Opinion

Where To Be Scottish In London

By Eleanor Morton Last edited 7 months ago
Where To Be Scottish In London

Eleanor Morton — history buff and comedian famous for her Scottish Tour Guide Craig videos — takes us on a tour of the most Scottish things in London.

A green tartan kilt and sporran - worn by someone with their hands on their hips
Kilty pleasures. Image: iStock/darkbird77

Scottish people have been in London en masse since ol' James VI (Or James I if you're nasty) moved his entourage down there in 1603. Since then, the number of Scots in London has swelled to around 200,000 — so it's hardly surprising there are hundreds of years' worth of buildings, memorials, statues and pubs all with a Scottish flavour in the capital. Here are my favourite.

The Bank of England, City of London

The grand facade of the Bank of England
The Bank of England — I mean, how much more Scottish can you get. Image: iStock/Rixipix

A visit to the Bank of England is a must —- and not just to yell at them about interest rates. No, this unlikely sight of Scottish pilgrimage is important because it was founded in 1719 by Scot William Paterson (who was also one of the participants in the very embarrassing Darien scheme but we DON'T TALK ABOUT THAT). Can you believe it, we gave London a bank and they won't even let us use our own money down there?

The Wallace Memorial, Smithfield

Flowers and banners on the memorial to William Wallace, Smithfield
Some of the banners, ribbons, photographs and flowers left in 2023

Any Scot worth their salted porridge has to take a pilgrimage to the William Wallace Memorial at St. Bartholomew Hospital in Smithfield. Here you can mourn the execution of the Scottish war hero, who was actually a posh boy from the central belt and not a Highlander living in a neolithic hut, as Hollywood would have you believe. Fall to your knees and shake your fists at the injustice of it all. Just don't paint your face blue — that's also historically inaccurate.

Peter Pan statue, Kensington Gardens

Peter Pan statue.
Peter Pan's statue is loved by kids and adults alike... although it was once tarred and feathered. Image: Londonist

Take a stroll through Kensington Gardens (Irn Bru in hand, of course) and admire the enchanting Peter Pan statue — erected in in homage to Kirriemuir-born author J.M. Barrie, whose timeless character Peter Pan was actually based on his (also Scottish) brother, who died tragically young.

Various Scottish pubs

A sign pointing out the Edinboro Castle pub is 375 miles from the actual Edinburgh Castle
And I would walk 375 miles, and I would walk... etc. Image: Matt Brown/Londonist

Look. I'm going to be straight with you. I do not drink whisky. I do not know anything about whisky. Despite making this video about it. I will drink it if I'm ill or at Hogmanay, but that's it. So I can't personally recommend any of the whisky tastings or tours in London. [Editor's note: leave that to us]. However, there are several charming Scottish pubs which will also serve you a good Innis and Gun or an Edinburgh Gin, including the Scottish Stores in King's Cross, the Edinboro Castle in Camden and the Famous Three Kings in Clerkenwell.

Scotscare, Shoreditch

Pay a visit or make a donation to the Scotscare charity in Shoreditch, which helps vulnerable Scots in London and was started as the Royal Scottish Corporation way back in 1611 when James VI was still kicking about.

Trafalgar Square

A bagpiper in Trafalgar Square
Ah, the sweet drone of the bagpipes. Image: iStock/miluxian

If you miss the sweet drone of the bagpipes, head to Trafalgar Square where there's a 90% chance a bagpiper will be plying their trade. Wipe a solitary tear from your eye and look off into the distance as they play (after you've tipped them).

Tomb of Mary, Queen of Scots, Westminster Abbey

Mary was a tragic victim of circumstance, politics and (probably) hair envy, all of which helps make her the glamorous figure that still fascinates us today. Visit her final resting place in Westminster Abbey and see the stone effigy of her maj which sits atop the tomb. Originally she was buried at Peterborough Abbey like some sort of peasant, but her son James reburied his mum in a more suitably regal location after he ascended the English throne.

London Ceilidh Club

Women in tartan skirts doing Ceilidh dancing
Bring comfy shoes. Image: iStock/PaulMcKinnon

No Scottish tour of London would be complete without a Ceilidh, and the London Ceilidh Club is the best place to go. A Ceilidh (which basically means party) is the name for the dancing we like to do at weddings, graduations and other big events. It's also a hefty workout, so bring comfy shoes. Don't worry if you’re a bit rusty on your Gay Gordons, there's always a Ceilidh caller to put you right. For an extra fun night go on St Andrew's Day (30 November) or Burns Night (25 January).

Mary Seacole statue, St Thomas' Hospital

Statue of Mary Seacole
Mary Seacole had Scottish links. Image: Londonist

You'll find statues and plaques dedicated Scots all over London, including Rabbie Burns in Embankment Gardens and John Logie Baird in Soho. (Surely it's only a matter of time before Andy Murray gets one at Wimbledon too?) Outside St Thomas Hospital in Westminster, you'll find one of Mary Seacole; largely forgotten for years, she is now known as one of the most important figures of the Crimean war — helping to nurse and tend to sick soldiers both on and off the battlefield. She was also a writer and entrepreneur. But did you know that Jamaican-born Mary had a Scottish father? You do now.

Scotland Yard, Victoria Embankment

The New scotland Yard sign
Come her and pretend you're making a statement to the press. Image: iStock/chrisdorney

Obviously Scotland Yard hasn't actually got anything to do with Scotland (and if it ever did, no one can remember) but you can enjoy standing outside that revolving sign, pretending you're making a statement to the press, and — more relevantly — breathe in some Sherlock Holmes atmosphere. Scotland Yard features heavily in many of Scot Arthur Conan Doyle's stories, and Sherlock himself is said to be based on Scottish doctor Joseph Swan. After you've watched the sign rotate a few hundred times, decamp to the nearby Sherlock Holmes pub for a dram.

London Bridge

Round off your tour walking off into the sunset across London bridge, in homage to Renton in the final shot of Trainspotting. Hopefully all you'll have with you is good memories of Scottish London, and not a bag of stolen cash and a heroin addiction.

Last Updated 25 September 2023

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