Learn the history behind Scotland's ancient castles and buildings
The Water of Leith Visitor Centre is situated in a renovated schoolhouse by the Water of Leith at Lanark Road in Slateford, easily accessible 4 miles west of Edinburgh City Centre on the A70. Bus numbers 34 and 44 stop outside the Centre.
Water of Leith Visitor Centre,
24 Lanark Road,
Telephone: 0131 455 7367
Prices and opening times
There is no fee to visit the Water of Leith. The Water of Leith Visitors Centre is open every day, from 10.00am to 4.00pm, except between Christmas and New Year.
The Water of Leith winds over 22 miles from the Colzium Springs in the Pentland Hills, and over the course of its journey it passes many famous landmarks that have become synonymous with Edinburgh. Visitors to the city might not be aware of the river, but if you have a few days to explore you will be well-rewarded by a walk on the many miles of serene pathways that run alongside it.
One of the most popular entry points is at Stockbridge, well known amongst Edinburgh locals for its cute gift shops and delicious bistros, and there is a myriad of well-signposted paths that lead onto the riverside. The entire Water of Leith walkway runs for an impressive 12 miles, so if you want to traverse the entire route you might consider hiring a bicycle, however walking on foot is probably the best way to experience the wildlife that can be found there. The paths are many and varied, passing through thick woodland, old railway tracks, and disused tunnels and bridges, and the variety of wildlife will lead you to completely forget that you’re in the middle of Scotlands capital city.
One of the benefits of having a walkway that runs through the heart of Edinburgh is that you can enter and exit it at dozens of locations up and down the river. Popular entry points are Dean village where you can see the remains of watermills that once powered long-forgotten factories, and Bonnington, another interesting site for Edinburgh’s old industrial heritage. Perhaps the best idea to plan your journey is to pick up a Water of Leith route map from any of the visitor information centres in the city centre, before taking a taxi or bus ride to your desired starting point. While each section of the walkway is equally enjoyable, they vary in length quite significantly, with the first section between Balerno and Slateford taking around two hours to complete, and the last section between Stockbridge and Leith taking around half that time. So decide on a suitable section to visit according to the amount of time you have before you set off.
A visitor centre is open to the public at the Slateford Aqueduct in south-west Edinburgh, and here you can either take in light refreshments at the end of your journey or stock up on supplies if you intend on heading out from there. This would also be an ideal time to acquaint yourself with the wildlife that lives near the water so that you will know what to keep a watchful eye out for. Through the thick woodland, you can sometimes see Roe deer, badgers and otters, while in the river there is a diverse range of fish including trout, eels, salmon and even flounder. Bird species range from kingfishers, woodpeckers, dippers and wagtails, and if you’re lucky you might even spot a heron standing perfectly still at the edge of the water as he tries to catch the small shoals of minnow and stickleback that swim through the clear waters.
The river has been an integral part of the city since the earliest days of the industrial revolution when watermills were dotted along its length to power the mills which produced many of the goods that Edinburgh became famous for. In fact, it could be argued that without the river Edinburgh would not be the size that it is today, as much of the wealth created by the paper, flour and linen factories were dependent on the power that the Water of Leith provided. Taking this further, it is unlikely that Leith would have become the shipping powerhouse that it eventually developed into had the mouth of the river not provided a perfect natural harbour for ships to dock and unload their goods. If you ever manage to walk the entire length of the walkway take note of the number of millstones, weirs, and ruined mill buildings that are dotted along its length, as they give you some appreciation of the amount of industry that centred around the river for hundreds of years.