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On the Trail of Lorimer: Scottish Serendipity

Explore & Discover

It was a bit of serendipity that led me to the topic for this week’s blog post. Sometimes fate whispers in your ear, and sometimes it slaps you in the face- and it was the latter for me this time around. This week, I was out heeding our Wee Walking Tours’ creed of, “Explore and Discover” whilst enjoying the most beautiful December weather here in Edinburgh- sunny with a pleasant temperature of 10 degrees (50 degrees for my American readers).

The Scottish National War Memorial

As I set out on my journey, I decided to just let myself wander where the fates decided to lead me, and my first stop ended up being at the top of the Royal Mile at Edinburgh Castle. Now, let me reassure you that I definitely have this glorious castle on my to-do list for blog posts. In fact, I plan on doing a series of posts for the Castle. Stay tuned for that, and make sure to subscribe to our blog mailing list if you haven’t done so already.

It was quite a busy day at the Castle as there are many travellers in town to celebrate New Year’s Eve- or Hogmanay as we call it here. Nevertheless, I snaked through the crowds, and kept hiking up and around the Castle. I didn’t have a set plan as to where I was going, and my goal was to simply admire the various stone structures that make up the Castle complex.

For some reason, the one building that stood out for me on this visit was the Scottish National War Memorial. The Memorial was designed by the famous Scottish architect, Sir Robert Lorimer, and was opened in 1927. It was originally built to honour the Scots who lost their lives in World War I, but it is now a memorial for later conflicts as well.

The beautiful stained-glass windows at the back of the building (see the picture at the top of this post) invite visitors to take pictures and only hint at the grandeur that exists inside this significant structure. I slowly walked around the Memorial until I got to the front. Here you can get a better understanding of the importance of the Scottish National War Memorial as it is situated in Crown Square. The Square is also comprised of the Great Hall (located across from the War Memorial), as well as the Royal Palace, and The Honours of Scotland- where the Scottish Crown Jewels and Stone of Destiny can be found.

The front façade is modest but meaningful. If you look closely- you can see that there is a phoenix rising from the ashes which I find to be important symbolism to help a nation dealing with such loss of human life.

My breath is always taken away when I enter this building- the massive ceiling looms high and immediately conveys the importance of the space. No photos or filming are allowed inside the building out of respect for the fact that it is a Memorial. I appreciate this rule as it also forces visitors to stop and really take in the meaning of what is around them.

When you visit Edinburgh Castle, please take the time to stop by the Scottish National War Memorial and pay your respects to the many lives honoured there.

Lorimer and the National Library of Scotland

After I exited the War Memorial, I decided to leave the Castle grounds as the crowds were making it hard to move around and enjoy the surroundings. As I made my way down the Royal Mile, I suddenly decided to veer off and visit the National Library of Scotland. I needed a wee coffee break, and the café there serves great cappuccino.

I found a wonderfully quiet location in a corner of the foyer- just to the side of the grand staircase that takes you up to the Reading Rooms. Here, I sat, drank my coffee, and enjoyed the peaceful surroundings that the Library offers. I definitely recommend this location if you are looking to escape the busy Royal Mile.

As I finished my coffee, I saw a flyer for the Library’s recent exhibit and decided to check it out. I entered the exhibit- A Better World? Scotland after the First World War. And whose trail did I come across again? Well, as I’m sure you guessed (and my blog post title gives away), none other than Sir Robert Lorimer. As I explored the exhibit, I was thrilled to come across Lorimer’s drawings and plans for the Scottish National War Memorial. What are the chances that I had just visited that wonderful structure only to come across the architectural plans- fate was guiding me and I’m glad I was listening. It was time to continue my journey and see where the wandering winds would take me next.

A Beautiful Journey’s End

Once again, I set out back on the Royal Mile, and was drawn to the magnificent St Giles’ Cathedral for my last stop of the evening. This is a favourite location of mine where I can take a break from the hustle and bustle of Edinburgh and just enjoy the quiet splendour.

As I entered, I paid the £2 photo pass donation (please respect the Cathedral and do this if you plan to visit and take pictures) and proceeded to take in the magnificence of my environment. I gave a quick nod to my friend, Robert Louis Stevenson and continued along the perimeter.

Serendipity visited me one last time as I casually strolled around the Cathedral and appreciated the serene beauty that can be found in every nook and cranny. But, for some reason, I stopped at one section and looked closer at a plaque on the wall…and there before me stood a memorial plaque to honour the life and death of Sir Robert Lorimer!

I could not believe that I had stumbled upon Sir Lorimer again. As I read, I realised that he was also the architect for the famed Thistle Chapel that can be found just on the other side of the memorial plaque. I have been to this wee little gem of a chapel before but didn’t know the Lorimer connection until now.

I carefully walked down a few steps that brought me into an ante room just outside of the chapel- the beautifully vaulted, neo-Gothic ceilings are an appropriate welcome for those who come to visit the celebrated Thistle Chapel. It is famous because it is home to the Order of the Thistle (the greatest order of Scottish chivalry) and the Queen is the Sovereign of the Order. She appoints Scottish women and men who have achieved significant acts of service or work.

When you walk enter the chapel, it truly is a feast for the eyes, and I suggest that you take your time as you walk around the small room. The neo-gothic theme surrounds you with intricate woodcarvings (this is where you will also find the famous angel playing the bagpipes) and chairs that line the walls. There are sixteen chairs and they are for the Knights of the Order when they meet every other year for the Order of the Thistle Service. The Queen installs any new Knights during this service.

Lorimer’s Legacy

My afternoon exploration that started off as a journey of chance- ended up being a celebration of a Scottish architect whose legacy is forever engraved in the magnificent structures that he designed here in Edinburgh.

So, as I close this last post of 2018, I thought it fitting to honour the memory of Sir Robert Lorimer. 2018 marked the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I and so let’s remember the fallen from that horrific “war to end all wars”, and also honour their sacrifice and service.

Of course, if you are interested in learning more about Lorimer, I suggest you take the time to look up the many other war memorials and cemeteries he designed all over the world. His reach certainly went much farther than Scotland and the United Kingdom.

Lastly, if you would like to visit some of the sites featured in this post, please contact us for a Wee Private Walking Tour. We would love to help you learn more about Sir Robert Lorimer’s structures as well as any other Edinburgh sites that might be of interest to you.

-Wishing you a very Happy New Year! We look forward to our continued explorations and discoveries in 2019.

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