It must be true to say that for many people visiting Edinburgh they will never realise that ‘a river runs through it’. It may even take residents some time to come across it as the route is gently masked by the city that has grown up alongside it and is therefore not so obvious perhaps as the Union Canal. The Water of Leith is an historic treasure and a haven for wildlife.
The river rises in the Colzium Springs of the Pentland Hills and on its 22 mile journey to the sea it travels through the villages of Balerno, Currie, Juniper Green, Colinton, Slateford, Longstone, Saughton, Balgreen and Roseburn. Perhaps the nearest it gets to the city centre is at the Dean Village, on the site of old watermills and where it is dramatically spanned by Thomas Telford’s Dean Bridge. On it flows past Stockbridge, Inverleith, Canonmills, Warriston, Bonnington and other sites of the industrial past, to Leith where it widens into the old harbour at the Shore.
We are fortunate to have access via the Water of Leith Walkway beside the river for the sections from Balerno to Leith. We are even more fortunate locally in the South West part of the city to be able to explore Colinton Dell which is a haven for wildlife, and as well as the woodland, the route follows former railway tracks and features the now disused Caledonian Railway tunnel along the way.
Immediately outside the Dell exit at Lanark Road is an interesting map of the river embedded into the pavement and across the road almost in the shadow of the Slateford Aqueduct we can find the visitor centre established by the Water of Leith Conservation Trust. The Trust provides an opportunity for education for young and old about the river and its environment – see www.waterofleith.org.uk/centre.
The river and its reaches attract a wide variety of woodland and water birds, including kingfishers, wagtails, woodpeckers, and dippers. The weir which fed the mill within the Dell is one of a number of spots where heron can be seen, standing stock-still patiently waiting their next meal. They have competition from other fishermen too who might expect to catch wild brown trout or grayling with perhaps an occasional pike lurking nearby. If you are lucky Roe deer, badgers, voles and other mammals can be seen in the quieter parts. All of which must be pleasing to the conservationists who have worked to clean the environs following some of the excesses of our city’s industrial past.