Water of Leith

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The Water of Leith in a wooded gorge past Edinburgh New Town

The Water of Leith is the main river flowing through Edinburgh, Midlothian, to the port of Leith where it flows into the sea in the Firth of Forth.

The river is 22 miles long. It rises in the Colzium Springs at Millstone Rig amongst the Pentland Hills. It travels through Harperrig Reservoir, past the ruins of Cairns Castle, through Balerno, Currie, Juniper Green, Colinton, Slateford, Longstone, Saughton, Balgreen, Roseburn. Below here, the nearest it gets to Edinburgh city centre is at the Dean Village, on the site of old watermills in a deep gorge. This ravine is dramatically spanned by the Dean Bridge, designed by Thomas Telford, which was built in 1832 for the road to Queensferry, and lies next to the New Town.

The river flows on past Stockbridge, Inverleith, Canonmills and Warriston where it passes through shallows at a place known as Puddocky which is commonly thought to refer to "puddocks", the Scots language term for frogs, but actually took its name from the former Paddock Hall which was sited nearby. The river continues past Bonnington, the site of another watermill, to Leith where it widens into the old harbour and port.

Leith Docks have been extended considerably out into the firth from the old shoreline, and there are now plans to discontinue their use as a port and use the area for housing redevelopment.

Visiting the river

There is a Water of Leith Walkway beside the river for the 12¼ miles from Balerno to Leith, of which approximately half a mile is on roads. The route forms an attractive haven for wildlife, passing through areas of woodland, often well separated from roads. For some distance the walkway follows the route of former railway tracks, and the remains of tunnels, bridges and other features of more than one railway may be seen at many places along the route.

Heron on the Water of Leith

A visitor centre is open to the public where the Union Canal passes over the Water of Leith by way of the Slateford Aqueduct at Slateford, in southwest Edinburgh.

Wildlife and conservation

The Water of Leith Conservation Trust is dedicated to the conservation and enhancement of the river. The Trust provides education programs about the river and the environment.

The river is stocked with brown trout, and also contains wild grayling, eels, stone loach, minnow, three-spined Stickleback and flounder. A few sea-trout run the river, and occasional Atlantic salmon are reported, although those from which scale samples have been obtained have turned out to be from other catchments. Until the weirs are either demolished or furnished with effective fish-passes, there is little chance of a population of salmon establishing themselves in this river again. Roe deer, badgers, otters and other mammals are occasionally seen.[1] The river and its environs are the haunt of a wide variety of woodland and water birds, including kingfishers, herons, wagtails, woodpeckers and dippers.

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