For the major part of tourists, this monument looks like a random pile of rocks.
And, in a way, that is indeed what it is.
It’s a cairn, basically a landmark constructed with irregular stones, and here there is no signage or posting to provide historical context.
Instead, one has to dig deeper to realize these stones are the marker of a macabre and unscrupulous story.
It was 17 October 1720 when a surgeon named Nichol Muschat lured his wife Ailie into Holyrood Park and killed her.
His previous attempts to poison her, frame her for adultery, and asking a friend to knock her off were not successful. In any case the man confessed to the crime and, according to court documents, said he killed the woman because he had simply grown weary of her.
In any case he was hanged in the Grassmarket, a traditional place for executions in Edinburgh, and a cairn was erected in his murdered wife’s memory, though sadly, the guidebooks that mention the cairn fail to mention her name.
The initial cairn was constructed in the traditional Scottish fashion closer to where the actual incident took place, southwest of Saint Anthony’s Chapel.
Over the years, people would add stones to the growing pile of rocks because of the tradition of laying stones on the cairn “in token of the people’s abhorrence and reprobation of the deed”.
Scottish historical novelist Sir Walter Scott (15 August 1771 – 21 September 1832) mentions the cairn several times in the novel, The Heart of Midlothian, by siting Jeanie Dean’s tryst with the outlaw, George Robertson, at this spot.
The present cairn was erected in 1823, replacing an original cairn that stood a short distance which had been removed around 1789, when a footpath was constructed.
Legend says its placement made it so King George IV could view the memorial on his visit to Holyrood Palace.
Images from web – Google Research