Exploring Edinburgh: Portobello and the Pentlands

I was home on the west coast last weekend. Just for a day — actually, just for 12 hours — and it got me thinking… Is home where we settle? Or is home where we know every curve and line of the land, where we can watch the rain approaching the shore, where we could wander for hours without being found?

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I arrived back in Edinburgh on a damp Monday morning and — for the first time — it felt ordinary. I jumped on the 22 and stared out the window: the hotchpotch of shops on Leith Walk, the scummy water at the Shore and my favourite café flowed past like familiar friends. It was finally happening; Edinburgh was becoming home.

There’s another reason for my change in feeling towards the east coast city. We’ve been here four months, and only in the past one have we really made the effort to explore. A Saturday jaunt to the Botanics with friends, an evening at the theatre (sounds so posh, but really wasn’t!) and a few hours of bouldering at Alien Rock… It’s all helping me feel like I know the city more, like I’ve seen past its touristy façade to the everyday life of Edinburgers.

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In this post, I wanted to share two walks from two separate Saturdays. The first was a grey stroll along Portobello promenade. Despite the weather, families and couples alike strolled down the pavement, small faces shot past on bicycles and dogs bounded before their owners

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There are definitely prettier cloudy-day places, but a mid-walk stop at The Little Green Van — a pop-up café right on the boardwalk — lifted our spirits. They serve handmade hot chocolate by the Pittenweem Chocolate Company and we went a bit crazy for the flavours: Himalayan pink salt and caramel, hazelnut praline, dark chocolate and orange, chilli… It’s expensive at £3 for a regular sized cup, but it made the bleak sea view a little less oppressive.

A week later, and we were filling our stomachs at the Flotterstone Inn in the Pentlands. Thanks to this cute little guidebook my friend Zoe got me, we knew the ‘popular’ eatery would be mobbed… and even on a cold, damp day, we were right. I didn’t think the food was that outstanding, but it filled a gap and we headed onto the road.

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Flotterstone is a bit of a mecca for weekend walkers and families. As we wandered — past tiny tots wobbling on stabilisers and ‘serious’ tarmac pounders with walking poles — light rain fell on our jackets. But the Pentlands’ low hills remained dusted in white which made for some almost-perfect reflections on the reservoir.

I know Edinburgh isn’t the west coast and — although it’s beginning to feel more familiar — I still mourn the lack of real hills. The backdrop to Flotterstone reservoir was smaller than the trig point near my childhood home. I just miss the ragged, wild coasts of Argyll and the clouds rolling in over the Clyde.

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And most of all? I miss the silence. However nice a weekend ‘escape’ the Pentlands and Portobello might be to city dwellers, there’s still a few too many people. I’m holding out for those coastal corners where it’s just me and the sound of the sea.

Where are your favourite escapes near Edinburgh?

 

9 thoughts on “Exploring Edinburgh: Portobello and the Pentlands

  1. I’m so pleased that you are settling into life in Edinburgh. But I’m also glad to hear your heart is still here with us west coasters! When you feel homesick just remember, as they say in Oban: “It’s closer than you think!” 😉

    1. My heart will always be in the west! It’s just the best place. Do you get home to Oban at weekends? I love that place. Do you remember the sweet shop ‘Sweeties’?!

      1. Glad to hear it 🙂 I WISH I stayed in Oban but I’m outside of Glasgow. I do venture to Oban and to the coast as often as I can though. I do remember that sweetie shop! You just can’t beat a traditional sweet shop can you?

  2. I love Portobello! I always feel so good about Edinburgh – it’s such a lovely place – and I never really worked there or got a routine so it never got overlooked I think. And I didn’t know there was a place where they served the Pittenweem hot chocolates! I love them! The white hot chocolate I had there once is still the best one I ever tasted 🙂

  3. Hey Laura
    I finally got around to giving this a read.
    I guess for anywhere to be “home” it needs to be familiar, so it’s natural that in the early stages a new house / city/ country wouldn’t necessarily feel like home.
    We’ve been in Edinburgh for eight years now, after spending eight years in Glasgow and our entire lives before that in Oban.
    Edinburgh is definitely our home, but Oban (probably due to family connections as much as anything else) will always be familiar to us, and I guess also “home” in a way.
    The Pentlands is somewhere I need to explore more. I have to confess to only having been up there once, doing the same walk at Flotterstone as you did. We ate at the Flotterstone Inn that day and I was definitely underwhelmed by it!
    To answer your final question on the post – two escapes I would recommend that are (fairly) near Edinburgh are St Abbs & the coastline around it and the East Neuk of Fife.
    If you have a car you can be at St Abbs in an hour. The village is nice for a short wander but the real draw is the craggy coastline at St Abbs Head. It’s very much like the west coast – teeming with seabirds, thunderous waves crashing against the rocks below. I could walk for hours there!
    From Edinburgh it’s around an hour and a half to the East Neuk. Lot’s of picturesque fishing villages to explore, and it’s not too much further to reach St Andrews.

    1. Hey Allan! Thanks so much for commenting. Was cool to hear your thoughts on Instagram and on here about ‘home’… a hard subject!
      And an even harder one potentially: where do you stand on the Glasgow / Edinburgh front? Since you’ve spent the same time in each place… just curious! I think I’ll always be biased for the west coast and its rugged landscapes, it’s just beautiful.
      We were underwhelmed by the Flotterstone Inn too. It definitely benefits from its location – I think it’s always mobbed!
      St Abbs sounds lovely. I’ll absolutely put that on our list, thank you! Crail is another place I want to head back to, I used to caravan there with my parents when I was younger and I remember horrific winds and beautiful walks. And fish and chips! How could I forget that…
      Hope you guys are well, enjoying your photographs as always!

      1. That’s definitely a hard question!
        Glasgow people are friendlier. No doubt about that!
        Is Edinburgh more picturesque? Probably, but perhaps it’s just more obvious – in Glasgow you need to hunt out the pretty spots!
        We loved living in Glasgow, but would we go back? If we had a reason to, but since we have no family there it would only be work that would prompt a move.
        That’s what brought us to Edinburgh. Would we stay if we didn’t work here? Probably not.
        We’d love to live on the west coast, in a small village or town, but you have to go where the work is, don’t you?
        So am I saying Edinburgh is better?
        Probably. With an important caveat – better FOR US.
        In Glasgow we were poor students.
        In Edinburgh we both have jobs.
        Is it as simple as money?
        Perhaps.
        If we’d studied in Edinburgh then moved to Glasgow for work I’d probably be saying the opposite.
        But it’s not just money.
        Edinburgh is smaller and therefore easier to get out of. In ten minutes I can be in East Lothian, in half an hour over the bridge to Fife.
        When I lived at St George’s Cross in Glasgow it would take almost an hour to get out of the city, through Dumbarton and finally into something resembling countryside (and that was with a car, god knows how long on the bus!).
        Edinburgh feels like lots of different towns alongside each other. I don’t really feel like I live in a city.
        I believe Glasgow is the greenest city by population, but it’s just so much more obvious in Edinburgh – Arthur’s Seat, Holyrood Park, The Meadows, The Braids are all right there. The beach is right there. The Shore (Leith) is right there. Edinburgh really is small!
        Then there’s the Festival.
        And immediately it’s obvious I’m not a local – the locals all seem to HATE the festival. I love the buzz it brings to the city, the atmosphere is electric.
        I feel like I’ve been rambling, hope some of this makes sense?

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