The Water of Leith

The Water of Leith runs for 24 miles from its source in the Pentland Hills to the Port of Leith where it joins the River Forth. Historically it supported more than 70 mills producing flour, fabric and paper. Construction of the Water of Leith Walkway began in the 1970s and it officially opened in 1981. Over the years we have walked various sections; the last in 2017. We have never done the whole 12 miles from Balerno to Leith in one go but are now members of the Water of Leith Conservation Trust. Our most recent wander followed an afternoon which we spent walking around the Hermitage of Braid and Blackford Hill with some friends, clocking up 4.1 miles. The next morning walking down to Leith, the city centre was eerily quiet and it was relatively easy to keep a safe distance from others. The replacement building for the old St James shopping centre has progressed and the extension of the tramline to Newhaven is underway. On reaching The Shore, we had our first coffee inside a café since pre-lockdown in March. Afterwards, we took a quick look at the port which was filled up with static merchant and cruise ships going nowhere.

I read somewhere that six cruise ships are moored up at Leith. We certainly spotted a P&O ship and then began the walk. Buddleias line a lot of the pathway here

and also, the problematic introduce plant Himalayan Balsam which I photographed in 2017.

The Conservation Trust had a removal project in 2013 but it is incredibly difficult to eradicate completely because it shoots its seeds far away and additionally, they travel downstream on the water. Following the decline of industry along the river, wildlife has prospered. Today we saw gulls, mute swans and a grey heron but you could be lucky and spot a kingfisher.

Fish have returned to the river and otters have also been observed. There are several examples of street art along the path.

The walkway is closed in a few places. We had a diversion due to repairs underway on the Newhaven Road South Bridge which had become dangerous. Signposting of the diversion was not great but I managed to navigate us to rejoin the riverside walk. Near the Dean Path, there has been a landslip and other problems at other sites. After passing through Canonmills, we left the path near Stockbridge and found a seat to have our picnic lunch on. It was then time to return to the flat so we continued through Stockbridge, Hanover Street and tried to avoid the busier West End of Princes Street. Up Lothian Road and then along quieter Brougham Terrace to Bruntsfield Links, where I was very happy to see that sections had been left un-mowed and were filled with wildflowers for the pollinators. We managed to get back to the flat before a heavy rainfall mid-afternoon, having walked 10.3 miles. I am sure we will return to do another section or attempt the full length at some point.

Walking the Water of Leith

I have to confess, we have not walked the 24 miles of the Water of Leith from the source in the Pentland Hills, nor the 12 plus miles of the Water of Leith Walkway from Balerno to Leith. We did not have time to complete the full length of the Walkway so chose to walk to Leith from the point nearest to us.

As soon as we had returned from Ireland, friends were asking why I was not in Edinburgh enjoying the Fringe. We did come up in the middle of the month as we had some work which needed to be carried out on the flat and had selected a few samples of comedy, music and photography from the Fringe to enjoy as well. Some sensible residents stay away completely as getting around is more difficult and takes longer if you have to pass through the main tourist areas; fending off the flyers constantly shoved in your face. After enjoying Dan Willis, a UK comedian living in Australia presenting a ‘Whinging Pom’s Guide’ to the country, Ed Byrne, the Edinburgh Photographic Society’s Annual Exhibition and a great night with Lorna Reid at the Jazz Club, we were ready for a change of scene. We have walked a few sections of the Walkway in the past but fancied a bigger chunk today. It is a two mile walk to our nearest section and includes a bit of the Union Canal.

The Visitors’ Centre is at Slateford just next to where the river flows under the aqueduct carrying the Union canal. We had a coffee before hitting the trail just under the aqueduct where a sign told us it was seven miles to Leith.

There are currently a few diversions due to path closures. There has been a landslip and one section has been closed for six months while this is investigated and decisions made about action. Other sections are closed due to works on the Flood Prevention Scheme. Back on the path we enjoyed the greenery including trees and wildflowers but also spotted large clusters of an introduced problem plant: Himalayan Balsam. It is an annual but produces 800 seeds per year which are propelled huge distances and can be carried by water. It out-competes native flora and is very difficult to eradicate.

Other places have street art.

We passed the Balgreen Community Garden with raised beds made from sleepers like my own and an invertebrate hotel.

There are numerous places along the way where you can join or leave the Walkway and it connects with some of the cycle routes. Occasionally the path leaves the riverside for a short stretch for example, in the Dean Village.

It passes St Bernard’s Well, built on the site of an spring and which is open on Sundays in August. Here is an interior shot I took a couple of years ago:

Before we reached Leith we came across a family of swans having a grooming session. The swan’s partner was watching nearby.

After a succession of signs all saying Leith was 1¾ miles, we eventually reached The Shore. There is a Turkish Cafe and a pub, Salvation ready to restore you and for fine dining, Restaurant Martin Wishart is a little further along. After some refreshments it was time to catch the bus home. With all the diversions we had in fact clocked up 12 miles.

Birds and buying plants in Edinburgh

There were no broken-down trains, damaged viaducts or fires to delay my journey to Edinburgh early on Thursday morning. The train was fairly quiet and arrived on time. In Carlisle, large number of gulls have made the city rooftops their home. The local paper reported in 2014, that one had nested on the ground of the site of a burnt-down store when she had previously nested on the roof. Most seemed to be herring gulls and apparently those living on buildings in Cardiff spend their winter in Spain and Morocco as someone has tagged and tracked them. I don’t know if the Carlisle ones do the same, as I am sure I have seen them here in the winter. I felt unwell on arrival so had a fairly lazy day catching up with a few chores and resting. Outside, on the lawn, a group of jackdaws were searching for food until they were disturbed.
Jackdaw  Monkwood Court May 2016-1
Friday was devoted to housework and making sure a meal was ready for James when he arrived after a long day’s work and drive. On Saturday we met a good friend for lunch in the Canny Man’s pub in Morningside. When we lived in Edinburgh previously (almost 30 years ago), this watering hole decorated with all sorts of decorative items hanging on the walls and ceilings was not a hostelry to venture into. It was a serious drinking house, the décor was never dusted and as several patients frequented it, not a good place to be for us. Fortunately, all that has changed and now they serve good food. Sadly, photography is not allowed so I cannot give you a visual feel of the place. The afternoon was spent walking by the Union Canal and the Water of Leith totting up 11 miles in total and spotting a few birds. The Water of Leith Walkway is part of the John Muir Way which runs between Helensburgh in the west and Dunbar on the east coast where he was born. It is a walk we must do at some point. In the evening our friend cooked a fabulous dinner inside as the haar (the Edinburgh equivalent of the San Francisco fog) put paid to a
barbecue outside.
Water of Leith 7 May 2016-1
Blackbird Water of Leith 7 May 2016-1
Magpie Water of Leith 7 May 2016-1

Today, while James was attending a course, I walked down to the Botanic Garden as they were having their annual Rare and Unusual Plant Sale. I found another paeony (I can never have too many) and a Crinodendron patagua which will go in the spaces cleared in the front garden revamp. It has lovely bell-shaped flowers and hails from Chile.

The haar had burnt off to a very sunny afternoon so I had a very hot brisk walk back up the hill to George Street where I caught the bus back to the flat. Over six miles walked today so a lazy evening is in order.