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Leith

Previously, I posted about the wealth of independent shops on Broughton Street. Last week I went for a wander around Leith, another area of Edinburgh with lots of small businesses. It’s the port of Edinburgh, with a harbour dating back to the 14th century. Leith Walk is a long road leading down towards the water, although you only officially cross over into Leith when halfway down. The view from the top of the walk is pretty impressive, you can see right out over the water from John Lewis’ cafe.

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Near the top of the walk is the Cat’s Miaou. This is an independent gift shop selling ethically sourced, fair trade and locally made items, ranging from clothes to cards and most things in between. I popped in to get a badge for my brother’s birthday, and picked one that said “bawbag”. I have “bolt ya rocket” on my bag, from the same range – love a good Scottish insult, and they only cost £1! There are some lovely things in this shop, and it’s all quite reasonably priced. I noticed these cute little ceramic animals hiding in a corner, made by Ken Wilson.

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Further down the walk, across the road, is the Leith Walk police box. Sometimes it hosts a tool library where you can borrow saws and drills. Other times it might be an art exhibit, or you’ll find a book shop or a mini cinema inside. You can even hire it to hold your own event – it’s a tiny space with lots going on!

Nearby is a relatively new shop called the Creative Showroom. Opened in 2016, the building houses artists’ studios as well as a gallery shop. This is a great place to go for unique gifts, such as these little earrings and necklaces made from recycled coloured pencils by Zinc White. They also make amazing homewares, including bowls and boxes, all from old pencils.

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I really like this range of little monster purses and zipped bags, and the wooden cards. There’s also a small selection of artists’ materials for sale.

Leith Walk has lots of charity shops, so as you walk down you can pick up plenty of second hand bargains. Most of them are super cheap, offering clothes for under a fiver or having a £1 rail. I particularly like the St Columba’s Hospice shop, which has a large selection of vintage yarn, fabric, buttons and patterns. I picked up a piece of oil cloth patterned with lemons for only 25p.

Across the road and hidden down a side street is the fabulous Out of the Blue Drill Hall. Originally built in 1901 as a military drill hall, it’s been refurbished in recent years and now houses a community cafe, artists’ studios, rehearsal and performance spaces. The cafe has blankets and children’s toys dotted around, and their freshly baked cakes are always delicious. The venue hosts popular flea market and vintage clothing sales, among a whole host of other activities.

Near the bottom of the walk, many of the shops have been closed and boarded over. Unfortunately a whole block has been sold to be demolished and redeveloped as student housing, flats and a hotel. The businesses in the block include small coffee shops and restaurants, a music shop, yoga studio and a vintage sweet shop. Part of the appeal of Leith is it’s individuality and character, so it’s a real shame that this is being gradually eroded. There are already two new housing blocks further up the road, which are quite out of place amongst the original buildings. There’s a lot of support for a campaign to save the walk and the boarded up shops are covered in supportive messages and crochet yarn bombing slogans.

Across the road is the Edinburgh Remakery, an organisation which runs classes to teach people basic repair skills. Their ethos is to try and reuse and remake rather than buy new.  The classes cover a wide range of skills – October’s selection includes hand embroidery, woodwork, upholstery and felting. The Remakery also sells upcycled second hand furniture and refurbished electronics.

At this point in my day out I popped into tiny Greek cafe Qupi for lunch. It’s a wonderfully quirky place, with pink velvet chairs in the back room and a selection of vintage hats hanging from the ceiling. I got my favourite ciabatta, filled with chorizo, halloumi, beetroot and rocket.

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Leith isn’t just one long road though. Further down towards the water you’ll find Sofi’s bar, a tiny pub with mismatched vintage china where you can go to a knitting club, a clothes swap or watch a film. There’s the famous Mimi’s Bakehouse, a haven of delicious cake and velvety sofas. In the same area you can also visit Coburg House, a collection of artists’ studios with a gallery shop. Leith is full of creativity!

Finally, down at Ocean Terminal, is the Scottish Design Exchange. This is a social enterprise that supports local creatives to sell their work, with branches here in Edinburgh and in the Buchanan Galleries in Glasgow. The Edinburgh shop has some really quirky little gifts, as well as a book store and clothing for adults and children. You’re guaranteed to find something unusual, such as this cross stitch kit from Son of a Cross Stitch or these pots from The Tit Shop.

No blog post could cover the huge range of independent and creative businesses in Leith. It’s a diverse area, with high rise flats round the corner from exclusive restaurants, and residents from all over the world. I’ve probably missed out lots of places, but you’ll just have to visit and explore for yourself!

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