Saturday, 11 February 2017

A walk along the water of Leith

A couple of weeks ago we headed into Edinburgh on our day off to walk along part of the Water of Leith. This small river runs from the Pentland hills to the south of the city all the way to the Firth of Forth at Leith. I have walked and cycled other sections of the river in years past but never this part. One of the lovely things about the river is a lot of the time you feel that you are not in the city at all but in the country or walking through a picturesque village. 

The Weir just before Dean Village

We parked in the Gallery of modern art car park, which at £2 for a whole day is a bargain. From here it's a five minute walk down to the water of Leith at the bridge where Belford Road crosses the river. Although some of the paths further on are tarmac this section was quite muddy so it's well worth weather good walking footwear, the walk is also seven to nine miles if you do it as a round trip, so well worth being properly dressed. The river at this point is down in a secluded cutting with cliffs on the south side, topped by houses. A new walk way takes you out over the edge of the weir and round the corner to Dean Village. There are now plenty reports of otters and kingfishers making the river their home, which is encouraging.

Part of Dean Village 

This section is very picturesque with stunning old buildings tucked away off the main roads that you would never see unless you stepped out the car and on to the river path. From bright yellow rows of houses to very old Scottish buildings with their crow step gables, old stone plaques and cobbled alleys. Here we crossed a footbridge to the other side which allowed for great photo opportunities before walking up the cobbled path past the yellow houses and an amazing Garrya eliptica in full flower, look at those tassels!

Garrya eliptica looking fabulous in winter, easy to see it's in
 the city in it's own micro climate

Looking back over the roof tops

The path here climbs up between the buildings and if you look back you get a great view of the varied roofs and sky line, and blue sky if you are lucky. Walking between the buildings at the top of the cobbled path look out for the plaque set in the tall yellow building dating from the 17th century before crossing the road and heading down Miller Row. It's always interesting to learn of the history of where we walk, and although now a mainly residential area of the city this part of the Water of Leith supported many mills and industrial enterprises in it's time. There isn't much evidence left now apart from a hint in the Street names or parts of old buildings.

Narrow cobbled lanes

From small riverside paths squeezing between very old buildings the path now takes on some grandeur as we approach Edinburgh New Town. With wide walk ways, wrought iron fences surrounding town gardens, pavilions and statues, you can imagine the up and coming new town dwellers taking the air and parading their finery as they walk beneath the Dean bridge towards Stockbridge. Look out for St Bernards Well and the next bridge with it's steps and arches.

A touch of grandeur in the new town

Walking under Dean bridge

From here it's back onto the street until you get to Stockbridge, cross over and turn left and down the steps at the side of Pizza Express. On this stretch we saw a dipper and some ducks before briefly leaving the river path to walk along Arboretum Avenue. Edinburgh Botanic Gardens is just five minutes walk from here if you fancied a horticultural interlude. Unfortunately they don't allow dogs, so if you have your four legged friend with you as we did, this isn't an option. I would say from here on it is less pretty as the path leaves the New town and heads towards Leith and it's old industrial past.

Alder by the side of the river

Before leaving Stockbridge look to your right across the river and you will see rows of cottages. These are known as the colonies. There are eleven parallel streets built between 1861 and 1911 by the Edinburgh Co-operative Building Company to provide low cost housing for the artisanclass. The streets are named after the companies founders, including writer Hugh Miller. These houses are now coveted for their location near the Botanic Gardens, Stockbridge and the city centre.

A goosander duck on the river

Crossing the river again the path goes between some buildings, graffitti and under a bridge before climbing up some steps to Brandon Terrace which takes you to the bridge at Cannonmills. Follow the signs for the Water of Leith walk along Warriston Road until the road crosses the river again, here we cross the road and take the riverside path through Warriston Park. The path meanders along the side of the river reminding us of the city's industrial past, with old railways now used as walk and cycleways, remains of old industrial buildings and weirs that would have driven mills and machinery.

Remains of the station at Newhaven road

Alongside Connaught Place the path leaves the river side and follows the old track bed of one of many railways that criss-crossed the city. Under the bridge that carries Newhaven Road you can see the platforms of one of the old stations. For a while we walked past factories and industry with the river on the other side of industial parks before we eventually meet up again where the river takes a right angle bend to the east. The paths are wide and open now as is the river, with only a short journey left before it empties into the sea at Leith docks. By now we were pretty hungry, but not easy to eat when you have the hound with you. By luck and clever advertising by a local cafe we found a dog friendly eatery just off the river path. Where else would you put a chalk board advertising you are dog friendly but at the side of the river walk. Aside from being dog friendly I'd thoroughly recommend Ostara Cafe on coburg Street. Their staff were very friendly and helpful, bringing Bracken a bowl of water which he promptly stood in and it was no bother for them to clear up after him. The food was excellent, locally sourced and very tasty and Bracken behaved himself. You can find the cafe here .

David had a falafel platter and I had french toast,
bacon and honey

From here it's a five minute walk to Leith Harbour. Now revamped with flats and eateries the area is a far cry from it's origins as a busy port bringing in goods from all over the world. Many of the old dock buildings have gone, replaced by modern flats, but every so often an old stone building remains, strangely out of place amongst it's towering modern neighbours.

The revamped dockside buildings in Leith

One of the old railway bridges in the docks

Modern railings around the trees

Old railway bridge

Railway lines and cobbles in the docks

A dazzle ship in the docks

Reaching the docks at Leith was the end of our riverside walk, you can take the option of a bus back to the new town and then back to where you started, but we opted to walk back through the town. My more recent predecessors came from Leith so I like to see how places I visited as a child have changed over the years. We walked back up Leith walk, past where my grandparents and great granny lived and past the church my parents were married in. At the top of the walk we headed west along Queen Street, back into the new town and its Georgian architecture. Along Albyn Place, St Colme Place, Queensferry Road and then turning left down Bells Brae just before Dean Bridge. From here we retraced our steps back through Dean village and back, eventually to the car.

Walking back through Dean village

In total this walk was nine miles, but you can do a part of it, all of it one way and get the bus back or mix and match. We really enjoyed seeing parts of the city from a different view point and a lovely lunch. 

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