The best of Edinburgh’s Water of Leith

Water of Leith

Tom and I are out of holiday, we’ve got two big ticket events happening in October and December which means we’ve maxed out our annual leave. This means that in true ‘Weekend Tourist’ style, the bank holidays have become very important. During Whitsun week, we visited friends who have relocated to Edinburgh six months ago and  very kindly acted as personal tour guides for the weekend.

Stop off: Penrith, Lake District

We drove up on the Friday night after work, stopping off at Penrith in the Lake District on the way. It’s an almighty six-hour drive to Edinburgh and in after work traffic, we were grateful that we’d broken up the journey. We stayed at the Lounge Hotel in the town centre and were glad to get some shut eye. It was a lovely boutique hotel with super friendly and helpful staff and its hearty Cumbrian sausage, English breakfast would step up any tourist for exploring the Lakes.

Penrith

Penrith is a quaint market town, its square surrounded with some independent shops with their Victorian shop fronts. Before heading off, we walked up to the ruins of the medieval Penrith Castle – built by Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury to help defend the English border from the Scots. In its history, the castle was also inherited by Richard, Duke of Gloucester who was Sheriff of Cumbria and resided at the castle, before he was crowned King Richard III.

On to Edinburgh

I’ve only ever been to Edinburgh once and that was during the Edinburgh Fringe, and I don’t think Tom’s ever crossed the northern border. So we were both looking forward to seeing a different side of the Scottish capital.  Our friends live in Edinburgh’s ironically-named ‘New Town’, which is actually not so new, being one the world’s most complete and unspoilt examples of Georgian architecture and town planning. Alongside Old Town, (where the Castle sits at the top) it was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1995.

 

After exploring New Town on Saturday, we ambled around Stockbridge on Sunday. It is a bohemian enclave north of the city centre with hipster-esque bars, continental bistros and upmarket cheese delis – much to Tom’s delight. It was originally a mill village and developed in the early 19th century on lands owned by the painter Sir Henry Raeburn; the area still resonates that early artistic vibe.

Royal Botanic Gardens

Of course, marrying a gardener, no Edinburgh trip would be complete without taking this opportunity to visit the Royal Botanic Gardens. After Oxford, Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Gardens are the second oldest in Britain, founded in Holyrood in 1670 and moved to its current spot in 1823 with 70 landscaped acres. Having seen their rhododendron collection, I’m determined to get some in the garden (if it’s allowed in Tom’s colour scheme of course!)

The gardens are free to enter, but a small fee gives you entrance to the 25 glasshouses which house a huge collection of tropical plants. Clearly, pride of place goes to the Victorian palm house built in 1834 and includes a species of Bermudan palmetto which is nearly 200 years old. The Front Range of 1960s designer glasshouses is famous for the large tropical pond filled with giant Amazonian water lilies.

Water of Leith Walkway

We were lucky to be in Stockbridge on a Sunday for the popular market – set in leafy square next to the bridge which gives the area its name. Stalls range from homemade crafts to taste bud tingling food traders. I really struggled to choose, plumping for a ‘naanwich’ and an iced coffee from the bearded baristas.

From here we headed down the Water of Leith. Edinburgh’s river is a modest stream only 20 miles from northwestern slopes of Pentland Hills eventually entering the Forth of Firth at Leith. As my trusty Lonely Planet says ‘it does cut a surprisingly rural swath through the city, providing an important wildlife habitat.’ It’s a small piece of calm amongst the urban Georgian landscape. We strolled along its wooded riverbanks towards Dean Village, taking the Water of Leith Walkway.

Dean Bridge is a central focal point on the stretch between Stockbridge to Dean Village, it was designed by Thomas Telford and built between 1829 and 1832. Unsurprisingly it became a popular suicide spot and the parapets were added to dissuade potential jumpers.

Arriving in Dean Village, named after the Scots’ word for valley ‘dene’, is a bit like entering the set of Amazon’s Outlander. The milling village was founded by the canons of Holyrood Abbey in the 12th century and by 1700 there were 11 water mills grinding grain for flour. Now the place is a tightly knit residential community and to preserve its historic look even the colour of the windows is strictly monitored.

So if you’ve not got any particular plans for our last bank holiday of the year (until Christmas) in August, why not consider a few days in the Scottish capital? Thanks so much for having us and sharing your city.

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