Scotland Street, Edinburgh
A series of novels set in Scotland Street, Edinburgh
Alexander McCall Smith’s ‘44 Scotland Street‘ Edinburgh series of novels are such a satisfying read. At the most shallow level, they’re a little like reading a gossipy magazine, because you find out who’s up to what and with whom.
It runs deeper than that, though. Through the stories, McCall Smith raises some contemporary issues – some of which are contentious. This makes for great reading material that can really make you think. There’s so much more to them than ‘Love Over Scotland‘.
Here are some of the main reasons why I love the 44 Scotland Street series so. Not least because they’re the best Edinburgh guide book you’ll ever find, when it comes to seeing inside this absorbing city.
Firstly, the setting: the grand old city of Edinburgh. Scotland’s capital is a hot contender for my number one city in the entire UK. I grew up in Northumberland, so one of my first school trips to was to Edinburgh Zoo, and it’s still my favourite. Edinburgh has it all – shopping, parks, nightlife, and quirky neighbourhoods. Plus, it’s all topped off – literally – by the castle and lofty Arthur’s Seat.
It’s a really easy city to get around, too, as it’s very walkable. I spent a fair bit of time there some decades ago and I fell in love with the place. The relationship that took me there may not have lasted, but I do still love Edinburgh – scones, shortbread, tartan and all.
On Alexander McCall Smith’s website, it says it all:
“little Bertie Pollock is at the centre of it all”
Indeed he is – 4 of the books (so far) have his name in their very titles, for starters. There’s The World According to Bertie, Bertie Plays the Blues, Bertie’s Guide to Life and Mothers and The Bertie Project. The Importance of Being Seven references his desire to grow up, too.
Bertie is just delightful. He’s a highly intelligent child, yet completely without any malice or pretension. He’s very keen to partake of those activities that so attract boys of his age – Scouts, camping, fishing, sports and so on.
His mother Irene, however, has other ideas. Namely Italian lessons, yoga and psychotherapy. To see Bertie’s struggles against his mother is heartbreaking, yet somehow heartwarming too. Because despite the restraints, he remains a simply lovely little person.
Big Lou and her coffee bar
Some of the dramas of the series are played out in Big Lou’s. It’s where the characters meet, and often receive wisdom too – either from one another or from Lou herself. Hence the title of the second book, Espresso Tales.
Lou is one formidable lady, a farm lass from Arbroath with a heart of pure gold. It’s this heart that earned her her place in Edinburgh, as she inherited a legacy from someone she formerly cared for. Then spent the proceeds on the coffee bar and her Canonmills flat.
During what little spare time she has, Lou is working her way through the entire stock of the bookshop that formerly occupied her coffee bar premises. She’s one really well-read, yet utterly down-to-earth lady.
Cyril is canine, not human, and isn’t any ordinary dog. He has a gold tooth, for starters, that regulars at The Cumberland Arms occasionally catch a glimpse of. People who’ve never before met him are more than a little surprised when they see it flashing at them as Cyril laughs. Yes, he does laugh, too.
Following Cyril’s adventures is very entertaining, and I for one have come to envy those who have this loyal – and often stinky – canine companion in their lives.
I’m not into art and know nothing about it’s history. Frankly, I couldn’t tell a Peploe from a Poussin, so it’s good for me to learn a little from reading these books.
The pursuit of beauty is a running theme throughout the series, and the characters – particularly Matthew and Pat – find themselves embroiled in all sorts of escapades because of it.
Matthew’s gallery also provides another backdrop – in addition to Big Lou’s and The Cumberland Arms – where the stories are played out with McCall Smith’s trademark aplomb.
Almost all of the storylines are set in and around Scotland Street, which lies at the heart of Edinburgh’s New Town. ‘New’ being a relative term in this context, as the area contains sweeping Georgian streets, neat squares and noble crescents.
McCall Smith’s own love of Georgian architecture seeps into the pages. In particular, he praises the spaciousness and solidity of these grand – and now pricey – old buildings.
It does make you want to up sticks and move there, but unless you’re fortunate enough to inherit a tidy sum, like Matthew or Big Lou, it may have to remain a dream.
Bruce is, we are told, very easy on the eye and a bit of a hit with the ladies. What’s not to love?
The trouble is, Bruce is also a narcissist. He’s the very epitome of vain, and thinks only about himself. His pursuit of self-gratification, though, make for a highly enjoyable read. Conceited he may be, but he’s also oddly charming and compelling.
As you might imagine, he attracts all manner of attention, and all sorts of characters. The new people he brings into the Scotland Street world are often a breath of fresh air. Like Bruce, their tales can be fascinating, too.
Incidentally, Scotland Street Edinburgh does really exist – and can be found in New Town close to the city centre.
If you haven’t been to Edinburgh – go! As soon as you can. This Scottish city is so loveable, and a must on any traveller’s list. You can see more on what to see and places to stay in Edinburgh HERE, as well as more about the beautiful, beguiling Scottish capital.
- Afternoon tea venues in Edinburgh
- 2 day itinerary for Edinburgh
- Tours of Scotland from Edinburgh
- 2 day itinerary for Scotland
Note – This post may contain affiliate links. If you buy via these, I may earn a small fee. This has absolutely no effect on the price you pay. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.