Why Is Edinburgh Called Auld Reekie?

Edinburgh From the Castle
Edinburgh From the Castle | © Dun.can / Flickr
Deborah Chu

Before Edinburgh was being lauded as the ‘Athens of the North,’ it was contending with a rather more… unsavoury reputation. The Auld Reekie, as Scotland’s capital city is still sometimes affectionately called today, means ‘Old Smokey‘ in the Scots dialect. But how did beautiful Edinburgh gain this rather unfortunate nickname in the first place?

Though the city may be renowned for its architectural splendour and the beauty of its natural surroundings today, the situation was much different in the 17th century. Beginning in the late Middle Ages, the entire city (today encompassing Edinburgh’s Old Town neighbourhood) was enclosed by a wall. These fortifications and the Nor’ Loch, a body of water to the north of the city, ensured that Edinburgh was well protected against threat of invasion.

Edinburgh

This security, however, came at a price. The Nor’ Loch, which today is the site of the picturesque Princes Street Gardens, was unfortunately the drainage site for the citizenry’s waste and effluence, as well as a popular site for dumping dead bodies. The foul smell that would thus rise from its stagnant waters was overwhelming, to say the least.

John Knox’s House, Edinburgh

Compounding the loch’s reeking stench was the air pollution from the city’s chimneys and coal fires. As Old Town became increasingly overcrowded, the defensive walls prevented residents from expanding outwards, thus resulting in a dense concentration of homes within a small area. The smoke which billowed out created a thick, choking smog over the city. The combination of the Nor’ Loch’s stink and the noxious fog from the city thus became the origins of Auld Reekie.

Dowie’s Tavern, Libberton’s Wynd

These days, residents of Edinburgh have largely reclaimed this insalubrious title, with tour groups and cafés proudly adopting the nickname as their own. So the next time you’re climbing Arthur’s Seat and marvelling at the beauty of this city, take a second to try and imagine what it must have looked like centuries ago, and thank the heavens for how far Edinburgh has come since its reeking past.

Culture Trips launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes places and communities so special.

Our immersive trips, led by Local Insiders, are once-in-a-lifetime experiences and an invitation to travel the world with like-minded explorers. Our Travel Experts are on hand to help you make perfect memories. All our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.?>

All our travel guides are curated by the Culture Trip team working in tandem with local experts. From unique experiences to essential tips on how to make the most of your future travels, we’ve got you covered.

Culture Trip Spring Sale

Save up to $1,656 on our unique small-group trips! Limited spots.

X
close-ad
Edit article