Auld Reekie

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"... people on the decks of ships, or ploughing in quiet country places over in Fife, can see the banner on the Castle battlements, and the smoke of the Old Town blowing abroad over the subjacent country. A city that is set upon a hill. It was, I suppose, from this distant aspect that she got her nickname of AULD REEKIE. Perhaps it was given her by people who had never crossed her doors: day after day, from their various rustic Pisgahs[1], they had seen the pile of building on the hill-top, and the long plume of smoke over the plain; so it appeared to them; so it had appeared to their fathers tilling the same field; and as that was all they knew of the place, it could be all expressed in these two words."

from Edingburgh Picturesque Notes by Robert Louis Stevenson [2]


Auld Reekie is a traditional nickname for Edinburgh, the capital city of Scotland.

The nickname is from the Scots word reek meaning smoke (not, as is often assumed, smell). [3]

The Poems

Auld Reekie is the title of one of the Scots poems of Robert Fergusson, who died insane in Edinburgh's Bedlam asylum, aged 24, but whose poems were an inspiration for Scotland's greatest poet, Robert Burns.

Auld Reikie, wale o' ilka Town
That Scotland kens beneath the Moon;
Where couthy Chiels at E'ening meet
Their bizzing Craigs and Mous to weet;
And blythly gar auld Care gae bye
Wi' blinkit and wi' bleering Eye: [4]
from the poems of Robert Fergusson [5]

In 1893, the poet and novelist Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) wrote from his home in Samoa to fellow Scottish novelist S R Crockett, "I shall never take that walk by the Fisher's Tryst and Glencorse; I shall never see Auld Reekie, I shall newer set my foot again upon the heather. Here I am until I die, and here will I be buried." His prediction came true, he died the following year in Samoa. His poem Auld Reekie was one of his last, and one of the few that he wrote in Scots. It ends[6]

I gang nae mair where ance I gaed,
By Brunston, Fairmileheid, or Braid;
But far frae Kirk and Tron.
O still ayont the muckle sea,
Still are ye dear, and dear to me,
Auld Reekie, still and on!

("I gang nae mair where ance I gaed" - I go no more where once I went; "ayont the muckle sea" - beyond the (much) sea; Kirk is the Scottish church, meaning either the building or the Institution; a tron was a public weighing station and often, as in Edinburgh, a central meeting place. Brunston, Fairmilehead and Braid are districts around Edinburgh)

The Whisky

Auld Reekie is also the name of a 12 year old bottling of an Islay single malt whisky, selected for its pungent smoky character.[7].

The Recipes

  • Steak "Auld Reekie" [8]
  • "Auld Reekie" Cock-a-Leekie Soup [9]

References

  1. Pisgah; a mountain ridge
  2. Edingburgh Picturesque Notes by Robert Louis Stevensonfull text online
  3. Reek Scottish Vernacular Dictionary] This gives two meanings for reek: smell and smoke
  4. auld, old; wale, wall; ilka, ever; muckle: great in size; ken, know, recognise; couthy, sociable, affable; chiels, children; gar, greet as in salutation; blinkit, blinking; mou piles e.g. of hay; bizzing, buzzing; bleery dim sighted
  5. A Selection of Poems in Scots by Robert Fergusson
  6. Robert Louis Stevenson's Edinburgh
  7. Auld Reekie- the whisky
  8. Steak "Auld Reekie"
  9. "Auld Reekie" Cock-a-Leekie Soup