The Romantic History of the Balmoral Clock

Rocco Forte Hotels

You can do a lot in three minutes. Brew a cup of tea. Listen to Golden Slumbers by The Beatles, twice. Or share an unhurried farewell kiss at Waverley Station under the dutiful timekeeping of the Balmoral Clock.

Travellers to and from Edinburgh have been doing so since 1902 when the iconic timepiece was installed and famously set three minutes fast atop the North British Station Hotel, which became The Balmoral in 1988. Besides keeping train passengers punctual, the Clock’s advanced setting is affectionately thought to allow lovers more time to say their goodbyes on the platform.

Today, the only day on which the clock tells the true time is during the countdown to the midnight bells on 31st December, when around 80,000 people flock to Princes Street to admire a torchlit parade and effervescent New Year celebrations known as Hogmanay, accompanied by an impressive pyrotechnic display from Edinburgh Castle.

A striking landmark

Wherever you stand in the city, your eyes are drawn to the Clock Tower’s imposing silhouette. At 58-metre-tall, locals and visitors alike look to the landmark as a meeting point when navigating the city – a romantic tradition that transcends today’s digitally-gripped world.

Even before the Clock took its proud place on Princes Street, Edinburgh’s landscape inspired much of the literary world to centre the city as their muse. From Sir Walter Scott’s historical tale, The Heart of Midlothian (1818), to Muriel Spark’s post-war novel, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961), Edinburgh provides a rousing backdrop to some superb works of fiction.

Edinburgh still holds special appeal to today’s writers. J.K. Rowling chose it as her main place of work, concluding the Harry Potter series while staying in The Balmoral’s Room 552. Now renamed in the author’s honour, the JK Rowling Suite is filled with natural light and adorned with playful touches, from the ‘Hedwig’ door knocker to the marble Hermes bust, irreverently signed by Rowling on completion of the final chapter.

Timeless grandeur

The Balmoral’s central location is made for exploring Edinburgh’s ancient cobblestone streets, which have been witness to countless encounters through the centuries – literary and otherwise. With its breathtaking views of the capital, the hotel is ideal for a long weekend away or perhaps, to celebrate something special.  For an appropriate gift, pop into the renowned Hamilton & Inches, the very same local jewellers who crafted the Balmoral Clock 122 years ago.

After a day spent perusing the myriad boutiques, galleries, and monuments that call the Scottish capital home, there’s time – an extra three minutes of course –  to settle in for an extraordinary dinner at Number One, the Balmoral’s 4 AA Rosette restaurant, with a tasting menu curated by Hotel Catey’s Hotel Restaurant 2023 Chef of the Year Mathew Sherry. 

Book your stay at The Balmoral, steeped in history and beauty in equal measure. Contact our reservations team by emailing or calling +44 131 556 2414.

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