It isn't often that the weather in Edinburgh suggests a trip to the beach, and this morning was just such a situation. A quick breakfast and I was heading out the door toward the seaside village of Portobello.
The first part of the trip took me through Holyrood Park past St Margaret's Loch, numerous swans enjoying the sun and a few children happily throwing pieces of bread at them. It also took me past the now almost ignored cairn for the wife of Nicol Muschet, which stands at the corner of Dukes Walk and Royal Park Terrace opposite the East Lodge. Muschet, Laird of Boghall, murdered his wife Margaret near the location of the cairn in 1720. The original cairn was removed when the road was widened in the early 19th century, and the current cairn was only erected following a brief reference to the spot in Scott's 'The Heart of Midlothian'. It now stands unmarked.
From there I wandered through Jock's Lodge and down to the ancient village of Restalrig, which is now a curious mix of old and new. Unfortunately it was still too early to visit the historic St Triduana's Chapel, constructed in the 1480s by James III, and I contented myself with wandering the narrow streets and watching daily life gradually seep into the village as shops opened, local residents bought newspapers and took their dogs for walks.
Between Restalrig and the waterfront lies an enormous expanse of green in the form of Craigentinny Golf Course, which itself was in the midst of coming to life. On the far side of the course lay Seafield, and I touched upon the end of the village as I made my way to the water's edge - and the accompanying soft sand - at the edge of the Promenade which marks the beginning of Portobello.
The Promenade currently doubles as a cycle track, and a few cyclists were around to take in a bit of seaside air. A nearby skip bin filled with seaweed helped add to the sensation. Where the Promenade becomes a paved road I headed down onto the sand, sharing it only with two dogs an an elderly woman with a tennis ball. On the other side of the Promenade sat the many signs that this was once a thriving resort area; an amusement arcade, fast food kiosks and houses showing years of abuse from the salty air. One of the amusement arcades is still open, although it was a little too early (both in the day and the year) for it to be described as 'thriving'.
Behind the arcade sit two former pottery kilns, shaped like bowling pins and all but forgotten. Portobello was once home to a vibrant pottery industry, until the Buchan Pottery Company moved its operation to Crieff in 1972. The two surviving kilns were constructed in 1906 and 1909. From here I headed up into the town itself, which is in the process of a little reconstructive surgery in the form of property development.
Near the top of Bath street I passed a former pub which was reinventing itself as a block of flats - certainly not the only such transformation in the area. I briefly pondered the appearance of the area in 10 years' time, before making my way along the High Street past the Town Hall. Nearby is the trickle of the Figgate Burn, known as the Braid Burn for most of its journey; one of the few suriving streams of water to pass through Edinburgh and empty into the Forth. The Figgate Burn was once used as an open sewer before being cleaned up by Portobello authorities in 1882. The name Figgate comes from the Saxon words for 'cattle pasture', as the monks of Holyrood Abbey would allow their cattle to graze in the area.
Before heading toward home via Piershill I negotiated the somewhat unsightly collection of roads where the High Street meets Portobello Road, The King's Road and Sir Harry Lauder Road. There is a marked contrast here between the pedestrian-dominated Portobello and the car-dominated traffic streaming from Edinburgh itself. Near this intersection once stood two great landmarks, both since demolished : the Portobello Power Station and Marine Gardens. The Power Station occupied land on the Portobello side of The King's Road, opposite the row of tenement houses (still standing) built around 1909-1910. The Marine Gardens once lived in the site which is now home to Lothian Buses, and were constructed for the 1908 Scottish National Exhibition.
Following the former tramline towards the city centre I pass the rather subdued area of Piershill, denoted by the cemetery; opened in 1887 by the Edinburgh and Portobello Cemetery Company. Near the cemetery, and almost as quiet sits the somewhat more modern Piershill Library. The library almost marks the end of the area, as it merges with the tiny Jock's Lodge. From here I continue to the mighty Meadowbank Stadium, built for the 1970 Commonwealth Games. With a seating capacity of around 16,500 - the largest sports centre in Edinburgh - it was again used as the principal venue when the Games returned to Edinburgh in 1986. It now regularly hosts international sporting events and is a possible host to a third Commonwealth Games, competing with cities such as Toronto and Glasgow in the long run-up to the 2014 Games.
Shortly after the stadium I pass the carpark-dominated Meadowbank Retail Park - which seems to follow the standard design rules for a large suburban supermarket - and enter the familiar streets of Abbeyhill. I arrive home just in time to witness a significant change in the weather, with the morning's sun and blue skies being replaced with heavy rain and a blanket of grey cloud. Perfect timing.
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