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When I visited Edinburgh, Scotland in 2017, along with my mother, sisters and niece, one site we all wanted to visit was Greyfriars Kirkyard and a nearby monument.
The monument honors a small Skye Terrier, Greyfriars Bobby. This little dog displayed an incredible level of faithfulness to his owner, earning him the title “World’s Most Loyal Dog”.
Learn his story, in this Tales from Scotland post, and discover visit-worthy sites in the area.
Located in Edinburgh’s Old Town, Greyfriars Kirk is a parish kirk (church). It stands on the site of a pre-reformation establishment of the Franciscan Order, the Grey Friars.
Built in 1612, the kirk is located south of Grassmarket and east of George Heriot’s School.
The kirkyard is the cemetery surrounding the church. A number of notable Edinburgh residents rest there.
The kirkyard is moody, in a gothic sort of way, and fascinating to wander through. Elaborate mural monuments along the east and west walls of the oldest burial section feature intriguing symbols of mortality and immortality.
Many graves are protected with stone walls, iron railings or ironwork cages called mortsafes, to protect against grave robbing. In the early 19th century, resurrection men supplied Edinburgh Medical College with corpses for dissection, in exchange for fees. The common practice of plundering graveyards provided those bodies.
And, J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books, drew inspiration from the kirkyard for character names in her stories. You can find burial sites for people with the names McGonagall, Moodie, Scrymgeour and Potter. Check out the grave of Thomas Riddell, whose name inspired one of the most terrifying villains in literature. In the Harry Potter series, Tom Riddle becomes Lord Voldemort.
Near the entrance to the kirkyard is a gravestone for John Gray, an Edinburgh City nightwatchman. And not far from that grave is another, marked with a similar headstone, for the dog known as Greyfriars Bobby.
Although slightly different versions of Greyfriars Bobby exists, the most commonly told tale is the following.
Bobby belonged to John Gray, the nightwatchman. For two years they went everywhere together. When John died of tuberculosis 15 February 1858, burial took place in Greyfriars Kirkyard. The dog earned the nickname Greyfriars Bobby because from that time forward, until his own death in 1872, the faithful companion stayed near John’s grave. In spite of various weather conditions and frequent shooing away by the kirkyard caretaker, Bobby refused to leave.
Residents of Edinburgh felt compassion for the dog. They adopted Bobby, feeding him and caring for him. Each afternoon, at the firing of the 1:00 gun at Edinburgh Castle, Bobby trotted to a nearby cafe for a meal and then returned to the kirkyard. Although not officially allowed, kind people even built a small shelter for him near John’s grave.
Sir William Chambers, Lord Provost of Edinburgh and director of the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, paid for Bobby’s license and provided a collar for him. That collar is on display in the Museum of Edinburgh.
Bobby remained vigilant near John’s grave for 14 years. After his death, the city buried him in the kirkyard, near his owner. The stone is red marble, like John’s. Inscribed are the words: “Greyfriars Bobby – Died 14 January 1872 – Aged 16 Years. Let his loyalty and devotion be a lesson to us all.”
Visitors leave sticks, for Bobby to fetch, on his grave and John’s. Occasionally dog toys and flowers adorn the graves as well.
The Greyfriars Bobby Monument
A year after Bobby’s death, the Baroness Burdett-Coutts, moved by the story, paid for a memorial monument. William Brodie created it as a drinking fountain with an upper basin for humans and a lower one for dogs. A statue of Bobby adorned the top.
The city filled in the basins with concrete in 1957, due to a city-wide health scare. After damage by a car in 1985, the base is newly created, however it copies the original exactly. An attached plaque reads:
“A tribute to the affectionate fidelity of Greyfriars Bobby. In 1858, this faithful dog followed the remains of his master to Greyfriars Churchyard and lingered near the spot until his death in 1872. With permission erected by the Baroness Burdett-Coutts.”
Inscribed on the statue is “Greyfriars Bobby, from the life just before his death.” W.H. Brodie Sc RSA 1872
Greyfriars Bobby is a popular destination spot in Edinburgh. People gather around the monument, taking photos. And as attested by the shiny spot on the statue, they reach up to rub Bobby’s nose for good luck. Such superstitions necessitated two nose restorations for Bobby!
The Greyfriars Bobby monument stands near the entrance to the kirkyard. The pub behind it, affectionately known as Bobby’s Bar, is a popular tourist spot. You can find postcards, toys and works of art commemorating Bobby throughout Edinburgh. Additionally, Walt Disney created a film about him in 1961.
Other Sites to Visit Near Greyfriars Bobby
These nearby sites are all within walking distance from the monument:
- Greyfriars Kirkyard
- George Heriot’s School, the inspiration for Hogwarts in Harry Potter
- Grassmarket, pubs and shops, and a rich history. This STORY took place near here.
- Victoria Street, full of shops and cafes
- The Elephant House, cafe/pub where J.K. Rowling wrote the first chapters of Harry Potter
- National Museum of Scotland
- The Royal Mile, containing many shops, attractions, cafes and museums
- Edinburgh Castle, at the top of the Royal Mile
I hope you’ve enjoyed Bobby’s story. His loyalty and devotion tugs at the heart. If you see Bobby, the entrance to the kirkyard with his grave and John’s is right there to the left. It’s free to wander about the cemetery and well worth a visit.
Have you seen Greyfriars Bobby World’s Most Loyal Dog or the kirk and kirkyard? Share your experiences in the comments!
Greyfriars Bobby Inspired Treasures:
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