Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Walking near water


When I leave the office at night, I have a number of choices when it comes to getting home. Getting a bus is the most obvious, as Edinburgh is well served by Lothian Buses - almost too well served in fact, as the maroon and white double deckers clog up the city centre on most days. When our office was relocated from the other side of Edinburgh two years ago (against the wishes of most of the staff), the Union got the management to lay on free buses for staff back into the city - a small victory for us faceless drones. So I often get that bus, saving £1 each trip. Of course, as regular DUaB readers will know, walking home is my favoured method.

The last long-distance walk home I had was on my daily sun-drenched stroll along the Sydney Harbour bridge and through Hyde Park. Very different now that I'm back here (temperature in Sydney yesterday 27C; Edinburgh 1C), but having moved into the new flat I at least get a different route from my old Edinburgh hour-and-a-half trek through slate-grey housing estates. Admittedly, the first hour of the new trek home is along the traffic-clogged Corstorphine Road, but once I get past Edinburgh Zoo it improves a bit.

Here they used to walk the zoo's penguins along the street - presumably to give them a bit of exercise, and to attract visitors - but the sheer bizarre sight of a line of Rockhoppers waddling along a main road lead to a number of accidents, so the practice was halted. Accidents involving distracted drivers, I should say, not penguin casualties. But when I walk past the zoo it's a short waddle to Murrayfield, and the scaffold-esque shadow of the rugby stadium is where I can turn off the main road and leave the buses and cars behind.

The final 45mins of the trip home is two miles along the Water of Leith footpath - a paved route that follows the small river flowing through Northern Edinburgh. Running from Balerno in the Pentland Hills to the mouth at Leith, the 12 miles of the river has a path all the way (I've walked it in the past). In my opinion, it's one of the secret joys of the entire city - very few people know about it other than those who live nearby and use it as a shortcut, or to walk their dogs. Tourists rarely find it.

The path is so quiet, you can only hear the water and the birds - forgetting totally that you're walking through the middle of a capital city. The river valley is sunken slightly, so it swallows sound, and the droning of traffic is only faint at worst. The path undulates, taking in rapids, weirs and dams, and at the moment the wooded hillsides are covered in crocuses and snowdrops. The first time I went home that way, I saw a Dipper hopping on a rock amidst the rushing water, and the second time, a Kingfisher blurred past me in a streak of blue. That was only the second time I've seen one in my entire life.

So I'll be walking along the path every day, if possible. Just this weekend we had over an inch of snow (gasp), so I took a few wintry pictures. If you're visiting Edinburgh and have a spare couple of hours - walk down Dundas Street to Canonmills (or take the 23 bus), then follow the signs for the Water of Leith footpath to Stockbridge. The walk takes you along the best sections of the route, and you can get a bus back from Murrayfield to the city. If you pass me, give me a wave...

More information on the Water of Leith can be found here.