April 2021: Edinburgh: Water of Leith Walkway (Part 1)


The Water of Leith is the closest Edinburgh gets to having a river flowing through the city centre. In saying that, I’m thinking specifically of the relatively short section between Dean Bridge and Stockbridge, which lies just north of the New Town. It is the only section with which I had previously felt thoroughly familiar. The river rises in the Pentland Hills, Edinburgh’s spectacular southern and southwestern backdrop, and flows 22 miles to enter the Firth of Forth at the port of Leith. In former times it was the centre of much industry, being home to over 70 mills that produced paper, fabric, snuff and flour. First attempts at constructing riverside pathways were made in the 1970s and 80s, with the City of Edinburgh Council completing the job around the turn of the century via a ‘millennium project’.

During the long winter lockdown of 2020-21, I devised many plans for future trips, one of which was to complete the walkway in four separate afternoons. Some people do the whole route in one go, but I wanted the option to make temporary deviations from the route, in order to explore local points of interest. With the planning over and the ‘execution’ phase in progress during sunny April, I made a further change by inserting a kind of halfway interlude: having completed the first two sections by reaching Slateford, I would reposition there by walking the city section of the Union Canal.

Balerno to the Colinton Tunnel

Balerno, self-styled ‘Gateway to the Pentlands’, is a village lying to the southwest of Edinburgh. Traditionally in Midlothian, it has now been absorbed into the City of Edinburgh council area. The walkway starting point is adjacent to the High School, which can be reached using the 44 bus from Edinburgh city centre. This first section from Balerno to Colinton largely uses the trackbed of the former Balerno branch railway, which closed in 1968. The broad, flat surfaces on this section meant that despite being rural in nature, it was particularly busy, with walkers, cyclists and horse riders all coexisting successfully. The route largely parallels the A70 Lanark Road through Currie and Juniper Green, before heading into Colinton Village.

I ended this initial sector at the Colinton Tunnel, clearly also a feature of the former railway branch line. This has become an Edinburgh landmark, having been decorated with images inspired by the Robert Louis Stevenson poem From a Railway Carriage.