Moments That Matter #001: Jacob’s Ladder in Edinburgh City

Moments That Matter #001

Jacob and His Ladder in Edinburgh

Recently, Student Tours Scotland has been trying to get it’s tours ready for the new year, a 2016 that has come up so fast, it’s scary. With a new semester of students, comes new tours. However, Edinburgh is one of those places that is not easy to change. But, we will be changing it a wee bit. As well as the tour itself, we’re going to take you as far up Arthur’s Seat hill walk as the weather allows and also give you loads of stories and legends along the way.

However, I digress, the point of this post is different. Student Tours Scotland already offers great tours with awesome information but that’s not the only reason you should come along on a day trip. Oh no! There are the actual experiences and things that happen in these places that are the most important. And so today, I give you the legend, the tale, the awesome-ness of...The Time We Met Jacob On His Ladder.

When we originally did the Edinburgh City tour we never really understood quite what Edinburgh, as a city, was like. It’s hills. There, I spoilered everything. It’s all about the hills. Up and down and up and up and more up. Thankfully, Edinburgh has some lanes (usually called ‘closes’) and staircases everywhere to help you (or not, in the case of having to go up a stair).

We left our bus and to save time getting from the dizzy heights of Calton Hill down to Canon Gait we descended down into the depths of the Old Town via the one, the only, Jacob’s Ladder.

If you are familiar with the story from biblical times, Jacob’s Ladder was a supposed connection between Heaven and Hell, in many ways Edinburgh’s Old and New Towns would have embraced this comparison over the years. For us, this fateful day, it really felt like hell, despite only going down. At the very bottom, Hell’s gates open out towards Canongate and the Old Town. Today however, there was only one problem, Jacob himself was waiting for us.

Jacob’s Ladder, Edinburgh (not the one from the Book of Genesis) is a large stone staircase that takes you underneath the railway line at Waverley Train Station. It passes down past a lot of empty, unused grassland tucked between Calton Hill and the station. In here, homeless people are often found. Jacob appeared from no where, like the 300 taking on the endless armies from the East and stopped us in his tracks. This was no ordinary homeless man, this was Jacob and we were on his ladder without giving him due warning,

Now, as a Glaswegian, the Edinburgh accent can be a little tough for me (despite less than a hour between the two). So as Jacob started unleashing a tirade of Edinburgh-ish at us the students were naturally a little startled. You have to understand, it’s hardly his fault that he’s homeless, the world has let poor Jacob down. Perhaps he was only asking for some food or some change. Either way I let him have his five minutes of ranting. When he was finished, the students asked me if he wanted money and should they get some for him since he looked like he needed it. It was only afterwards that both myself and Jacob burst into laughter. I did give Jacob money that day but that was not what he was shouting about.

Jacob was a tour guide himself, albeit now one without a home. He knew Edinburgh better than most and we were his first visitors in a whole day. His ladder was a lonely place at times and Jacob simply wanted some company and his ‘shouting’ was him addressing the group. He was telling them to feel welcomed in Edinburgh, to enjoy the city that had given him so much despite his hardships. He then introduced himself (I don’t remember his real name sadly) and when a student asked if he was the Jacob that the ladder referred to (a street sign at the top of the steps clearly names the stairway), he said he was and his name was forgotten. He greeted every one of the fifty students that day. They were all so keen and happy to meet him.

Edinburgh is not Glasgow, but it’s not an awful place. It’s an amazing wonderland of architecture, beautiful castles and palaces and amazing people. Hopefully you can have that kind of experience when you come with us. Consider it, it’s these moments that you will remember in twenty years. These are the moments that matter.