12 April 2010

A Walk Down the Water of Leith

The Water of Leith is a small river that runs from the Pentland Hills through north-central Edinburgh to Leith, where it flows into the Firth of Forth. A public foot-and-cycle path, the Water of Leith Walkway, follows the river from Balerno on the southern outskirts of town all the way to the old Leith waterfront.

Last week, I took a long stroll along the lower stretch of the Water of Leith. I started at the Dene, a deep ravine on the northwestern edge of New Town. The Dene is home to Dean Village, a tiny medieval town built astride a weir (or dam) that used to power the city's grist mills.

Just downriver from Dean Village is the Dean Bridge. Designed by Thomas Telford and built in 1833, the bridge soars over 100 feet above the floor of the ravine.

After the Dean Bridge, the path passes a Victorian mineral spring, St. Bernard's Well.

As you can see from the photos, the vegetation in the ravine is very dense, especially for April. This is a common phenomenon here in Scotland, which I mentioned in a previous post: you add a tiny bit of elevation or exposure to the wind, and the land is barren, but it doesn't take much shelter to get you a borderline jungle.

The river exits the Dene at Stockbridge, a posh neighborhood just north of New Town . . .

. . . then past the Stockbridge Colonies, a collection of parallel row homes originally built as cheap housing for workers.

Now, the Colonies rank among the city's most coveted real estate, and are especially popular with arty types. They're famous for their odd second-story front doors.

After Stockbridge, the river skirts Inverleith just south of the Royal Botanic Gardens and passes into Canonmills, Stockbridge's slightly less posh little cousin.

Below Canonmills the river widens noticeably and the older architecture flanking its upper stretches is replaced by new construction.

On the approach to Leith, the river even passes through an industrial estate (not pictured) and by another old weir.

After that patch, though, the Water of Leith Walkway ends with a final pleasant sight: the old harbor in Leith, pictured below.

I'll end here: Leith deserves its own post, and a more thorough exploration than I was able to give it after such a long walk.  Also, if I could do it again, I would probably have ended my walk at Canonmills or shortly thereafter--there wasn't much to see on the last stretch, and there are buses that run directly from the city center to Leith.

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