The Water of Leith - from source to sea

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Creative Commons Licence [Some Rights Reserved]   Text © Copyright March 2022, M J Richardson; licensed for re-use under a Creative Commons Licence.
Images also under a similar Creative Commons Licence.

The Water of Leith

Edinburgh’s river is not as striking as those of many other towns – it maybe that the Firth of Forth [sometimes called the River Forth] serves as a substitute, but it long ceases to be a river when it gets to Edinburgh!

The source of the Water of Leith is in a group of small burns, some named [Mid Burn, West Burn], some not, meeting at Colzium, at around 300 m a.s.l. in the Pentland Hills, West Lothian. These burns drain the northern slope of West Cairn Hill, and the whole catchment is 122 sq. km. See LinkExternal link for a profile and technical description of the of the catchment. The name ‘Water of Leith’ first appears on the OS 1:25000 map in grid square NT0859. From Colzium to the Port of Leith, where it flows into the sea, it is 38km [26 km as a crow might fly], and passes through 41 grid squares, some only fleetingly and others reentering after leaving. In times past it was an important source of power for industry along its course from Balerno to Leith. It appears that if anything was mill-able, or could be run from a mill wheel , it has been done on the Water of Leith :- grain, lint, paper, snuff, waulking of cloth. In 1791 there were 76 mills along the Water of Leith; by 1850 there were only 37. There is now a Water of Leith Conservation Trust, and the lower section now has formal public path along its length, the 19.6 km Water of Leith Walkway, with the Water of Leith Visitor Centre at Slateford [LinkExternal link GR 2212 7075].

There are many images [1262], especially downstream from Balerno, the first of the suburban mill villages which have grown to become feeder villages for the city, and then west and north of the city, with its large population of residents and tourists. I have used the majority of the images we have as, although there will be many duplicates or near-duplicates, they show the river at different seasons and water states, and how the adjacent land has been developed over time. I have arranged them in order, km square by km square, with the length of river after each square label, as one would progress from source to sea; I realised after a while that it might be possible to have ordered them chronologically as well, but too late to go back and do it!

This article uses Geograph images and is divided into four natural divisions :-

The source [ca 300m a.s.l.] to Balerno [170m a.s.l.]

– with Pentlands Hills moorland, upland farmland.

Balerno [170m a.s.l.] to Colinton Dell [70m a.s.l.]

- the old mill villages west of Edinburgh [Balerno, Currie, Juniper Green and Colinton] and now part of the suburbs.

Colinton Dell [70m a.s.l.] to Dean Village [35m a.s.l.]

– urban area. Longstone, Saughton, Stenhouse, Murrayfield, Roseburn, Bell's Mills and Dean Village.

Dean Village [35m a.s.l.] to Leith [0m a.s.l.]

– urban area. Dean Village, Stockbridge, Canonmills, Warriston, Bonnington, North Leith and the Port of Leith/Western Harbour.

NT0856 : The source of the Water of Leith by Richard Webb
The Water of Leith, a hill burn upstream of Harperrig, is named West Burn on the Colzium Estate. It starts in a bog on the slopes of Mealowther, somewhere under these snow drifts.
by Richard Webb


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