On day 1, explore Edinburgh Castle sitting proud:
find the modest crown of a far from quiet country,
our National War Memorial, our Roll of Honour.
On day 2, try Castlehill. Look north beyond the Forth
and, more Obscurely, tilt your eye across a whole city.
Open a back door on the Kirk; winkle books from a close.
On day 3, look south. Ah, a whimsy of fine whiskies.
Boswell imbibed here, dined well, hobbled over cobbles.
At the Hub you can queue for a different kind of bliss.
On day 4, cross the Upper Bow, look north.
Tweed and dashing tartan; a caricature of us in
‘See You Jimmy’ hats and ‘gingerbread’ moustaches.
Here, Hume and Geddes consort with the Free Kirk
and there, a touch of former glory: Gladstone’s Land,
Makars’ Court. Rub shoulders with Deacon Brodie.
On day 5, look south. Kilts and cashmere, a nip or two.
Monarchs and nobles made this place their own.
James VI threw banquets in Riddell’s Court – a jewel.
On day 6, look north, Hume outside the High Court,
secrets in Mary King’s Close, slithers of skylines.
And, what a treat, neat shops: worth lingering.
On day 7, look south. It all happened here.
Pass the ghosts of gawpers, gossipers
around gallows and wellhead – fortitude and fear.
An old parliament, kirk, court and council
– a heady mix, centre of the city. Spit
on the Heart of Midlothian, but only if you must.
On day 8, the High Street, look north to City Chambers.
More tartans, drams and the Luckenbooths are back.
By now you’ll need a food stop: sit in or take-away?
On day 9, look south to Adam Smith; to trade in tickets,
food, rarest gifts. Seek out a tour, down here, up there:
closes are full of fishwives, Covenanters and Catholics.
On day 10, look north, forget your weary feet:
More garments, more food for your delight,
and the tempting sweep of Cockburn Street.
On day 11, look south , a hotel with history; in Todrick’s Wynd
beware the town guard. Relive childhood at the museum
or do a spot of shopping? Nice jewellery if you can find it.
On day 12, look north to famed bishops and merchants.
Catch a whiff of old Scotia – busy bars, first floor cafés,
thingimijigs, och-aye-the-noo kilties and cutty sarks.
On day 13, look south, tucked inside the old Wall, be dazzled
by Fountain’s Close and Tweeddale Court. No toll now:
you’re free to come and go, have a ball, an extravaganza.
On day 14, look north. Paisley Close toppled – enter by words
of an only survivor: Heave awa, chaps, Ah’m no deid yet.
Still a place of revival: ministry, gifts, food and drinks.
On day 15, still looking north, kilts hang on every word
of John Knox. Shop round the old public fountain, awash
with history: crown and kirk, the old Netherbow Port, a story.
On day 16, look south. Go back in time three centuries:
a poor lass is touting, a rich lad is asking;
Burke and Hare do worse for a surgeon’s pennies.
On day 17, banish all thoughts of yesterday’s crime.
If the sun is out, take a picnic, write a card in a garden
south through a sixties arcade, and rest a while.
On day 18, look north. Let your mind wander and wonder
why this part’s named Morocco’s Land? Who’s the Moor
of Midcommon Close? Strange, is it not, in Edinburgh?
Day 19, look south; celebrate the wisdom of our age –
Moray House: a history of higher learning.
The next generation: the wealth of our nation.
Day 20, look north. They cry, ye cannae cheat them,
death or taxes, but dinnae greet, we seek to please you.
We willnae rob you though I’m the hand that never fed you.
Day 21 Look south through the pend to Sugarhouse Close –
agleam with student lodgings. A fairer trade, memories
of finest rum. We’re all alumni now. This is our story.
Day 22 look north. You can’t miss Robert Fergusson, stiff
in frock coat walking from the kirkyard of Canons’ Gait.
Burns paid for his stone, sealed her’s with Ae Fond Kiss.
Day 23, I know of an oasis. Come close and I’ll whisper
of a secret garden in this neck of the woods. Look north.
Ask in a shop, a local will guide you. Don’t say I sent you.
Day 24 look south. Eponymous closes grant common signatory
to the bakers, the coopers, their wives and their children.
Find them in the Museum: name them Robert, Agnes or Mary.
On day 25, south by Crichton’s Close to the Poetry Library,
lose yourself in its books; come out questioning where this
Dynamic Earth is heading. Here walk dinosaurs. Be wary!
Day 26 it’s tempting to muse on White Horse Close,
once royal stables. Look north with nostrils flaring.
The wind is up. The huntsman’s horn is blaring. Tallyho!
Day 27, you’re almost done. You’ve eaten well, I trust?
Look south for another feast. Here’s Queensberry House
where the earl murdered his kitchen boy; ate him for lunch!
Day 28 look north. Demolish or restore? That’s the question.
Should we mourn what’s lost or bid good riddance?
No relic here of scaffold for the bonnie Lady Warriston.
Day 29, below Arthur’s Seat, there’s law-making:
our new Parliament buildings, like upturned boats.
Hewn into its Canongate wall – poetry for the taking.
Day 30, cross to the Palace of Holyroodhouse
where the ghost of poor Bald Agnes walks,
through the chambers of Mary Queen of Scots.
Day 31: up and down the Royal Mile, what a climb!
But before you go, and until next time, will ye tak
a cup o’ kindness yet, for auld lang syne?
About this poem
‘A Month on the Mile’ was commissioned by the Royal Mile Business Association as part of a campaign to promote Edinburgh’s High Street. It was written both by Christine De Luca and Ingrid Murray. De Luca says, ‘To be asked to write a poem to help trade along the Royal Mile was a bit of a poetic challenge! I soon warmed to the task and started to map out an intertwining of history and current commerce. After all, shoppers can hardly ignore the marks left by generations of locals and visitors, rich and poor who have passed up and down, dodging down wynds and closes.”
The poem was turned into a film by the RMBA, directed by Michelle Hanzelova, with music by Will Campbell.