Monday, 1 December 2014

Edinburgh is Missing an Eco-Tourist Trick

Yesterday my daughter and I cycled from our home down to Crammond village, on the coast of the Firth of Forth.  On the way out, I had made a point of using the cycle paths rather than risking the half-mile or so rather busy and dangerous main road that runs between Newhaven Harbour and Lower Granton Road.  After that though, we were forced on to the road again for although there are few pedestrians in the area of West Habour and West Shore Roads, the numerous industrial gateways are not suitable for a child to ride a bike on the pavement.  The condition of the road is not much better.

Once off the road and on to the coastal path, it is a delightful and easy ride along the Silverknowes section and on to Crammond.  The amount of people along this stretch is a testament to the popularity of coastal walks.

It is a similar situation to the East at Portobello, where the coastal path is often packed on any weekend with good weather.  Even the less picturesque length behind the Lothian Bus depot and car showrooms of Seafield Road East are available for cyclists and runners.   Beyond there, heading west and one soon is into convoluted routes as the cycle paths (often mere painted lanes on the road) meander through Leith.  I would currently suggest pedestrians follow that path as Salamander Road is hardly an oil painting.  Leith itself though is very pretty with a wide selection of bars and restaurants for all budgets.

So, what is this eco-tourist trick that Edinburgh is missing out?  This year, I led the family (and friends on occasion too!) on walking sections of the Fife Coastal Path.  Although some parts are undoubtedly industrial, most of it is an extremely beautiful trek along the Fife coast.  What we would do is leave the car at a given point, go the our furthest point of the day, have a snack or even a high tea, turn around and trek back again.  Hopefully by the time we finish, we would have walked the path effectively in both directions.  For those who wish to see more in a day, there is an excellent bus route to take party back to their start line.  When entering an eatery, it is usual to be asked if one is "doing the path" and from where we have started.  In other words, the Fife Coastal Path is an established part of the tourist scene as is relied upon to bring custom to businesses along its route.  What is more, the path is well-signposted on the ground and the website has good suggested walks with clear, printable maps.

In the Lothians, we have our own version:  the John Muir Way.  It is clearly signposted at its Westerly end, the Forth Road Bridge, which links it directly to the Fife Coastal Path.  The John Muir Way continues in a similar vein along the coastline of East Lothian.  There is currently a gaping hole in the route though, and sadly that is the city of Edinburgh and the Port of Leith.  There is not one sign post for the path within the city bounds.  I dare say that plans may be afoot for the path to be linked in the future but I ask, when businesses as still trading on a knife-edge, why wait?

To my mind this is a crazy situation.  Edinburgh is indeed the UK's second tourist destination after London.  Much of the tourist trade though stays in the centre.  The communities and businesses along the north coast would greatly benefit from the extra trade that walkers and cyclists would bring as they follow the John Muir Way.  There are undoubtedly challenges but as can be seen from the experience of Fife; if we build it, they will come.