The Scott Monument is the tallest monument to a writer in the world, a Victorian Gothic superstructure towering at 200 feet 6 inches tall with its highest platform reached by 287 steps. It’s a dizzying climb and the staircase narrows as you reach the top but the reward at the end of this claustrophobic ascent is panoramic views of Edinburgh, from Princes Street Gardens where the monument stands, to the Pentland Hills and the Firth of Forth. The Monument is built from Binny sandstone from Ecclesmachan in West Lothian and was paid for by public subscription. City of Edinburgh Council maintains the monument and there is a ticket booth at the base.
Following Scott’s death in 1832, a competition was held to design a monument to him. The winner was one ‘John Morvo’, who turned out to be George Meikle Kemp, a self-taught architect who disguised his name fearing his lack of architectural qualifications and reputation would disqualify him. In 1838 Kemp was awarded the contract to construct the monument and John Steell was commissioned to design a monumental statue of Scott to rest in the space between the tower’s four columns. Steell’s statue, made from white Carrara marble, shows Scott with his favourite dog Maida by his side. There are also 64 figures of characters from Scott’s novels around the monument, created by a variety of Scots sculptors. The foundation stone was laid on the 15th of August 1840 and building took nearly four years. It was inaugurated on the 15th of August 1846, but Kemp did not see live to see his design realised having drowned in the Union Canal some months before.
The Monument provokes different reactions. Some describe it as a Gothic rocket ship, some – including the Belgian writer George Simenon – are astonished to find out that the monument is to a writer. ‘You mean they erected that for one of us?’ he is supposed to have asked. ‘Well, why not,’ he concluded. ‘He invented us all.’ Not everyone was so impressed, through. Charles Dickens, who loved Edinburgh, said ‘I am sorry to report the Scott Monument a failure. It is like the spire of a Gothic church taken off and stuck in the ground.’