Eau de Edinburgh

“This town stinks,” I declared, after only having been in it for twenty-four hours.

(And when I said stinks, I said it in that nasty tone with the curled upper lip, which is in fact The Mothership’s patented way of saying the word. During the turbulent teens, when I was such a badass, she would often tell me, “Your attitude stinks!“. Usually I’d done something criminal, like buying a CD instead of saving for The Future, or complained about the dishes, or refused to herd a flock of sheep. “Your attitude stinks!” she’d say.)

Anyway, there I was in Princes Street with hands on indignant hips, my sister nodding in agreement that Edinburgh stinks!

But you must understand the context. I didn’t mean it stank as in it was a horrible town. Oh no, I had fallen in love already. There was the castle, the pubs, and a sighting of a dozen kilted blokes en route to the rugby. I meant it quite literally was a bit whiffy.

There was some bizarre scent in the air, kind of savoury, kind of moist, kind of unpleasant…

“It’s dog food.” Rhi said suddenly. “It smells like dog food.”

“YES! Tinned dog food.”

“I’d say specifically it was Chum or PAL Puppy Food.”

“Freshly opened.”

It made sense. The dogs of Edinburgh were comparatively cheerier than dogs from other lands. There was a certain jaunty angle to their wagging tails, a joyous ohboy ohboy expression as they sauntered down the streets and examined each other’s arses. If you were a dog and the whole world smelled like the lid had been ripped off a giant can of dog food, wouldn’t you be happy?

But there was no evidence that this was the source of the smell.

To add to the mystery, the smell seemed to worsen when we moved into our flat the following week.

“So how do you like Edinburgh?” fellow employees or random strangers would ask us.

“Oh we love it, but it smells funny,” we’d reply.


“Yeah it does. Like dog food. Especially near our house!”

Yet we wondered why we weren’t making new friends.

Weeks passed and we got used to the smell, but it still puzzled me. I even consulted with the quiet black labrador next door. It wandered over quietly one night when I was sitting on the back step. It gently placed its right paw in the crook of my arm and snuffled its wet nose in my ear. It was a very quiet and still dog. Its name was  I AM MICROCHIPPED, according to the tag around its neck.

“Hey Dog,” I said, “Don’t you think Edinburgh smells like dog food? You know when you just open the tin and the smell hits you? All the goodness of horse chunks, chicken gizzards, monkey buttocks and gravy? Is that why you guys are so happy?”

“Who says we’re happy?” said the Dog.

Finally we noticed we were living a block away from a large brewery. All those hops and yeast and good times belching from the chimney stacks would definitely account for that heady aroma. Plus, there’s a slim chance it’s actually an elaborate front for a Chum factory.

About Shauna Reid

Ahoy there! I’m Shauna, an author, copywriter and content mentor. I love telling stories about life and helping others to tell theirs.

Find out more about me and how we can work together – I’m now booking for January 2022.

26 thoughts on “Eau de Edinburgh

  1. Could be worse – when I was at uni, the strange aroma turned out to be from the sewerage processing plant just over the river!

  2. How awful! I would hate to live in the foul stench all the time. But there are places that smell like giant armpits. At least it does not smell like Beta Fish food. That smells like a filthy wench that never bathes.

  3. And here was me thinking the doggie was going to tell you you’d sat in Pal and really should wash your jacket more often …

    I like your ending better.

    Almost beer o’clock on a Friday in aussie-land. Mmmm … sweet beer.

  4. With nohing better to do during winter, I turn my kitchen into a micro-brewery. So far 230 longnecks have been brewed. Only 500 to go. My entire house smells like brewing beer. I love the stench! (I’ll save some bottles for you upon your return)

  5. Or you could realize that the stench is actually coming from your basement, the basement you’ve been too terrified to enter on the basis of, it looks like a pretty likely candidate for the previous tenants’ burial grounds. And smells like it too.

  6. Has MB been reading a few too many Ian Rankin crime books? Not the most cheery thinker. But to extend the thinking a little, maybe the brewery isn’t what it says it is but is in fact the place where all previous tenants go. After all they always move on but where to?
    Definitely beer-o-clock in land of oz!

    Just to change the subject a little, how does one call for your dog that has gone wandering when its name is I AM MICROCHIPPED? Micro? Chippy?

  7. When I went to school (Melbourne High, in South Yarra; then a bit more industrial than it is now), it was down the road from a brewery. On some days, the air would be heavy with the smell of brewer’s yeast. Other days, oddly enough, the smell was entirely absent.

    We soon got used to it; I’m not aware of MHS old boys having a higher rate of alcoholism than those educated elsewhere.

  8. one day i could smell… well, lots of poo and finally managed to convince my coworkers they could smell it too. after complaining to our “superiors”, we were basically told we were imagining it.
    two hours later, the council was called in to the chinese restaurant next door as the sewerage trap had overflowed… and was right next to the source of our airconditioning… so was pumping the smell right through our system.
    management still has not apologised for questioning my sanity…

  9. I used to live near the Coopers brewery in Adelaide. It had a strong, sickly sweet smell, sort of malty. Not very much like dog food.

  10. When I lived near a brewery in Hulme, I always thought that the smell was more reminicent of the smell of burnt hedgehogs that you get on bonfire night if you’ve forgotten to check your wood stack before you ignite.

  11. breweries in australia always smelt like weetbix to me! which i would definitely prefer to air so chumpy you can carrrrve it.

  12. I remember the smell of Edinburgh. Then I remember the dog-shit smell of Bacchus Marsh near the pub at the railway (the Terminus?) and Edinburgh smells sweet by comparison. So just have a pint of Calder’s, Shauny and remember you are in one of the finest cities on the Earth, dog-food/brewery smell not withstanding.

    Excellent wordsmithing!

  13. I am new to your writing but I enjoyed the commentary on Edinburgh stinking. I didn’t have the same problem (perhaps it’s seasonal) but I did have a similar problem in Madrid. The nice thing is that it puts a scent to remember with the expereince.

  14. I didn’t notice any smell in Edinburgh. There was a funny smell on the way to Glasgow Green, though.


  15. Hasn’t your new home been occasionally called “Auld Reekie”?


    When I was in the seventh grade (still very much fifth-grade size), Phys. Ed. class was usually a matter of being sent out onto the field next to our school and being divided up into teams for football (the American kind). The field was directly across from the local sewage treatment plant. The expression “having the shit beaten out of you” takes on a particular poignancy when the beating in question takes place in an environment so heavily perfumed with the ordure of an entire community.

  16. Is it safe to mention yet that when I arrived in Edinburgh in the summer of 2001, I half-wondered if the smell came from piles of burning cattle with foot-and-mouth?

  17. Canberra smelled really smoky when I was there. Sweetly smoky, like pot smoke but less bitter. It was great.

    Not a cheery thinker? Moi? Astonishing allegation!

  18. Considering that many of us have grown up having smelt pot smoke at some point in our lives, I worry… 🙂

Comments are closed.