There is an area to the north east of Edinburgh, on the shoreline of the Firth of Forth, which I love, called Leith. It’s a historic little town with a lot of character, culture and diversity. I came to live in Leith nearly by default and I’m so glad I did.
Last year I moved to Edinburgh and was looking for a place to stay. There was a room available in a shared house near Leith Links, in the north of the city. I was chancing my arm taking the room because I was still in Ireland at the time and of course didn’t have the opportunity to go and see the room before I moved in. But I had taken the risk before and hoped that it would work out this time too. Well the room and living situation weren’t the most inviting to say the least but I fell in love with the very unique area of Leith.
For centuries Leith has been the marine gateway to Edinburgh. It continued to be the largest and busiest port in Scotland until the trade routes to the Americas, Glasgow and the west took over in the 18th century. In 1833 Leith became an independent burgh and as “Leithers” say today, thereby gaining their own identity. This independence came to an end though when Edinburgh and Leith were joined in 1920. At the time, there was a referendum in Leith called the “lightening plebiscite” asking people if they wanted the merge. Despite the people there voting five to one against, the merge went ahead anyway.
In the past Leith had a reputation for drug using and prostitution, especially around The Shore area and had become a den of iniquity. It has transformed itself though and is now a very desirable destination, with up-market waterfront apartments, Michelin-starred restaurants, cosy cafes and a variety of art galleries.
It is also the location of two films, one well known and the other one not so illustrious. Irvine Walsh, who was born and raised in Leith, wrote and published his novel “Trainspotting” which was released as a film in 1996. The film was set in Leith, where the main characters lived and some of the opening scenes of the movie were filmed here. The second film which is not so familiar with the general public is one called “Sunshine On Leith”. It’s a musical, featuring songs of The Proclaimers, about two soldiers serving in Afghanistan, who return home to Leith to resume their romantic and family lives. It’s not very often that you find a town like Leith with such claims to fame. I like that. That’s partly what makes it so interesting.
I’m based on Dudley Avenue South, which is in a quiet street and for me the location is great. From my house I can walk into the city centre in 30 minutes or hop on a bus and be there in 20. There are parks on nearly every corner and it’s only a 20 minute bus ride out to the beach at Portobello. What’s even better is that I’m only a stone’s throw away from The Shore area, my favourite part of Leith and 10 minutes walk to Newhaven Harbour. This little town is crammed with cafes, pubs and restaurants and all sorts of other useful and interesting shops.
Until recently there were guided walking tours of Leith. A gentleman called Alex Wilson, who is associated with Leith Historical Society, ran these tours in conjunction with Edinburgh Tour Guides. But unfortunately he died in 2014 and so they are no more, which is a shame. I did check out the possibility of getting them started again because there is a gap there that could be filled. Leith has so much history and so many stories to tell that I think it would be an ideal opportunity to show off the area as a very attractive destination to visit. It would be more of a summer tour rather than a year round walk. Who knows though, if someone was willing to put the time and effort into it, it could take off, if they can get the funding for it.
Nearly every Tuesday night when I’m walking home from yoga class, I see people of all ages proudly wearing their green and white Hibernian football scarves, heading towards the Hibernian stadium. Hibernian Football Club was originally based in the Cowgate in Edinburgh but moved location to Easter Road in Leith in the 1880’s. Funded by Edinburgh’s Irish community since its inception, its Irish heritage is still reflected in its name, colours and badge. The club does a lot for the local community through the learning, education and charitable programmes that they offer. It’s plain to see that the Hibs supporters are proud of who they are and I love that spirit of independence they have about them, their own identity that they’re very willing to show to the world. That spirit is part of Leith and it makes me feel proud to be living here.
I was very lucky to get the chance to have a look around Hibernian stadium during the Leith Festival this year. As part of the festival the stadium had an open doors day where you could take a tour around the grounds and inside the building. It was a very informative self-guided tour and I was really surprised at how big the place is. The Hibs had recently made history and won the Scottish Premiership for the first time in 114 years and as part of the tour they had the Scottish Cup on display.
Leith plays host to a lot of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival activities but also has its own festivals such as the Leith Festival in early June, the Leith Late Festival at the end of June and the Edinburgh Mela Festival at the end of August. My friend Georgia and I went to the Leith Festival this year. It was very enjoyable. It started off with a parade called The Gala Day Pageant featuring groups from the local community, backed up by a lively Pipe Band, which ended up at Leith Links Park.
The park was full of food and drink stalls, arts and craft stalls, mini stages for music and dance performances and clowns to keep the children amused. There was also a very interesting variety of art exhibitions, film showings, family entertainment, theatre, dance, music and comedy performances and guided tours on offer. Considering the fact that the festival has been going on for the last 5 years or so, it was surprising that the turnout for some of the music and comedy shows that we went to was very low. Also there were no options to book tickets for shows online through the Leith Festival website. We had to buy tickets at each venue.
There is a whole lot more to Leith than meets the eye and this is my way of showing it off.