When I reached Waverley, I didn’t have a clue where I was going to go next. I had vague notions of Dirleton Castle, maybe even Dunbar, but loud drumming I could hear from the top of Waverley Steps made me want to escape the city centre all the faster. It was a nice, sunny day and I decided to head for Newhaven Harbour by the Forth. Leith Walk was its usual traffic chaos, with the latest bit being dug up by Brunswick Road. At the foot, I thought about going to the Shore via Constitution Street or Parliament Street but I decided to walk up Great Junction Street instead. I hadn’t been up Great Junction Street on foot before. I know it best from primary school swimming lessons in Dr Bell’s school, one of the various Victorian primary school buildings in Edinburgh built with a swimming pool. Dr Bell’s is still there, looking in good nick from the outside. I gather that the building houses a family centre now though I can’t make out whether the swimming pool gets any use now. It was an old-fashioned space with white walls and changing cubicles at either side of the pool on two levels. In retrospect, especially considering how many generic leisure centres exist now, I was lucky to learn to swim at Dr. Bell’s and the pool at Broughton Primary, another sturdy old Victorian schoolhouse.
Great Junction Street is quite underrated. It is fairly run-down, particularly at the end nearest Leith Walk, but there are some very handsome buildings along it, the best of which is topped by a cupola and houses the Leith Bed Centre, of all things. It is quite reminiscent of the buildings around Tollcross at the other side of Edinburgh. I also admired a church further along at the other side of the Water of Leith, which appears to have been a bingo hall or a cinema, judging by its frontage.
At the junction of Ferry Road sits Leith Library, quite similar in design to Elder Park Library in Govan, with the Leith coat of arms above the door, even though it was built after Leith had been amalgamated into Edinburgh in the 1920s. As I walked towards the shore, I spotted another old school, this time just a plaque for David Kilpatrick School, now demolished with a small park in its place.
Newhaven is a fine old harbour, with a few fishing boats and a smattering of yachts. In place of the fish market, though, is a Loch Fyne oyster bar and some trendy eateries. It is still a fine place with views across the Forth to Fife and along the coast to the Forth Bridges. I sat down for a bit under the lighthouse and decided that since it was a nice day, I would walk some more of the coastline, perhaps even to Cramond, about 6 miles away. As I left and turned right, I reflected that as much as I love Newhaven, the actual Loch Fyne is probably a better place to sample their oysters.
This stretch of the Edinburgh coastline once saw a young Charles Darwin studying geology and some of the marine life thereabouts. I had forgotten about that but it’s a lesser-known part of Darwin’s life, with some of his education in Edinburgh, even while most of his work was in Cambridge and of course the Galapagos.
Towards Granton I enjoyed walking past Wardie Bay, handsome houses on the land side with a quaint village sort of feel and modern flats like at the Western Harbour jutting out into the Forth. Granton Square with its stout grey buildings led into an industrial estate that kept me away from the Forth for a bit. There was a nice red brick building with a lighthouse tower at the top but that was the sole interest for a bit. Further towards the coast there was an interesting elaborate stone archway behind a fence, which I gather was part of Caroline Park House, a private house a bit further through the trees.
Gates of Caroline Park House
Not so far away I crossed the road and joined the Edinburgh Coastal Path again, this time a wide path that eventually led to Cramond. I sat for a couple of minutes admiring the view to Fife and what I thought was Inchcolm but turned out to be the smaller islet of Inchmickery. I couldn’t see Inchcolm, with its abbey, until much closer to Cramond, since it is just to the left of Cramond Island with its spiked causeway. This part of the walk was much busier with other walkers, cyclists and families out enjoying the day. Towards Silverknowes in particular, the cafe was thronged with people and there were a right few people on the beach or even rockpooling. I sat on a bench for a bit, to rest my now-tired tootsies, then walked the mile or so to Cramond. The tide was right but I felt I had walked enough. I had a quick look at the yachts, took a few photos and then hoofed it to Barnton, since I soon discovered that Cramond isn’t well-served by buses on a Sunday. Why would it be when half the population seems to drive a Range Rover?
Looking towards the Forth Bridges
Fish sculpture by Ronald Rae
I had been meaning to walk this particular stretch of coastline for years. When I was in Edinburgh regularly, I had notions to walk from Cramond back towards Leith but it never happened. This was the right day for it, to be honest. It was an interesting insight into some of the less lovely parts of the capital but some of its lesser-spotted charms too, like the gate at Caroline Park House and of course Newhaven. The finest part of the walk, though, was just after Granton with the view to the Forth Bridges. I wondered if the designers of the new bridge had walked this path before since the three bridges were perfectly aligned with each popping up higher than the one before. Sometimes the best notions come when we walk, the result of putting one foot in front of another with impulses leading us further still.
Sources and further reading –
Canmore, ‘Edinburgh, West Granton Road, Caroline Park Avenue, Caroline Park House, Gates’, https://canmore.org.uk/site/122248/edinburgh-west-granton-road-caroline-park-avenue-caroline-park-house-gates
The University of Edinburgh, ‘Charles Darwin’, http://www.ed.ac.uk/biology/about/notable-alumni/charles-darwin