DESPITE the increasingly urban nature of the surrounding areas, the section of the Water of Leith Walkway from Balerno to Slateford maintains a pleasantly rural feel, keeping generally close to the water and using a former railway track which gives easy walking.
Leave Balerno by Bridge Road. On the right is the entrance to Malleny House, a 17th-century mansion built for Sir James Murray of Kilbaberton. The house and grounds were gifted to the National Trust for Scotland in 1968.
The house is privately occupied, but the splendid walled garden is open every day. It contains Scotland's national collection of bonsai (miniature trees), but is perhaps most notable for its magnificent clipped yews. There are four left of an original group known as the Twelve Apostles, said to have been planted to mark the Union of the Crowns in 1603.
Cross the Water of Leith and in 150m turn right at the encouraging sign "Public Path to Slateford". The path drops to the river, with the grounds of Currie Rugby Club on the far bank.
Follow the old railway. In 800m the path passes Kinauld Farm on the site of a waulk mill. There were numerous mills along the river, producing cloth, flour and paper. The path crosses the river, and passes the former Balerno Paper Mill, now a tannery.
Before long, on the right is a high retaining wall. This was the training ground for the youthful Dougal Haston, a Currie lad who went on to become the first Scot to climb Mount Everest. There are seats at regular intervals if you feel like a pause to contemplate the trees and the rushing water. You may glimpse the ruin of Lennox Tower, said to have been a favourite hunting place of James VI.
The path crosses above Kirkgate, passing Currie Kirk, Currie was once called Killeith - "the chapel by the Leith". The present church was begun in 1785, to a design by James Thomson. The parish records include some notable examples of longevity, including William Napier, who lived to be 113. The ruined choir of the old church has been turned into a meeting hall as a memorial to Rev David Stewart, minister here from 1898 to 1950.
The path passes a weir and then crosses Kinleith Burn, called the Poet's Burn, after James Thomson, the "Weaver Poet", who achieved some fame in the early 19th century. Carry on along the riverside, passing through an industrial area before meeting the river again. Pass under a road bridge, then cross the river to enter Juniper Green. One of the mills here produced snuff from 1749 to 1920.
The name Juniper Green first appears on 18th century maps and may simply have come from the prevailing shrub cover.
In 1896, John Geddie wrote that "townspeople find Juniper Green a pleasant and acceptable retreat all the year round". In a further 800 metres, the scenery opens out nicely as the path briefly joins a minor road.
The city bypass can be heard ahead, and then seen. Before reaching it, the path diverts round the Woodhall Mill housing development, on the site of a former grain mill.
Walk under the bypass. The path crosses the river twice, briefly joining a road before turning left into Spylaw Park, where you may see squirrels. On the right is Spylaw House, built in 1650 for a wealthy snuff merchant, James Gillespie. The facade was remodelled in 1773 when the double stair was added.
Pass the site of the former Colinton Station and then go through Colinton Tunnel, an unusual feature on a footpath. It has lights but is still rather eerie! The path then enters Colinton Dell. Dippers are often seen on the river here.
The next section has several branch or cross paths which can be confusing. It is easiest to stay on the main track, signed for Redhall. In about 800 metres, at a bridge over a minor road, go down steps and follow the road across the river. Rejoin the walkway, turning left to enter Craiglockhart Dell. This section has several flights of steps, but keeps close to the river. It was formerly part of the Redhall Estate, and you pass a charming little 18th-century stone grotto.
The path reaches Slateford Road by the Tickled Trout pub. Across the road is the Water of Leith Visitor Centre, where you can see, and buy, further material on the river and its path.
Just ahead are two splendid pieces of civil engineering. The Slateford Aqueduct (Hugh Baird, 1822) carries the Union Canal over the river on eight arches, and John Miller's railway viaduct, built 20 years later, strides across in 14 grand steps.
After this walk, I am sure you will agree with the world's best bad poet, William Topaz McGonagall, who in his inimitable style enthused:
Therefore all lovers of the picturesque be advised by me,
And the beautiful scenery of the River of Leith go and see,
And I am sure you will get a very great treat,
Because the River of Leith scenery cannot be beat.
If the construction of this verse leaves something to be desired, the spirit of its words is perfect.
Distance: 9km (5.5 miles) linear.
Start: Balerno (several free car parks).
Terrain: Paths and roads. Paths can be muddy in wet weather. Strong footwear advised.
Public transport: Regular buses from city centre to Balerno passing through Slateford. Regular trains from Slateford to Haymarket and Waverley stations.
Refreshments: Reasonable choice in Balerno, Currie and Slateford. Cafe at the Water of Leith Visitor Centre.
Toilets: At the Water of Leith Visitor Centre if open.
Opening hours: Malleny House Garden, all year, daily 9.30am-sunset. The Water of Leith Visitor Centre is open 10am-4pm, daily April to October, Wed-Sun in November and March.
More information from 0131-455 7367 or www.waterofleith.org.uk