Why Leith is Edinburgh’s Coolest Neighbourhood

Boda Bar, Leith
Boda Bar, Leith

At Condé Nast Traveler, I wrote about one of my favourite areas in Edinburgh: Leith.

Leith never used to be so cool; in fact it was a pretty bad neighbourhood when I lived in Edinburgh, just a few years after Trainspotting, which was set there, was made into a movie.

Now, the area is filled with hip bars (like Boda Bar above) and shops and is home to some really interesting festivals, particularly the arts festival LeithLate. One of LeithLate’s initiatives is the Shutter Project and Mural Project, which brings street artists to the area to paint shop shutters and other vacant spaces. This mural below was one of my favourites.  Painted by Guido van Helten, it depicts one of the last surviving members of the 1915 Quintinshill rail disaster in his old age. 200 men lost their lives in the disaster — the worst rail crash in the United Kingdom. Most of them were soldiers from the Leith Battalion heading to Gallipoli.

Guido van Helten, Leith
Guido van Helten, Leith

There are murals throughout the neighbourhood, including this one by Skint Richie on the shutter of Origano. But to see them, you need to get there early, before the shops open for business and the shutters go up.

Skint Richie, Leith
Skint Richie, Leith

Read more about Leith at Condé Nast Traveler.

The Real Iron Ladies

Display at the National Museum of Scotland. The quote from Thatcher reads: "We English, who are marvellous people, are really very generous to Scotland."

I am unlikely to go to see “The Iron Lady”. I grew up under Thatcher; young, but still. I don’t think I could watch an admiring portrait without a gnawing resentment. I’m Scottish and a lot of Scottish people resent her. Moreover, I begrudge her the title Iron Lady, with its connotations of strength, resilience and the reasoning (pervasive, I find, in the U.S.) that she is admirable and some kind of role model for ambitious women. I hate hearing her name invoked as some kind of feminist symbol. I think Lauren Laverne of Kenickie spoke for many of us when she called Geri “Ginger Spice” Halliwell “tory scum” for embracing Thatcher as “the original Spice Girl.”

Anyway, I was encouraged to read about this protest by the ‘Real Iron Ladies,’ veteran members of the TUC‘s Women’s Action Group including organisers of the 1984-1985 miners’ strike.

From the BBC report:

Toni Bennett, an organiser with the Bolsover Women’s Action Group during the 1984/5 miners’ strike, said the film gave a false impression of Thatcher’s contribution to feminism.

She said: “The film suggests that Thatcher stood up bravely against a male establishment and was a women’s champion.

“Nothing could be further from the truth. Thatcher mobilised every arm of the state against the striking miners and coalfield women who were defending their jobs, their children’s futures and their communities.

“Anyone watching this film needs to be able to distinguish facts from fiction.”

(BBC News 6/1/12: “‘Real Iron Ladies’ stage protest against Thatcher Film’)

In Pictures: Isle of Skye

For the second year in a row I spent a few days of my annual trip home to Scotland on the Isle of Skye. Skye is off the west coast; vast, peaceful and has a strong and distinct cultural heritage. Gaelic is on all the signs, fishing boats dot the water, old croft houses perch on hills and sheep roam across tiny single-lane roads.

Having rented a car, I got to see much more of the island on this trip. Last year I was at the mercy of the efficient but basic bus system and had to confine my visit to mostly the Trotternish peninsula — not that I am complaining; I still think that Trotternish has the most spectacular scenery on the island.

This time I stayed at a bed and breakfast on the Waternish peninsula, using it as a base to explore the rest of Skye.

Minginish

Minginish: south central Skye.

Sheep in Heather
Quiraing

Quiraing: a distinctive, jagged landslip on the Trotternish peninsula

Trotternish

The Trotternish peninsula: Skye’s most northern peninsula.

Trumpan

On the Waternish peninsula, Trumpan was the site of one of Skye’s bloodiest episodes. The invading Clan McDonald set fire to a church murdering all inside except a young girl who managed to escape through a window, severing a breast in the process. This led to a revenge attack by the MacLeods who slaughtered all of the McDonalds and threw their bodies in a ditch.

Talisker

Talisker is said to be the peatiest of the island malts. Actually, even though I am not much of a whisky drinker, I found it quite pleasant. The tour of the distillery starts with a wee dram and tooks us step by step through the production, distillation and bottling process. The staff were a little concerned as two droughts so far this year (no rain for a few days) meant the whole distillery had to shut down — first for lack of spring water; second because they have to allow the water to feed the rivers first before the snatch it up for the whisky.

Flora McDonald's Grave

Jacobite heroine, Flora McDonald dressed Bonnie Prince Charlie as an Irish maid and smuggled him off the island to safety; distracting his pursuers by performing a Highland dance. For her trouble, she was arrested and jailed in the Tower of London. When she died, 3000 people attended her funeral.

Lee McQueen

Alexander McQueen was fiercely proud of his Scottish heritage, which he used often in his designs. His father was from Skye and he chose this spot, just a short stroll from Flora McDonald’s grave as his final resting place.
I met Lee McQueen several times when I worked at the Groucho Club in London. He was quiet; down to earth.

Eilean Donan

Eilean Donan castle is on the mainland, not far off the Skye Bridge. You may recognise it from the Highlander movies: There can be only one! etc…

“Free Today With Your Super Soaraway Sun!”

Here’s something you don’t see so much in America–freebies with your newspapers and magazines.

Within an hour of landing in Britain, I’d got myself a new shopping bag, Benefit mascara, and make-up case–all included free with glossy magazines I only bothered to flip through.
Evidently The Sun had gone all out on the day I spotted a copy in the magazine rack at City Cafe in Edinburgh: You got a free loaf of bread, free DVD, and a cryptic “free Oasis” with this one.