A Trainspotting Route Through Edinburgh
21 October, 2016
Trainspotting, a movie that became a totem for a whole generation, is the screen adaptation of the novel of the same name by Irvine Welsh, one of the writers who most accurately portrayed the darker side of Edinburgh. To mark the twentieth anniversary of its release and on the verge of a rendezvous between Mark Renton, Sick Boy, Spud and Frank Begbie,we take you on a tour of some of the most significant spots in Edinburgh where the film was set.
Princes Street provides the setting for the opening scene in the movie, one of the most iconic sequences in 90s cinema. The heroin addicts yet well-educated Mark Renton and Spud, who have just been shoplifting in a bookstore, are chased along Princes Street by security to the pulsating rhythm of Lust for Life by Iggy Pop. Princes Street, which was laid at the end of the 18th century, is the main thoroughfare and shopping precinct in the Scottish capital. It runs for one and a half kilometres and joins Lothian Road in the west to Leith Street in the east.
Mark Renton’s flight from the security guards of the shop where he has just pinched a few books ends when he is hit by a car in the Cowgate. A historic street in Edinburgh’s Old Town, as may be inferred from its name, it was once the route taken by cattle on their way to market. Sited alongside the ever ebullient Grassmarket Square, it is now one of the busiest areas in the city and home to some of the best pubs in Edinburgh, namely The Three Sisters, The Last Drop and the Beehive Inn.
The psychopath Frank Begbie spends much of Trainspotting’s footage clouting whoever gets in his way. One of these drubbings is set in a popular pub and billiards saloon in the city called The Volunteer Arms, although known to everyone as “The Volley”. The bar still stands on Leith Walk, an avenue running from the city centre to the harbour area. Now, however, it has been revamped as the Cask & Still, an upmarket whisky bar which serves the finest gin and whisky distilled in Scotland.
The Worst Toilet in Scotland
Mark Renton is in the grips of cold turkey and the only thing he can score in the “market” are some opium suppositories. To compound his woes, there is nowhere to hide and he is forced to take them in what he appropriately describes as “the worst toilet in Scotland”, a foul bog located at the back of a bookies in the Muirhouse shopping mall. Twenty years on, this shopping centre is in a spooky-looking area with most of the businesses boarded up.
With the city in full Edinburgh Festival swing and all the pubs full of festival-goers, Renton, Spud and Sick Boy find nothing better to do than to take some ecstasy and wander through The Meadows. They chat up two girls from a nearby private school but end up messing about with some squirrels. Located south of the city centre, The Meadows is one of the largest parks in Edinburgh, one of those endless green commons so typical of British cities, with recreational areas for children, croquet clubs, tennis courts and football and rugby fields.
Leith Central Station
After a sojourn in London, Renton returns to Leith for Christmas and meets up with his old pals. He visits Leith Central Station with one of them, Begbie and describes the station as “a barren, desolate hangar, which is soon to be demolished and replaced by a supermarket and swimming centre.” Leith Central Station was closed to passengers in the 50s and finally made redundant in 1972, after which the building became a haven for the city’s drug addicts. Years later, the area where the platforms once stood was turned into a Tesco superstore, while the terminal building was refurbished as a waterworld complex known as Leith Waterworld.
Although not physically present, theHibernian FC and its grounds, Easter Road, are referred to constantly in the novel and film. Founded in 1875 by Irish immigrants, the Hibernian is Leith’s harbour district club and the team supported by all the main characters in Trainspotting. Easter Road is the headquarters of the “Hibs”, as they call it, the stadium having being unveiled in 1893. That shoebox with its endearing musty smell characteristic of British football stadiums is known as The Holy Ground or the Leith San Siro by the club’s fans. While the Hibs of Irish extraction is the Catholic team, its opposite number in Edinburgh football is Heart of Midlothian Football Club or “Hearts”, most of whose supporters are Protestant, a situation which mirrors the rivalry between the two greats of Glasgow – Celtic and Rangers.
While Irvine Welsh’s novel is set entirely in Edinburgh, most of the screen adaptation was shot in… Glasgow! White lies of the seventh art. Two of the most significant settings in Trainspotting actually located in Glasgow include Volcano, the disco where Renton meets his very own Lolita, Diane. Located at 15 Benalder Street, near Kelvinhall Station, don’t bother to search for it as it was demolished some years ago. The other location, which you will still come across, is Rouken Glen Park, where Renton and Sick Boy discuss Sean Connery’s film career and shoot a Rottweiler in the behind with pellets.
Those of you interested in touring the settings where Trainspotting was filmed can either choose to do so on your own or else sign up for the laid-on Trainspotting Walking Tour hosted by Leith Walks. From Leith Central Station to the “worst toilet in Scotland”, a tour guide will reveal the main locations in Irvine Welsh’s novel as it was ported to the big screen by Danny Boyle.
If you happen to be in Edinburgh, be sure to wander around the haunts where that iconic movie was set. Check out your Vueling flight here.
21 October, 2016