Helen Martin: Leith just isn’t top port of call

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AFTER six cruising holidays, I’d describe myself as “experienced” if not a veteran of life on the
 pleasurable high seas.

At every port the passengers split broadly into two groups. One signs up for the expensive, guided excursion or experience including coach travel. They worry about things like not speaking the language, not understanding the money, being unable to find their way around, being suddenly in need of assistance or not making it back to the ship on time and feel they need to be accompanied.

The other is made up of the younger ones – which in cruising terms usually means in their 50s or 60s. They like to do their own thing, don’t want or need an escort, feel quite relaxed about exploring with a tourist map and making themselves understood, and perfectly confident about getting back for “sail-away” . . . as we sea dogs call it.

There are also two different types of calling port. Some destination cities have their own deep docks and others depend on an access port and shuttle buses to get passengers where they really want to go.

It pains me to say it, but today Leith is an access port, not a destination. I am not being cruel or dismissive, but I am being honest.

Cruise passengers don’t have time to muck about, and even the exploring set aren’t going to say “no” to the shuttle bus. If they have one day to spend ashore in a capital city or even an entire country, they are not going to while away a morning nosing round a small, adjacent town. They have a list of things to tick off and see including the Castle, Holyrood Palace, Arthur’s Seat, the Museum of Scotland and parliament. If they have two days, some might take the coach tour to the Highlands. That may not be fair or right or kind, but it is what cruising folk do. It is why they came – for the highlights.

So while I might wish Marketing Leith well, I’m pretty certain its attempt to retain some of the footfall or spending money from the 20,000 cruise passengers expected to pass through the port this year will fail.

Suggestions so far include a welcoming pipe band, a firework departure and a neon “Welcome” on the roof of Ocean Terminal.

It reminded me of a round-Britain cruise when we called in at Milford Haven. The lord mayor was there on the dockside to greet us, along with a band and some singing schoolgirls in Welsh costume, blue with cold in the driving rain. We were given a bag of Welsh cakes each as the lord mayor individually shook hands with each and every one of us who had disembarked. It was wonderfully touching and heartening that they were trying so hard to welcome us.

Milford Haven turned out to be a dump on a hill overlooking petrochemical plants. Admittedly, it was a bleak day. Desperately looking for somewhere to spend at least a couple of quid, we came upon a wee coffee shop and, again, a warm welcome. To say the place appeared economically depressed and devoid of “luxury” shops was an understatement. I don’t think any of us failed to admire or will ever forget the effort of the 
townspeople, their sense of community and the feeling that they were loyal to their town. But no-one bought more than a cup of tea there and the only question was why the ship had bothered to include it on the itinerary.

Leith’s income from cruising will come essentially from its role as a starting port for a cruise. Those coming from a long way off may spend the night before in a hotel in Leith and go out to dinner. They might even have some time to look round in the morning before check-in.

Those who live in Leith know it, love it, know its history and feel its community spirit. Next to Milford Haven, Leith is the very picture of cosmopolitan affluence. But when it comes to cruising, the best Leith has to offer is its proximity to Edinburgh.

Mixed emotions

IT won’t be uppermost in the thoughts of the Vatican and its nuncios at the moment, I’m sure.

Nonetheless, like thousands, maybe tens of thousands of parents, I now face something of a dilemma.

What exactly am I supposed to do with the photographs of that special, never-to-be-repeated day of my son’s First Holy Communion?

Because there, amid the smiling faces of the children dressed in little white “bridal” gowns or white suits, is one other smiling face . . . that of the once-revered Archbishop (at the time) Keith O’Brien.

Do I throw them all out and sacrifice the memento? Or keep them as a poignant contrast between the failure and sin of a Prince of the Church and the innocence and purity of childhood?