For nearly 200 years the Scott Monument has dominated Edinburgh’s Prince Street, as identifiable a capital landmark as the castle, the North Bridge, the Parliament building, the Palace of Holyroodhouse and the towering lands of the Old Town – but unique in being entirely devoted not to kings, soldiers or politicians but to a single man, the writer Sir Walter Scott.

Standing a shade over 200 feet in height and requiring 287 steps to reach its loftiest platform, it bristles with nods to Scott’s novels in the form of carved likenesses of 64 of his characters. Some like Jeanie and Effie Deans or Meg Merrilees are entirely creations of his mind – they feature in The Heart Of Midlothian and Guy Mannering, respectively – while others are real people co-opted by Scott to star in his historical fictions. In this group you’ll find everyone from Elizabeth I of England (from Kenilworth) and Oliver Cromwell (Woodstock) to Saladin (The Talisman) and Rob Roy McGregor (from Rob Roy of course). An array of sculptors were tasked with creating the statuary while the plum prize of designing the monument itself went to George Meikle Kemp, the son of a shepherd from Biggar and a self-taught architect.

We celebrated the 250th anniversary of Scott’s birth in 2021 and there’s another bite at the celebratory cherry in 2032 when the 200th anniversary of his death rolls around. It’s hard to imagine the Scott Monument itself won’t still be standing then or when it turns 200 a decade later in 2041 – or 2044, if you prefer to mark the date of its completion instead. By then it had resulted in the death of around two dozen stone masons, some perishing from falls but most dying from the lung disease silico-tuberculosis, a deadly occupational hazard for 19th century hewers of stone.

Today, though other buildings rise up around it, the Scott Monument has lost none of its ability to impress, a strange, gnarly, jagged thing pointing directly to the sky, a statue of Sir Walter himself sitting in pride of place beneath it. Hang about a bit, you’ll still see tourist jaws drop.

“Without it and the castle Prince Street would be unrecognisable,” wrote the architectural historian AJ Youngson in his majesterial 1966 survey of the capital’s built environment, The Making Of Classical Edinburgh. “It is a Gothic fantasy in a style of romantic nostalgia not unsuited for its purpose, crowded with arches, pillars, pilasters, niches and pinnacles in the utmost profusion, details said to be copied from Melrose Abbey which Sir Walter so ardently admired. Nothing could be more alien to classical Edinburgh than this monument … Yet, mellowed a little by the passage of time, it makes a unique and not altogether unpleasing contribution, gay, irresponsible, fantastic, to the tremendously varied spectacle of Princes Street.”