Water of Leith Walkway Stage 4 – Stockbridge to Leith

Hello Fellow Gallopers,

This is the final post in this series where I will take you through the final stage of the Water of Leith as the river flows out of the heart of the city towards the docks of Leith into the Firth of Forth and finally into the sea. This part of the journey starts in Stockbridge and passes through Canonmills, Bonnington and finally ends in Leith.

Stockbridge is thought to take its name from the first timber or stock bridge over the river following the use of a ford. The village was a rural community, many of the population working in the flour mills or tan pits. In the 18th century it became a popular retreat for city dwellers coming to sample the mineral waters at St.Bernard’s Well. In the early 19th Century, landowners like Sir Henry Raeburn, the portrait painter, developed charming Georgian streets such as Dean Terrace and Ann Street, named after Raeburn’s wife Ann Leslie. Gradually the city encroached on the village completely and today Stockbridge is an attractive and busy residential and shopping area.

Canonmills came about in the founding of Holyrood Abbey in 1128; King David I granted one of his mills to the Abbot, or Canon. The Canon’s Mill came to refer to both the mill and the village. Passing through St.Mark Park one sees Warriston Cemetery nearby – the cemetery was laid out in 1842 by David Cousin as a fashionable burial ground for the wealthy. As one heads to Bonnington, one passes Redbraes Weir, which supplied water power via its long lade to the village’s three main industries – the grain mill, paper mill and tannery.

Bonnington arose as an important crossing point on the road from Edinburgh to Newhaven. A new section of the walkway here passes industrial estates and the Bonnington Bond at Anderson Place, which once held barrels of maturing whisky and a sugar refinery within its massive red brick walls.

Leith was a natural harbour, situated at the mouth of the Water of Leith with settlements on either bank. It suffered battles between French and English and religious strife but by the 18th Century the growth of overseas trade and shipbuilding had made it Scotland’s chief seaport. While it served as Edinburgh’s port and much of its lands were owned by Edinburgh, it was a separate and independent burgh from 1833 till 1920, when its amalgamation into the capital was resented by many Leithers. A downturn in Leith’s industries in the 20th Century (shipbuilding, sail and rope making, bottle making, timber, soap and sugar) caused a slow decline in Leith which has only been addressed since the 1980’s with greater public and private investment. There are now signs of revitalisation with restored buildings onshore and at the waterside a cruise liner terminal and the former Royal Yacht ‘Britannia’ as a magnet for visitors. Leith’s motto is ‘Persevere’ and this it has done a lot over the years. The final stretch of the Walkway is the Shore – the heart of Leith, with its mix of housing and its variety of waterside bars and restaurants. The Victoria Swing Bridge, the last of Leith’s opening bridges restored in 2000, marks the end of the Water of Leith and the Walkway as well.

This walk has been an interesting journey into the history of both the river as well as the lands it has flown through over the years. In the hustle and bustle of modern life, it is easy to dismiss the Water of Leith as just a water body flowing through the city and forget the importance it once held.  The river once powered up to 90 water mills providing paper, snuff, linen and flour; the river and surrounding woodlands are home to a great variety of wildlife.  Kingfishers nest along the banks of the river and can often be seen patrolling their territory.  Increasingly there is otter activity along the length of the river; more than 80 species of birds, including a variety of finches, tits, dippers, wrens, herons and owls can be seen along the river.  On land; voles, frogs, rabbits, hares, weasels, stoats and foxes can be found.  You may also see roe deer in the Dells.

The Water of Leith has played its part in the industrial and social development of the capital of Scotland and this must never be forgotten.

Hope you’ve enjoyed this journey as much as I have enjoyed taking it.

To see all the images* in this set, please click the link below:



Till next time, take care and gallop free.

* – images taken with the Canon 50D.

Ride with the Black Stallion: www.igallopfree.com

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5 responses to “Water of Leith Walkway Stage 4 – Stockbridge to Leith

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