Local Walk - Walking the Line

Article in the Konect Directory, Balerno edition, November 2010

by Karen Murray 

As we have been taking a look at the old Balerno to Slateford railway line – the Balerno Loop – now long gone, it seemed only fitting to suggest a walk that takes in part of the line.

The walk begins at the High School in Balerno, once the huge goods yard for the line, and the story goes that the line was taken while there were still a couple of coaches sitting in the yard! The line opened in 1874 as a single line loop and was in use until 1967.

A wooden sculpture with a winding metal strip marks the very start of the walk, representing the river and the strip of nature it brings to the city. Immediately to the left is a little wildlife garden being tended by locals and school children, which you can enjoy before heading off on your walk along ‘the silver thread in a valley of green’ as the Water of Leith is affectionately known. 

Water of Leith, Balerno

However this first part of the walk follows the route of the old Balerno Branch line, running parallel to the river. It is a walk full of historical interest as you will also pass the many different mills that both the water and the line served in their day. They date from as far back as 1376.

You will see the Newmills Grain Mill, which supplied milled barley to the West Indies as food for slaves until it was destroyed by fire, and the Waulk Mill of Ballernoch, built in 1386 as a fulling mill, later becoming a distillery and then a piggery! There is also the Balerno Paper Mill, established in 1788; until just recently it was used by Hewit’s tannery, which is still working today making fine leather goods, although they have now moved from the site.

Historical attractions aside, the walk is fairly straightforward. There are pleasant views across the Water of Leith as it swirls along its course and if you are observant you might notice examples of ‘art’ on the rocks and tree stumps along the way. You will also find plants, birds and animals of interest including the brightly coloured Kingfisher and the dipper and grey wagtail flying just above the water or sitting on the rocks mid-stream. 

In some of the old railway cuttings you can spot various mosses and ferns such as Broad Buckler Fern, so for the flora and fauna enthusiast as well as the historian, this walk is a must. Stone retaining walls have also been built alongside a former railway cutting just about where the walkway passes King George public park on the opposite side of the river. These have been the haunt of many a climbing enthusiast, including the late Dougal Haston who hailed from Currie and was the first Scot to climb Everest. The Water of Leith Trust, based in Slateford, has used the same walls to place a brass rubbing plaque (one of several along the Water of Leith), so if you are taking the children on your walk, take some paper and crayons too and you can entice them along with collecting the rubbings. The rubbings are part of an activity trail organised by the Trust. 

Continuing on the walk you will eventually come to a railway bridge where you will see a set of wooden  »  »   steps taking you down to Currie Kirk. There has been a church on this site for more than 1000 years.

You should also see the remains of the Currie Mill Kilns, dating back to before 1506. Currie Mill produced snuff until 1920 and was one of the few mills in the area dedicated exclusively to one particular product. 

At this point you can take a wander through Currie, enjoy a cup of tea or a snack and then head back up the wooden steps and return the way you came, trying to spot all the points of interest you may have missed on the first trip.

The terrain is not heavy going. The distance is around 1.5 miles so a 3 mile round trip which will take around 90 minutes, less if you are out for a power walk, more if you are out for a stroll with the kids. Watch out for cyclists and it can get quite muddy if it has been raining, but otherwise this is a fairly flat, scenic walk with plenty of interest along the way.  

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