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A Walk Down the Water of Leith

21 November 2017

One of the things that's great about Edinburgh is that you're never too far away from nature, even in the city centre. In our latest guest blog post, Edinburgh-based writer and blogger Eimear from My Edinburgh Press takes us on a walk down the Water of Leith, arguably one of the most scenic routes in the Capital... 

London has the Thames, Bristol the Avon, in Glasgow and Belfast they have the Clyde and the Lagan; but what has Edinburgh got by way of a river? On first reflection, it’s clear there is no significant river supporting shipbuilding or trade running through Edinburgh. However, Edinburgh is home to an urban haven and gentle flow that is the Water of Leith.

Cannonmills

The Water of Leith rises in the Pentland Hills and flows for about ten miles before reaching the outskirts of Edinburgh at Balerno in the southwest. From Balerno all the way to Leith, a walkway hugs, loops and turns alongside the water for twelve miles until it flows into the Firth of Forth. I have yet to walk it in its entirety, but - taking sections at a time - I am enjoying walking it piece by piece. Most recently, I followed a section from Canonmills to Murrayfield. The day was cold, with a sharp breeze, but the river has carved out a low-lying groove, so I walked in a hollow, feeling nestled and sheltered from the winter nip. There is an easy peacefulness by the Water of Leith. Joggers, cyclists, dog walkers, romancers all smile, or nod, or say hello. People breathe more deeply here.

Even though its course weaves right through the city, nature has provided the river with a guard-of-honour: trees and shrubbery that make a natural sound barrier, blocking out the city’s usual noise. Underfoot, leaves make a soft crunch in harmony with the sound of rushing water. I could hear birdsong, and a dog barking in the distance. If I strained my ears, I wondered if the gentle hum I could hear was that of car engines? Yes, it is a peaceful place.

There is still some colour at this time of the year. Not all the leaves have fallen, but, with many underfoot, and lying in areas that the low winter sun cannot reach, it is slippy - sturdy footwear recommended! There are a few places where you must come up from river and re-join the city, walking by the road for short distances. Stockbridge is one. It’s a good spot to break for a coffee, or - better still - get a takeaway coffee and walk back to the serenity of the river, perhaps to the seats by St. Bernard’s Well. I sat there for a few minutes and saw magpies and wrens, robins and blackbirds. If you find a quiet spot and sit very still, you might be lucky enough to see some of the shyer creatures I have read about who call this home: badgers and otters, kingfishers, woodpeckers and dippers.

Dean Village

The section of the walk between Stockbridge and Dean Village is particularly beautiful. Here, the river runs through a deep gorge, steep banks at either side, with grand terraces commanding beautiful views down unto the water. Coming upon Dean Village is like finding a charming German hamlet in the centre of Edinburgh. Walking underneath the dramatic and stunning Dean Bridge to the sleepy city-village is impossibly picturesque. Close to Dean Village, another potential pit-stop for thirsty walkers, is the café at the Modern Art Gallery, and, if you are not sated by the beauty of nature, you can take in some art!

The Water of Leith is a treasure for this city. Whether you're called there in summer to temporarily escape the excess energy of the Festivals, or you go in winter to shake off the Christmas market crowds, you will not be disappointed. It is a special place that is guaranteed to replenish and calm.

Discover more of Eimear's writing on Facebook: My Edinburgh Press

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