Touring Edinburgh By Dog: One Scotsman Finds His Way Home With The Help Of A Four-Legged Friend, An English Springer Spaniel [VIDEO]

on August 09 2013 8:57 PM

Editor’s Note: When Scottish journalist Chris Harress found himself unmoored as a result of a painful romantic breakup in Sweden, he returned to his Edinburgh home with no idea how to put his life back together. During his aimless wanderings of the ancient city with his dog, an English springer spaniel named Madigan, he slowly began to see his life -- and the city where he was born -- in a different light. The same was true of his relationship with Madigan. Fortunately, Harress, now a reporter for International Business Times in New York, documented this pivotal period in his life in pictures, and in the following narrated slideshow, takes us through a poignant story about loves lost and found, set in the beguiling city of Edinburgh.

Madigan is a 14-year-old English springer spaniel. His legs are a little shorter than most in his breed, and people in my family often say that he’s the only dog they have ever seen smile.

I used to feel like he was a burden in my life, having to walk him five times a day starting at 6 a.m., but upon coming back to Edinburgh after the sad and unfortunate end of [the] relationship I had in Sweden,  I was reunited with Madigan, and I immediately recognized that our relationship had changed. He was no longer a burden, but more like a savior.

I didn’t even feel like his owner anymore; I just felt like we were friends, companions and equals. I stopped putting a leash on him as if to give him the freedom I felt he deserved. I walked Madigan around the city, like I was showcasing him as a new friend, but inside I was just inches away from weeping, completely ashamed that I let something so wonderful fail so badly. Madigan seemed to know something was up.

Our usual walk was beside a historical river called the Water of Leith. It flows through the whole city starting in the Pentland hills to the southwest of the city, flowing out at the Port of Leith into the North Sea. It is one of the few features in Edinburgh that had remained throughout a city that had changed so much in a thousand years. Nowadays, Edinburgh doesn’t change much at all, as it’s a World Unesco Heritage Site. In some ways, I found it comforting to be in a place that I knew so well and seemed so familiar.

We’d cross the river to an area called the Dean Village. It looked like a small Austrian town from above and felt like something from a “Lord of the Rings” movie once you were down there. Walking up from the Village, which was wedged in between a small gully only a few minutes from the city center, the cobbled streets and old coach houses that are majestically placed in little alleyways start to appear. The houses used to act as stables, with horses at the bottom and servants at the top. Nowadays, they are pretty expensive places to live.

Edinburgh is a very old city that almost seems like it’s layered with tiny winding streets that you can get lost in. It has a rich history of stunning architecture, revered writers and outstanding innovation across all fields of industry and academia. Perhaps one of our most famous and well-remembered writers, and almost certainly what we would call a son of Scotland, was Robert Burns, a poet who gave the world “Auld Lang Syne” and the saying “of mice and men”: 217 years after his death, I was finally starting to understand his poetry, finding connections and common ground after my most recent drama. Burns himself experienced a lot of heartbreak, often using it as the theme for so many of his greatest poems.

I attached myself to one of his poems that probably best described my own state of mind, and I sat in the meadow near my house trying to learn it. “Ae Fond Kiss” became a daily ritual of my own self-pity. One stanza that was particularly poignant to my situation was something that Burns wrote when a woman he fell in love with left him and moved to Jamaica:

“Had we never loved so kindly,

“Had we never loved so blindly,

“Never met -- or never parted,

“We had ne’er been broken-hearted.”

Not far from the City Center, there is a small historical graveyard called Greyfriars. Outside is a statue of a dog called Bobby that sits on top of a fountain, with metal loops to tie your dog to and a large bowl at the bottom where fresh running water flows for the dog to drink from. Born around 1855, Bobby belonged to a policeman named John Grey who was a night watchmen in the cemetery, because, in those days, grave robbery was common. When John Grey died in 1858, Bobby followed the procession of mourners to the grave where his master would be buried. Without an owner, Bobby was a stray and had nowhere to go, so for 14 years Bobby would sleep on his master’s grave every night, taking shelter in a neighboring tomb when the weather was bad. He was fed by the owners of local butchers and bakeries who all pitched in to make sure he had a collar and a license. When Bobby died in 1872, he was buried at the front of Greyfriars. On Bobby’s grave there is an inscription that reads, “Let his loyalty and devotion be a lesson to us all.”

And that’s just the thing about Madigan: Through his love for me and his exuberance and joy for life, he taught me to appreciate all the things I’d taken for granted -- including the truly amazing city of Edinburgh, which people travel great distances to see and which, on these walks, presented itself in an entirely different light. Exploring a familiar world, from an unfamiliar vantage point, brought me back around, and Madigan, who’s still exploring Edinburgh while I’m away in New York, showed me how to appreciate the twists and turns of my own hometown, and of my life, and to be optimistic on days when I might otherwise have felt too sad to get out of bed.