Tales for Travellers – and Travellers’ Tales

Edinburgh castle and town

We passed through Musselburgh, where my gossip grew exceeding sick. At the town’s end [Netherbow Port], the women in throngs ran to see us etc., some bringing sack and sugar, others aquavitæ and sugar, etc.
On Friday all these gentlemen with others of the town brought my gossip to the high cross, and there on their knees drank the king’s health, testifying in that place that he had performed his journey. My gossip also drank to the bailiff and aldermen and the whole people their health, they being so thick in the street that we could scarce pass by them, they ran in such throngs to have a sight of my gossip. The windows also being full, everyone peeping out of a round hole like a head out of a pillory.
From thence we went up to the castle where we saw the great cannon, the bore whereof was so big that one got a woman with child in it. We also saw the Earl of Crawford of Lindsay, where there have been thirteen earls of the name. He lieth prisoner there, overthrown as it is said by the subtlety of the Lord of Dunbar etc.
(Jonson’s Foot Voyage, 1618)

Hauing rested two houres and refreshed my selfe, the Gentleman and I walked to see the Citty, and the Castle, which as my poore vnable and vnworthy pen can, I will truely discribe.
The Castle on a loftie Rocke is so strongly grounded, bounded, and founded, that by force of man it can neuer bee confounded; the Foundation and Walles are vnpenetrable, the Rampiers Impregnable, the Bulwarkes Inuincible, no way but one to it is or can be possible to be made passable. In a word, I haue seene many Straights and Fortresses, in Germany, the Netherlands, Spaine, and England, but they must all giue place to this vnconquered Castle both for strength and Scituation.
Amongst the many memorable thinges which I was shewed there, I noted especially a Great peece of Ordinance of Iron, it is not for batterie, but it will serue to defend a breach, or to tosse balles of wilde-fire against any that should assaile or assault the Castle; it lyes now dismounted. And it is so great within, that it was tolde mee that a Childe was once gotten there, but I to make tryall crept into it, lying on my backe, and I am sure there was Roome enough and spare for a greater then my selfe.
So leauing the Castle, as it is both defenciue against any opposition, and magnificke for Lodging and Receite, I descend lower to the Citty, wherein I obserued the fairest and goodliest Street that euer mine eyes beheld, for I did neuer see or heare of a streete of that length, (which is halfe an English mile from the Castle to a faire Port which they call the Neather-bow) and from that Port the streete which they call the Kenny-hate is one quarter of a mile more: downe to the Kings Pallace called Holy-rood-House, The buildings on each side of the way being all of squared stone, fiue, sixe, and seauen Storyes high, and many by Lanes and Closes on each side of the way, wherein are Gentlemens houses, much fairer then the buildings in the high streete, for in the High-street the Marchants and Tradesmen doe dwell, but the Gentlemens mansions and goodliest Houses are obscurely founded in the aforesaid Lanes: the Walles are eight or ten Foote thicke, exceeding strong, not built for a day, a weeke, or a month, or a yeare; but from Antiquitie to Posteritie, for many Ages; There I found entertainment beyond my expectation or merite, and there is Fish, Flesh, Bread and Fruite, in such variety, that I thinke I may offencelesse call it superfluitie, or sacietie. The worst was, that Wine and Ale was so scarce, and the people there such Mizers of it, that euery night before I went to bed, if any man had asked mee a Ciuill question, all the wit in my head could not haue made him a Sober answer.
I was at his Maiesties Pallace, a Stately and princely seate, wherein I saw a sumptuous Chappell most richly adorned, with all apurtenances belonging to so sacred a place, or so Royall an owner. In the inner Court, I saw the Kings Armes cunningly carued in stone, and fixed ouer a doore aloft on the wall, the red Lyon being the Crest, ouer which was written this inscription in Latine, ‘Nobis haec inuicta miserunt’,
I enquired what the English of it was? it was told me as followeth, which I thought worthy to be recorded. ‘Fore-fathers hath left this to vs vnconquered’.
This is a worthy and a memorable Motto, and I thinke few Kingdomes or none in the world can truly write the like, that notwithstanding so many inroades, incursions, attempts, assaults, ciuill warres, and forraigne hostilities, bloodie battels, and mightie foughten fields, that maugre the strength and pollicie of enemies, that Royall Crowne and Scepter hath from one hundred and seauen descents, keepe still vnconquered, and by the power of the King of Kings (through the grace of the Prince of peace) is now left peacefully to our peacefull King, whom long in blessed peace, the God of peace defend and gouerne.

But once more, a word or two of Edinborough, although I haue scarcely giuen it that due which belongs vnto it, for their lofty and stately buildings, and for their faire and spacious streete, yet my minde perswades me that they in former ages that first founded that Citie, did not so well in that they built it in so discommodious a place; for the Sea, and all nauigable Riuers, being the chiefe meanes for the enriching of Townes and Cities, by the reason of Traffique with forraigne Nations, with exportation, transportation, and receite of variety of Marchantdizing; so this Citie had it beene built but one mile lower on the Sea side, I doubt not but it had long before this beene comparable to many a one of our greatest Townes and Cities in Europe, both for spaciousnesse of bounds, Port, state, and riches. It is said that King Iames the fifth (of famous memorie) did graciously offer to purchase for them, and to bestow vpon them freely, certaine lowe and pleasant grounds a mile from them on the Sea shore, with these conditions, that they should pull downe their Citie, and build it in that more commodious place, but the Citizens refused it: and so now it is like (for me) to stand where it doth, for I doubt such another proffer of remoueall will not be presented to them, till two dayes after the Faire. (John Taylor, Pennyless Pilgrimage, 1618)

The City is encompassed with a kind of Roman Wall on every Side, except the North, where it is secured by a Lake. The Castle is strong both by Situation and Art, but far from being impregnable, as has been experienced more than once. It was formerly called the Maiden Castle, because the Pictish Kings kept their Daughters in it. Still more anciently it was called the Winged Castle, perhaps from its Form, and standing on so high an Hill, as it were in the Air. It is situated at the West-end of the City, where the Rock rises to an high and large Summit. Tis inaccessible on the South, west and North. The Entrance is from the Town, where the Rock is also very high; and is defended by a round Battery, and an Out-work at the Foot of it. In the castle is a Royal Palace of hewn Stone, where are kept the Regalia, and chief Records of State, as also the Magazine for the Arms ad Ammunition of the Public. From the castle is a delightful Prospect over the City, and neighbouring Country, and to the River of Forth, from whence it is saluted by such Men of War as come to Anchor in Leith Road. The [officers] have very good Apartments; and there are deep Vaults in the Rock, which, they say, are Bomb-proof. (Defoe, A Tour through the Whole Island of Great Britain, 1724-7)

County of Fife, and the Firth of Forth

Wednesday Mr Gibbs with his two sons, Barnaby and William, with his son-in-law Mr James Creeton brought us to Brunt Island [Burntisland]; and so to the well at Pettycur, a mile beyond Brunt Island and some two furlongs on this side Kinghorn. We passed by St Colm which stands upon an inch as they call it, that is, a little island. (Jonson’s Foot Voyage, 1618)

From this part of the Forth [at Aberdour], to the Mouth of Innerkeithin Harbour, is a very good Road for ships, the Water being deep, and the Ground good; but the Western Part, which they call St Margaret’s Bay, is a steep shore, and rocky, there being 20 Fathom Water within a Ship’s Length of the Rocks. So that if a South east wind blows hard, it may be dangerous riding in it; but the wind blows so seldom, that the Ships often venture it.
He that will view the County of Fife, which is wedged in by the Forth and the Tay, and shoots out far into the East, must, as I said before, go round the Coast; and yet there are six places of Note in the Middle of the County, which are superior to all the rest, and must not be omitted; Kinross, Leslie, Falkland, Melville, Balgony, and Coupar; the last a Town the others great Houses, and one, Falkland, a Royal Palace, and once the most in Request of all the Royal Houses in Scotland.
The Remains of Gentlemens Seats of long standing, occur everywhere, in the Erection of which Houses, the Builders shewed, that they studied Duration preferably to Conveniency. As I passed, I was continually comparing past times with the present, in the former of which the Grandeur of the Prince, and the Splendor of the few noble Families were supported at the Expence of the People in general, who labored under the lowest Defree of Poverty, Slavery and Ignorance, whereas now, our Traffickers enjoy the Fruits of their own Labour and Industry. (Defoe, A Tour, 1724-7)


We also passed by Aberdour, a house of my Lord Murton’s, successor of that Douglas which fought with Percy, in Chevet [Chevy] chase. But his chief house is in Loch Leven, a lake of ten miles long & eight miles broad, in the middest whereof stands a castle, and his new house upon the lake. (Jonson’s Foot Voyage, 1618)

From hence turning East are many Seats of private Gentlemen, and some of Noblemen, particularly one belonging to the Earl of Morton at Aberdour, which fronts the Forth to the South; and the Grounds belonging to it to the Shore. … A Town of Note (Defoe, A Tour, 1724-7)


On Saturday my gossip with the former gentlemen and me rid to Culrose, called Curos, to Sir George Bruce, who hath wrought that famous coalmine into the sea; the mouth where [it] is first sank it is called the eye, and where it opens up into the sea the mot. The most strange and remarkable thing that ever I saw or read of.
We stayed there all Sunday; there preached Mr Robert Calvin in the forenoon and Mr James Edmonstone in the afternoon. We saw my lord’s fair house, but not finished.
On Monday we rode to Kingcarron [Kincardine] to see Sir George his salt pans, of which he hath two and twenty, and finds above 500 poor people at work, and pays every Saturday in the year 100 sterling for wages. There we saw a rare waterwork. He spends three hundred load of coals a week in making of his salt, and makes an hundred and ten ton a week.
After that we entered the mine etc.
(Jonson’s Foot Voyage, 1618)

But I taking my leaue of Dumfermling, would needs goe and see the truely noble Knight Sir George Bruce, at a Towne called the Cooras: there hee made mee right welcome, both with varietie of fare, and discourse; and after all, hee commaunded three of his men to direct mee to see his most admirable Cole-mines; which (if man can or could worke wonders) is a wonder: for my selfe neither in any trauels that I haue been in, nor any History that I haue read, or any Discourse that I haue heard, did neuer see, reade, or heare of any worke of man that might parallell or be equiualent with this vnfellowed and vnmatchable worke: and though all I can say of it, cannot describe it according to the worthinesse of his vigilant industry, that was both the oc|casion, Inuentor, and Maintainer of it: yet rather then the memory of so rare an Enterprise, and so accomplisht a profit to the Common-wealth shall bee raked and smothered in the dust of obliuion, I will giue a little touch at the description of it, although I amongst Writers, am like he that worst may, holds the candle.
The Mine hath two wayes into it, the one by sea and the other by land; but a man may go into it by land, and returne the same way if he please, and so he may enter into it by sea, and by Sea hee may come foorth of it: but I for varieties sake went in by Sea, and out by Land. Now men may obiect, how can a man goe into a Mine, the entrance of it being in the Sea, but that the Sea wil follow him and so drown the Mine. To which obiection thus I answer, That at a low water, the Sea being ebd away, and a great part of the sand bare; vpon this same sand (beeing mixed with rockes and cragges) did the Master of this great worke build a round circular frame of stone, very thicke, strong, and ioyned together with glutinous or bitunous matter, so high withall that the Sea at the highest flood, or the greatest rage of storme or tempest, can neither dissolue the stones so well compacted in the building, or yet ouerflowe the height of it. Within this round frame, (at all aduentures) hee did set workemen to digge vvith Mattockes, Pickaxes, and other instruments fit for such purposes. They did digge more then fourtie foot downeright, into and through a Rocke. At last they found that which they expected, which was Sea-cole, they following the veine of the Mine, did digge forward still: So that in the space of eight and twentie, or nine and twenty yeares they haue digged more then an English mile under the Sea, that when men are at worke belowe, an hundred of the greatest Shippes in Britaine may saile ouer their heads. Besides, the Mine is most artificially cut like an Arch or a Vault all that great length, vvith many nookes and bywayes in it: and it is so made, that a man may walke vpright in the most places, both in and out. Many poore people are there set on worke, which otherwise through the want of imployment would perish. But when I had seene the Mine, and was come foorth of it againe; after my thankes giuen to Sir George Bruce, I tolde him, that if the plotters of the Powder Treason in England had seene this Mine, that they (perhaps) would haue attempted to haue left the Parliament House, and haue vndermined the Thames, and so to haue blowne vp the Barges and Wherries, wherein the King, and all the Estates of our Kingdome were. Moreouer, I said that I could affoord to turne Tapster at London: so that I had but one quarter of a mile of his Mine to make mee a Celler, to keepe Beere and Bottle-ale in. But leauing these Iestes in Prose, I will relate a few Verses that I made merrily of this Mine.

I That haue wasted Months, Weekes, Dayes and Howers
In viewing Kingdomes, Countreys, Townes and Towers,
Without all measure, measuring many paces,
And with my pen describing sundrie places,
With few additions of my owne deuizing,
(Because I haue a smacke of Coriatizing.)
Our Mandeuill, Primaleon, Don Quixot,
Great Amadis, or Huon traueld not
As I haue done, or beene where I haue beene,
Or heard and seene, what I haue heard and seene;
Nor Britaines Odcomb (Zanye braue Vlissis)
In all his ambling saw the like as this is.
I was in (would I could describe it well)
A darke, light, pleasant, profitable hell,
And as by water I was wafted in,
I thought that I in Charons Boate had bin:
But being at the entrance landed thus,
Three men there (in the stead of Cerberus)
Conuaid me in, in each ones hand a light
To guide vs in that vault of endlesse night.
There young and old with glim’ring candles burning,
Digge, delue, and labour, turning and returning,
Some in a hole with baskets and with baggs,
Resembling furies, and infernall haggs:
There one like Tantall feeding, and there one,
Lake Sisiphus he rowles the restlesse stone.
Yet all I saw was pleasure mixt with profit,
Which prou’d it to be no tormenting Tophet;
For in this honest, worthy, harmelesse hell,
There ne’re did any damned Diuell dwell:
And th’owner of it gaines by’t more true glory,
Then Rome doth by fantastick Purgatory.
A long mile thus I past, downe, downe, steepe steepe,
In deepenesse farre more deepe, then Neptunes deepe,
Whilst o’re my head (in fourefould stories hye)
Was Earth, and Sea, and Ayre, and Sun, and Skie:
That had I dyed in that Cimerian roome.
Foure Elements had couered ore my tombe:
Thus farther then the bottome did I goe,
(And many Englishmen haue not done so;)
Where mounting Porposes, and mountaine Whales,
And Regiments of fish with finnes and Scales,
Twixt me and Heauen did freely glide and slide,
And where great Ships may at an Anchor ride:
Thus in by sea and out by land I past,
And tooke my leaue of good Sir George at last.

The Sea at certaine places doth leake, or soake into the Mine, which by the industry of Sir George Bruce, is all conueyd to one well neere the land; where hee hath a deuise like a horsemill that with three horses and a great chaine of Iron, going downeward many fadomes, with thirty sixe buckets fastened to the chaine, of the which eighteene goes downe still to be filled, and eighteene ascends vp to be emptied, which doe empty themselues (without any mans labour) into a trough that conueyes the water into the Sea againe; by which meanes he saues his Myne which otherwise would be destroyed with the Sea, beside he doth make euery weeke ninety or an hundred Tuns of salt, which doth serue part of Scotland, some hee sends into England, and very much into Germany: all which shewes the painefull industry with Gods blessings to such worthy endeauours: I must with many thankes remember his courtesie to mee, and lastly, how he sent his man to guide me ten miles on the way to Sterling. (John Taylor, Pennyless Pilgrimage, 1618)

On this Shore of the Firth, stands the neat and agreeable Town of Culross, lying in Length by the Water-side, like Kirkcaldy, being likewise a trading Town, as Trade must be understood in Scotland. Here is a pretty Market, a plentiful Country behind it, and the navigable Firth before it. The Coal, the Linen Manufacture, and Plenty of Corn, will always keep something of Trade alive upon the whole Coast [of Fife].
The Ruins of the Abbey of Culross took my Attention, part of which is turned into a stable. Here is a very noble seat belonging to the Bruces, Earls of Kincardine, and is well worth a Traveler’s Notice; and indeed these Instances of Magnificence are so frequent in Scotland, that were we to dwell upon each of them, such of our Readers as know nothing of Scotland, would be apt to think we were too partial in its Favour. But it is certain, that no Gentry or Nobility in the World formerly exceeded the Scots in noble Houses, and all manner of Magnificence…
Culross is a Royal Burgh in the Shire of Perth, but in the Confines of Fife, famous for a Branch of the Iron Manufacture in making Girdles, ie broad round Plates, on which they bake their oaten Cakes. They told me of Mines of Copper, and of Lead, lately discovered in Fife, and of Silver also; but I could not learn, that any of them were actually wrought. It is, however, not improbable, but that there are such Mines. (Defoe, A Tour, 1724-7)


Sir George Bruce brought us to Dunfarlin [Dunfermline], the Queen’s town, where my gossip was with all grace received by my Lord Chancellor and my lady with her brother. We found my lady shooting at butts. Here we drank hard, with some six more, and were made burgesses. We lay at Mr Biggs, who used my gossip and his company with all freedom and full entertainment. We stayed with him all Tuesday. (Jonson’s Foot Voyage, 1618)

A worthy Gentleman, named Master Iohn Fenton, did bring mee on my way sixe miles, to Dumfermling, where I was well entertained, and lodged at Master Iohn Gibb his house, one of the Groomes of his Maiesties Bed-chamber, and I thinke the oldest Seruant the King hath: withall I was well entertained there by Master Crighton at his owne house, who went with mee, and shewed mee the Queenes Palace; (a delicate and a princely Mansion) withall I saw the ruines of an auncient and stately built Abbey, with faire Gardens, Orchards, and Medowes belonging to the palace: all which with faire and goodly Reuenues, by the suppres|sion of the Abbey, were annexed to the Crowne. There also I saw a very faire Church, which though it be now very large and spacious, yet it hath in former times been much larger. (John Taylor, Pennyles Pilgrimage, 1618)

Near Innerkeithing, a little within the Land, stands the ancient Town of Dunfermline, which is now in a very ruinous State. For, 1. Here is a decayed Monastery, which before the Reformation was very large, but then demolished, saving a Part, which was turned into a parochial Church; and even that is now decayed, and with it the Monuments of several Kings and Queens of Scotland; particularly that of Malcolm III, who founded the Monastery.
2. Here is a decayed Court, or Royal Palace, of the Kings of Scotland; but by whom built, is uncertain. Almost all King James the Sixth’s Children were born in it, particularly King Charles I, and the Princess Elizabeth, afterwards Queen of Bohemia; and his Queen made this Place her particular Residence, and had it settled upon her by way of Jointure. Here she built herself an Apartment, over the Arch of the great Gate, for her particular Retirement, having a Gallery reaching from it to the Royal Lodgings. All is now ruinous.
3. Here is a decayed Town, the natural Consequence of the Decay of the Palace. The Treatment King Charles II met with here from the Covenanters, was sufficient to make him take a Disgust at the Place.
The Church has still a venerable Face, and at a Distance seems mighty Pile, the Building being once vastly large. What is left appears too heavy for the present Dimensions. The Church itself is said to be as long as the Cathedral of Carlisle, designed by the Model of that of Glasgow; but I rather think that at Glasgow was designed by the Model of this at Dunfermline; for it seems the most ancient.
The People are poor, but would be poorer, if they had n ot the Manufacture of Linen for their Support, the Diaper and better Sort of Linen trade being carried on here, and in the neighbouring towns, with more Hands than ordinary. (Defoe, A Tour, 1724-7)