For this weeks taste we are firmly back in Edinburgh’s Old Town, having a close look at the old highrise buildings around the Grassmarket. Castle Rock broods watchfully over this broad paved area, which was the site of the main cattle and horse market from 1477 till 1911, and one of the city’s public gallows. There are lots of tales of the many infamous hangings which took place here over the years.
It was always one of the poorer areas of town, and was dominated (still is) by rows of public houses. People lived cheek by jowl in cramped apartments, without modern plumbing, and they would throw their waste out of the windows into the streets below, to the cry of ‘gardyloo’. The phrase is the Scottish rendering of the French ‘Garde a l’eau’, ‘watch out for the water’. It’s claimed that this is where the word loo comes from.
This phrase was still heard ringing around the streets of the old town as late as the 1930’s, as many old homes still had no indoor toilet. I can only imagine the smell….you can still see old iron hoops on the walls of some buildings, which were used in earlier times to tie pigs to overnight. The pigs were the earliest form of rubbish disposal in the city.
The Bow Well was the first well head installed in Edinburgh’s old town in 1674, bringing fresh clean water to the people. Its drinking fountain bears Edinburgh’s coat of arms, a beautiful maiden and the unicorn she alone can tame, either side of the castle. The Latin motto of the city, ‘NISI DOMINUS FRUSTRA’, translates as ‘Without God everything fails’.
Thankfully this area of town is now more upmarket, and its pedestrianized heart is home to lots of nice places to eat, and drink. The air smells fresh, and you will be pleased to know that the plumbing has been brought up to date.