Urban Tails

Encountering wildlife on the streets of Edinburgh

Water of Leith revisited

Two weeks ago on a beautiful sunny day, I walked a new section of the Water of Leith. The river itself is approximately 22 miles in length, starting in the Pentland Hills and finishing in Leith, after winding its way through Edinburgh. I mentioned this charming little river in an earlier blog entry as I am familiar with its lower reaches through Dean Village, Stockbridge, Bonnington and Leith itself.  But to my shame I have never walked its more unspoiled upper reaches on the western outskirts of the city. To rectify this I took a no. 44 bus  and jumped out on the Slateford road, outside the Water of Leith vistor centre, which is about halfway along the Water of Leith walkway.

From the road I accessed the river by entering the Craiglockart and Colinton Dells. This densely wooded area could not have been in greater contrast to the busy A70 road I had just left behind. Within minutes I was in the midst of a beautiful semi-natural woodland filled with birdsong and dappled sunlight. My surroundings were no longer urban, grey and polluted but vibrant and alive and peaceful. Although not that peaceful as I was almost deafened from the songs of  the many competing Wrens and Great Tits, which echoed around every tree! Strangely, despite the branches still being bare, I remember this section as being very green from the new growth emerging on the forest floor and the trees themselves maybe just beginning to bud.

I thought it was apt that I saw this serpent-like sculpture the day after St. Patricks Day!

Immersed in this woodland, you could easily convince yourself that you were deep in the countryside. There were many paths to take which criss-crossed back and forth over the river and which led off in various directions. It was difficult to choose the right one to stay exactly beside the river but it didn’t really matter as it was such a beautiful place. I heard many of our common birds such as woodpigeon, wren, great tit, blue tit, blackbird, chaffinch, magpie and robin. But alas no migrants. I have been recently following the spring migration into the Borders. Over the last few weeks Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps are being heard more and more frequently.

Colinton Parish Church

The river itself is quite shallow and winding in places and is full of stones and little boulders like a Dipper‘s paradise. Sadly on this occasion they remained elusive but I have seen them twice before between Stockbridge and Roseburn. I did come across many weirs. Apparently at one point there were as many as 80 located on the river to serve different commercial activities! On the one pictured above you could clearly see (off the left of the picture) where the water was diverted from the main river and channelled down to where a mill would have once stood. Sadly I soon finished this magical section but as I emerged into the village from these enchanting dells, the sounds of church bells from Colinton Parish Church filled the air.

After a very short stroll through Colinton Village I rejoined the river through Spylaw Park.  It was wonderful to be greeted by a Song Thrush, my first of the year. I used to regularly hear one in my local Pilrig Park but unfortunately not this year :( I delight in hearing this bird. As its name suggests it is known for its very special song. Instead of singing a whole tune, the Song Thrush sings a particular short phrase repeatedly up to 3 to 5 times and then switches to another very quickly and so on. In fact according to this BTO birdfacts page I was staggered to learn that an individual bird can hold a repertoire of up to 100 different phrases! As well as having a very distinctive song, the bird can be easily identified by its white breast covered in drop-shaped spots.

From Spylaw Park, the wide path follows on old tram line. Apparently the Victorians would take day trips here to escape city life. The next long section through Juniper Green was more open with a little hedgerow beside the river and then cropfields on one side. The path here is great for cyclists and joggers. I witnessed a poor female Mallard duck being attacked by two frenzied male drakes. After a few intense minutes of squabbling, the attack finished very abruptly and the female escaped unscathed. This type of violent mating behaviour is evidently very common in the Mallard world as this blog confirms. As the path continued through Currie and onto Balerno it became more secluded again and more serene. Just before I left the path to head into Balerno village I was gifted with a fantastic view of a Grey Wagtail bobbing amongst the stones in the river. Despite it’s misleading name, these river specialists are very colourful with grey upper parts and yellow breast and rump. I was surprised to learn that these striking birds are resident here as I usually only see them in the summer. I guess that is when I am more likely to be out and about.

As soon I reached Balerno, hunger and thirst turned me back to the Riccarton Arms in Currie. So although I must have managed a good five miles I still haven’t finished this walk! I would love to come back here earlier in the day as the area is supposed to be good for mammals such as Deer and Otter. But I certainly won’t commit to anything just yet. I do like to spend a significant proportion of my weekend sleeping.

A huge thank you to Craftygreenpoet who introduced me to this section of the river through a comment she left on an earlier entry :)

2 Responses

  1. Lovely blog post – so glad you’ve explored this part of the river now! The Dells are definitely one of my favourite places! Plenty of dippers there usually so sorry you didn’t see one! The chiffchaffs are singing there now! Plenty of song thrushes too!

  2. Delighted to hear the dippers and chiffchaffs are about. Shame I missed them but will definitely go back soon, it’s a beautiful spot.