water of leith tunnel

There is something wonderfully indulgent in talking a day off work and travelling by train to a specific location for a full day of walking. This is exactly what I did recently, taking the train to Edinburgh with map in hand and a plan to walk ‘The Water of Leith Walkway’, a 13 mile walk starting in Balerno following the path of the old Balerno Branch railway line to Slateford, then running parallel to the river all the way to Leith.

It was a quiet Monday and after negotiating the train and bus to Balerno (a 50 minute bus ride from outside Waverley Station) I arrived at the start of the walk. 

The walkway is described as ‘a silver thread in a ribbon of green’ flowing through Edinburgh and while I absolutely love the buzz of Edinburgh and all it offers I was looking forward to having a totally different and unique experience within this fabulous city.

The first section of the walk was Balerno to Slateford along the old railway line beside the river from the village of Balerno, passing the fringes of Currie, Juniper Green and Colinton before taking to waterside paths through Colinton Dell onto Slateford and my first refreshment stop at the Water of Leith Visitor Centre.

Social Wellness Walks
Water of Leith Walkway

It was a lovely, gentle easy start along a leafy green walkway path with the Water of Leith accompanying me downstream to the right, dappled by sunlight and the sway of the trees from a soft breeze.  

Reflections on the water

Currie was the first marker on the walkway map and Currie Kirk, a site which has housed a church for over 1000 years, the present church was built in 1785, a pretty church set back in grounds off the walkway and definitely worth a quick stop off.

Currie Kirk Church

The route is really well signposted with regular signs updating on the next possible stop off and mileage which is always reassuring when doing a solo walk. 

It is also worth mentioning, for solo walkers, that the path wasn’t too quiet and isolated but had other walkers, joggers and cyclists passing by.  

A couple of small sections of the Walkway were closed for maintenance, but there were easy short diversions that took less than 5 minutes to get back onto the path, for someone who gets lost very easily this was reassuring!

Water of Leith

Colinton Village, the next stop off is home to Spylaw House in Spylaw Park, built in 1650  was original the mill and home of famous snuff maker James Gillespie. After his death in 1797 his fortune was used to endow Gillespie’s Hospital and James Gillespie’s School for Girls.    

Colinton Tunnel

Continuing back on the railway path I reached Colinton Tunnel. This imposing 140 metre long Victorian railway tunnel has been transformed into a beautiful, magical walkthrough, filled with an enchanting mural telling the story of Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem ‘From a Railway Carriage’. 

It is said to be Scotland’s largest historical mural and was created by artist Chris Rutterford and a team of professional and volunteer artists and over 600 local people of all ages. 

The fabulous images celebrate the industrial, social, artistic and literary history of the community.  It is really stunning to walk through and I found myself walking up and down the tunnel several times to really absorb the images and words. 

Inside Colinton Tunnel

Tearing myself away from the tunnel I re-emerged into the greenness of the walkway and along the path to a coffee stop at the Water of Leith Visitor Centre, a great community cafe with loads of information about the river and walkway as well as interactive art exhibitions.

The Centre is also the headquarters of the Water of Leith Conservation Trust, a small charity who works with volunteers to conserve and enhance the river as a haven for wildlife and an educational and recreational resource centre.

Saughton Park Band Stand

My next detour was through Saughton Park and its beautiful gardens which were in full bloom with a riot of colourful wild flower areas, alongside more formal gardens.  It was lovely to step off the walkway and through this tranquil park taking some time to sit and just be.

Saughton Park

Back on the walkway I passed the Murrayfield Stadium and Roseburn Park before descending down a set of steps to continue along the river. 

Across the river I suddenly spotted a figure in the water, one of Antony Gormley ‘6 Times’ standing figures placed within the river, a solitary figure surrounded by the water and a contrast to the greenness around it.

The series of six life-size figures are positioned along the walk between the grounds of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art and the sea at Leith Docks. 

The cast iron sculptures of the artist’s body are quietly understated and contemplative, set within the perfect setting of the natural and man-made environment of the Water of Leith and beautiful to just come across along the way.

6 Figures - Antony Gormley

Inspired by the beauty of the solitary sculpture I had to take the opportunity to step off the waterway to visit the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art Two and its current free exhibition, ‘Decades – The Art of Change 1900-1980’.  

Scottish Gallery of Modern Art

It was a lovely contrast to the natural, wild beauty of the leafy river path and an absolute feast for the senses in a totally different way, with some amazing pieces of work, by iconic artists.

'Tourists' at Scottish Gallery of Modern Art

Back on the waterway my next stop off was the wonderful picture-postcard Dean Village.  A charming storybook place with its cobbled streets and colourful mews houses, it was so great to just meander into this picturesque place off the walkway.  

Dean Village

The quiet, quaintness of the village, with the river running through it, felt like stepping back in time and it was hard to believe it was just 5 minutes away from Princes Street, in fact the whole walk was feeling almost dream-like and a million miles away from the hustle and bustle on my arrival in Edinburgh at Waverley Station.

Colourful Dean Village
View of Dean Village

After spending an enjoyable half hour mooching around Dean Village I continued on the walkway onto Stockbridge.

Crossing through this elegant residential area it had an attractive buzzing village feel about as I passed along the Georgian streets filled with restaurants and independent shops. 

It felt like somewhere that would be a lovely place to live in Edinburgh with it’s village vibe and perfect location, I think it regularly features as one of the ‘coolest’, ‘best’ places to live in Edinburgh.  Sadly, I was just passing through today but it is somewhere I will return and spend more time.

Leith, my final destination was just 2 miles away and I set off back onto the Walkway passing through Bonnington and Coalie Park on the final stage of this walk.

I arrived at the iconic area of Leith with its historic port on the north shore of Edinburgh as the clouds dispersed and the early evening sun shone and there really was ‘Sunshine on Leith’.

Sunshine on Leith

It was a beautiful end to this fabulous walk.  The historic port has served as the gateway to the city for centuries and the area’s original harbour dates back to the 14th century.  In the 18th century, it was Scotland’s main trading port and it has been visited by many travelling monarchs including Mary Queen of Scots and Queen Victoria.

Leith is also home to the Royal Yacht Britannia once a floating residence for the British Royal Family and host to some of the world’s most famous people from Nelson Mandela to Winston Churchill and now a visitor attraction.

On a lovely Monday evening, sat with a celebratory glass on fizz on a sunny outside table at one of the many bars and restaurants along The Shore, Leith was beautiful. The blue sky, buildings and boats reflected in the water and the atmosphere was carefree and buzzing a perfect end to the walk.

I felt like I saw and did so much on this fabulous walk yet there was still so much more I could have done and seen.  It is a walk full of natural beauty, man-made beauty, art, history and architecture. 

It is a peaceful, tranquil walk, meandering and undemanding, allowing the walker the space and time to look, think and listen as the walk gently unfolds with its many wonderful surprises.  It is a walk I will definitely be doing again.

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