This was definitely the most miserable weather we’d had for one of these walks yet, but I decided I was going to do it anyway rather than be cooped up in the house, for the sake of my sanity. My 21 month old son, though, had the right idea; previously he’s been happy to toddle along on his reins at least for the first part of each walk, but this time he was having none of it and immediately demanded to be put in his cosy buggy with the waterproof cover over it.
We started from the car park at Calder Crescent and walked back a little way to the Westburn Footbridge where we finished the last walk, then set off back the other way for our main walk. Unlike the last, this stretch of canal hasn’t changed hugely since I first walked it 30 years ago, though there have been some additions. The first is the Bridge 8 Hub by the car park, where it’s now possible to hire canoes and kayaks for fun on the water. They’re closed at the moment due to Covid-19, but it’s still possible to admire the beautiful wildlife murals painted on some of their storage containers.
Bridge 8 itself is a bit to the north, now sandwiched between the two utilitarian concrete bridges that replaced it. Although the canal runs mainly east-to-west, a few hundred yards here runs north-to-south: the lack of locks on the Union Canal means that it tends to wiggle about more than most canals do in order to keep on the same level, as well as making heavy use of embankments, cuttings and aqueducts.
Speaking of aqueducts, there’s an interesting one just after the canal rounds the corner to head west again, a modern concrete one crossing over the very busy Edinburgh City Bypass. This road very nearly spelled disaster for the canal when it was first proposed in the 70s: the original plan was for it to cut across the then-derelict canal at water level, possibly putting an end to any hope of reopening the waterway into Edinburgh, or at least making this prohibitively expensive. But various canal users, enthusiasts and related organisations fought the proposals and won, the road authorities agreeing to put the road in a cutting so that it could pass under the canal instead.
Originally the aqueduct was called the Hermiston Aqueduct after the nearby village, but it was later named the Scott Russell Aqueduct after an engineer called John Scott Russell. A quiet rural section of the Union Canal might seem an unlikely place for a major scientific discovery to happen, but he discovered the Solitary Wave here by observing the waves produced by passing boats soon after the canal opened. As well as the name plate on the aqueduct, there’s also a plaque on bridge 11 commemorating him.
The canal changes markedly in character once you cross the bypass. The houses and commercial buildings that have lined its banks since the beginning are replaced by open fields. The bridges are different too – while most of the original stone arched canal bridges within Edinburgh have gone, from here onwards almost all of them survive. There are also a few new ones – bridge 10A at Gogar Station Road is a bit nicer than most of these, with its stone cladding and arched deck.
While the canal itself looks much the same here as it did in 1990, it doesn’t sound the same – the M8 motorway was extended in the mid-1990s and runs almost parallel to the canal, getting particularly close at bridge 12, resulting in a constant roar of traffic on what was once a fairly tranquil walk or sail. This is where we turned back, having finally had enough of the rain for one day.