Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Portobello on the Forth

Portobello beach

There's a small and crowded village to the East of Edinburgh called Portobello. It's a traditional old fashioned sandy beach with a few amusement arcades some pubs and a view out to infinity. The classic 99 Ice Cream with a flake stuck in it that slowly gets soggy till it falls down your front is said to have been invented by the Arcari family. Portobello gave its name to Portobello in New Zealand while Edinburgh gave its name to the nearby city of Dunedin.

The area was originally called Figgate Muir and was an expanse of moorland through which the Figgate Burn flowed from Duddingston Loch to the Sea. The name probably meant “Cow Road” Like Cramond there tended to be long periods where nothing happened. In 1296 William Wallace gathered his forces there, in 1650 there were rumours of a secret meeting between Cromwell and Scottish leaders and in 1661 the highlight appears to have been a race in which 12 women raced from the burn to the top of Arthur's Seat (Not THAT Arthur). You will know that is an impressive feat if you ever walked up to the top.

Being by the sea it had by the 18th century become frequented by seamen and smugglers. In 1739 a sailor who had been present when the English captured Porto Bello in Panama built a house he called Porto Bello Hut, and the house gave a name to the village that grew round it.

By the end of the century things were getting busy. Someone discovered clay nearby and built a brickworks and a pottery factory and the village grew rapidly. It became a fashionable bathing resort and and industrial town. It became a burgh then a part of Edinburgh. It started welcoming visitors as a holiday town and the public baths that opened in 1901 still house one of only three turkish baths left in Scotland.

The Edinburgh Marine Gardens were built in 1908, included various forms of entertainment and a Somali Village with 70 natives. It fell out of use in WW I and so had only six years use. The site now houses a bus depot and car showrooms. The rest of Portobello also slowly declined and is now like a pensioner reflecting on a long and varied life on the way to church.

For Real Ale fans Portobello offers the Three Monkeys on the High Street which at the time of writing has live music three times a week. For photographers the sea, the beach and the remaining fairground attractions offer opportunities as do details of the older buildings. The High Street is close to the city centre by bus but remember buses stop around midnight after which they turn back into pumpkins. Before you come you might want to check out the local community website

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