Retro charm of Portobello
Written by Helen Fowler Wednesday, 24 March 2010 11:30
Like many places in Edinburgh, Portobello has the uniquely retro charm of a timewarp. In this instance, a 1970s timewarp. If you were born in the late 1960s, that can make a trip there like revisiting your childhood.
An old-fashioned sweetie shop sells the kind of stickers you have to cut out by hand and paste into a book with glue. Jars of sweets fill the front window. They contain treasures such as strawberry bonbons (remember them?), white mice, gobstoppers, liquorice and space dust. The owner wears overalls.
A friend swears that one shop in Portobello stocks little except beige cardigans. Of the sort that were in vogue circa 1975. I did not see it for myself, during my visit last weekend, but it is not hard to imagine such an emporium flourishing in Portobello.
Formerly a separate beach resort, Portobello is now an Edinburgh suburb three miles east of the city centre. Once the haunt of seamen and smugglers, it retains a rough-and-ready charm.
Portobello also has the distinction of being home to one of only three sets of Turkish baths in Scotland. The Portobello Swim Centre, where you can experience the sweltering Ottoman heat, dates back to 1901. It's quite a sight and almost worth the trip to Portobello on its own merits alone.
A couple of newer gastro cafes have opened up along the front, next to the sea wall that borders a wide, sandy beach. They serve the standard 21st century cafe fare of lattes, Americano coffee and pastries.
Sadly, the fish and chip shop bordering the front has closed. But Portobello retains echoes of a more robust cuisine. The high street is littered with basic take-aways catering to most palates.
As befits any seaside resort, Portobello also has an amusement arcade where you can feed the fruit machines and idle away free hours.
For many years, the town was the haunt of Glaswegians during the annual Glasgow holidays. Today, the average Glaswegian is more likely to head for Portugal than Portobello.
But the area has kept its sense of holiday fun. Although only a few miles away from Princes Street, Portobello's shabby charm can leave you feeling as refreshed as a trip to Oporto.