Saturday, 3 July 2010

(Looking for the) Sunshine on Leith

Weather predictions for the West of Scotland were wind and rain, so we made plans to go to the East Coast - not to the countryside, or a little town, but to the other city in Scotland - Edinburgh of course.

We've both been to Edinburgh a number of times, both as tourists, with family and friends and for work related meetings. Instead of walking down the famous Princes Street, or up the hill to to towards Castle, we decided to turn right as we got out of Edinburgh Waverly train station and walked down to Leith. Leith was once a famous port and docks area of Edinburgh.
You'd expect to see giraffes at a safari park or at a zoo, not in the city. These two elegant creatures were certainly making their presence known.
Leith Walk had a number of banners promoting Leith and some of its past and present known residents such as The Proclaimers. Every one knows there most famous song 'I'm gonna be (walk 500 miles)' from the album 'Sunshine on Leith'. The song was popular in States as it was featured in the move Benny and Joon starring the talented Johny Depp. Whilst walking down the walk, we got distracted by a sign of a village stall at the Blue Drill Hall selling local vegetables and home-baked goods. Enticed by this and the idea of a drink to quench thirst rather than hunger, we followed the sign. Although the selection of vegetables, herbs and fruit was small, I was still rather impressed. Its such a wonderful idea and has the potential to grow. I wondered if there was something similar happening in and around Glasgow. I was also impressed with the Blue Drill Hall itself. Its a community space is in the middle of tenement where there is little green space. We stopped and had a coffee, I couldn't resist a brownie. I smiled as the young girl behind the counter permitted to choose which brownie I preferred. Of course I pointed the biggest one -my excuse - I'll share some of it with D. I also picked up this leaflet from the Edinburgh Community Backgreens Association (ECBA). ECBA is a non-for profit organisation that was set up in 2006 to work with local redisents to regenerate tenement backgreens into beautiful community greenspace. I think this is a marvellous initiative. Often on the train into and out of Edinburgh you get a glimpse into so many tenement back gardens, some looking overgrown, neglected and quite frankly a waste of space. Its good to learn that there is such an initiative that not only encourages people to grow their own, reduce their carbon footprint. In doing this it encourages residents to take some kind of shared ownership of that space - the start of communities in some case. We do live in a world where people don't talk to their neighbours as well as their own health and mental well-being, so initiatives such as these are extremely encouraging.
The other thing that impressed both D and myself were the number of independent fresh fruit and vegetables stalls in Leith; not just those owned by South Asian Scot families selling imported fruits: doughnut peaches (see below) and veg from warmer climates, but also selling local and seasonal produce: gooseberries, rhubarb, beetroot and broad beans. I counted 10 in this one area. Why is there not something like this happening in parts of Glasgow? As someone who enjoys here fresh vegetables, this is one big void in Glasgow. There are a handful of independent veg shops in Glasgow, namely in the West End, but they don't appeal to the common and average person. These are more lifestyle grocery stores and as much as I like the West End. I don't want to put myself in that particular bracket.
Anyway, back to the walk. We stumbled across this mural on Ferry road. It depicts the history of Leith and its connection with the sea. I had read that there were three life-sized sculptures known as Cavorting Sailors in front of the mural: one holding a whisky bottle, another reading an old sea chart and one rolling a barrel. There was no sign of any of them. When I got back home I read that all of these were not only vandalised, one was actually stolen - that's respect for you.
Leith also has a large South Asian Scots community, particularly those of the Sikh faith. In fact I've written briefly about the Leith Scottish Sikh tartan. So it was wonderful to see this presence being recognised and represented in the mural.
Onwards and upwards towards the harbour we walk. Only to be disappointed. So much road works going on and so many roads and paths closed. When we got to the harbour, well there was not much to see or share (sorry). There was nothing there recognizing Leiths important role in the world and links its links as one of the main gateways to Scotland. Leith ships did trade with the Baltic, France, America and the Mediterranean, carrying coal, grain, fish and hides and returning with spices, cloth, whale oil and wine. The harbour today reflected none of its history, instead it seemed nothing more than a 'yuppy' and aspirational location for some.
So we walked through it, looking for something to acknowledge its past. We did pass some of these depictions. Well by now, my little feet were getting tired and I was wanting to eat something. So back up to Leith Walk it was. We stopped at this little family run eatery called Gaia Delicatessan and Cafe.
I hope they don't mind, but I couldn't resist taking a picture of this rather creative peice amongst the menu pages. (Click on image). The menu itself was impressive. There was plenty of choice for vegetarians, but I was happy with the soup. D had 'tomato and basil' and I had 'puy lentils with broccoli'. Both were fresh and flavourful, the prices were fair and the service excellent. If I was resident or worked in and around Leith, it would be a place I would lunch on a regular basis. One I recommend if your ever in Edinburgh. After refuelling our bodies, were were ready for another lap.
I noted a little French shop: Les Cargot Epecurie in the basement of this restaurant. Now having been to Paris last year for my belated honey-moon, I wanted to see what this little place had to offer.
For a moment, I felt like I was back in Paris. Did I leave empty handed? No. I left with 1kg of puy lentils and a sip of apple cider.
Our last stop was the famous vegetarian eatery Hendersons now approaching its 50th Birthday. Not that I wanted to eat more food, I was already quite full. I just like looking to see what they have on offer, as well as for inspiration. I learned today that it was also an arts venue.
Our walking pace had reduced dramatically so we decided to call it a day and walk back to the train station.
Oh I had picked up six 'saturn peaches' also known as 'peach doughnuts' . Far more sweeter and juicier than the round perfect peach bum brand.
I also found them much easier to eat. Here's ten reasons why you should try a peach doughnut.


  1. I like the "grow your own" sign :) I love the shape of those saturn peaches too. How pretty.

  2. I thoroughly enjoyed your post about Leith. I went there once for a work meeting and I remember thinking "if I had to move to Edinburgh, this is where I would look for a place to live." I also remember wishing I had more time to walk around and explore a bit. But walking in your shoes was the next best thing. Thanks!

  3. Spooky! You almost have a picture of my old flat in your post. I used to live above the art gallery on the shore. Loved it there in Leith. And I've just bought a doughnut peach tree!

  4. great photos - I love those giraffes at the top of leith walk but spend too much time with e who thinks that leith walk is rough as guts - but I think valvona and crolla is along that way - always a pleasure - as is hendersons - and peaches sound lovely and bring summer to mind so vividly - sounds like a lovely trip

  5. Saturn Peaches...I can see why they are named that)))

    Really enjoyed my visit to Leith. I wondered if one of the depictions showing "Leith developed because of it's strong links to the Sea" etc. might have been a Mission to Seafarers sign.

    Great photos!! Much appreciated. Thanks.

  6. Thanks for coming by Northern Snippet.

    Quite good isn't it. I think its an old image that is being given a new lease of life.

    Parts are Leith are nice, other parts not so. If your resident you know where not to go.
    I'm glad you enjoyed 'walking in my shoes' for a little while :D

    Woooooooo Funkbunny.
    That is rather funny! Pleased that I brought back some fond memories.
    What a lovely coincidence that you've actually bought a doughnut peach tree, Now that is spooky!

    Oh Johanna GGG.
    I was thinking of you when I got D to take this picture. The giraffes are at the top of Leith walk, just before you get to Valvona and Crolla (were incidentally I did stop). I think e may be right, there are parts of it that are rough. I was feeling a little uncomfortable at one stage.

    I always like stopping in Hendersons. I must check out your other Veggie recommendations next time, because there will always be a next time.

    So pleased you enjoyed your visit to Leith Gardeningbren.

    The depiction showing "Leith developed because of it's strong links to the Sea" was actually on the side of a church building, so yes I think it was a Mission to Seafarers sign. There were quite a few of them.

  7. What an interesting post. I had never heard of doughnut peaches, but will definitely be on the look out for them come summer.

  8. cityhippyfarmgirl.
    They are worth looking out for. Hope you find some.

  9. The saturn peaches look and sound fantastic!

  10. in fact I think you may have been extremely near the tenement flats where one of my sons live, I recognise the photos!!

    We live up the line, not far, pretty in the middle. 45 mins on the train to Edin, about 40 to Glasgow, when I first moved up here, we lived in South Queensferry, which has changed out of all recognition.

  11. Thank you so much for your comment Green Jeannie. This is the first post i've written were fellow bloggers recognise the locations. Even more interesting that family or friends have or live close by.

    I've been to South Queensferry, pretty little place. Now that your living here again, it must take some getting used to the weather.
    Kind wishes and Thank you once again.

  12. Very interesting. Edinburgh Royal Infirmary was my last hospital before I retired from nursing.
    I love all the locations you have mentioned here.

  13. Thank you so much for sharing Neuron.
    Kind wishes.

  14. You sound like you had quite the adventure in Leith. Where on earth did you get doughnut peaches from? I've never seen the like here! It's true that we do actually have pretty good fruit and veg availability; I tend to be quite cynical about it because the stretch of Leith Walk that we live on is a bit of fruit and veg desert between the 'Fruit Heaven' down on Junction Street at the foot of the walk, and the asian grocers and Tatty Shaw's up/south, across the border, in the Edinburgh part of Leith Walk. But actually we aren't all that far.

    I think that Anderston in Glasgow is quite like Leith; I know what you mean about some of the West End fruit & veg being a wee bit life-styley but I think if you *just* buy veg and not fancy chocolate/organic yog/alfafafafafa then they are useful.

    Gaia is one of my favourite local haunts; their sandwiches are great and if I am ever late on my daily trek to Glasgow the one bonus is that perhaps they will be open and then I can get a roll. Roasted veggies and provolone is very good! They do cracking coffee too, and the family that run it are all lovely, and just like in the picture you posted!

    Loving the rainbow chard in your blog banner!

  15. We certainly did Helen. Thank you.

    The doughnuts came from the South Asian grocery stores (imported of course).

    I have to admit, I don't think I have heard of Gaia - or maybe I have - I just don't recall. Can you tell me where abouts it is. I will have to familiarise myself with it, should I be in that direction.

    Thank you so much for your lovely comment. Please do come back again, you will be most welcome.


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