Appreciating Independents

Once a week I’ll highlight an independent cafe or shop in Edinburgh I particularly like, or have enjoyed discovering, with a few reasons why plus sample prices.
(By the way I’m not a paid/bribed reviewer, just a curious, impartial consumer who loves seeing quality independent places doing well and adding to the atmosphere of an area).

First up is The Wee Boulangerie, 67 Clerk Street, EH8 9JG. (PLEASE NOTE: they are on holiday from July 7th and reopen on July 15th).


This little artisan bakery, which opened in 2012, is a real gem. Its breads, buns, almond croissants, macarons, tartlettes, cakes, biscuits and even croutons are all made at the back of the shop. As are the fougasse (delicious stuffed bread; usually there’s a veggie option and meat option) and nougat. These two specialities were given their 15 minutes of fame earlier this year, when baker/owner Katia Lebart appeared on ITV1’s Britain’s Best Bakery).

Most products are displayed, very temptingly, on the front counter. A board outside the shop and info on the menu informs customers of the time different breads will be available, so you can buy them pretty much fresh from the oven.
Fresh from the oven

I love the simplicity of The Wee Boulangerie; the reasonable prices; the friendliness of the staff; and the fact nothing goes to waste (see their informative website, for more about that and other things – I like how one of the FAQs is ‘why don’t you sell crisps?).

Today I bought my regular choice: a cappucino (£1.80) and small pain au lait (£1). Lovely as always and well worth the price.
Cappuccino (no chocolate) and Pain au Lait


Convenient, perhaps. Cheap? Not necessarily. Characterful? Hmmm..

Having lived away from Edinburgh for a few years, one thing that strikes me being back is the massive number of chain coffee shops and ‘local’ supermarkets around the city centre. They are everywhere! Moreso than in many other UK cities, and most cities in the likes of Italy, Spain and Germany.

They are such a familiar sight in Edinburgh city centre and its fringes, it is easy not to question their purpose. Indeed, why question it – they offer excellent prices, great choice and long opening hours, right?  The latter is true, and they can be a convenient option for, say, grabbing a jar of spice needed for a recipe, or a breakfast item for the next morning. Last minute stuff. But I’m not so sure about price and choice. The smaller Tesco Metros and Sainsbury’s Locals I live near do not sell any value products and when I’ve needed, say, a bottle of olive oil or a packet of mozzarella, there’s usually only one choice – the premium version – so not only are you not saving money, you probably spend more than intended.

Near where I used to live, in Newington, a second Sainsbury’s Local has opened within a short walking distance of one at the corner of Bernard Terrace, and a Tesco Metro on Causewayside. Do we need all of these?? There’s a great corner shop at the end of West Preston Street, that sells plenty of groceries, newspapers, wine, chocolate, fruit and so on. At the same or lower prices than the new, nearby Sainsbury’s Local. I know because I’ve done my own price comparison (I can be anal like that). The family working there are always really friendly and there’s never a queue.

And, though I have tried, the supposedly super-convenient self-service tills at supermarkets just don’t do it for me. There’s nearly always a delay, whether it’s the bag I’m reusing, because alcohol is being purchased, or that it just seems to be malfunctioning generally. And for all that they could save me approximately 1 minute (but never do), I’d rather have an interaction with another human being.

And as for chain coffee shops – unless you simply adore a particular concoction they sell – I can’t see why you’d consciously want to pay premium prices, nearly always queue, and sit in a not particularly nice atmosphere.

Yet, the more Edinburgh becomes saturated with chains, the more we get into a mindset that this is the only option. They are a safe choice, and, increasingly, the nearest option. Occasionally this is so and, don’t get me wrong, I still shop in them now and then.

But shouldn’t we try to balance our shopping habits? After all this city also has some great independents. The quality ones give us variety, character, choice, plus a satisfying experience as a consumer and member of the local community.

So in this blog, once a week, I’m going to highlight an independent business in central Edinburgh, detailing reasons they are worth a visit, plus sample prices.  First up (in the next post): The Wee Boulangerie on Clerk Street.

Some may be well known, even thriving, places; others might be a little off the beaten track or somewhere I stumble upon by chance. And if you have a favourite cafe or shop you’d like highlighted, please email




Where do you go?

I like all the closes and lanes that offer shortcuts and new routes. For example:

I pass this most days on the way to and from town, and next week am going to explore where these stairs go to. (I could work it out in my head, of course, but that would spoil the fun)

I pass this most days, on the way to and from town and want to explore where these stairs lead to (I could work it out in my head, of course, but where would the fun be in that?)

Wise words

If one of the primary purposes of a blog is to share, then I would (should?) like to share this with you:

For any of you currently writing or wanting to write.

In brief, I have been writing a book this spring, one that first bore fruit three-and-a-half years ago. And it’s been quite an experience! Maybe I shouldn’t have expected anything less.

But…A completely solitary pursuit where I’ve got lost in it for hours and days, then had to do other things for a while to keep this side of sanity. Some days I’d sit and write for so long I’d forget about lunch and tea (for me that’s something) and realise, at about 7pm, with stiff legs and when the words on the screen started to look like alien shapes, it might be an idea to go out and move and see the world. Other times self-doubt crept in and then questions about whether it was worth doing at all. Some days I convinced myself there’s a major distinction between published authors and ‘wannabe’ authors – that the former must all, without a doubt, have supreme self-confidence and have received a message from a higher place that they are most definitely  qualified, talented and worthy enough to write, and finish, a book. Then, that inner dialogue out the way,  I’d get back to it, lost in my words and story and creative process, and remembering why I wanted to write it in the first place.

In amongst all of the above, a few weeks back I called in to Edinburgh’s Central Library on George IV Bridge. I was looking for practical guides to self-publishing and, as I browsed the section, my eye was drawn to a book below, a handsome-looking book with its own box cover. ‘Give It All’ by Annie Dillard, illustrated by Sam Fink and with an introduction by Susan Cheever. I opened it up and it unfurled across the floor; it is designed with concertina-style pages and this was quite a clunky move for a silent, serious library so, slightly flustered, I folded it back up, placed it in its box, added it to the ‘borrowing’ pile and only read it properly when I got home.

Perhaps it was the timing of when I came across it, but I think it’s a beautiful book. And, I reckon, a wise guide for life as well as writing. I’m on the hunt for my own copy to buy – but it seems to be out of print. If anyone knows of where it’s available (apart from Amazon) please let me know..

From another angle

I’m watching the world go by in Holyrood Park while typing this (multi-tasker extraordinaire) and appreciating my new surroundings.

I moved into a flatshare last week, you see, and was a little apprehensive as it’s been eight years since I lived in such a set-up and had got very used to my own space and company. Also, everywhere I look it seems society deems that the ‘correct’ way of living at my age is to settle down. The message might come through our age-obsessed media or conversations with property-buying friends, or the fact about half of the ‘rooms offered’ ads on requested flatmates under 30 (I’m 39, though people tell me I look like I’m still in my 20s, and to be fair I probably act it much of the time too). Whatever the medium, that message comes thick and fast. It seems we, females in particular, are expected to dread turning the big 4-0 for a variety of reasons, unless we’re in our own home, with kids and a partner, slim and wrinkle-free.
I’m digressing, but just to add that I couldn’t care less about turning 40; my only hope is it’s a more enjoyable/kinder time than much of my late 30s has been.

So how has the first week in this new environment been? Well I have nice flatmates and a cosy room and my own shower room – so not too bad as it happens, thank you for asking.
Mostly, though, it’s been interesting seeing Edinburgh from a different angle.

Without further ado here are my top 5 highlights (in no particular order)

1) Our living room window has a view of Arthur’s Seat, and it is even more stunning than I thought. Can any other city centre boast such a mass of wilderness/greenery, and a dormant volcano too? I love that there’s so many sides you can explore it from, too.

2) I can now walk everywhere – into town, to friends’ houses, to Portobello beach. Edinburgh is a city best explored by walking.

3) There’s a Poundworld and b&m bargain store nearby! Goodbye, budget, and here’s to many unwanted/unnecessary moment of madness purchases.

4) There’s a lovely, little-known park nearby. Away from the joggers, cyclists, walkers, dogs, picnickers in Holyrood Park, this secluded place still has views of Arthur’s Seat but has hardly anyone milling around and a more mellow feel to it. I like it there very much and plan to use it as my back garden/sunbathing spot/place to think.

5) The Manna House – independent purveyor of delicious breads, filled rolls, salads and cakes, including the rainbow cake – is my nearest bakery. This is an excellent thing.