The Tale of Greyfriars Bobby

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The Lovely Doreen and I only had one day in Edinburgh, which is not nearly enough. Despite the crowds at Edinburgh Castle and on The Royal Mile, we fell in love with Edinburgh as we did with the rest of Scotland.

If you go to Edinburgh, you will not be able to escape the story of Greyfriar’s Bobby, the loyal dog who stood by his owner’s grave for years.

There is a “grave site” for Bobby, the dog, near where John Gray, the owner is buried, at Greyfriars Kirkyard.

Greyfriars Kirkyard, next to Greyfriars Kirk, is a cemetery along the old city’s walls. The Kirkyard contains thousands of bodies, many of them without markers. According to our guide through the cemetery, you could be over at least 18 bodies no matter where you stand. They just threw the bodies into the dirt and shoveled more dirt on top until the cemetery nearly reached the tops of the walls.

Edinburgh University was a center of medical learning, but they could only get one body per year legally. This caused a thriving blackmarket trade in freshly buried bodies which is why Greyfriars Kirkyard hired Gray as a nightwatchman.

For companionship during the “graveyard shift” (the origin of the term), Gray had a little dog named Bobby. When Gray passed, Bobby remained at his owner’s graveside, only taking a break to eat at the local coffee shop. The locals were so impressed with the dog’s loyalty, that the community adopted the dog. Tourists were impressed, of course, and the dog’s fame grew. Eventually Bobby passed, too, was buried as near the owner as possible without being buried in consecrated ground, and the locals honored him with a statue atop a fountain.

Today, if you go to Greyfriars, you can see the statue outside the Greyfriars Bobby Pub. Tourists can touch the dog’s nose for good luck which is why it is so shiny compared to the rest of the statue. The nose has been replaced several times.

Inside the cemetery, visitors bring sticks for the dog to his gravesite, sometimes leaving them at the gravesite of the dog’s owner instead. Visitors also leave money which is then used for the upkeep of the cemetery and the church.

But here is where I spoil the story.

It turns out that there may have been three dogs named “Bobby” and nobody knows for sure where they are buried. The first dog died before the owner died. Gray replaced the first Bobby with an identical dog named Bobby. When Gray died, Bobby did stay by the grave for a few years, and the locals noticed the attention he received.

When the second Bobby died, some of the locals decided that they needed another Bobby to keep the tourists happy. So they found an identical dog, trained it to sit by the cemetery, and then trained it to go to the pub every day when the 1 o’clock gun sounded at Edinburgh Castle.

Today, there’s a pub, a coffee shop and even a massage parlor named after Bobby. When you visit the grave marker for Bobby, there’s a reader for accepting your credit cards for your donations.

Gray never had much money which is why he took the nightwatchman position at the cemetery. His dog(s), however, did pretty well for themselves.

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Note: Make sure you visit Greyfriars Bobby Pub. We stopped in there for dinner before our evening ghost tour which took us back to the cemetery. The food was very good and it has, for an obvious tourist attraction, a very local feel. I was glad we stopped in because I finally had the chance to enjoy Haggis. Doreen and I agreed that, with the brown sauce and the potatoes, it was good comfort food on a semi-rainy Scotland day.

We have one other recommendation. On Victoria Street, just a short distance from Edinburgh Castle, is a small take-out place called, “Oink.” Started by local farmers, they sell pulled-pork sandwiches. When you order, you tell them the sandwich size, the bread, the stuffing and the sauce. I had the Oink sandwich with haggis and the homemade BBQ sauce. Doreen had the onion and sage stuffing with her sandwich.

We took the sandwiches a short distance to where the scaffold once stood for the city’s public hangings. We sat on the bench, listened to a bagpiper, ate our sandwiches, and imagined the hanging of a few golfers.


Below, left to right: Me in Edinburgh, The Lovely Doreen outside Greyfriars Bobby, the site of Edinburgh’s public hangings, and a pub called, “the Last Drop,” which overlooks the hanging location. The pub’s name gruesomely refers to the trap door opening beneath the condemned.

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