Blue Badge Guide Kristine Sander takes a canalside stroll and finds some literary inspiration along the way!
Walk distance around 3.8km
This is an easy stroll suitable for everyone, making use of green spaces and waterways. The path is shared by walkers and cyclists along the Union Canal/Water of Leith and culminates in the disused Colinton Railway Tunnel, now converted into a colourful visual treat of Mural Art. The width of the towpath is such that at times it requires letting other users pass, adhering to the recommended pandemic social distancing.
To start from the Union Canal Basin at Fountain Bridge, you can tarry to read about the industrial use of the canal after its completion in 1822. The information boards are the contribution of the Fountain Bridge Canalside Initiative, a local community group made up of volunteers.
The first bridge you will see is the historic Lift Bridge, it may be lifted when you set off! Take a moment to look for stone mason work embellishing the original Bridge Nr 1 with the Edinburgh Coat of Arms facing East. Passing underneath turn round and spot the Glasgow Coat of Arms on the bridge wall facing West. The Coat of Arms celebrate the link of two Lowland waterways from Edinburgh to Glasgow via the Forth & Clyde Canal.
Walk ahead and you will spot a happy yellow and blue painted canal boat anchored at the pier. Polwarth Kirk congregation created a Peace Garden on the slope to the Pier, with access to the boat used for quiet contemplation and as shelter from the rain. The broadened water bay behind the next bridge allows the use of water sport activities of all kinds and for all ages.
Harrison Park at this embankment is the centre of a residential district with tenements dating back 150 years. Previous industrial sites have been converted to new housing around the borders of the park. All enjoy the view and use of the Harrison Park Green Oasis.
Ahead are boating marinas up to the Meggat Land sporting complex run by the City of Edinburgh Council and various Edinburgh schools.
Bridge/ Bus links exist when crossing the canal to the roads running parallel along the banks. Frequent buses return to the city centre, or take you to Colinton Village, where Bridge Street leads to the tunnel.
Further along on foot/ by bike you arrive at two aqueducts. The canal was designed for one level only, hence no locks. The aqueducts open up views to Arthur’s Seat, the Pentlands Hills, the National Park Mountains in the West and the Ochil Hills in Fife.
Discover 350 million years of history imprinted on the cobblestones used for the second aqueduct on the towpath. Plants and sea creatures were covered by the lava of erupting volcanoes. This provided a nonslip surface for the horses pulling barges along the narrow path.
Further along notice the sign for Colinton and steps up to the foot bridge over the canal. Then follow the leafy glade on the disused railway path until the tunnel entrance comes in view.
The Muralist Chris Rutterford and contributors of the Community greet us with a painted scene showing locals and arrivals around the station. You can read more about the tunnel art work here. The 120 metre long tunnel mural takes its inspiration from a poem called ‘From a Railway Carriage’. Robert Louis Stevenson wrote it to describe the journey on his visit to his grandfather in Colinton:
Faster than fairies, faster than witches,
Bridges and houses, hedges and ditches;
And charging along like troops in a battle,
All through the meadows the horses and cattle:
All of the sights of the hill and the plain
Fly as thick as driving rain;
And ever again, in the wink of an eye,
Painted stations whistle by.
Here is a child who clambers and scrambles,
All by himself and gathering brambles;
Here is a tramp who stands and gazes;
And there is the green for stringing the daisies!
Here is a cart run away in the road
Lumping along with man and load;
And here is a mill and there is a river:
Each a glimpse and gone for ever!
From A Child’s Garden of Verses, 1885
Kristine Sander, Blue Badge guide, offers to enhance a visit by guiding your walk.