Witch trials in Nor Loch, the birthplace of Harry Potter and Sherlock Holmes…

Witch trials in Nor Loch, the Scottish Enlightenment, the birthplace of Harry Potter and Sherlock Holmes…Edinburgh’s secrets are pinched inside its mysterious dungeons. Bet you didn’t know most of these fun facts!

1. Encyclopædia Britannica’s VERY first edition.

The 3-volume reference work was founded in Edinburgh by Colin Macfarquhar (bookseller and printer) and Andrew Bell (engraver.) The unbounded format was sold via subscriptions for over three years.

2. Where Harry Potter was born.

Although many claim that JK Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book in Elephant House cafe, it was actually written at a cafe named Nicolson’s which is now a restaurant called Spoon located on Nicolson Street. Rowling was often there since the cafe was owned by her brother-in-law who she stayed with after arriving in Edinburgh.

3. On fire!

Edinburgh had the world’s first municipal fire service, established by James Braidwood after the Great Fire of Edinburgh in 1824, one that destroyed many parts of Old Town.

4. Auld Reekie = Old Smokey.

Edinburgh’s nickname “Auld Reekie” stems from the smoke coming from the coal and wood burnt for cooking and heating in the city’s homes and buildings. Many said, “back then all cities smelt bad, but Edinburgh smelt worse than most.”

5. The Scottish Enlightenment.

During the 18th and early 19th century in Scotland, Edinburgh was defined by an abundance of intellectual and scientific achievements. The Enlightenment culture focused on the concept of analyzing new books and profound discussions in academic gathering places, including: The Select Society and The Poker Club. Edinburgh is also home to two prestigious universities: University of Edinburgh and University of St. Andrew’s. Here are some famous Scottish thinkers and scientists from this era: David Hume, Adam Smith, James Hutton, Francis Hutcheson…and many more.

6. Here comes the King.

James I, the first King of Great Britain, was born in the Edinburgh Castle. He succeeded to the Scottish throne at 13-month-old, after his mother Mary was forced to abdicate in his favor.

7. Nor Loch witch trials.

Today’s Princess Street Gardens used to be a lake – Nor Loch – where hundreds of witch trails occurred to test women who were accused of being witches. If they floated after being thrown into the water, they were proven to be witches then later executed. If they drowned, then they were viewed as innocent.

8. Inspiration for Sherlock Holmes.

A Edinburgh native, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was best known for creating the character Sherlock Holmes. It’s been said that the fictional detective was inspired by his former university teacher Professor Joseph Bell, who was the President of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh.

9. You and your caddie!

Although it’s now used in golf, the word “caddie” originated in Edinburgh’s Old Town. It referred to men who carried water up the tenement flats in the area, and messenger boys who were errand-men, news-cryers or pamphlet-sellers.

10. Burke and Hare murders.

The famous murder case committed by William Burke and William Hare took place in Edinburgh in 1828. At the time, Edinburgh was a leading European centre of anatomical study but there was a shortage in corpses used for medical research. Burke and Hare killed 16 people in order to sell the corpses to Doctor Robert Knox for dissection at his anatomy lectures. The significance of the case raised public awareness regarding the need for bodies used for medical research, hence ignited the passing of Anatomy Act 1832.

Wendy Hung


As the founder of Jetset Times, Wendy is an avid traveler and fluent in five languages. When she's not traveling, Wendy calls Paris and Taipei home. Her favorite countries so far from her travels have been: Bhutan, Iran, and St. Bart's because they were all so different!