Thursday, 26 July 2012

Water Of Leith Walkway.Dean Village.Wester Hailes.

It seems like ages since I,ve visited Edinburgh so with a good forecast at low levels in the central belt I thought I,d do the Water of Leith walkway from Stockbridge to the Pentlands edge then return via the Union Canal. Distance wise Its only 20odd miles or so but as a large part of the history of Edinburgh lies draped along this humble waterway there is plenty of interesting places to slow you down.
I was also taking the bike along.You can cycle all of it though its better to walk some of the narrower sections out of consideration for pedestrians dogs and children.It can get busy in summer.This was no hardship as it gave me plenty of time to look around and take photographs.
If you like bombing along fast ,head down ,this city section is not for you as you will be stopping frequently except out of season.
I parked at my usual spot on Arboretum road just off Ferry road.Since my last visit Edinburgh has introduced monday to friday parking meters all around this part of the city but this road is still free at the moment.There are very few places now you can park in Edinburgh discreetly, free, yet safely without being in front of someones house.Nearby are the Edinburgh Botanic Gardens where you do have to pay to park now. This used to be a free road as well.Edinburgh loves its parking meters. It does have a problem with traffic congestion though.

I started off at Grange cricket ground just down from the gardens where I discovered the walkway dug up and closed off. Not a good start. I then battered along the cobbled streets Edinburgh is famous for til I reached Stockbridge and the large monument of St Bernard,s well with its raised roman style temple to Hygeia,Goddess of Health.
This stretch was broad and fairly quiet.Everyone I did meet in passing seemed to be speaking a different language to English.
I,ve been convinced for a while now that Edinburgh will one day overtake Glasgow in size. All the jobs and growth infrastructure seems to be based here these days.
Although I love Glasgow I,m not one of these folk that can only see the merits of their own city.I,ve always  loved exploring all cities everywhere, affluent and poorer districts alike and have a fairly good knowledge of  most of Scotland,s urban areas.
This is Dean Village on the Water Of Leith. Glasgow has nothing like this. Its a steep sided gorge and was once lined with warehouses and Mills powered by the river. Most of these have been restored and converted into flats and apartments. Its one of the most sought after locations although resident parking can be a problem as it was never designed for cars.Believe it or not I first discovered this area through David Bowie who walked  down here in the early morning after playing a gig in the city and mentioned the buildings and the Water of Leith in an interview in the music press. Probably late 1970,s I think. He always had a big interest in art and design.I followed in his footsteps soon after.It wasn,t as picture postcard then and had yet to be transformed fully.
The first reliable all year round  foot crossing over the Water Of Leith in ancient times was at this ford which was later spanned by a medieval stone bridge. Its amazing the ford is still here and not much altered. A newer bridge is here now though.
This is  it. A very popular spot with tourists and who can blame them. Although this district is small its full of  hidden passageways, steep twisting stairs and old courtyards. I love any city that has the balls and audacity to build across ravines and up steep hillsides and Edinburgh does it with such style.
As most of this district has narrow cobbled up and down lanes I got off and walked this part. Mind you unless you know it well who could zoom through this wonderland without exploring further? A lot of people have remarked its the most English of Scotland's cities which it is but its also very European in feel.There,s a good reason for this. Edinburgh on the East coast had more or less continuous trade with Europe for centuries and its Influence is obvious. Glasgow at its Victorian and Edwardian building peak had closer links with America and India and that helped to shape its style, both in thought and architecture.There was a great arts programme on recently "The Grit and the Glamour" about the number of world renowned artists to have developed their philosophy and work centred and based in Glasgow in the last 15 years. I,m not usually a fan of modern art but this group were exciting and had none of the pretentious twaddle and baggage that usually tends to put me off the modern art world to a large extent.

Murrayfield Stadium came next. Home to Scottish Rugby and International matches between nations playing the sport.Another big difference between these cities. Glasgow is football daft, cricket and rugby far less so. Edinburgh...well, you can see both these sports have a more prominent position here.Edinburgh in feel is also more genteel and middle class in outlook despite both cities having a fair spread of rich and poor districts.Easy way to tell if someone is  middle or upper class. Did they play rugby at school or football? Simple as that.
Slateford Park Came next along the walkway. Lovely park this with gardens in full summer bloom. Never been here. A first.
Then Came Craiglochart Dell and Colinton Dell. Two wooded gorges I,ve always fancied visiting but never seemed to get around to it.Loads of stairs here to run up and down carrying the bike. Punish that flabby body! Beat that gut into submission. Mind you I got passed halfway up one long twisting stair by an old guy around seventy sprinting like a bloody teenager. Fairly took the wind out my sails as I thought I was doing OK til that point.He was probably an ex Olympian though inspired by the games starting.
There used to be various mills around here also, the remains of which can still be seen today.It was a hot day so I was glad of the shade down here. By this point I,d spotted 4 kingfishers(No, it wasn,t the same one four times) Like robins they are territorial and fight over each small stretch of river kingdom.They never stay still long enough for decent photos.
Spylaw House in the park of the same name.The water of Leith walkway gets more open here and you can build up a bit of speed on the bike all the way to Balerno where it ends.On the way back I cut off just past Currie to pick up the Green way which runs through the heart of Wester Hailes.Up until this point I,d seen plenty of other bikes and path walkers. Going down through Wester Hailes however I seemed to be the only bike in the district. Funny that .
For anyone who doesn,t know it Wester Hailes is like the Easterhouse or Drumchapel of Edinburgh.A massive housing scheme built on the outskirts rising over a hillside above the city.It used to get a bad reputation but it seems to have calmed down a lot these days, more cars on the streets and newly updated housing stock similar to the large Glasgow schemes which have all improved as well. Some of the more run down tower blocks have been pulled down here. I still remember getting bricks and bottles thrown at me going under one when I cycled up through here in the 1980,s.
Its also better to glide down the green way rather than pant up it when being chased as you can outsprint any packs of teenagers who fancy a bit of fun at your expense.I haven,t got the legs to run away from trouble anymore so a bike comes in handy:) Its also a good way of reaching the Union Canal as long as you know where you are going.
Just past the shopping centre you turn onto the Union Canal. There is more chance of coming to grief here as I nearly got sideswiped twice by racing sport colour clad mountain bikers whizzing past back towards the city on the narrow tow path. It makes a fine circular route returning this way.Edinburgh has a great network of cycle tracks and pathways.Just from my own experience I would say more people enjoy urban walking here.In Glasgow its mainly the parks they frequent.
As its Iconic central landmark Glasgow has the Red Road flats, soon to be pulled down,once the highest flats in western Europe. Edinburgh has this. The great southern wall of Wester Hailes bordering the canal. In its own way its as impressive a statement as any castle ramparts. Almost soviet like in its sheer monstrosity of scale and statement of intent.Sleeping accommodation built for a 1970,s workforce in a massive authoritarian brutal style.No wonder they used to call them dormitory suburbs.
This is only seven kilometres or so from the Castle, Dean village and the historic old town full of tourists but it might as well be a million miles away.I hope we have learnt from the mistakes of the past when building social housing for people.It always amazes me.
How could they possibly expect to stick a large population and young families into buildings like these with very little amenities on offer and expect everything to turn out fine and dandy?A large chunk of the population  of any city live in the outlying  districts away from most tourists eyes but they are just as much an integral part of Edinburgh as the tourist hotspots ,helping to shape its culture and character over the years.Wester Hailes is also very Iconic in its own right with some amazing architectural styles and great views over the city.Bet the underpasses and tunnels around here have been a witness to some interesting events and have tale or two to tell.
Edinburgh still likes its tall tenements although these are recent upmarket luxury apartments on the canal.This is an architectural nod to its past.Some of the worlds first skyscrapers developed around the crowded streets of the old town.Glasgow has always favoured tenements three or four stories high...Edinburgh  three, four,five or more levels.Glasgow likes square towers at the end of its buildings...Edinburgh has round ones.Its a major visual difference that sets them apart.
Really enjoyed my trip.Good to be back in Auld Reekie once again.If you can avoid the rush hour week days as that can be a real pain in both cities.


Neil said...

That's a great walk Bob. I used to stay in Balerno and did the riverside path from there into Edinburgh quite a few times. Always lots to see.

The Glebe Blog said...

Hi Bob, I just hope the city councillors don't get round to reading this too closely, a free parking road in Edinburgh. Sounds too good to be true.
I know just where you were though, my aunt is in Braeburn, just a little bit away on Inverleith Terrace.

Talking of Wester Hailes, I remember reading a story earlier this year of a methadone user who'd just got her weekly fix from the chemist, after dropping it on the pavement, she got down on her hands and knees and licked it up. We were the highest users of illegal drugs in Europe a couple of years ago, I wonder if we've managed to go down the table any since then.

On a brighter note, I like the look of Dean village, I can't recall having been there.
By the way have you a milometer on your bike ?.

In answer to your question, my new camera is a Canon SX40 HS with a zoom of 840 (35 mm eqivalent 24). It's a great zoom without adding another lens.

Carol said...

Richard goes to Edinburgh a helluva lot - I'll have to point him in this direction.

Don't like the sound of the brick and bottle hurling back in the 80s - must have been scary having things like that hurtling down at a height - there were no cycle helmets in those days either!

Carol said...

Were you a Bowie fan? I'd have loved to have seen him in the 70s - around the Ziggy Stardust era. Along with many others at the time probably, I named my pet (cat) Ziggy.

As to being able to escape trouble on a pedal bike - I once had some abuse hurled at me by some yobbo in our worst local town (Keighley, aka our 'Wild West'). As I had my bike, I wasted no time in having a great deal of fun hurling lots of colourful invective back at him, complete with multiple sign language, much of which suggested he liked a bit of 'DIY' when it came to sex! ;-) I then zoomed off on my pedal bike. It didn't occur to me until Richard pointed it out later that he could easily have had a car round the corner - in which case he'd probably have had no hesitation in mowing me down!

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Neil. Yes its always interesting. They seem to be digging a lot of it up at present.Had some busy traffic to compete with in places.

blueskyscotland said...

Hello Jim.
Methadone. Dont knock it til youv,e tried it.Good for the teeth as well:)
I have a milometer but I never use it as its just another distraction.
Cheers I,m thinking of getting a new camera as this one is acting up.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Carol.
Richard would like Dean Village and Stockbridge areas I,m sure.
I grew up being bricked and bottled. At least it shows someone cares enough to notice you :)
A cycling helmet wouldnt do you much good anyway dropping onto it from the 10th floor.I once had a large metal chisel go straight through the roof of my van once working under high flats in Glasgow. It stuck in the floor beside the passenger seat.Happy days.
First LP I ever bought was man who sold the world.Went off him after Young Americans.
If you haven,t heard it "Heathen" is one of his best recent cds
Packed with cracking songs yet it tends to get overlooked.In DB,s top five best albums for me as it really grows on you.
You might like to Check out the you tube video of "lamb" my angel gabriel with the lovely bones clip. Amazing singer I,m ashamed to say I,ve just discovered.A very under rated film as well.So much out there that slips under the radar while we celebrate crap instead.Simon Cowell will probably go down as the most influentual musical force of this decade and we deserve it.
end of rant.

Carol O said...

Scary stuff things like the chisel!

I gave up on Bowie around the Young Americans time. I respect that he's managed to keep himself in the mainstream by keeping his style up to date with whatever's happening at the time - even if I don't like the stuff.

Mac and Cas said...

Nice trip Bob and as a resident here for some 16 years I have visited most of the places mentioned but you have uncovered a couple of places I have yet to visit so will have to get round to doing them as may be heading for pastures new next year and saying goodbye to Auld Reeki for good!


Robert Craig said...

I agree with you about Edinburgh becoming bigger than Glasgow. The empire and industrial revolution are long over, there is no particular reason now for Glasgow to be bigger. It does still feel like the only proper city in Scotland though, despite all the gap sites. Weegies have a certain swagger lacking in Edinbuggers.