Edinburgh Summer Diary: Day Two
A fresh day ahead and time to take in the old sites and experiences of whenever I coma back home. First of all though I have an appointment – with a certain beach for a morning run. Portobello has always been known as ‘Edinburgh’s Seaside’ situated three miles east of Edinburgh on the south shore of the Firth of Forth. It has an interesting if chequered past and was once an extremely popular resort in Victorian times and on. In earlier days the town had an impressive pier which was eventually demolished due to the effects of storm damage. The town also boasted a feature known as ‘The Marine Gardens’ which was an early theme park of it’s day. Curiously, one of the attractions of the Gardens was a specially imported African tribe who lived there for people’s entertainment and wonder!
Portobello is the next door town to place of my family’s origin, Musselburgh – more of which another time. Suffice to say that ‘Porty’ holds many wonderful childhood memories for me and this is just one reason why I still love the place. In my childhood days Portobello seemed a place of wonder, with it’s long, sandy beach and popular promenade with attractions for holidaymakers. One of those features was an outdoor pool with a wave machine – arguably the first such item in the world. The water in the pool, though artificially ‘heated’ was probably the iciest in the world! I also have memories of a loud klaxon that would sound when the next wave was due – when us kids would ready ourselves and jockey for position for the ride down the pool. There are less comfortable memories too. One was of one particular late afternoon when a young Stu stayed on the beach playing football just that little bit too long… Fortunately dad was best placed to run down onto the beach from the high walls and scoop me up under his arm as I was cornered by a fast-approaching tide!
So my long relationship with Portobello lives on. Today I’m parked at Joppa which sits at the western end of Porty, and ready to re-acquaint myself with the old beach. Local people are strolling the prom for a morning constitutional, a warm sight is seeing the ladies from nearby nurseries with lines of small rosy cheeked children. I finish my run and make for a reviving hot drink on the prom – another world first for Portobello is easily the most insipid cup of coffee from a kiosk that I’ve ever tasted! I sit and look beyond the silvery-grey waves over to Fife, remembering the old men who would sit and do this for hours with their binoculars when I was a youngster. Nearby two carers and a small group of adults with extra needs have great fun by the waters, enjoying the sea air on their faces. The freedom from the daily toils of life.
I’m in Edinburgh now, ‘up the toon’. I have another short appointment and it’s with a very favourite old watering hole and Edinburgh institution, The Guildford Arms. The Guildford lies just behind the east end of Princes Street on West Register Street. For those new to Edinburgh just walk up the Waverley Steps from the station and cross the Princes Street. It’s recognisable by it’s large revolving door at the front corner of the building. Stepping into the Guildford is like slipping on an old shoe for me. A pint of ‘cooking lager’ (Tennents) and a read of the paper and I’m at one with the world again in my home town – it all seems to make sense. It’s a great place for a favourite hobby of people-watching too with it’s mixture of local folk, shoppers taking a break and wide-eyed tourists.
The Guildford Arms
Time to head over North Bridge to the old town. The bridge, though a grand sight and offering one of the best views in Edinburgh has gained another less fortunate aspect over the years being an all-too-popular spot for suicides from it’s ledges. It’s reassuring to notice a plaque near one of the parapets with details of how to contact that great institution, The Samaritans. A prayer for all those folks that come to need them.
Taking a left into The Royal Mile I traced a path down a wynd to a very special place, Saint Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church in the historic Cowgate. The latter is now credited as a world heritage site deservedly. It’s in this area that many of the unfortunate and desperate refugees from the Irish Famine came to settle. The area came to be known as ‘Little Ireland’ and was a place of great poverty and hardship for the incomers. History tells us that these poor people often lived thirty or more to a single room – often without basic facilities. It is from this backdrop that Canon Hannon, an Irish priest originally from County Rosscommon, first formed the Hibernian Football Club which was based at Saint Patrick’s. Young Irish Catholic men in order to join the football team would have to display sobriety and attend Mass. These were the origins of the modern Hibernian FC dating back to 1875 – an institution founded for all the right reasons and emulated by many.
Saint Patrick’s was not of it’s customary peace and tranquility on my visit this time. Builders were carrying out valuable work on the church’s exterior and therefore my stay was not a long one. I did however take the time to set sight on Canon Hannon’s memorial plaque, light a candle and spend a few moments in this dear place.
I walked back up the close from the depths of The Cowgate and back onto The Royal Mile and a throng of tourists blissfully unaware of the like of Saint Patrick’s and turned up the granite sets to the Castle esplanade. The Royal Mile is busy at any time of year and is something of a honeypot for visitors naturally with Edinburgh Castle atop the west end and Holyrood Palace (pronounced Holy Rood folks!) down to the east. Even in this month before the international arts festival there were many street performers. One in particular was especially noticeable being a nine-foot tall stilt walker with white painted face! Curiously he spoke with a somewhat eery high-pitched voice which seemed to freeze more than one tourist to the spot!
The Royal Mile
I always enjoy the view from the Castle esplanade and at this time of year the area outside the old garrison was a hive of industry as the temporary stands for the Edinburgh Tattoo were being erected. Outside I decided on another favourite old pub, The Ensign Ewart for a whisky and a half pint of 80 shillings. The peaty and fiery dram of Laphriog from Islay complimenting the relatively sweet Scottish ale. The Ensign Ewart comes highly recommended and has been well cared for by the same pleasant and efficient lady for quite a few years now. It’s almost pitch black inside the bar and very restful away from the lines of tourists in the streets outside. Many visitors do press through the door of the old bar, so much so that the proprietor has decided to attach a combination lock to the bathroom door!
I squint through the modest daylight of the small paned windows onto The Lawnmarket feel the malt warm the back of my throat and dream back to previous Edinburgh days and nights.