There can’t be many of the world’s capitals that can boast of a beach looking like this.
Naturally being in Scotland, Edinburgh’s suburb of Portobello isn’t exactly a tropical paradise, but there were a few brave souls splashing about in the water even if most of those had four legs and a cold wet nose! Portobello is about five miles from the centre of Edinburgh and easily accessible by a number of buses from the city centre (£1.50 each way).
Originally known as Friggate Muir, it used to be hangout for smugglers and other miscreants, but in 1742 George Hamilton a former sailor who had served under Admiral Edward Vernan at the capture of Panama’s Porto Bello in 1739, built a cottage on the high street, named it Portobello Hut after the victory and the name stuck.
In the early 19th century Sir Walter Scott used to drill with the Edinburgh Light Horse on the beach at Portobello and it was here that he finished The Lay of the Last Minstrel after being kicked by a horse and confined to bed.
By the middle of the 19th century Portobello had developed into an industrial town and then later into tourist resort, a sort of Scottish Southend with similar amusements and a pier.
Most of the amusement arcades and the pier are long gone now but the town does still have some splendid 19th Century buildings like the Police Station (built in 1878) and this rather nice, if a little bit pricy boozer on the sea front, the Dalriada where I enjoyed a nice pint of hand drawn Macbeth bitter.
Another local landmark is a small community garden on the seafront promenade. Within the garden three coade stone pillars rescued from the garden of Portobello’s Argyle House stand. Coade stone is an artificial ceramic material containing crushed flint which can be moulded before firing to produce quite exquisite results. It was perfected by Eleanor Coade in the 18th century, but fell out of use with the invention of Portland cement.
Portobello’s most famous son was the entertainer Harry Lauder, who was born there in 1870, and an aspiring actor from Edinburgh, one Sean Connery no less, used to be a lifeguard at the now demolished outdoor swimming pool. The floodlit football match in the film Trainspotting was filmed on the site of Portobello’s former Lido. Also gone is the original Arcari’s ice cream parlour where the 99 ice cream cone, the one with a chocolate flake stuffed into it is said to have been invented.
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