Edinburgh’s Coast: Quiet Strolls & Fresh Sea Air
26 March 2020
Old Town, Edinburgh Castle, The Royal Mile, The Scott Monument, Arthur’s Seat, whisky (galore), tartan, Harry Potter. Tourism in Edinburgh is funnelled in certain directions, which is understandable, because there are very Scottish, very Edinburgh sights that need seeing.
This means visitors end up clustered somewhere around the centre. However, there’s a whole part of Edinburgh that people either aren’t aware of or forget exists. Yes, Edinburgh has its own slice of coastline. A quick peruse on Google maps confirms this.
Along with being the cultural and architectural core of Scotland, Edinburgh is a seaside city, with seagulls, promenades, fish and chips, the lot. It’s a hidden attraction in a city already loved around the world. From the leafy grounds of Prestonfield, with peacocks strutting the lawns, a twenty-minute drive will have the salt breeze of the Firth of Forth on your cheeks—but you’ll still be very much in Edinburgh.
Edinburgh’s coast has a quiet solitude; a place your mind breathes. It’s a refreshing contrast against the thrum of the city centre.
Leith is described by The Evening News Edinburgh as “the capital’s eastern melting pot”. Those with a keen interest in film, will remember it as Mark Renton’s haunt in Trainspotting. It might be a revered piece of cinema, but it did nothing for Leith’s image. Still, it’s a work of fiction, and more than twenty years have passed. Now things have and are changing.
Leith, like Edinburgh’s Old Town, is hewn from faded sandstone, with imposing tenements marching out towards the coast. Historically working class, and affordable, it has been attracting young professionals and artisans. It’s less intense atmosphere and proximity to the estuary give it a sense of freedom, and devolution from the main city which is desirable.
This miniature new world within Edinburgh, has lured in micro-breweries, cafés, galleries, and restaurants. You’ll find the waterfront has gastropubs serving fresh Scottish seafood. Most welcome after exploring the banks of the Water of Leith.
Portobello Beach & Promenade
“Let’s go to the beach” isn’t something you’re likely to hear or think when sipping Talisker or Glenmorangie in an Edinburgh whisky bar. Shadowy streets peered over by gothic spires, and the happy-sad hum of bagpipes are not evocative of “beach”.
Yet, beach there is, should you want it—and a lovely one at that. Portobello is an award-winning Edinburgh Beach, with two miles of pure sand. Here, you can kick off your shoes and wake yourself up strolling in the breakers. Or perhaps you can sit with delicious fish and chips, listening to the soft, calming rush of waves.
If getting sandy isn’t an option (oh for childhood) you can walk along the promenade. The best time is dusk, under a tangerine sky, beside a cold sapphire Firth of Forth. Afterwards, it would be silly not to have a wee dram in one of the local bars or pubs.
Granton’s Forgotten Castle
Forgotten and mostly vanished. If Edinburgh Castle is a banquet, then sadly Granton is a morsel. The tumble-down walls of Granton Castle sit atop a grassy mound west of Leith. This is not somewhere you go for attractiveness, in the traditional sense, as around the castle are a cluster of industrial buildings.
What Granton Castle and its surrounds have is a sort of bleak municipal beauty, where decaying history, industry, and coastal seclusion converge. Not the place for a romantic afternoon, but perfect for a photography project.
Head to the Lighthouse in Newhaven
The small lighthouse at the western edge of Newhaven Harbour, though no longer a navigational aid, is still a popular local landmark. There’s something in our social consciousness that makes us feel safer with lighthouses around, yet mournful.
Lighthouses are lone beacons, with lone keepers, guiding vessels through perilous waters and murky storms to their salvation. They stand for hope and refuge but remind us the sea is dangerous and the power of nature indifferent. This complex emotion is what draws us to them. We stand by them, like momentary keepers, and wistfully stare across swelling waters.
Newhaven lighthouse is a fine spot for some pensive mental meanderings, with unbroken views over the Firth of Forth to the green shores of Fife.
Taking in the Sea Air
Considering the difficult times ahead, escaping the incessant drip of worrying news and taking a break from isolation is imperative. Heading to the seashore is a perfect way to give ourselves space, physically and mentally. We must remember to take care of ourselves and others.
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