Updated: Oct 21, 2018
This area of woodland trails covers both sides of the Water of Leith from Colinton to Slateford. Steeped in history, it's also home to a lot of wildife and flora, and with well-maintained paths is ideal for either a brisk circular walk or an aimless meander.
There are many spots you can get into the Dell, but for this walk I chose to start from Bridge Road in Colinton and walk down the “Long Steps” - a very old stairway linking the main part of the village to the parish church in the Dell below. It's the start point for a trail commemorating the association of the author Robert Louis Stevenson with the village of Colinton. Stevenson's maternal grandfather, Lewis Balfour, was the parish minister here from around 1823 and Stevenson is known to have spent many childhood summers with his grandfather at Colinton Manse. There are some of his poems on plaques as you go down the steps.
At the bottom of the Long Steps, the road crosses the Water of Leith. You'll see a fairly new bronze statue on your right of a young Robert Louis Stevenson with his Skye terrier; this was erected only a couple of years ago. Walk past Colinton graveyard and you're into the Dell itself and right next to the river. Stay on the path near the river (rather than branching up left onto the old railway line walkway) which fairly soon takes you over the river at Colinton Weir, and you're walking between the river and a mill chase that formerly fed Redhall Mill – just one of many mills that were on this stretch of the river in its industrial heydey. There were few signs of spring when I did this walk in January, but in the spring you'll find the banks are covered with wild garlic and the Dell bursting with life.
The next path junction is at Kates Mill. I took the path to the left here and crossed the bridge to carry on towards Slateford on the other side of the river. Shortly you pass through what appears to be a clearing in the wood, but is in fact the site of the former Bogs Mill. There was a mill on this site from as early as 1598, and in 1735 the first banknotes manufactured in Scotland were produced here - 20 shilling notes for the Bank of Scotland – apparently under the watchful eye of “a picquet of soldiers mounted guard in the cottage on the bank above.” Part of the path of the mill lade is still visible in the grass.
Carrying on you pass the old stone Bogs Bridge, walk alongside an allotment site and come to a walled garden. This is Redhall Walled Garden, 18th century kitchen gardens for Redhall House and still used as gardens today – now run by the Scottish Association for Mental Health (www.samh.org.uk) who offer training here. Cross the river over the small wooden bridge that you come to, and turn left. You'll shortly pass an odd little stone building, which is one of two “ladies grottos” in this area. It's thought they were built about 1830 for the owner of Craiglockhart House to provide shelter for ladies whilst walking in the Dell. Around 300 metres further you arrive at the A70 opposite the Water of Leith Conservation Trust Visitor Centre where there is an exhibition centre, tea, coffee and snacks.
It's possible to do this walk as a circular route going from Colinton to Slateford on one side of the river and back on the other side. You can vary it by taking some sections on the Balerno-Edinburgh old train line walkway which runs parallel for some of the way, and you can pop up and down from railway to riverside at various points.
Back at Colinton, before you climb the Long Steps, pay a visit to the “Swing Cafe” at the Parish Church. It's open Mon to Friday from 10am to 2pm. The name is a reference to Robert Louis Stevenson's poem The Swing, said to have been inspired by the swing he played on as a child here, which hung from the yew tree you can see in front of the building. See www.colinton-parish.com/the-swing-cafe.html
First published in Konect February 2016
Author: Helen-Jane Shearer