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Greyfriars Bobby: Story of Edinburgh's Greyfriars Bobby statue, who he was and how long he spent at his owner's grave

Edinburgh Evening News logo Edinburgh Evening News 14/01/2022 Ginny Sanderson
© Greyfriars Kirkyard ceremony to mark the anniversary of the death of Greyfriars Bobby (Greg Macvean)

The legend of the loyal Skye Terrier who loved his human beyond the grave is one of the fondest stories of Scotland’s Capital city.

His statue stands proudly in Edinburgh’s Old Town, in front of the pub and kirkyard which share his name.

But was Greyfriars Bobby a real dog? And what is the story behind the statue?

What is the story of Greyfriars Bobby?

Bobby was indeed a real dog. The wee Skye terrier was said to have lived in the 19th Century in Edinburgh.

The story goes that Bobby’s owner John Gray was a night watchman for Edinburgh City Police in the 1850s.

In around 1856, Gray - who was sometimes referred to as Auld Jock - took on scruffy Bobby as a watchdog to accompany him on his patrols through the cobbled streets of Edinburgh.

Bobby was utterly faithful and devoted to his “master” and never left his side.

Even when John Gray died on 15 February 1858, the dedication of his canine companion did not falter.

Gray was buried in an unmarked grave in Greyfriars Kirkyard in Edinburgh.

The story goes that, the morning after the burial, Bobby was discovered lying on his master’s grave.

As dogs were not allowed in the graveyard, Bobby was sent away. But he soon returned and refused to leave the site of his owner’s last rest.

The graveyard staff eventually took pity on him, and Bobby continued this vigil every day, becoming a popular local character.

Large crowds would gather to await the sound of the One o’ Clock Gun, which signalled for Bobby to scurry to the nearby inn for a spot of lunch.

The terrier dutifully waited by his owner’s grave for 14 years, until he died on 14 January, 1872.

Bobby was buried inside Greyfriars Kirkyard, not far from his owner.

When was the statue of Greyfriars Bobby erected? And where is it?

In 1873, a year after Bobby’s death, a statue was built in the shape of the little dog with an accompanying fountain.

It can still be found to this day outside the entrance to Greyfriars Kirkyard on George IV Bridge.

The statue also stands in front of Greyfriars Bobby’s Bar in Candlemaker Row, now one of the most photographed pubs in Scotland.

There is also a marked grave for Bobby which can be found at the entrance to Greyfriars Kirkyard, and John Gray now has a marked grave nearby.

Why do people rub Greyfriars Bobby’s nose?

If you visit Greyfriar Bobby’s statue, you will notice its nose has been worn away.

This is because tourists tend to rub the dog’s snout for good luck.

It is not certain where this tradition came from, but in the past hundreds of pounds have been spent to restore the damage it has caused.

There was even a “Hands Off Bobby” campaign, calling for visitors and locals to stop touching Bobby’s nose.

And one anonymous campaigner even cordoned off the monument with yellow tape to protect it.

During the coronavirus pandemic, Bobby’s muzzle was covered with a mask and tourists were warned not to touch him for fear of spreading the virus.

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