At the end of the Western Harbour breakwater we came to the abandoned lighthouse and climbed through a hole in the fence. The view back across the harbour was spectacular, to Leith and the Royal Yacht Britannia, and beyond the Arthur’s Seat, the castle, and the rest of the Edinburgh skyline. We picked our way cautiously through the broken stone and glass spreading out from the open doorways of the lighthouse. Graffiti and litter. Evidence of illicit parties. Few better places, on a clear day like this, looking across the Firth of Forth with a fly-by of eider ducks, exiting the harbour ahead of a Spanish warship.
Below us, on the slippery stones just above the waterline, a couple of fisherman discussed strategy. One was teaching the other, acting out the motions with empty hands as his friend gripped the rod intently. They both ignored the signs warning about eating shellfish from this particular shore.
We walked down the breakwater, past the new developments of apartment buildings interspersed with open spaces – wastelands of half-dug holes filled with water upon which swans floated serenely – the bushes filled with goldfinches, the gap between the apartments and the Asda megastore filled with the remains of construction halted. At Newhaven harbour the scene was of a smaller scale, the sun reflecting on the deck hatches of the handful of boats moored in the shadow of the old Victorian fishmarket. There is still a fishmarket in the red brick building, but it now shares the space and the quayside with a Loch Fyne restaurant, a Brewer’s Fayre pub, and a Premier Inn.
Looking up and down the shore, towards Leith in one direction, Granton in the other, we could see a mix of whitewashed fishermen’s houses, post-war council housing, and the new developments of concrete, glass and style. There used to be tram running here, a train as well. They are both long gone. The new tram system was supposed to link the harbour with the city centre once more… and it might still do, but for now transport links to the city are provided by maroon buses offering free Wi-Fi for when you are sitting in a traffic jam.
We walked back to the apartments where we were staying in a complex almost entirely serving short term lets. Walking along the pavement – the wasteland to one side, the apartment blocks looming on the other – we couldn’t help but think that this wasn’t quite what they had in mind when they started to develop Western Harbour. We were joined by shoppers from Asda, crossing the open spaces on desire paths as the starlings flew with the huge grain warehouse as a backdrop. Perhaps one day those gaps will be filled in and this will start to function as a proper neighbourhood. Perhaps, perhaps. (Perhaps when the tram line makes it this far north). But for now, at least the sun was shining.
Words: Paul Scraton
Pictures: Katrin Schönig