Whenever the sun comes out in Edinburgh, there are plenty of nice outdoor spaces in which to enjoy the decent weather. You can try climbing up Arthurs Seat, wandering around the Botanic Gardens, or do as Mr Bug and I did a few days ago and stroll along the Water of Leith, Edinburgh’s very own river.
The Water of Leith is maintained by an army of volunteers, who make sure the river is kept clean and tidy. Not only does this result in one of the most beautiful city rivers in the country (in my humble opinion!), but it also makes it a wonderful haven for wildlife. This makes for a lovely weekend walk for the family, or a nice romantic stroll…
Where is the Water of Leith?
The Water of Leith walkway spans nearly 13 miles, from Balerno in the Pentlands, under the city bypass, up through Slateford, past Murrayfield Stadium, through Dean Village, Stockbridge and Canonmills before meeting the Firth of Forth at The Shore in Leith (pictured above).
We’ve never traversed the whole thing (although it is on the to-do list!) but the walk from The Shore up to Stockbridge is a nice little dander with plenty to see along the way. Plus, if you fancy a stop for a rest and a refreshment, you can pop up to Canonmills around halfway along the route and have a nice cup of tea in one of the area’s many pleasant cafes.
The history of the Water of Leith
The river was, quite literally, the backbone of Edinburgh industry a couple of hundred years ago. The river running through the city powered around seventy mills, which made everything from paper, to flour, to clothes, and even snuff powder! The open mouth in Leith became the epicentre of Edinburgh’s shipping industry, with the port still very much in action today.
The mills have since closed, but there’s still some of the original factory buildings scattered along the waterway, and you can learn more about milling technology in the visitor centre in Slateford.
Wildlife of the Water of Leith
As the river is so well preserved, the clear and clean water attracts a huge range of wildlife, like otters, voles and bats. The Water of Leith is also a birdwatcher’s paradise, with over eighty bird species that thrive here. Keep a lookout for buzzards, kingfishers and moorhens, to name but a few!
Naturally, the water is teeming with a thriving fish population, and you can even apply for a permit to fly or bait fish during the summer months. You will probably catch brown trout, grayling or eels, among others, but bear in mind that all fishing is on a catch-and-release basis, and all fish must be returned to the river.
Learning more about the Water of Leith
The Water of Leith is a fascinating walk, cutting through lots of diverse areas of Edinburgh. Along the way you’ll find random pieces of artwork, poetry and graffiti, which I think all adds to its charm!
You can also download an audio guide, that will tell you interesting tales as you make your way along the river. You can download it off the website or keep an eye out for the signs with QR codes that will connect with the audio trail through your smartphone.
The Water of Leith is a lovely way to spend a sunny afternoon, something about the gently babbling water in the background is so relaxing. It’s a great opportunity to spot some wildlife and discover even more connections in and between the city, even if you have lived here for years.
Stockbridge to Dean Village
Perhaps one of the nicest parts of the Water of Leith path is the bit between Stockbridge and Dean Village. The walk itself will take you around 20 minutes, but you’ll want to spend a little extra time once you arrive Dean Village exploring its beautiful nooks and crannies.
Mr Bug and I returned to the Water of Leith path around a year and a half after the first version of this post was published, and I couldn’t resist taking more snaps to add to this page to show how truly stunning it is. I may have got a new camera since the old shots were taken – can you tell?! 😉
On this stretch of the trail you’ll also meet St Bernard’s Well, which used to be a very popular tourist attaction in the olden days. Legend has it that the water from this well could cure anything from bruises to blindness – not sure if it’s possible to take a slurp from it today, though!
Around five minutes from St Bernards Well you’ll find Dean Village – a beautiful part of town with colourful houses and quirky architecture. This area deserves a page all of its own – so I’ve given it one here!
The beauty of the path is that you can do as much or as little of it as you like, but I would recommend putting aside 2-3 hours aside if you want to do the Shore to Dean Village route, which is a lovely little walk. What’s your favourite part of the Water of Leith? Please let me know in the comments below!