On Saturday, I crossed part of an interesting walk off my Scotland Bucket List. Leaving from Fountainbridge, I walked 14 miles of the Union Canal getting as far as Broxburn.
Looking at the map, I thought I would have gotten a lot further – at the start of the day, I thought I would make it to Linlithgow without any trouble. The distance was a little deceiving. Things always seem a lot closer on the map.
Unusually for Scotland, the weather stayed fairly dry for the whole day. Most of Edinburgh was inside watching the Scottish Cup Final so I definitely felt like i was doing something different.
Near the start of the walk, around Harrison Park, there were loads of people playing with their kids, running, and walking dogs. Once I got past Hermiston Gait though and crossed over the motorway I would see other walkers very rarely.
There were more cyclists than walkers as I got further out, which is probably what I would do if I wanted to go all the way to the Falkirk wheel along the canal.
The whole thing is a pretty impressive piece of engineering. Its very narrow and shallow in places, but you have loads of bridges and these massive viaducts including a very high one at Slateford that passes over the Water of Leith.
When it was first built in the 1820’s, it was mainly used to haul coal and other freight. The narrow canal boats were pulled along by the current and horse power.
Nowadays, the remaining boats are more recreational. A few people even live on them.
I don’t know if I would be able to do but it seems like a pretty idyllic life – you can choose to berth wherever and if you don’t get on with your neighbours or just want a change of scenery you travel a few miles upstream. People in the UK have some really romantic ideas about their canals, but in reality I don’t think many really take full advantage of them.
Around the 1930’s, the canals fell out of use as freight moved to railways. Cities like Amsterdam have tens of thousands of people living on canal boats, but in the UK its definitely a smaller scale, more rural thing. I saw a fair number of these boats berthed in Ratho but its not on the same scale that you’d see in Europe.
Initially I was hoping to stop their for a bite to eat, but I discover that the Bridge Inn was fully booked up for a wedding.
Before tiring myself out, I managed to cross over a couple more impressive aqueducts, and was able to do some plane and train spotting from the same part of the canal. About a mile and a half outside of Broxburn, the canal goes right underneath the Edinburgh Airport Landing Path, which coincidentally is very near one of the two Edinburgh-Glasgow rail lines.
You can see the Ratho viaduct in the distance, which is also a not too shabby bit of engineering.
By the time I got to Broxburn I was thoroughly wiped so decided to forego the last 10 miles to Linlithgow and catch a bus back to Edinburgh.