Discover The Water of Leith Walkway
10 May 2022
Starting from Balerno, running through the city and finishing at the outflow into the Firth of Forth at Leith, the Water of Leith Walkway offers a variety of idyllic walking spots along its 13 mile route.
Offering a totally different side of Edinburgh, it’s a lovely, peaceful area to escape from the city hubbub.
An Urban Haven
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In the late 19th century, the area was at the centre of Edinburgh’s industrial heritage - it’s close proximity to water used to power the mills that produced paper, fabric and flour. Today, however the river is a much calmer scene. It has been designated as an Urban Wildlife Site and is home to a wide diversity of plants and animals from wild garlic and orchids to brown trout, heron, kingfisher and otter, all of which can be explored on foot or bike. If you’re lucky, you may even spot a roe deer, badger or otter.
This urban haven is a popular year-round for both residents and visitors. In the spring, it’s a joy to behold as plants and flowers start to burst into life, while in the autumn, crisp brown leaves blanket the area. However, don't feel like you must do the whole trail at once! Many locals join in the walk and drop off as they please from places such as Haymarket and Juniper Green. Make sure you have your camera at the ready as you never know what you might discover…
Operating since 1988, The Water of Leith Conservation Trust work tirelessly to protect and enhance the river by promoting education and recreation in the Visitor Centre, as well as working with volunteers and community groups to deliver around 240 river clean-ups each year.
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The route travels through many areas of interest including Colinton Village and Dell, the Union Canal, Saughton Winter Gardens, Murrayfield Stadium, the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art, Dean Village, Stockbridge, the Royal Botanic Garden and Leith.
The walkway, which is suitable for cycling and accessible in part by wheelchairs and even by horseback, is well signposted and a map is available from the Visitor Centre. A basic map of the route can also be downloaded here >
As you make your way along the walkway, be sure to keep an eye open for our suggested highlights:
One of the most popular spots is around Dean Village, a former water milling community which still has many of its stunning 19th century buildings. Surrounded by trees with the Water of Leith running through its heart, it’s hard to believe this tranquil and restful area is only minutes from the city centre.
St Bernard’s Well
Found near Dean Village, St. Bernard’s Well was discovered in 1760 and quickly became a visitor attraction as locals believed that ‘taking the waters’ in this natural spring was thought to have restorative, if not actual healing, powers.
This neo-classical temple was designed by the Scottish artist Alexander Nasmyth in 1789, complete with Doric columns and a dome topped with a golden pineapple. The figurine inside the structure is a depiction of Hygieia, the Greek goddess of health.
Antony Gormley Statues
Don’t be alarmed if you see a man standing in the water – it’s one of celebrated artist and sculptor Antony Gormley’s Standing Man statues. Forming part of his 6 TIMES artwork, the first of these towering figures can be found outside the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. You can then follow the trail through the walkway, before culminating at the shore in Leith.
In what was once an old railway tunnel, artist Chris Rutterford has transformed Colinton Tunnel into the biggest mural of its kind in Scotland.
Celebrating local history and heritage, this once dark and gloomy space is now bright and cheerful, with illustrations from Edinburgh author & poet, Robert Louis Stevenson’s From a Railway Carriage.
The Visitor Centre
(Image Credit Water Of Leith Trust Conservation)
Located halfway along the walkway at Saughton, The Visitor Centre has an interactive exhibition where you explore further the heritage and wildlife of the river, as well as a gift shop and café – perfect for refuelling before you start the next section of the walkway.