We’ll turn back the sands of time with donkey rides at Portobello

Donley rides at Portobello beach in 1961
Donley rides at Portobello beach in 1961
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THE return of old-fashioned donkey rides to Portobello beach is one of the ideas being floated to help encourage more visitors to the area.

Residents and traders are eager to see a bigger effort to promote Edinburgh’s seaside resort.

Among the ideas would be a return of the traditional seaside activity of donkey rides, while local businesses have also suggested the creation of an open-air cinema and public events such as silent discos on the beach.

And council chiefs were today urged to draw on all available funding sources to pay for improvements and launch new activities.

Donkey rides were a common attraction on Portobello beach right up until the 1970s, but have not been seen since.

Amanda Caygill, owner of the Espy bar in Bath Street, said the beach was already a popular spot for bonfires and barbecues when the weather was good, but she was hoping to work with the council to promote more activities.

“I’ve always talked about trying to get donkey rides back on the beach,” she said. “We would need to be careful about animal care and health and safety, but if people put their heads together I’m sure we could sort something out.”

Ms Caygill said Portobello already had the Big Busk, when a wide variety of performers lined the Prom, but she claimed there was still room to do more.

“I’m thinking of an outdoor cinema – we already have a small room at the back of the Espy where people can come and watch a film, but I come from Melbourne, where we used to have outdoor films – usually silent ones so it didn’t cause any noise. People loved them. Even if it was cold they would come and sit with a blanket and a glass of wine.

“And we could have a silent disco – people come with their headsets and everyone tunes into their own music.”

Lothians Labour MSP Kezia Dugdale said: “People in Portobello see a huge amount of potential in their local community and its ability to attract visitors from Edinburgh and beyond as a destination in its own right,

“All we need is a little bit more investment to make it feel an exciting place to be and not a throwback to the seventies.”

Bob Jefferson, founder of the Portobello Online website, said local people had long been calling for more investment. He said: “Portobello has been sadly neglected by Edinburgh. If it was any other major city in Europe they would be investing heavily in their seaside.

“The city could do a lot more to promote Portobello. Any investment would be welcome.”

Frank Ross, convener of the council’s economy committee, said the council had worked with local traders to win £588,000 from the Scottish Government for improvements to pavements, signage and street furniture, which were completed in 2010.

He added: “We are always interested to hear ideas to help promote Portobello and have supported a number of projects in recent years.

“For the first time ever, this year the beach was entered into the Keep Scotland Beautiful Awards and won the resort award. Local shops were also supported this year with a late- night shopping event to attract Christmas shoppers.

“Other initiatives we supported this year included a shop local competition in the summer and a promotional campaign which connected the prom with the high street through the imagery of local shopkeepers.”

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com