As an English Literature graduate living in Edinburgh, this tour was well overdue. So much of my degree focused on Scottish writers and I always felt lucky to study in a place so steeped in literature history. So I was excited to relive my teachings and to, perhaps, learn something new.
Allan Foster is not a guide, he tells us, he is a writer. This tour allows the public to view Edinburgh, alongside the author of ‘Book Lovers’ Edinburgh’ and ‘The Literary Traveller in Edinburgh’. Foster is a native to Edinburgh and it shows. His sandaled feet have trod the city a million times over and he has many an anecdote up his sleeve. His softly spoken accent and dry humour is one you could listen to in a pub for hours. Unfortunately, on the busy streets of Edinburgh, his intimacy gets lost.
The route was all over the place, and not in a good way. We began just off the Royal Mile, outside the Writer’s Museum. A nice cubby-hole away from the crowds, the pavement littered with quote upon quote etched into its surface. But Foster assures us it is the Southside that has the history. On first impressions he seemed almost grumpy, impatiently tapping his foot and looking at his watch. Be warned, don’t be late! It was a bad start as we had to walk a solid fifteen minutes before the tour actual began. I can understand starting on the Mile is easier for people to find but we could have at least heard some stories before the walk.
Foster soon softens however and you can appreciate his love for the city and its writers, and his hatred for its poorly-placed plaques. As well as covering the classics, Foster points out the things you would miss. The REAL JK Rowling café, the rhino on George Square and even graffiti in a coffee shop bathroom. He has met many a character and won’t shy away from telling you his personal experiences with them.
I can’t help but feel this tour is better suited outside Fringe times. The heavy crowds, loud noises and irritating flyers jarred with the slow meandering quality of Foster’s style. His soft voice was often lost and I found myself struggling to hear him.
I became somewhat irritated by the end. Our last stop was the Quartermile, yet we walked a further ten minutes to outside Greyfriars Kirkyard, an important historical place that we weren’t told about. We were already fifteen minutes over yet I was unsure whether the tour had ended. It had, instead, turned into a book plug. Disappointingly there was no goodbye or final high note to end on, just the people who stayed to buy and the ones who chose not to.
The start and end were disappointing, and the structure could definitely do with improvement. But Foster is a man who knows his stuff and he manages to capture the gentle intimacy of a fantastic story-teller.