'The wretched man with the baggy-pipe' - Edinburgh's unflattering 'TripAdvisor reviews' dating back to the 1700s

Edinburgh “delights the eye but is most powerfully offensive to the nostrils”, while the sound of bagpipes in the Capital has been likened to “a wild yell, as from a hundred tortured pigs”.

Tuesday, 17th September 2019, 3:03 pm
Hogmanay celebrations in the Capital in 1876.

Thankfully, the unflattering reviews are not observations of this summer’s Edinburgh International Festival Fringe, but were made by visitors to Edinburgh and the Lothians in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.

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Charles Maciejewski, 65, a retired Highland policeman from Inverness, spent four years researching historical journals and tourism guides for reviews of places, people and pastimes.

Hogmanay celebrations in the Capital in 1876.

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While this part of Scotland now impresses tourists from around the globe with its stunning landscapes, world class attractions and welcoming people, the book suggests it was not always so.

But Mr Maciejewski has urged residents to “have a smile, a chuckle and an outright laugh” as to the manner in which the area and its people were once viewed.

One review of Edinburgh, published in London in 1805, noted: “Houses literally heaped one upon another, water scantily supplied, and people not much habituated to cleanliness render it; while it delights the eye, most powerfully offensive to the nostrils of strangers”.

Dalkeith, in 1799, was described as “a dirty, shabby place”, while Linlithgow in West Lothian was besmirched as a “town decayed, dirty, and dolorous” in 1819.

John Knox's House on the Canongate, circa 1865.

Even Edinburgh’s famous Hogmanay party could not escape criticism in the early 19th century.

One American writer, experiencing the festivities for the first time in 1805-06, moaned: “The clock had no sooner struck twelve, then crowds of people began to parade the streets, and kept up an incessant noise till morning; there was such tumultuous movements and loud vociferation, that one might have supposed the city had been


And if New Year celebrations appear not to have changed much, some readers may have sympathy for the visitor who discovered the skirl of bagpipes in the Capital in 1863: “While we are looking out of window... a wild yell, as from a hundred tortured pigs, ascends upon the breeze, and there... pacing the lawn in front of the hotel is the wretched man with the baggy-pipe.”

Pipers were described as sounding like 'a hundred tortured pigs'

Meanwhile, an American traveller, served haggis at the home of an Edinburgh clergyman 200 years ago, recalled: “This singular compound is boiled and brought to the table without being stripped of its envelope; it is cut into slices, like pudding, and eaten without any addition. Its taste is fat and heavy, nor did I feel any regret that the haggis was not an American dish.”

Mr Maciejewski said: “Touring around Scotland I’ve always enjoyed finding old journals, and I started keeping notes of amusing comments I came across – before long there was enough for a book.

“As a proud Scot, it’s nice to read complimentary things about our country and ourselves, but it’s also good to be able to have a giggle at ourselves.

“Edinburgh and the Lothians is a world class tourist destination now, but what was it like when tourism was a fledgling industry?

“This part of the country has always been a magnet for tourists, but every place has an underbelly and some of these comments would suggest that the Edinburgh underbelly of centuries gone by might not have been such a pleasant place.

“I’m sure that modern-day visitors will find the places depicted have changed – and mostly for the better.”

A spokesperson for VisitScotland said: “Scotland is world famous for its warm welcome and sense of humour and as a nation we have never shied away from having fun, sometimes at our own expense.

“Today, Scotland is a world-class visitor destination with surveys showing time and time again that visitor satisfaction is very high.

“Our Stunning scenery, rich history, vibrant culture and friendly people are just some of the reasons that visitors from all across the world travel here.”

'The women were extreme ugly and nasty'


“Houses literally heaped one upon another, water scantily supplied, and people not much habituated to cleanliness render it; while it delights the eye, most powerfully offensive to the nostrils of strangers” Mawman, J. An Excursion to the Highlands of Scotland and the English Lakes, London, 1805.

“The New Town of Edinburgh is beautifully monotonous, and magnificently dull” Johnson, J, The Recess or Autumnal relaxations in the Highlands and Lowlands, London, 1834.

“On the west end of this town is a large castle on a steep stone rock… at the entrance into it is placed a vast large gun they call Mons Meg, and is so large that they say that a tinker got his girl with child in it” Londoner, North of England and Scotland in 1704, Edinburgh, 1818.


“I never saw anything like the swarms of children in Canongate. It may be truly said they are fat, ragged, and saucy… I was one fine evening walking up this inviting Canongate, nicely dressed, in white muslin; an arch boy eyed me, and laid his scheme; for when I arrived opposite a pool, in the golden gutter [most likely a euphemism for urine], in he dashed a large stone, and like a monkey, ran off chuckling at his mischief” Murray, S, A Companion and Useful Guide to the Beauties of Scotland, London, 1799.


“Its situation is low, in the oldest and filthiest part of the town... in the palace itself there is very little worth seeing – certainly nothing to compensate the visitant for the exorbitant expense of passing through the hands of six or eight separate guides, who understand the division of labour, and the art of securing fees” Carter, N, Letters from Europe comprising The Journal of a Tour through… Scotland… in 1825, New York, 1827.


“It is to be hoped, that the very coarse and disgusting behaviour, which has so long disgraced the students of the Scottish universities, will give place to a conduct more becoming, and better calculated to denote civilised and polished human beings” Bristed, J, A Pedestrian Tour through part of the Highlands of Scotland in 1801, London, 1803.


“The houses are generally mean and dirty” Carr, J, Caledonian Sketches or A Tour through Scotland in 1807, London, 1809


“Haddington, at present most wretched in its appearance, was once tolerably prosperous” Mawman, J, An Excursion to the Highlands of Scotland and the English Lakes, London, 1805.


“The town decayed, dirty and dolorous” Southey, R, Journal of a tour in Scotland in 1819, London, 1929.


“We next came to Musselburgh... here the scene was the same over again at Haddington, where the women were extreme ugly and nasty, having dirty clouts tied round their heads, falling about their shoulders, and peeping out of pieces of boarded windows, just big enough for the size of their head; they put me in mind of pigeon holes... the nastiness of their food, together with their dirty beds, makes me always in fear of either a surfeit, or itch” Volunteer, A Journey through part of England and Scotland… in the year 1746, London, 1747.


"The town is dirty and ill built, and chiefly inhabited by sailors" Pennant, T, A, Tour in Scotland 1769, London, 1771


"Being a stranger, I was invited to sup at a tavern. The cook was too filthy an object to be described; only another English gentleman whispered me and said, he believed, if the fellow was to be thrown against the wall, he would stick to it... We... were very merry till the clock struck ten, the hour when everybody is at liberty... to throw their filth out at the windows" Burt, E & Jamieson, R, Letters from a Gentleman in the North of Scotland to his friend in London, London, 1818


"But as that hill is the common, daily, and nightly lounge of all the vegabonds and loose tribe of the town, the walk over it must be taken with a gentleman in company, else women of any description will be insulted" Murray, S, A Companion and Useful Guide to the Beauties of Scotland, London, 1799.


"A Highland piper entered, in full tartan array, and began to press from the bag of his pipes... sounds so long and horrible, that, to my imagination, they were comparable only to those of the eternally tormented" Carr, J, Caledonian Sketches or A Tour through Scotland in 1807, London, 1809.


"We had many kinds of their most curious dishes, but some of them very oddly cooked up, that it was but few, many of us could eat of; we had also claret and punch in great plenty; but, with all these, they had a table cloth so dirty, that, at other times, I should with great reluctance have wiped my hands on it" Volunteer, A Journey through part of England and Scotland... in the year 1746, London, 1747.

Scotland the Worst: A Derogatory Guide to the Worst Places to Visit in Times Gone By, by Charles Maciejewski, is published by Luath Press, priced £7.99.