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Tracy Griffen
Writer Without Portfolio

The View from Balfour Street


I wander Leith Walk with my trusty sidekick Coco the fitness pug contemplating the situation. It’s the paradox of choice, innit? The more choice you have, the more difficult it is to decide.

Now the esteemed editor has freed me from the label of fitness columnist, I can write about anything. Walking and thinking... Pondering possibilities.

It has been proven that walking can improve your thinking, the act of moving through space assists memory retention… I’m walking my way out of writers’ block.

Walking Leith Walk I’m overwhelmed by the sheer number of places I can procure a caffeine hit. I can’t help but think of the nineties and how few Edinburgh cafes served drinkable coffee. Auld Reekie was just coming out of its tearoom phase, which ironically seems to be coming back into vogue.

Caffeine is the most widely consumed psychoactive drug in the world. It is also a proven performance enhancer, it is one of the few legal drugs in the athletics world: to wit, Chris Hoy took his own coffee machine to the Beijing Olympics.

To see peak effectiveness, it’s recommended to be ‘caffeine naive’ – that is not a regular coffee consumer, and therefore more susceptible to its energising effects. I once trained a young McDonald’s employee who desperately wanted to enter the police force. Problem was, she just couldn’t run fast enough to pass the entrance exam. She was super-chilled and didn’t drink coffee. We did all the appropriate cardio and running technique, but in the end, it was her glugging a can of Red Bull that got her fast enough to enter the force. True story.

No wonder caffeine is so popular, and addictive. I personally love it, it makes mornings much more interesting. The proliferation of caffeine dealers popping up on Leith Walk is testament to our communal love affair with coffee.

Try an espresso from Columbian coffee importers Tepuy, on Albert Street. You can buy the freshly roasted single estate beans from them too.

The newly opened Ante cafe (under Spry wine bar, Haddington Place), does a brilliant doppio macchiato and pug Coco loves the underfloor heating. Bonus!

We miss the flat whites from Casa Amiga, the popular Portuguese cafe another tram casualty. I wonder what’s going to open in its place; it’s currently half-gutted.

The Wee Leith shop, formerly a fortune teller, up past the laundrette, is soon to be reborn as the Dreadnought bottlo (aussie slang for bottle shop). I do hope they stock a good alcohol-free selection.

Thanks also due to James at Cornelius Beers, for bravely offering an extensive range of A.F. beers in his shop at the Red Sandstone Building. It’s getting easier to be teetotal on Leith Walk but we really need a fresh juice bar. Leith needs juice!

An unreleased podcast of an interview with Leither editor, the lesser-spotted Billy, sees him recount his first encounter with what must be the culinary highlight of Leith Walk, the reliable traditional bakers that is Storries. You can purchase macaroni pies at 2am with well-fired rolls (for the following afternoon)! Their £1.60 vegan sausage roll beats Greggs hands-down – hot and peppery with flaky pastry, yum.

Leith culinary delights I have enjoyed lately: Roseleaf’s carrot, apple and ginger juice, birthday dinner at Eleanore (tiny dishes full of flavour) and Coco Rico cafe on Jane Street for their croques. The good old croque monsieur, which literally translates as ‘crunch mister’, is a popular dish around Leith but is it true that this melted meal was invented when a French bloke left his ham and cheese sandwich on the radiator?

I love how Leith Walk is a chameleon-like community that changes its shops to match demand. This season, more cake than you can shake a wobbly stick at, coffee, coffee, coffee... and tattoos. Like a snake shedding its skin, many old established businesses have been shed (some before their time). I miss many of the old shops, and feel sad when I talk to business owners who are struggling. Running a business is like running an endurance event, you never know what challenges you’ll encounter each day.

There is light at the end of the tunnel, or at least life beyond Heras fencing. The Walk has been de-barriered, to reveal... exactly the same street with a tram track in the middle! During the early consultations when an enthusiastic tram PR guy promised us “something like the Las Ramblas in Barcelona.” I wondered how they were going to deliver that one.

All good things come to those who wait ...and we are very, very patient. Spending late winter wandering Leith, teaching fitness, caffeinated and waiting for the trams (and the sunshine). If the last 16 years of having a business adjacent to Leith Walk has taught me anything, it’s to “relax, nothing is under control.” Live day to day, appreciate small things (like good coffee) and for mental health, get out walking.

Chugging along in the Griffen Fitness studio, we’ve managed to stay ‘cautiously optimistic’. Calories in, calories out, that’s life. Portfolio-less I may be, but my message remains the same - get up, get moving, feel better.

You may be wondering how an unhealthy brachycephalic breed of dog is employed as a ‘fitness pug’? All will be revealed next issue... ■

Twitter: @tracygriffen

When Tram work started, a PR guy told Tracy Leith Walk would “look like Las Ramblas” (above). Credit: Miquel Cazaña Llagostera


Caffeine is one of the few legal drugs in athletics, Chris Hoy even took his coffee machine to Beijing


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