Five Literary Hotspots
Leith used to be a borough separate from the city of Edinburgh, but today you can move seamlessly between the two along Leith Walk. Famous as a port since the mediaeval era, Leith also has some excellent literary sites to entice the heritage buff and those who prefer edgier modern fiction alike.
Here are our top five literary locations in Leith:
1. Former home of Irvine Welsh,
2 Wellington Place
2016 marks the 20th anniversary of the release of Trainspotting, the smash-hit film of Irvine Welsh’s iconic eponymous novel. But did you know that Welsh was born in 1958 in Leith’s very heart, at 2 Wellington Place? Welsh went to now-closed Ainslie Park High School at Pilton Avenue, where the Sports Centre now stands.
Although much of the film was shot in Glasgow, the novel is set in Leith and its characters inspired by dealers and addicts known to Welsh from his time there.
If you are a Trainspotting fan, you can still visit Deacon Brodie’s pub on the Royal Mile, frequented by Renton and his friends, and Begbie’s local, the Central Bar at the foot of Leith walk. The Central is housed in Leith’s former station building and includes many original features from the station’s Victorian architecture. It also references the title of Welsh’s book: the name comes from apocryphal stories that addicts would use the area around the long defunct station to get high – if asked what they were doing, they would simply reply ‘trainspotting’.
2. Statue of Robert Burns – junction of Constitution Street and Bernard Street
Scotland’s best-loved bard Robert Burns is commemorated in Leith with this huge bronze figure sculpted by D.W. Stevenson and unveiled by the Leith Burns Club in 1898.
On the plinth are four bronze plaques added after the statue was erected, each engraved with scenes and lines from Burns’ poetry. On the east is ‘When Vulcan gies his bellows breath/ An’ ploughmen gather wi’ their graith’ (from ‘Scots Drink’). The south side features ‘The priest-like father reads the sacred page […] From scenes like these, old Scotia’s grandeur springs/ That makes her lov’d at home, rever’d abroad’ (from ‘The Cotter’s Saturday Night’). To the west are lines from ‘Hallowe’en’: ‘In order, on the clean hearth-stane,/ The luggies three are ranged’, and on the north side are ‘I there wi’ something did forgather that pat me in a eerie swither’ from ‘Death and Dr Hornbook’. All four poems were printed in the book which shot Burns to fame, his Poems, Chiefly in the Scots Dialect, the second edition of which was printed in Edinburgh in 1786.
You can find out more about the statue on the Canmore site.
3. Trinity House, 99 Kirkgate
Leith has strong connections to Edinburgh author Robert Louis Stevenson (RLS) through Trinity House, which stands opposite South Leith Parish Church. RLS came from a family of lighthouse engineers including Robert Stevenson (1772 – 1850), architect of the Bell Rock lighthouse, and Alan Stevenson, Engineer for the Northern Lighthouse Board and the brains behind Skerryvore lighthouse.
Managed by Managed by Historic Environment Scotland (previously known as Historic Scotland), Trinity House is a hidden gem at the heart of Leith containing a fascinating collection of maritime objects and paintings, including models and plans of the Stevenson’s lighthouses, providing a fascinating insight into the local areas connections with the sea.
4. Out of the Blue Drill Hall, 36 Dalmeny Street
Reopened as a community arts venue in 2004, Dalmeny Street’s iconic Drill Hall was previously owned by the Territorial Army and used as both a barracks and training centre. Built in 1901 for the Royal Scots Regiment, the Hall was designed by Sir Rowand Anderson, the brains behind the McEwan Hall at Edinburgh University and the National Portrait Gallery on Queen Street.
Arts education charity Out of the Blue now use the Hall to run fantastic events and activities for writers and readers of all ages. From young writers’ groups to conversation cafes and book fairs, there’s always something brilliant, bonkers and beautiful taking place to tempt visitors and residents alike.
5. Elvis Shakespeare, 347 Leith Walk
Run by David Griffin, Elvis Shakespeare is a wee gem for vinyl and literature lovers alike. Pop in for anything from a punk LP to a pamphlet of avant-garde poetry.
The shop is one of over 50 independent book shops dotted across the city – to find others, why not take a look at our A – Z of Edinburgh’s bookshops?
Want to discover more about literary Leith?
You can take a Trainspotting tour with Leith Walks or join in with one of the city’s many other themed literary tours which explore the landscape which inspired Ian Rankin, J.K. Rowling, Diana Gabaldon and many more. Take a peek at our guided literary tours overview to find out more.