Walking the Water of Leith

I have to confess, we have not walked the 24 miles of the Water of Leith from the source in the Pentland Hills, nor the 12 plus miles of the Water of Leith Walkway from Balerno to Leith. We did not have time to complete the full length of the Walkway so chose to walk to Leith from the point nearest to us.

As soon as we had returned from Ireland, friends were asking why I was not in Edinburgh enjoying the Fringe. We did come up in the middle of the month as we had some work which needed to be carried out on the flat and had selected a few samples of comedy, music and photography from the Fringe to enjoy as well. Some sensible residents stay away completely as getting around is more difficult and takes longer if you have to pass through the main tourist areas; fending off the flyers constantly shoved in your face. After enjoying Dan Willis, a UK comedian living in Australia presenting a ‘Whinging Pom’s Guide’ to the country, Ed Byrne, the Edinburgh Photographic Society’s Annual Exhibition and a great night with Lorna Reid at the Jazz Club, we were ready for a change of scene. We have walked a few sections of the Walkway in the past but fancied a bigger chunk today. It is a two mile walk to our nearest section and includes a bit of the Union Canal.

The Visitors’ Centre is at Slateford just next to where the river flows under the aqueduct carrying the Union canal. We had a coffee before hitting the trail just under the aqueduct where a sign told us it was seven miles to Leith.

There are currently a few diversions due to path closures. There has been a landslip and one section has been closed for six months while this is investigated and decisions made about action. Other sections are closed due to works on the Flood Prevention Scheme. Back on the path we enjoyed the greenery including trees and wildflowers but also spotted large clusters of an introduced problem plant: Himalayan Balsam. It is an annual but produces 800 seeds per year which are propelled huge distances and can be carried by water. It out-competes native flora and is very difficult to eradicate.

Other places have street art.

We passed the Balgreen Community Garden with raised beds made from sleepers like my own and an invertebrate hotel.

There are numerous places along the way where you can join or leave the Walkway and it connects with some of the cycle routes. Occasionally the path leaves the riverside for a short stretch for example, in the Dean Village.

It passes St Bernard’s Well, built on the site of an spring and which is open on Sundays in August. Here is an interior shot I took a couple of years ago:

Before we reached Leith we came across a family of swans having a grooming session. The swan’s partner was watching nearby.

After a succession of signs all saying Leith was 1¾ miles, we eventually reached The Shore. There is a Turkish Cafe and a pub, Salvation ready to restore you and for fine dining, Restaurant Martin Wishart is a little further along. After some refreshments it was time to catch the bus home. With all the diversions we had in fact clocked up 12 miles.

Sunshine and jazz in Edinburgh


This gull had found a quiet spot to enjoy the sun we have had for the last few days but many more people were sunbathing in the Meadows, St Andrews Square or Portobello Beach. School and university are out for summer and the tourist season is in full swing. We were here mainly to get some work done on the flat but managed to escape for dinner with some friends on Sunday evening and for a trip to the Jazz Club on Monday evening. The Jazz and Blues Festival runs from 14-23 July before the main Festival and Fringe start. The Jazz Club’s resident Big Band were participating on this occasion. An early evening meal at Biblos which is almost next door meant we were first in the queue when the doors opened. Seating is fairly restricted at the venue and I did not feel like standing for a couple of hours that evening. Biblos has live music sessions in the B Bar throughout the year in Fridays and Saturdays. Here is the Big Band getting ready to perform in the Jazz Bar.

One of the festival staff asked whether I had seen them before and I had to explain that until this summer I had a choir rehearsal on Monday evenings and until last summer had to be in Liverpool early on Tuesday morning so Monday evenings in Edinburgh were not possible. He said the band had played every Monday evening for the last 10 years. The Jazz bar also runs jam sessions in the later part of the evening during the festival. Musicians can just turn up with their instrument and tell the door staff they want to play. Admission is free. They often have music going on until 5am. We enjoyed the selection of music from the Big Band but left well before morning. I made a note to get on with learning to play the alto saxophone. Wednesday was still very warm although overcast and we had a fairly uneventful drive home.

New Zealand: crossing the Cook Strait

Just after sunrise and while the moon was still high in the sky, we were driving out of Nelson.

Highway 6 runs through the mountains and over a couple of passes before descending into the Rai Valley. We had breakfast there. Further on, the road crosses the Pelorus Bridge and can be closed when the river is in flood. At Havelock, there are two options to get to Picton where the ferry departs from. You can stay on Highway 6 and get there via Blenheim or take the windy and scenic route. We chose the latter and were only a little way along it when we came to a look–out with views back up the valley and over the Marlborough Sounds.


Eventually this road descends to the shores of Queen Charlotte Sound and we arrived in Picton. We had a little time to kill before the ferry so coffee, a look in Down Under Books, the local second-hand bookstore which has a good selection of books on New Zealand as well as all the usual sections. Before heading over to the ferry terminal we had a short walk around the marina to Shelley Beach. There are other trails around here for walking and cycling.

Our mileage so far on the South Island has been 1604 miles. We dropped off the rental car as they charge you £500 to take one over to the North Island. We had arranged to pick another up in Wellington the following day. The ferry was not too busy at all and you can check in your cases so that you don’t have to lug them around on board.

The crossing was smooth and the sun went down before we docked in Wellington.

After getting my fix of mountains and forests it was quite strange to be back in the city with concrete flyovers, skyscrapers and rush hour traffic. We took an electric taxi to our hotel and had dinner at a nearby Belgian pub. We finally had some venison for the first time here after seeing so many red deer being farmed on the south island and were served by a guy from Leeds. We have met so many young people from the UK and Europe who are working here. Most of the antipodean youth seem to head for London.

Leaving Shetland and exploring coastal Aberdeenshire and Angus


We had our last sunset in Eshaness, packed up and as our ferry was not due to leave until late afternoon the following day, slowly made our way to Lerwick with a stop in Scalloway en route. We were now back on two-lane roads. The castle was built in 1600 and sits in the natural harbour. The adjacent museum is very good and covers the links with Norway as well as local history. In World War 2 the ‘Shetland Bus’ travelled over regularly to support the Norwegians. Linking in with our recent visit to the Titanic Experience in Belfast, the person who first heard the May Day call of the Titanic was in Scalloway.

The ferry left Lerwick Harbour and after a meal and watching Shetland disappear in the mist we tried to sleep but that was difficult as the ferry stopped in Kirkwall on this trip and there was much clanging and banging as the ramp was lowered.

We arrived in Aberdeen harbour very early but as we did not need to meet the friends we were staying with that night until late afternoon, decided to drive slowly down the coast. The first stop was Stonehaven where a guy was trying to surf without much success.

The ducks looked a bit happier.

Just south of Stonehaven we entered the Dunottar Estate and woods. I was very glad to be back amongst trees after being in almost tree-less Shetland for a week. The Dunottar Estate and castle are privately owned, by one of the 500 people who own most of Scotland. It was raining but we looked around the castle and some of the grounds.


Further down the coast we passed the Todhead Lighthouse, Gourdoun, a harbour on Bervie Bay and in Johnshaven found an artwork for the bathroom in the Starfish Studio. It was dry enough for a walk by the time we reached the Nature Reserve at St Cyrus where poles stuck in the beach are the remains of old salmon net structures.
We had a very short walk on Lunan bay before the heavens opened again and we diverted inland to meet up with our friends before returning to four-lane motorways and traffic jams on the way home.

Shetland: Braewick and North Roe

On our last full day in Shetland we woke to yet another sunny morning and decided to walk on the beach at Braewick. It is a mixture of shingle and sand and has good views to Da Drongs and the cliffs. We had it all to ourselves.

We had a coffee at the café & met the German woman we had spoken to at Tangwick and sat chatting with her for a while. Then drove over to Ollibary and then over to rejoin the A970 on a minor road before heading north to Sandvoe.
The beach here was also empty apart from a few sheep grazing.

As we left family with a toddler & bucket and spades were just arriving. At North Roe we chatted to a guy who was cleaning his ropes in the sea.


Heading back to the lighthouse via a minor road to Urafirth, we spotted this sculpture at the junction with the A970.

Shetland: Hamnavoe and Tingon


Hamnavoe is the site of Eshaness’ main pier. It was also home to John Williamson, a weaver who had no medical training but devised a method of inoculation against smallpox and gave this to 3000 people who all survived. This earned him the name of Johnny Notion and his cottage is now a camping böd.


We parked a little way out of the hamlet where the track to Tingon leaves the road. This is next to the Giant’s Stones which are thought to have been part of a stone circle. The local myth was that the two stones were the head and foot of a giant’s grave. Here is the smaller of the two.
Walking up the track there are some great views over the small lochs and the coast. We met a woman feeding her horses who confirmed that we could walk alongside a wall down to the Warie Gill where there is a waterfall. Today this was just a trickle but we had good views over to the stacks of Muckle Ossa, Little Ossa and Fladda offshore.
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We then tried to make our way back down the coast to Hamnavoe. As this is a little-used route there is no path as such and only a couple of stiles over the fences. At one point, there was no stile over the fence to follow the coastline. While I spent my youth climbing over sheep fences, I now weigh considerably more and would not want to demolish one in the process so we diverted inland towards the road. Inevitably, I could not quite make the jump over a boggy section and landed in it while James managed to get over it s. Thankfully I was only ankle-deep and my camera was quite safe. Back at the lighthouse I cleaned myself and my boots up as James was complaining about the smell in the car on the way back.

That evening we headed back down the road, finally back to the two-lane bit to have our evening meal at Frankie’s Fish & Chips in Brae. It is the UK’s most northerly chip shop and won an award in 2015. One customer was wearing a skimpy T-shirt and shorts which I thought was a bit over the top as it was only 19 degrees. You can eat outside on the veranda but I thought it was too windy for that. The food was certainly worth the journey and I imagine it must be very busy in high season. The sun set that evening at 21.50 and it was still light after 23.00. James woke at 4.00 and looking out saw that it was light again.

Shetland: Hillswick and Tangwick

In addition to the St Magnus Bay Hotel, Hillswick has a community shop where we picked up a few items and I found some sea glass on the small pebble beach on the Ura Firth side while James was posting the postcards. It also has the headquarters of the Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary based in a building which was built as a trading booth in 1684 and then became Shetland’s oldest pub. We then walked past the old graveyard, through a field of sheep, stepping over run rigs and down onto West Ayre beach. You can walk all around the Hillswick Ness (about four miles) but we just walked part of the way up the hill where there are views across Sandwick to the Heads of Grocken. We only met one other person who was continuing to walk around the Ness.

Fulmars nest on the cliffs.
After wandering on the empty beach for a while we hopped back into the car to drive to Tangwick. The Northmavine Museum is here in the late 17th century former laird’s house. It also holds the local archives and has various exhibitions in addition to permanent displays. On our visit the exhibition was on shops, many of which had disappeared as the area suffered depopulation, people acquiring cars and travelling to Brae and Lerwick and more recently, internet shopping. In addition to Hillswick, the shop at Ollabery is also a community shop. There is a self-service mini-café at the museum and after getting the caffeine levels up it was time to wander down to the beach here.

There were birds feeding on the shore and a pair of Eider ducks on the water. Several grey seals were lying on a rock and one was in the water looking at me, trying to decide whether to come ashore. Even when I retreated, he stayed in the water.

We met a German woman who was planning to walk all round Eshaness the following day and had decided upon a great place to camp in the shelter of the abandoned building on the bay. On the way back to the lighthouse we discovered that it is not just sheep who wander on the roads around here.