Portobello once had a heyday. It may at one time have been described as
Edinburgh's beach, a seaside destination on the capital's doorstep where
folk would go to have fun by the water and sand. As far back as 1795 a
Mister John Cairns erected bathing machines on Portobello beach, and
Edinburgh's middle classes would turn up in some numbers to indulge in
mineral springs, hot and cold sea-water baths, and all that kind of
thing. In the 19th century Portobello continued to grow as a holiday
destination, more so when the railway was built and hoards of ordinary
working-class folk came to be entertained. There was a pleasure pier,
fun-fair, Punch and Judy shows and everything that one expects in a fine
seaside resort. But then, in the latter half of the 20th century people
started jetting off to foreign climes, and Portobello's heyday died.
Today, as you walk along the wide promenade, far too much of what
remains feels dead and abandoned. There is no pleasure pier, the
fun-fair is no longer funny, and all in all it's pretty grim. You can
see children playing, their parents desperately trying to recapture
those good old seaside days while hoping their offspring don't stand in
dog-mess. It's all a bit sad. And yet, for all its current failings,
there remains something inexplicably magical about strolling along the
promenade. Views out over the wide Firth of Forth are simply stunning.
And from the great sweeping curve of coast in which Portobello sits you
can see so many places; places whose heyday, like that of Portobello,
will some day return.