All the tourists congregate in Edinburgh's ancient Old Town, but during the summer the crowds, the buskers and the shops selling kilts, cashmere, whisky and haggis can be overwhelming. About a 20-minute walk northwest, however, one crosses into Stockbridge.
Having undergone considerable gentrification in recent years, Stockbridge still maintains a bohemian vibe, a place where artists, musicians, poets and writers have long made their homes. A new-wave style of specialist clothing, books and music charity shops, sit comfortably alongside delis, teahouses, cafés and pubs, attracting the same rather trendy customers.
Stockbridge is also one of Edinburgh's greenest of neighbourhoods, as it straddles the fast-flowing Water of Leith, one of the city's main rivers, and is adjacent to the Royal Botanic Gardens and Inverleith Park, one of Scotland's largest urban parks. It's also not far from Fettes College - the elite school's turrets and gargoyles inspired author J.K. Rowling in her creation of Harry Potter's Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Stockbridge feels more like a semi-rural village than an inner-city neighbourhood, a place to refuel away from the hubbub of the city beyond.
Better your wardrobe, save the children Sharply decorated, spacious and brightly illuminated, Mary's Living and Giving charity shop looks more like a trendy boutique. It's the creation of a brand guru who turned Harvey Nichols, the most upmarket of London's department stores, into one of Britain's most fashionable retail names. With a bevy of celebrities eager to be seen emptying their wardrobes for a good cause, Mary Portas (the "Queen of Shops," as she's called on her prime time BBC reality TV series) has created quite a buzz, drawing attention to Stockbridge's diverse range of charity shops. 34a Raeburn Place; 44-131-315-2856; www.savethechildren.org.uk/en/9062.htm
A Bohemian bonanza There's a treasure-trove of used clothes from the 1920s to 1970s in Elaine Kowalska's vintage clothing shop. It oozes Bohemia. A Stockbridge fixture of more than 20 years, it's always well stocked with a fine mix of perfectly preserved pieces including ball gowns, capes, kilts, feather boas, tweeds, jodhpurs, silk blouses and waistcoats, some of which bear distinguished old Edinburgh labels. While Elaine jealously guards her sources, she positively invites browsing, keenly sharing her passion for unusual and thoughtfully presented garments. 55 St. Stephen St.; 44-131-225-5783.
Trendy tartan Yes, even in Stockbridge one can find tartan. But rarely the traditional clan tartans that are found in tourist shops across Scotland. Here, modern yet intensely elegant, design-led patterns seem straight from an issue of Home and Garden magazine. With a striking range of cushions, throws, rugs, furniture, carpet bags and even kilts, made with tweeds and other high-quality wool fabrics produced in northern Scotland, ANTA turns the concept of normally kitsch tartan on its head. 32 North West Circus Place; 44-131-220-1693; www.anta.co.uk.
Island inspiration If you can't make it to Orkney, north of the mainland, you can at least catch a glimpse of these independent-minded islands through the silver, gold and enamel jewellery of Sheila Fleet. Naturally fusing traditional and modern Scottish and Scandinavian design, Sheila Fleet's jewellery clearly reflects textures, shapes and colours inspired by the island land and seascapes. 18 St. Stephen Street; 44-131-225-5939; www.sheila-fleet.co.uk.
Finishing touches Chic & Unique boasts a carefully chosen selection of glamorous vintage costume jewellery and accessories such as chandelier earrings, an art nouveau festoon necklace set and handmade Venetian Carnival masks from the first half of the 20th century. Items - mainly American, German and Italian - are restored and, where possible, come with a design history. 8 Deanhaugh St.; 44-131-332-9889; www.vintagecostumejewellery.co.uk.
Beauty and brains The attractions of the charming DollyLeo Apothecary are the unusual lines that it stocks of Australian, Greek, Italian, German and English beauty products and a helpful and knowledgeable staff. This fine example of an independent shop makes navigating vast expanses of the cosmetics' halls in the New Town department stores entirely unnecessary. 22 Raeburn Place; 44-131-315 2035; www.dollyleo.co.uk.
Artists on hand Six artists - from Canada, the Czech Republic, England, the United States and Scotland - who produce a mix of traditional, contemporary and experimental ceramics share workshops at The Adam Pottery, a converted bakery dating from the early 19th century. The gallery displays works produced on site, with items ranging from delicate porcelain bowls to striking sculptural pieces - and there's always an artist on hand to explain the creations. 76 Henderson Row; 44-131-557-3978; www.adampottery.co.uk.
Picnic perfection I.J. Mellis Cheesemonger offers a fine selection of unusual Scottish farmhouse cheeses, as well as oatcakes and crusty bread - a place to gather supplies for a picnic in the nearby botanic gardens or alongside the Water of Leith just a few metres away. Find out what cheeses are in season and you'll marvel at the range of flavours. Consider Grimbister, a fresh-tasting, crumbly textured cheese from near Kirkwell in Orkney, or Criffel, a semi-soft cheese with powerful grass and herbal flavours, produced on a biodynamic farm in Dumfries, or perhaps Lanark Blue, a sheep's milk cheese from Lanarkshire, its flavour changing with lambing seasons from sweet to punchy and savoury. 6 Bakers Place; 44-131-225-6566; www.mellischeese.co.uk.
All things for all people The Stockbridge Restaurant stands out as the neighbourhood eatery, somewhere that manages to offer comfortable yet elegant style, relaxed yet impeccable service, and reasonable prices yet excellent quality. The menu is limited, based on locally sourced fresh seasonal produce, and all the better for it. First courses - such as the delicate smoked haddock risotto, seared scallops and spiced pigeon breast with roasted beetroot - are outstanding. As a main, the tender Buccleuch lamb is the perfect choice. Be sure to leave room for dessert: The trio of rhubarb (crumble, trifle and sorbet) perfectly round off a meal. 54 St. Stephen St.; 44-131-226-6766; www.thestockbridgerestaurant.co.uk.
Special to The Globe and Mail
WHERE TO STAY
Channings One of the very few hotels in Stockbridge, Channings was created from five 19th-century townhouses. The 41 guest rooms have a comfortable mix of antique and modern furniture. Even the single rooms are remarkably spacious and most have either sweeping views across Stockbridge or of the hotel's private gardens. 12-16 South Learmonth Gardens; 44-0131-315-2226, www.channings.co.uk. From $170.
Six Mary's Place Guest House Located on Stockbridge's main commercial artery, the hosts of this superior bed and breakfast offer a warm welcome and valuable local advice. Rooms are clean and comfortable, while an excellent vegetarian breakfast is included. Raeburn Place; 44-0131-332-8965; www.sixmarysplace.co.uk. From $140.