From Prince’s Street, we took the bus together, sitting on the top deck at the front so we could watch Edinburgh pass below us. We split under foreboding, rain-bearing clouds; Geoff went forward, and I turned and walked back in the direction from which we had come, until I found myself alone with nothing but a few hours to kill. Under layers of wool, fleece, Thinsulate and leather — each trying in their own ways to block the cold gusts from the Firth — I walked through the streets of a place I didn’t know: Leith.
Leith today is part of Edinburgh; it seems rough and industrial and hip, all at the same time. To the outsider I am, it feels as though it has escaped feeling too gentrified, although I imagine some locals would say otherwise.
In the past, Leith was a separate town, and the Leith Walk, the gritty thoroughfare you must endure to find Leith’s less apparent gems, was split in half; cut at the waist, with Edinburgh claiming the head and torso, and Leith the legs. There is a bar about halfway down the Walk, that staddled each city. Edinburgh had different licensing laws than Leith, and stopped serving alcohol after 9:30 each night. After 9:30pm, patrons had to shuffle over to the Leith side of the bar if they wanted to keep drinking.
The best of Leith is along the river, the Water of Leith, which flows through Edinburgh to the Firth of Forth. It’s easy to complain about the weather in Edinburgh, but when I really think about where we are — almost 56 degrees North, on an island in the North Sea — I can’t help but think the weather is just about right, given the circumstances.
I walked along the river, to the Commercial Quay, a retail and restaurant complex with sidewalk dining overlooking a water-filled canal. It was dead, being the middle of a cold, February day, but I could see its potential.
Past the Quay, I came back onto the Water of Leith Walkway, which runs for almost 20 km. On the other side of the river, I could see rows of pubs and restaurants.
Leith has always been a port town, and back in the day, the Royals would arrive in Edinburgh via Leith. Mary Queen of Scot’s mother ruled Scotland from Leith when young Mary was in France as a child.
As I left the port, the sun came out. Walking back up the other side of the Water of Leith, rows of Michelin-starred restaurants, and monuments to Britain’s naval history scattered the walkway.
From the water, I turned toward Constitution Street, and began walking back toward Edinburgh. The old Corn Exchange building on the corner now houses a design studio, but you can see the frieze depicting industry workers on the top. There’s a large Robbie Burns statue, and rows of old homes and lovely cafes.
All-in-all, a fine day in Leith.
Looking for more ideas of what to do in Auld Reekie? Check out this list.