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Do we love Leith?

There is currently a campaign running here in Edinburgh, called We Love Leith. I have been wondering about that ever since I noticed it. The idea is a good one. I was just stumped by the loving Leith bit.

Leith is part of Edinburgh. It wasn't always, but the two have merged over time. It is the port area of the city, and as such it is (in my mind, at least) a bloody scary place. Ports generally are. There is something about them. They seem to attract the criminal element. Of course, this could all be prejudice. And it doesn't help that Trainspotting is set there -- I take most of my cultural information from books.

For some unaccountable reason, most of my friends here in Edinburgh have decided to settle in this scary area. This means I frequently walk through the streets of Leith at ungodly hours, and during these nocturnal wanderings I have seen little to disabuse me of this impression of the place as one of sinister criminality.

Now, fast forward to the last week and a half. As some of you know, we had to move out of my old flat about ten days before we could move into our new one. And in the meantime, our friendly friends provided us with a room. In Leith. The first night, we could hear drunk people shouting and throwing stuff at shop fronts along the street, and we were very happy to be snug indoors. One point in favour of living in Leith is clearly that you do not have to walk home from Leith in the middle of the night.

We must also take into account the fact that places look much more scary when you are new to them. I remember the first night Tor and I came to Edinburgh -- just walking through the center, we were sure we would be stabbed and mugged by the old ladies standing around outside the Bingo. These days I feel quite relaxed nearly everywhere in the centre, at any time of day (although, it must be said: those old ladies are a hard-boiled bunch). I noted much the same effect in Leith. Given a few days to wander aimlessly, I no longer thought all chavs were out to kill me.

And then I found something which completely turned my image of Leith on its head.
Just past the scary-looking park with not quite enough green and a little too many scary people, around a corner and on past a very scary-looking building block which I think is the fabled Leith Banana Flats, there opened before me a haven of serene tranquility and gentle pubs by the river.

I could scarce believe my eyes. There was a moment when I suspected this was some kind of drug induced (who knows what is in the air of Leith) hallucination. I have, however, since returned with various types of company, and both times my impression has been confirmed (we can, of course, not rule out mass psychosis, but the pictures do seem to back it all up): there is a pretty Leith.

It is by the river. The river has swans in it. And ducks. And no dead bodies (that I could see). There is a bridge. And any number of quaint little pubs and cafés. It was almost too pretty. I never dared venture very far into it on my own, worried that it might be a honey-trap of sorts; but accompanied by Tor we at least made a cursory inspection, and it appears not to be a mirage, although I maintain it has a certain air of unreality to it. Perhaps because of the window boxes with the pink flowers.

Following our hasty retreat (although noting that there were some interesting pubs we might be persuaded to visit at a later date), we stopped in another wonderful place which I (mighty adventurer (why is it adventurer has such positive connotations, while adventuress makes you think "prostitute"?) that I am) had discovered during my aimless walks:


I was originally drawn in by a sign promising Knitting Nights. It wasn't night at the time, but I felt that a place where knitting was embraced in this manner must be a place where I would fit right in. And I stand by my assumption. Despite semi-obscene Swedish (oh, yes) poetry on one wall, and a clearly misplaced tiny notice by our table promising X-factor nights (someone must have brought that in in order to discredit the place -- business is a dirty business), it was as close to perfect as you are likely to get.

Best of all: we had the place almost entirely to ourselves. I am not sure the proprietors consider that a good thing, but I value unpopular places. As it was, Tor and I could kick back, have a pint and a small glass of port (for purely medicinal purposes), and enjoy our surroundings.

Don't let the scary pictures in the link scare you. It isn't like that. It is lovely.

I dare say we left the place with rather more mellow feelings as far as Leith was concerned. Birds were singing, the sun was out &c., &c. And when night came, we tranquilly went to sleep.

And then. At around 3 in the morning, I woke up to the smell of what I thought was a burning candle. As I gradually grew more awake, it dawned on me that we hadn't lit any candles, and that the odour was therefore an anomaly. I opened my eyes, and through the blinds I could see a flickering type of light that I very strongly associate with fire. This made me sit up. I looked at it for a moment, thinking I might be going mad, then leaned over to open the blinds and see what on earth was going on.

I could see fire reflected in he window of the shop opposite; and even in my semi-conscious state I realised that this was not good. I therefore poked Tor. Yes. Tor had been happily asleep through all this, and even when confronted with the fire he could not smell anything out of the ordinary. Note to self: do not rely on Tor's sense of smell in order to avoid being roasted while sleeping.

Tor, being rather more a man of action than I am, soon ascertained that the fire was on the outer parts of the sidewalk, and that the house (which in true Edinburgh fashion is of course a massive stone building) was therefore not in any immediate danger. He was also almost on his way out with a bucket of water, when a man from the Council stopped in a car with a flashing yellow light. The man appeared very calm, which seemed to confirm Tor's hypothesis as to the level of danger, and basically sat gazing at the fire for 15 minutes or so. Then, a big, red firetruck with a ladder and a bunch of firefighters arrived to quench the fire with a little bit of water. It took them approximately 7 seconds.

In the morning it looked like this:

To conclude: Leith is still a bloody scary place. Even if it has redeeming aspects.


Tim,  18.09.09 10:09

I believe that a decade or so ago the council spent a lot of money on making Leith not-scary. Hence the Shore, where you found Sofi's and Malt & Hops (which we must go to together sometime – they have lots of lovely real ale). My theory is that the film Trainspotting prompted them to clean the place up.

The burning rubbish was probably caused by a carelessly-placed cigarette-end rather than a deliberate act of malice and/or arson. It happens. At least it wasn't a building. And come on, it took 7 seconds to put out.

Have you been to the Cameo yet? That is also a good pub. They have a large statue of an angel inside, which almost makes up for the lack of ales.

Camilla,  18.09.09 11:02

I have not, but I am willing to try it. Is it a weeping angel? I might get paranoid.

Tor,  18.09.09 11:42

From the size and duration of the fire, I would say a carelessly placed cigarette could not have done the job without some help from some carelessly placed flammable liquid and a carelessly placed small rubber tire, the remains of which can be seen in the picture.

Camilla,  18.09.09 12:16

And it took seven seconds with a massive firetruck highpower hose.

Are,  18.09.09 18:26

Wonderful travel report!

There was a lot of smoke in the staircase at Sagene yesterday - but nothing more dramatic than a careless neighbour who apparently REALLY fried his food.
Camilla,  21.02.11 20:47

I have heard very nice things about the Roseleaf bar in Leith. I suggest you Leithpeople take me there at some point.

Jørgen,  21.02.11 21:31


Tim,  22.02.11 13:19

We have walked past the Roseleaf and thought it looked nice, and that we should go there sometime. Let's do it.

@Tor: I don't know what you're taking for a rubber tyre, but if you mean that black circular thing, it's only big enough to be the tyre on a child's toy tricycle. I think it's the metal tray in the top of the bin for stubbing out cigarettes.
Tor,  22.02.11 14:29

I thought it looked like the tyre from an industrial type trolley. And the fire was smoking a lot, so I'm fairly sure there was some rubber present.
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