Union Canal section 3: Slateford to Dumbryden

This canal walk starts off on a high – literally – with the Slateford Aqueduct, soaring far above the valley of the Water of Leith on eight elegant stone arches. On most canals an aqueduct of this size would be the undisputed king, but the Union has more than its fair share of impressive aqueducts and Slateford clocks in at only the second longest and third tallest. Though famous engineer Thomas Telford apparently thought it was the best aqueduct in the country when he inspected it, so I guess that counts for something.

Slateford Aqueduct
Slateford Aqueduct, with the bowling club in front and the railway viaduct behind

Like the first two this is a rerun of a walk I did about 30 years ago. The aqueduct is still the same as it was back then, but there have been changes down below, in the form of a new section of the Water of Leith walkway suspended over the river, with some quite steep steps linking up to the canal towpath. (I had to carry my son up and down these steps in his “lightweight” buggy, and can now confirm that just because the buggy is lightweight doesn’t mean the occupant is). I think this was one of the last sections of the river walkway to be completed, probably because the lack of space on the bank here for a path made it a bit tricky. It now stretches almost uninterrupted from Balerno all the way to Leith. There’s also a little visitor centre between the aqueduct and the main road here, but that was of course closed when I passed (along with just about everything else right now).

Slateford Aqueduct top
Slateford Aqueduct top, with overflow sluice gate on the left

This was a very green walk with the vegetation on both banks looking a bit overgrown. I guess the recent hot and wet weather coupled with lack of maintenance during the Covid-19 restrictions has probably caused that, but I did pass the Scottish Canals dredger on my way back along today so maybe they are getting back on top of things now.

Scottish Canals dredger
Scottish Canals dredger working on a very green canal

Two railway bridges cross the canal west of Slateford. The first carried the Balerno branch line which is now a walkway leading towards Colinton. One of our regular dog walks when I was a child was to park at Slateford, walk along the canal towpath to this bridge, then along the railway path, down into Craiglockhart Dell, and back to Slateford along the river. The other railway bridge is still in use and carries the West Coast Mainline, whose viaduct runs parallel to the canal aqueduct but at a lower level.

Balerno Branch bridge
Balerno Branch bridge

There’s a tiny aqueduct under the canal at Redhall between the two railway bridges, just a pedestrian tunnel really. I’m sure it used to be possible to walk through it, but it was flooded when I went down for a look today.

Bigger changes have happened round the corner at Kingsknowe. After the canal was closed, bridge 5 by the station was taken away and replaced by a road embankment, completely blocking the canal (though with large pipes under the surface to maintain the water flow). Several bridges along the route suffered the same fate, though this damage was eventually repaired. Thirty years ago we had to climb up the embankment and cross the road to continue our walk, but today I was able to walk under the reinstated bridge 5 instead.

Kingsknowe Road blockage
The old blockage at Kingsknowe, taken in the 1990s

These new bridges are all of the same style, with an “arch and keystone” effect cast into the concrete of the deck as a nod to the canal’s original stone arched bridges, and “MM” engraved on some of the pilasters, recognising that the largest portion of the money used to build them came from the National Lottery Millennium Fund.

Kingsknowe Bridge
The new bridge 5 at Kingsknowe

The work that had to be done to reopen the canal for navigation at Kingsknowe Bridge pales into insignificance compared to what was at the other end of Hailes Park… but that’s where I turned back today, so it will have to wait til next time.

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