9 Apr 2011

Sights and sounds along the Union Canal

In Scotland it is easy to develop an almost obsessive adoration of the sun. Over the past few days we have experienced warmth that has felt more like summer. This sudden heat has the flowering trees turning their sweet stirrings up to 11. You can see the effect on people’s faces; we are all walking around blissfully assaulted by the pleasure of nature's lustful exchanges.

So before we start today’s walk let’s stop to see the blossoms at Saughton Park near The Water of Leith trail. We can stand beneath the trees and hope for a breeze that will loosen some petals and create a soft pink rain just for us.

The Pocket Mountain Edinburgh walk for Union Canal to the Quay at Fountainbridge starts in Slateford near the Water of Leith Visitor Centre.

From here you actually have many options for walking. You could cross the road and head into the trees towards Balnerno, or walk beneath the canal all the way to Leith.

If you had all day (or a bicycle) you could follow the canal out of the city towards Linlithgow. Or, as we are today, you could take the meandering route back towards the city where the canal ends at Fountainbridge.

The Union Canal is 50 kilometres long, extending all the way to Falkirk and its famous wheel. The canal has no locks. It snakes through the countryside over aqueducts and through tunnels, creating as it goes a microcosm of wildness, a stretched-out pond with thick grass lining its banks like a perpetually receding hairline.
For those with an interest in architecture and engineering, this easy walk allows you to traverse 183 metres over the 8-arched Slateford Aqueduct.

The cobbled pathway across is narrow and uneven, which creates the vision of a comical tumble into the water every time you need to pass someone walking or cycling in the other direction.

When I started the walk, it was with my ipod playing. However my impulse to drown out any sounds from the nearby city was overwhelmed by the many flurries of natural sounds that vied for my attention.

Soon the pressure of birdsong made any man-made clutter a nuisance, and I removed my earphones with grateful relief.
Between these bubbles of the wild world, where the fat bees practice their areonautic lumbering from blossom to blossom and the ducks divide their glances between suspicion and the hope of bread, there are people.

There are joggers, dog walkers, and cyclists with their sudden bell ringing that can cause you to jump out of your skin.

Among my favourite fellow canal users are the rowers, often members of the St. Andrews Boat club. I wonder at their patience as they manage a few pulls on their oars before slight bends in the canal cause them to have to slow down and realign themselves.
But my most loved sight is that of the canal boats, which in my mind float along as symbols of freedom and an affinity with the natural world.

True, the route is a simple 50 kilometres one way or the other, but it is 50 slow kilometres, with plenty of places along the way to tie up and spend a night or two. The world changes, the world stays the same. Beautiful.
At the end of our walk we emerge at Fountainbridge, an area of Edinburgh that has received a welcome facelift over the past few years.

There are some charming cafes now, and on a Sunday morning, if you time it right, you can be at Loudon’s just after opening time.

A stack of papers will be waiting, as well as the possibility of a cooked breakfast or just a coffee and a piece of cake. In this case the moist and subtle lime, yoghurt, pistachio and rose water cake.

Thanks for walking along with me. You’ve earned a treat. Tuck in!

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