information – the climb to the top
1st April to 30th September – Monday to Sunday 10.00am – 7.00pm.
1st October to 31st March – Monday to Saturday 9.00am – 3.00pm and Sunday 10.00am – 3.00pm.
Be warned; it is a steep climb, 287 steps to the top, and the nearer to the top you get the narrower it becomes with fewer passing places. The internal stone steps rise in four stages to a series of galleries or viewing decks where you can stop to catch your breath and admire those views. They certainly are breathtaking.
And all those making it to the top receive a certificate!