THE number 24 to Granton has just trundled past, squeezing its way along Deanhaugh Street, taking care not to clip the wing mirrors of a flatbed truck noisily revving along in the other direction.
The bus passengers gaze out at charity shops and bars, delicatessens, greengrocers with celeriac and butternut squash piled in boxes on the pavement, and, yes, even more charity shops, seemingly unaware that what they are seeing is – apparently – the epitome of cool.
Of course, it may depend on what precisely your definition of “cool” is, whether it’s cutting-edge high fashion and flamboyant style or the well-trod and quaint cobbled streets of Stockbridge. Nevertheless, Stockbridge has just been named as one of the 30 “coolest” places in Britain, in third behind Bethnal Green in London and somewhere hardly anyone’s heard of – Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire.
All of which should have the locals smiling a laid-back “cool” kind of smile, perhaps walking with a swagger, swinging their new “vintage” charity shop designer handbags as they pop into IJ Mellis for a hearty chunk of Camembert Reux to be consumed with a slab of Herbie’s artisan bread or free-range ham courtesy of a plump pedigree pig.
“Cool?” bellows a woman, shouting partly to be heard over the roar of the Granton-bound bus and partly out of outrage. “You’re joking. How can anyone say this is cool?”
She points to the black-and-orange exterior of Sainsbury’s Local supermarket, now taking up a chunk of Deanhaugh Street which, in another life, was occupied by an independent butcher. Indeed, the cool people of Stockbridge were certainly not cool when they first heard of the chain’s arrival. Prior to it opening 4000 people signed a petition calling for it to just kindly go away, so determined are they to retain their mix of independent and quirky retailers.
Other things annoy her, too. “Look around,” she continues, “it’s an absolute mess. You can’t walk along the pavement for signs. If you’re disabled or pushing a pram, there is a proliferation of street signs to negotiate. If the place was that cool, traders would not need all these signs.
“It’s charity shop heaven here too,” she groans. “Well if that makes somewhere cool, then that’s just brilliant.”
Okay, so perhaps not everyone feels the same love for Stockbridge, but there’s no doubt in many eyes that it has a quaint charm that most recently caught the eye of Michelin star chef Tom Kitchin, who announced that his new venture will be a gastropub affair in what was once the San Marco Restaurant on Mary’s Place off Comely Bank Road.
His arrival was one of the reasons singled out by The Times for helping propel Stockbridge up the cool charts. Add reports that it’s home to comedian Dylan Moran, and Stockbridge – once best known for city madame Dora Noyce’s Danube Street brothel – becomes so cool it’s downright hot. Certainly Magdalena Kisala, 30, reckons the area has a definite separate identity from other parts of town. ”It’s like a small village,” she says, pausing on her way to work at Starbucks in Baker’s Place to watch a bright yellow JCB churn up the pavement running alongside the Water of Leith. “I really like it here,” she adds. “The customers we get are mostly locals – not as many tourists as in town, so we get to know them. It just has a good feel about it.”
At 18 years old, student Jake Whiteman might be expected to have a finger on the pulse of “cool”.
“Yep, I’d say it’s pretty cool here,” he says with a nod. “It’s busy but not like in town where there there’s too much going on. There’s lots of niche shops, places to have a coffee. There’s the market on Sunday and lots of little side streets with nice houses. I like it.”
In the window at the Capability Scotland charity shop in Deanhaugh Street are two pink opaque glass lamps, a snip at just £4, and a quid will get you a set of four silver-plated drinks mats. Inside, where the rails are stuffed with Hawkshead, Gap, and Linea frocks from Jenners, volunteer Nigel Clark, 62, has no problem embracing his new cool label.
“I came to live here because it has such a nice village atmosphere,” he says. “It has everything – the Botanics is nearby, there’s the Grange cricket ground, the lovely individual shops. There’s a great mix of people and businesses. St Stephen Street is full of character, lots of nice shops, arts shops, and the best pubs in town.”
However, according to Neil Harrison, head of marketing at solicitor’s property group ESPC, all this coolness costs. “It’s an area that has that strong community feel because of the shops and restaurants,” he explains, “and it’s very self-contained. It’s also just ten minutes’ walk from the city centre, so that really does appeal to people.
“But it’s predominantly flats, not such a great area for family homes.”
Within its boundaries is Ann Street, where townhouses fetch upwards of £1.5 million. And, Neil points out, gaining a foothold in a one-bedroom flat in Comely Bank Row costs around £135,000.
There is hope, though, for those desperate to bathe in Stockbridge’s coolness without the agony of a huge mortgage. It’s small, bijoux and may not instantly ooze cool, but for £45,000 you can’t have everything.
“Yes,” says Neil, with a nod. “There’s one place on Learmonth Terrace Lane. On the market for £45,000. It’s a garage.”