The Scotsman Steps

The top of the Scotsman Steps

At the point in the Old Town where the North Bridge leaps towards the New, stands a grand building bearing the gilded words “The Scotsman” set in a stone relief of ornate, patriotic thistles. Though now a hotel, for a hundred years this was the home of Scotland’s daily newspaper. Five of its 12 storeys rise upwards from the street level at North Bridge. The topmost floor was originally a pigeon loft where winged messengers once alighted with news from distant parts. Below North Bridge, the Scotsman building plunges seven storeys to Market Street. At the bottom were the printing presses, and from here the newspapers were sent across Market street to Waverley train station for distribution to the nation. What an efficient operation it must have been! Plucking news from the air at the top of the tower, processing it into stories in the building’s mid section and issuing it to the waiting trains 80ft below.

The heights of the old Scotsman building from market street

Alongside the Scotsman building, descending from a concealed entrance at North Bridge to Market Street seven floors below, run the Scotsman Steps providing the quickest means of passage from the heights of the Old Town to Waverley Station. The entrance to the top of the steps is hidden from the view of the street and the visitor who unexpectedly stumbles across it might well hesitate before descending their spiral course into the unknown. A hint of ammonia betrays the clandestine use of this dank passageway by drunks at night, but a visit by day reveals something worth the venture. Each one of  the 96 steps and 8 landings on the stair is made of a different marble. The Scotsman Steps are a metamorphic marvel and a geological United Nations[i].

At the very top is an amazing blue marble from Brazil, the colour of lapis lazuli. The first step is a pale cream marble from Egypt, and then follow the palest green from India and the celebrated white marble from Carrara in Italy. Italy is also the source of red marbles bearing the poetic names Rosso Asiago, Rosso Inferno, Rosso Levanto, grey Grigio Antracite, green Verde Gressoney and of 35 more steps, every one different. The remaining marbles are from Lebanon, Spain, Namibia, Guatemala, Argentina, Turkey, Iran, Croatia, Portugal, France, Macedonia, China, Afghanistan, Morrocco, Greece and Tunisia. There is even a marble from Belgium. Only Scotland’s own green marble from the little island of Iona seems to be missing. By the time you have descended the 104 marbles of the Scotsman Steps, or toiled up them from Market Street, you will have traversed a hundred geological environments. Every marble step is a limestone transformed in a geological pressure cooker, with a touch of local colour added by the specific chemical environment in which it formed.

[i] M. Creed, “The Scotsman Steps,” Fruitmarket Gallery, (2011), 4pp.