Spotlight on Leith
- Anna Millar
- 11 June 2009
Sunshine on Leith
As The List launches its Live It section, native Leither Anna Millar uncovers the area’s finest assets
There they were, defiantly choosing not to choose life. Five years after The Proclaimers put ‘Sunshine’ on it, there were Irvine Welsh’s seminal Trainspotters peeing on Leith’s disused railway tracks, a fitting metaphor for the area’s seedy, debauched history.
Almost two decades on, the picture couldn’t be more different. From its striking new builds to its influx of bars, restaurants and independent shops, Leith has enjoyed a total reinvention.
Balking in the face of conformity, Leith’s old-school residents merrily co-exist with the young professionals establishing roots there. Junk shops nestle in beside some of the city’s finest bars; while Polish delis and art fairs rub shoulders with some of the capital’s most under-rated and interesting buildings – Andrew Lamb’s House, built in the early 1600s and South Leith Parish Church’s late-15th century origins to name but two. What was once a seedy backdrop has somehow managed to transform itself into a rich cultural hub, while carefully managing never to change what, at heart, makes it great: its sense of community.
In the face of adversity, independents come back time and time again. Better still, some survive. Walk into the area’s finest wine shop, Cornelius, or its best bakery, Manna House next-door on Easter Road, and there you have it: proof positive that the indies that survive do so because their community loves them. Nearby, just off Montgomery Street, locals flock to Renroc café-come-beauty therapists, hosting an array of film and book nights.
Along on Leith Walk, The Proclaimers’ gargantuan claim that ‘Leith could be New York’, while over-blown, isn’t lacking in foundation. Not for nothing is it known for its multi-cultural pace and boho vibe: Indian fabric shops and Chinese supermarkets line the Walk, alongside the wondrous trio of pubs that is Joseph Pearce’s, Boda and Victoria. Fish eaterie Tailend, a relative newbie, offers an invigorating step up from the humble fish supper; nearby La Favorita offers up the best pizza that the capital has to offer. A wander down the hill takes you past take-out favourite, Silver Bowl, then the mighty Port o’ Leith before hitting the laid-back wonder of the Carriers Quarters and the ESI.
Just off the Shore, great bars such as the Cameo, Sofi’s and Roseleaf stand near the remains of a once disused and unloved port.
Refreshingly light on pomp, the quayside hosts a clutch of Michelin-starred chefs, with Tom Kitchin and Martin Wishart in residence at the Kitchin and the Cookery School respectively. Nearby, sits the ever-popular Plumed Horse. Even the Malmaison overlooking the estuary manages to fit in with the scene, while floating bar and nightclub, Cruz, and the nearby Ship on the Shore offer ample opportunity for outdoor dining.
More recently, Leith has become a hub for the creative industries, a factor further illustrated by the Leith Festival, where lovers of the area amble around brandishing their We Heart Leith T-shirts.
And what’s not to love?
Boozy tea parties
Roseleaf, 23-24 Sandport Place, 0131 476 5268.
The Roseleaf pub has survived the transition from old man’s boozer to bohemian hangout with style. A clutter of ornaments and flea market goodies, the decoration merely hints at its laid-back charm, while the pub’s boozy tea parties (featuring cocktails in china teapots), is just the beginning of what makes it so great.
The Manna bread
Manna House, 22 Easter Road, 0131 652 2349
A foodie’s delight, this is more than worth making a trip to the east end of town for. From the amazing assortment of homemade loaves and delicious soups to the seemingly endless array of sweets, this gem of a bakery-cum-café at the top of Easter Road is a must. Weekends are busy, so get in early to avoid disappointment.
Various venues, Easter Road
Enjoy an hour or two wandering down Easter Road and taking in the ever-increasing number of junk and charity shops. Stocks often spill out onto the street, showcasing everything from old battered chairs and lamps to ornate watches, broaches and pictures. After you’ve exhausted the road, head across to Leith Walk and dabble in the second-hand shops.
Royal Yacht Britannia
One of Edinburgh’s best-known attractions, the Royal Yacht Britannia now works very successfully as a museum, harking back to an earlier age of travel and empire, and affording a nice snapshot of a bygone era. If you have even a passing interest in the royal family or naval history, Britannia will entertain. Those fancying some drinks or food afterwards can head to the nautically themed and very tasty Britannia Spice just along the road; also nearby, Porto and Fi or Tapa Barra y Restaurante provide ample charm and plentiful menus.
Ocean Drive, 0131 555 8800, www.royalyachtbritannia.co.uk
The Water of Leith Walkway
Hardcore walkers can head the 12 miles out of town to Balerno where the walk officially starts with a well-equipped visitor centre. The path, opened in 1981, is in pretty good nick for the most part and highlights include Colinton Village, Dean Village and Stockbridge. A word of reassurance though, the path is generally well signposted, but don’t get discouraged if the odd sign appears to be pointing in the wrong direction – it probably is.
A popular hangout with joggers, footballers and those looking for a gentle jaunt, Leith Links has developed into a picturesque stomping ground to hang out with a picnic and read a book – weather permitting. The more energetic should note that 30 minutes walk in one direction finds you at Cramond, 15 minutes in the other takes you to Portobello. The Links themselves are great for a general mosey during the Leith Festival.