Running along the north western side of Edinburgh’s New Town is a crevasse. It cuts through the city as though it were a newspaper torn in two. This is where the Water of Leith flows.
Flowing from its source up in the Pentland Hills, to the south, the river forms a 24 mile long snake, reaching through the city to spew out into the Firth of Forth through the port of Leith in the North. Over the years its power has been harnessed to make flour, fabric, and paper but today the Water, though far from still, is quiet of industry only being home to a variety of wildlife and walkers. The once highly polluted waters flow freshly, with the odd building and a selection of weirs and millstones the only indications to its past life.
With the first (somewhat timid) flurry of snow in the city last night, we decided to avoid the mud and squelchy paths of most of our usual walking spots in favour of somewhere I’d never actually been. We started down in a little park just up from Stockbridge (the actual bridge, that is) crossing the river and coming into a little park nestled between the river and the steep slopes on which the houses of the New Town are built.
From this sunny and slippery start (think melting snow that’s frozen again before it’s gone very far) we headed up the river towards the Dean Bridge and Dean Village. Looking up at the Dean Bridge – it is about 35 meters above the river – it seems incredible that it was built over a hundred and fifty years ago. Today it serves as the main link between the city centre and the north-west of the city, something I genuinely cannot imagine not existing.
In the shadow of the bridge, nestled down by the waters edge is the part of the Dean Village. Originally it was the first village you came to as you left the city of Edinburgh, it was a community built around the flour mills that serviced the City. Unsurprisingly it was one of the first villages to be absorbed into the city, but with the closure of the mills the area became destitute and associated with poverty. Today, however, that is almost unthinkable. The ‘village’ has, like many such areas, benefited from large amounts of investment and is now one of the most sought after areas in the city. Its tranquility gives it a remove from the hustle and bustle of the city above, but without compromising its links to it. Since 1995 the area, which makes up the northern section of the New Town’s West End, has been part of Edinburgh’s UNESCO World Heritage site.
We walked up past the village to the Belford Bridge, about half a mile up river, which provides the second elevate route out of the West End. The bridge goes over the river just below the Galleries of Modern Art, and has benefitted from the millennium project, which helped to build a metal walkway around one of the bridge’s arches, float in the air above the river. As we all had things to do and no one had had time to start dinner before we left we chose the weir just up from this point as our turning point.
As we wandered back down the Water of Leith, past the Dean Village, we were treated to bouts of crashing water, flowing over the weirs interspersed by flotillas of ducks (totally the correct collective noun) and reflections of trees and buildings along the banks. It might have been a chilly afternoon, but a beautiful walk none-the-less. Whether you have half an hour or half the afternoon I’d suggest you take in a bit of it.