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Edinburgh Past and Present


LEITH. ‘07 revels, resulting usually in a number of free fights and occasional serious skirmishes with the town-guard. Booths, taverns, and theatrical amusements of every description, and to almost any extent, stood along the outer line of the shore, reaching eastwards, while the pier, for the time being, was improvised, and largely taken advantage of, as an excellent stand for the people. From the time of the Restoration to the year 1816, these races appear to have been held annually; but at that period they were removed to the Links of Musselburgh, where they have been run ever since. Ferguson, in his ‘ Leith Races,’ gives a very humorous and truly descriptive account of them, which poem, we may add, not only suggested to Burns, Scotia’s bard par MtceZZmc, but afforded him a model for, that inimitable and bitingly telling satire of his, the ‘Holy Fair,’ so full of fun, racy description, and pawky commonsense. Ecclesiastically, Leith is divided into the two parishes of North and South Leith, separated from each other by the river ; the former lying to the west, and including in it, since 1630, the baronies of Newhaven and Hillhousefield ; the latter, to the east, is much the larger, and of a triangular shape, extending along the shore to the Figget-bum at Portobello, thence following the line of the public road to the city, embracing the abrogated parish of Restalng, and till lately the Calton Hill, and reaching onwards to Leith Walk. Objections have been taken to the site of the town as not the best adapted for a maritime port. It has been urged that, in consequenee of the flat, sandy expanse on which it is placed, and which the retiring tide at its ebb leaves quite-dry for over a mile in breadth, it never can command any great depth of water, while the river again, flowing through the harbour, runs so sluggishly, and with such small volumeusually, that it has not power to keep the mouth of the harbour free of .the mud and sand with which it is apt to become silted up.‘ That, however, in these times, has been greatly obviated, and probably at no distant day is destined to disappear altogether before the various efficient and energetic efforts of engineering enterprise. The harbour and docks, crowd4 as they generally are with shipping, flying the colours of almost every nation and country, is a sight in itself worth seeing. Indeed, a walk in this direction on a fine summer day or a quiet autumn evening, when the winds are low and the sea ‘ calm as cradled child,’ and especially along either of the piers which form the harbour, with ships and steamers and other craft ever in motion, outwards or inwards, lending life and charm to the scene, is highly interesting. Then again, at the further end of either promenade, what a grand and extensive prospect I Both sides .
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108 QUEENSFERRY TO MUSSELBURGH. of the Forth, the Fife and the Lothian coasts, with the different towns and villages along their sea-board, are distinctly visible ; the Lomonds forming a bold and picturesque background to the one, and the gently rising and finely wooded hills of Carberry and Falside a quieter and more subdued background to the other ; with Inchkeith, of pious legend, in the foreground ; the great Bass Rock, of Covenanter tale, further off on the right j and the mazy, half-seen and half-unseen May, with its wonderful tragedy of ‘doul and wae,’ far away in the distance, lit up with the bright fierce radiance of a noonday sun, or ‘mistied with the golden breath of departing day;’-a quiet careless saunter out to the further end of this fine sea promenade in the afternoon or evening of a mild, sunshiny July or August day is a great enjoyment; a happiness that lingers in the memory like some low sweet strain of music heard across some moonlit lake, or warbled in some remote and shadowy glen. The town originally appears to have been built close to the harbour, the most ancient part of it reaching from the shore along the east bank of the stream for nearly half a mile, and the houses moved back sufficiently far to form a pretty roomy quay for the loading and unloading of vessels. From this quay eastwards the town diverged into a number of narrow streets and lanes which are still extant : the dwellings tall, dark, and dingy, all very old, and bearing obvious traces of having housed a much higher class of occupants than now inhabit them. In these earlier days the principal thoroughfare to and from the shore was Tolbooth Wynd, over which of late has come a great change in the disappearance of almost all the edifices of the olden period, with the substitution of shops and business premises in their stead, of an ornateness of structure and grandeur of window-display that will contrast favourably even with Princes Street itself. Kirkgate, into which in general all the other streets, alleys, and lanes conducted, was then the chief street, although now-adays a little shorn of its glory, and led to the foot of Leith Walk, a fine, broad thoroughfare leading up to the city, and which, with an ordinary degree of architectural taste and enterprise, might have been made the handsomest street in Europe. Bernard and Constitution Streets, both of them of comparatively recent formation, and in which are many substantial and elegant edifices, are now the more common thoroughfare to and from the harbour and docks ; while away to the south-east of Constitution Street, again, and facing the Links on every side-an extensive grassy plain of nearly a mile in length and over a quarter of a mile in breadth, the common playground of cricket and golf-are rows of houses and villas of the most stately and imposing
Volume 11 Page 161
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