London has the river Thames; Edinburgh has the Water of Leith.

The difference between the two waterways could not be more marked. The Thames is the centerpiece of London; it divides it in two, it's a main thoroughfare, its banks are thronged with activity, and innumerable high-profile buildings and tourist attractions stand beside it. Edinburgh's river, though, is tucked away and unseen, perhaps even unknown except to those who live close by. It winds it way through a narrow dell northwest of the city centre, most of its environs consisting of a quiet green ribbon of woodland. Here and there it is crossed by high-arched bridges and occasionally it emerges into a residential area, in which it becomes a scenic feature. The gallery below is a pictorial account of a Sunday morning walk along its banks in August 2004.

Click on any of the thumbnails for a full-sized image.

I began my morning out by walking west down Dalry Road from the city centre, with the plan to keep going until I found the river. I walked for maybe a mile and a half before I found it at Slateford Park, pictured here.

Slateford Park is more or less divided into two areas, ornamental gardens to the south and sports fields to the north, with the river running past on the eastern boundary. Here's the river running out to the northeast away from the park. It's nothing special here, just a stream running through a narrow ribbon of trees. After a few hundred metres it dives underneath the main Edinburgh to Glasgow railway line to emerge beside the grounds of Murrayfield stadium.

Murrayfield is Scotlan's international rugby stadium and it stands among extensive swards of training pitches, recreation grounds and parkland. The river runs generally to the north of the grounds. Near Roseburn House it disappears momentarily beneath a culvert and the riverside walkway is routed through a couple of residential back streets before coming out onto the main Costorphine road.

The Costorphine road is a brief flurry of activity and once across it the environs of the river begin to get more interesting. The walkway follows the southeast bank underneath the high viaduct of an abandoned railway line, and then suddenly all is peace and greenery.

The Water of Leith now winds its way along a sinewy course between Wester Coates (to the south) and Ravelston Dykes (to the north), running through a dense ribbon of greenery that is up to 200 metres wide at some points. It simply isn't possible to see any of the city and from here it might as well not exist.

At a significant bend the river passes the gorunds of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art and displays one of its most scenic stretches, where it runs over a weir and briefly divides into two courses running either side of an island. A side path gives access to the grounds of the gallery.

The river now runs through a long curve to the left and becomes hemmed in by wooden fencing as it aproaches Belford Bridge. A footbridge gives access to some rather smart riverside apartments and just short of the bridge itself a hotel stands beside the river.

Beyond Belford Bridge the scenery changes once again to a ribbon of dense tree cover. Dean Cemetery lays to the north and the cramped residential streets of Sunbury Place and Sunbury Mews stand immediately to the south but you just wouldn't know it. The river curves tightly round to the right. It seems to go on much further than the map suggests it should.

At the locality of Damside the riverside walkway emerges from its tunnel of woodland to arrive at another development of smart waterside apartments, and immediately beyond them is a substantial wier. The noise is deafening but it's a wonderful sight.

A couple of hundred metres beyond the weir the riverside path reaches the gem of the Water of Leith - Dean Village, an old-world locality of steep and narrow lanes fronted by half-timbered houses. It's probably looked exactly the same, apart from the riverside railings, for three hundred years.

The lane along the south side of the river is called Miller Row. It climbs quite a way up the bank but is still way below the level of Dean Bridge, which carries the main Queensferry Road across the river.

Past Dean Bridge the river bends initially to the left then runs through a relatively straight course through a remarkably deep dell. High up to the right is the edge of the Georgian "New Town", and the backs of the houses fronting Great Stuart Street, Ainslie Place and Moray Place. A couple of steep, narrow lanes appear briefly to the right before the rver approaches the locality of Stockbridge.

Stockbridge is a part of the city know for its antique shops and its laid-back attitude, but nevertheless it's the only part of the city that has seen fit to develop its riverside into a formal promenade. You reach a small garden and a handsome stone bridge, after which the river is briefly sandwiched between the buildings of Saunders Street and Dean Terrace. 

The picturesque stretches of the Water of Leith are largely behind us now. It's necessary to leave the riverside briefly to walk along Deanhaugh St and St Bernard's Row before regaining the riverside as it runs to the right of Arborteum Avenue, but this is a pleasant enough stretch with grassy banks to one side and Grange cricket ground (what, they play cricket in Scotland?) to the other. Finally, at a sharp right-hand bend, the river disappears off to run along the back of Inverleith Row to approach Canonmills, after which it enters the less interesting areas of Broughton and Pilrig. I've yet to explore the river beyond this point but one day I'll get round to it. North of Inverlieth Row are Edinburrgh's splendid Royal Botanical Gardens, which might get their own page here before too long.

This page last updated 19th October 2005