My walking tour of the Old Town was a depressing experience - Kevin Buckle

This week I finally found time to do a wee tour of the Old Town and what a depressing experience it was.

Saturday, 27th March 2021, 7:00 am
Victoria Street still has some character, unlike most of the rest of the Old Town, says Kevin Buckle

Leaving my shop after the weekly fire test I walked through the station and along East Market Street. The shopping arcade was a disheartening failure long before the pandemic hit and now involves next to no retail.

I headed up to the Royal Mile coming out at the top of St Mary’s Street with a plan to walk along and visit my old haunt the Grassmarket and investigate exactly how the King’s Stables Road development had turned out.

Maybe it was because it was so quiet but the enormity of just how many shops were exclusively for tourists took me by surprise despite the fact I know the area so well.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Given it now looks like this year’s visitors will be mostly from the UK it is hard to see how all these shops can survive.

Not only is there very little for locals but almost nothing for the more discerning visitor who has no need for cashmere scarves.

Frustratingly the council’s Royal Mile Action Plan that ran from 2013 to 2018 was supposed to tackle this increasing the diversity of retail using the shops they own but failed abysmally.

As I turned off the Mile to walk down Victoria Street to the Grassmarket I was faced with a building site that I think was partly due to building work and partly the Spaces for People initiative.

Victoria Street still has some character but the Grassmarket is now almost devoid of retail shops with honourable exceptions such as Armstrongs and Bill Baber.

As I reached the top of King’s Stables Road it was sad to see the empty shell that was Red Dog Music. The King’s Stables Road development is now finished and if the plans for a destination shopping arcade failed badly in East Market Street then the council’s declared plans have failed spectacularly.

All the shop units that were to house interesting retail and a “cool café” are empty and there is no arts facility of any kind. The developers are now looking for change of use to offices.

I have suggested in the past that the tunnel which leads to the Castle Park Terrace car park could house a Harry Potter mural as that would be sure to bring footfall but now instead it is just covered in graffiti.

This brought me to the last part of my journey and the car park which the council had considered demolishing to help regenerate the area but has now received listed status from Historic Environment Scotland.

A depressing site at the best of times, councillors can’t agree whether a car park is needed there given the plans for George Street or whether the new parking in the soon to be opened St James Quarter fulfills that need.

Not much is certain these days but it could not be clearer that the council now needs an Old Town Action Plan!