Edinburgh’s port since 1329, the former burgh of Leith withstands the years with defiant, stalwart character rooted in the people and the very foundation stones. A Renaissance siege failed to kill the town, which flourished during the Age of Steam, its sailors dispatched on sloops and cutters to ports around the globe. Its mainstays of whaling and shipbuilding, though long gone, leave marks upon the redeveloped waterfront and opulent stone houses funded by business fortunes. Leith’s character as a working class harbour contrasts with the elegant buildings, like the iconic Malmaison Hotel, that run along Leith Walk. Grand facades fall victim to pollution and decades of neglect, entire swathes of prime real estate reduced to pawn shops, squalid restaurants, and fly by night stores that change too frequently to leave an impression. Bright signs and splashes of paint cover elegant stonework without regard for the past down dingy corridors not wisely traveled by night.
Scores of small shops and divey pubs line the way to Ocean Terminal, the largest waterfront redevelopment project in Scotland. Demolished warehouses and filled-in shipyards created a massive reclaimed area occupied by towering Ocean Terminal mall. Brine hangs in the air, and the slap of water is never far. Three towers of flats huddle nearby around a concrete park home to a few struggling trees, the first phase of stalled expansion. The Royal Yacht Britannia floats at a former cruise terminal, the adjacent slip occupied by the occasional mega-ship. Gloomy concrete barriers guard empty dockyards facing the sea, home to crying gulls and floating trash, the public notices for closure faded to illegibility.