Easy to miss unless a tour guide points it out, the Heart of Midlothian is an arrangement of cobbles in Parliament Square outside St Giles Cathedral.
Between the grand western door of the cathedral and the statue to the 5th Duke of Buccleuch, the Heart is an arrangement of coloured granite setts arranged into a heart with a saltire in a circle in the centre.
Put aside all notions of romanticism however: the Heart is not a symbol of love or compassion, but instead marks where the entrance to the infamous and feared Old Tolbooth stood.
Erected in the 14th century as the city’s courthouse, jail and place of execution, the Tolbooth had a fearsome and apparently well-deserved reputation. Criminals of all kinds (and no doubt a fair number of innocents too) were incarcerated here, where they were mistreated, beaten, abused and – in many cases – put to death on the scaffold nearby.
Brass plates set into the street nearby mark out the boundaries of this notorious Edinburgh institution, demolished in 1817 and immortalised by Sir Walter Scott one year later in his novel The Heart of Midlothian.
Perhaps since then, and due to its much-despised reputation, a tradition quickly arose around the Heart, one very much still in place to this day.
Indeed, it is said that you can spot the difference between a visitor to Edinburgh and a local by how they treat the Heart of Midlothian.
Whilst a tourist is more likely to take a photograph of the undeniably attractive arrangement in the cobbles, a local seldom passes the Heart of Midlothian without spitting on it.
So whether native to Edinburgh or not, our advice is the same: don’t step on it …