FLOWING for 24 miles from its source in the Pentland Hills, the Water of Leith winds its way through Balerno, Currie, Juniper Green, Colinton, Slateford, Roseburn and Dean Village into the heart of Edinburgh, before continuing its way through Stockbridge, Canonmills and Bonnington to the Firth of Forth at Leith.
Once Edinburgh’s industrial heartland, the valley was host to more than 70 mills harnessing the power of the water to produce paper, fabric and flour with the river mouth supporting a vibrant dock and boat building industry. Today the river is home to a wide diversity of plants and animals from wild garlic and orchids to brown trout, heron, kingfisher and otter, and can be explored on foot or bike along the Water of Leith Walkway.
The Water of Leith Conservation Trust works to conserve and enhance the river and its banks and does a fantastic job. In operation since 1988, the Conservation Trust was the first river charity to be established in Scotland and has developed an excellent Visitor Centre at Slateford, just below the Union Canal.
It’s possibly best to walk the route with the flow of the water, that’s from Balerno to Leith and remember you don’t have to walk the whole of the route in one outing – you can join and leave it at many points up and down the river. You can even link with other paths, cycle routes, the canal and a whole network of routes in the Pentland Hills .
If you choose to start in Balerno catch the 44 bus from Edinburgh city centre. The start of the walk is adjacent to Balerno High School and is well signposted.
In terms of underfoot conditions the path is generally very good with less than a mile on road. It’s also a pretty good surface for cyclists. The route follows the river almost in its entirety and is well clear of traffic.
The Water of Leith path is well signed, but you may find yourself checking for signs at a few locations, particularly where the path crosses a road and the continuation is not immediately apparent. Having said that, it’s highly unlikely you’ll get lost.
It always amazes me that in our Scottish cities we can boast routes like this – green arteries that make their way through the most built-up areas offering local folk a vital lung away from the diesel fumes and busy roads. For visitors the Water of Leith not only offers a great linear walk but a fascinating insight into the Edinburgh of the past.
The walk from Balerno to Leith is almost 13 miles long but there is no shortage of attractions to maintain interest