The setting for Irvine Welsh’s novel Trainspotting, Leith is perhaps not on the list of must-see places for visitors to Edinburgh. However, whilst there is certainly still some poverty to be found in this town within a city, there is also a community spirit, resilience and vibrancy sometimes lacking in the more genteel parts of the Living Rock. Years of regeneration and a predominantly young, artistic and left-leaning populous, has made Leith an interesting place to explore and a great counter-balance to the city centre for the Festival weary.
Transport links to Leith are good, with lots of buses to choose from, the most frequent and direct being the number 22. It is also walkable for those with sturdy legs, taking 40 to 50 minutes from the city centre; either stick to the streets and follow Leith Walk down hill to the sea or take the scenic, but longer route, along the Water of Leith.
Whichever way you choose to get there, what is there to do when you arrive?
First, head to the area known as The Shore for a bit of architectural eye-spy. Leith was, and remains, strongly connected to the sea, there have been docks here since the Medieval period and they are still in use today. Traces of the nautical can be found everywhere, some more obvious than others, and trying to spot them adds a little extra to a walking tour.
Something else to keep a look out for is the recurring presence of Leith’s motto ‘Persevere’ which, with an eagle eye, can be spotted everywhere. Usually pictured in conjunction with an image of the Virgin Mary in a boat, this too harks back to the sea-faring past and also to the positive attitude of the residents.
If you follow the river to the sea you will pass a number of examples of the motto as well as the lighthouse pictured above and a maritime themed war memorial, before arriving at the harbour which is currently home to the Dazzle Ship installed as part of the Edinburgh Art Festival and one of an on-going series to mark the centenary of the First World War. As the name suggests, you can’t miss it!
If your trip is on a Saturday, head back inland to Dock Place between 10 and 5 to peruse the stalls of the weekly Leith Market. A sister to the more established Stockbridge Market you can find fresh produce, cooked food, arts and crafts and antiques for sale. The first Saturday of each month sees priority given to vegan offerings. As well as the market, The Shore is home to a number of independent shops, art galleries and eateries, including three out of the city’s five Michelin starred restaurants.
Away from the water front Leith has more to offer. Take a walk along Bernard Street, turning at a bronze statue of Scotland’s national bard, Robert Burns, to head up Constitution Street and then take a sharp left on to Links Place to find yourself at Leith Links. For anyone familiar with Festival Edinburgh, the Links is Leith’s answer to the Meadows, minus the crowds. There is a children’s playground, free to use tennis courts, allotments, an orchard, and areas designated for football, cricket and lawn bowling. A recent addition is the ‘Community Croft’ organised by locals in a piece of spare ground next to the tennis courts. This is common ground, meaning that it can be used by anyone, so plots are open to all without the long waiting lists of the official allotments. It really is an oasis of calm in what, in August, can seem like a crazy city.
For more things to do for free during the Edinburgh Festival see here