Looking At Edinburgh

1 September 2008

Coastal Edinburgh: The shore at Portobello

Historically, Edinburgh isn’t a seaside city: the original Edinburgh, the walled city, where everyone lived until the union of Crowns and Parliaments made people feel they could risk building the city outside the walls, is centred around the spine of stone on the highest end of which the Castle was built.

Leith was always Edinburgh’s port (see the history of The King’s Wark on the Shore) but used to be an independent town: it was not merged with Edinburgh officially until 1920. (It confuses some visitors that Leith Walk seems to have different names like a patchwork all the way down: Leith Walk is the name of the road, which once ran through the countryside between Edinburgh and Leith: the streets built to either side of Leith Walk of course have different names. Often.)

Leith is a town with a long history and an independent character that still exists today: but Portobello didn’t exist as a town until the 18th century, when in 1755, William Jamieson, the builder and brickmaker (his works produced the bricks used to build the New Town) built a house on what was described as a “barren heath” for George Hamilton: Hamilton called it “Portobello House”, because he had been present when Admiral Edward Vernon captured Puerto Bello on the Isthmus of Panama in 1739 in the War of Jenkins Ear. Portobello House was demolished in 1862, and the Town Hall stands there now, but by then Portobello was named. Portobello is part of Edinburgh too now – it’s walking distance from Leith, at least, I’ve walked it, one Christmas Day years ago. And it’s mostly just a town – a small town that Edinburgh has grown around, encircling. You can get there on an ordinary bus, or walk it if you have to. If you want beach or sea, there it is.

The shore at Portobello

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