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Captain Burnet's Challenge July 13th: top Arthur's Seat in 15 minutes ....

That's Kay's portrait of the man .. 19 stone, and won his bet to reach the top of Arthur's seat in less than 15 minutes. He was from East Lothian and died at Seton in 1814. He was the last Captain of the Edinburgh City Guard, which today is the redcoat Company within the Alan Breck Regiment of Prestonpans Volunteers. Hence our keen interest.



From this year forth, it is proposed that the Regiment and any others properly attired shall attempt a similar feat on the afternoon preceding the Annual Regimental Dinner.

The Regiment is holding this fun event in Edinburgh on the afternoon of July 13th this year. The only rules are that contestants must wear period clothing and shoes, and keep their hats on!

ANY AND ALL intending to take up this challenge are invited to contact the City Guard directly which is LINKED HERE



"Two and half here!"

"Few men of his time [or outwith the Alan Brecks today] enjoyed their bottle with greater zest than Captain Burnet. At the civic feasts with which his palmy times abounded, no one did greater execution with the knife and fork. He seldom retired with less than two bottles under his belt and that without at all deranging the order of his upper story. Two-and-a-half here! was his frequent exclamation as he clapped his hand on his portly paiiuch if he chanced to meet a quondam bon vivant, on his way home from the festive board."
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Ed: Historical Notes with grateful acknowledgement to Electric Scotland:

"Early in the 19th century a 'New Police Act for Edinburgh' came into operation and the City Guard which had been the local militia/ police corps was disbanded. However, partly from reluctance to do away all at once with so venerable a municipal force, and by way of employing instead of pensioning off some of the old hands, a new corps consisting of two sergeants, two corporals, two drummers, and thirty privates was formed.

"This new City Guard saw James Burnet, the Senior Captain, appointed to its command. He had no previous military experience but had been a a member of the First Regiment of Edinburgh Volunteers. Prior to his appointment he kept a grocer's shop at the head of Fleshmarket Close. His personal appearance is amply delineated in Kay's Portrait - a man of great bulk. He was nevertheless a person of considerable activity and much spirit.

"Along with one or two gentlemen he was one summer day cooling himself with a meridian draught in a well known tavern when James Laing, then Deputy City Clerk who was one of the party, took a bet with the Captain that he would not walk to the top of Arthur's Seat from the base of the hill, within a quarter of an hour. Captain Burnet at once agreed to the wager and a Mr. Smellie, who happened to be the lightest and most active of the company, was appointed to proceed with the pedestrian in the capacity of umpire.

"The task, it must be admitted by all who know anything of the locality, was an amazing one for a person of nineteen stone on a hot summer day! Nonetheless, the Captain courageously set about his arduous undertaking seeing his way by St. Anthony's Well up the ravine.

"But to describe his progress, as he literally melted and broiled under the rays of the pitiless sun would require the graphic pen of a Pindar. Never did fodgel wight or rosy priest perform such a penance. When he reached the most difficult part of his journey the Captain looked as if about to give up the ghost; but Mr. Smellie, still keeping a-head with a timepiece in his hand, so coaxed and encouraged his portly friend that he continued his exertion, and actually gained the top of the hill within half a minute of the prescribed period.

"The moment he achieved the victory he threw himself, or rather fell, down and lay for some time like an expiring porpoise —either able to stir nor speak a single word. While thus extended at full length, a young cockney student, who had been amusing himself on the hill, came forward, and holding up his hands, exclaimed, as he gazed in amazement at the Captain — Good heavens! what an immense fellow to climb such a hill!

"When Mr. Burnet had sufficiently recovered, Mr. Smellie and he returned victorious to their friends and, it need not be doubted, potations deep were drunk in honour of the feat."

P.S. "Captain Burnet was also a member of the well known Lawnmarket Club, described in the Traditions as a dram-drinking, news mongering, facetious set of citizens who met every morning about seven o'clock; and after proceeding to the Post Office to ascertain the news, generally adjourned to a public-house and refreshed themselves with a libation of brandy."

Published Date: June 9th 2013


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