Path of Leith Resistance Part 1

St. Bernard’s Well (with Hygieia) by blackpuddinonnabike

Yesterday was my first day of two week’s working with MB7‘s Iain Withers. Iain (and Cycling Scotland) have put together a a fat tire roadshow, featuring a squad of six gifted riders (two are pro trials & bmx riders, a couple are more focused on  university studies. One of them, Danny McAskill, has not become famous yet, but will within a  couple of years ).

What is in Scottish water?

I allot an hour to make the three-mile trip from Grove St. to Trinity Primary School partway down to Leith. ..Mustn’t be late the first day at work!

Armed with my trusty Spokes map (by now, it’s pretty soft and hole-y from wrongfolding and impatient shoving and unfurling x a hundred) in the overstuffed messynger bag, I ride wrong way down Torpichen Street in the general direction of the Water of Leith path.

It’s the lyrical waterway that links Edinburgh’s trafficky art/tourist/business/residential world. It is not easy to locate. Every local knows it’s there, but most seem to have no clue precisely where it is from where they are standing.

I know it’s right below me somewhere…I’d discovered it near the Drumsheugh Baths two weeks ago…but couldn’t locate it NOW.

Fifty five minutes left on the clock.

Ask the telephone installer. He thinks a couple of seconds and sez, “See those little stairs by the cone? Take them..”

Took them, and was in an enclosed brick courtyard.

Come back out, locate a mailman.

HE scratches his head, then says: ‘go up there, to the Hawthorne Bank’

I am DAMNED if I go uphill again…

Rudely turn away to seek better advice.

Rode back, find a man leaving his apt, wearing cycling kit… he accompanies me across a tiny rickety bridge across the Leith creek, and I am off…

I knew I would have to crawl out at Stockbridge, but somehow I surface too soon.

A friendly p’liceman re-directs me: “Take this road (pointing the direction from which I had come)…then go right, up the hill, then along Queensferry road then back down the hill…

Never rude to people who are patient (especially policepeople who might be in the middle of a Situation), I thanked him and made a mental note to write a note to the Edinburgh Council that their constabulary need rigorous training to memorize all the little cubbyholes of the Water of Leith path.

Find the wiggle in the route, clatter down more heavily worn stone stairs, and resume gliding through the bird twitterland with the riffling water and nearly no people…

it is a daydreamer’s delight. When you are doing ‘guided imagery’ (something cancer people are taught to get out of grumpy mind-set) this scene is precisely what I had pictured all those times in the therapist’s chair in the year 2000.

To arrive in “Eden Burrow” and find it all here, in non-dreamtime was a major shock and life-altering delight. Is this a case of “Look where you want to go” –a bicycling law–or had I seen Water of Leith in a brochure somewhere ? I never really THOUGHT about Edinburgh per se in my bike racing, whirled traveller life…

I pass a lovely water temple with a stone statue. Hebe? Hygiea?

Me in another life?

Nah…she ‘s got a robe on.

Anyway, I only have 30 minutes left to cover two and a half miles that I don’t know at ALL…The prior bit I thought I’d known quite well….wrong ).

Rolling past dog-walking retirees and the occasional savvy foot-commuter, I realize the flaw in my wish for a purple dotted line that would point out every little inch for the non-native Leith lovers.

Moab has its slickrock trail, with its dotted (more like long yellow dashes) line through the sandstone rocky mazes of the Utah desert. And you can go there any time, it will be crawling with bike tourists. it is Princes Street in the desert (technical, trafficky terrain..minus the shops )

I don’t think the Leith path OUGHT o be crawling with people–especially Tourists In A Hurry, or –god forbid–locals COMMUTING in a hurry.

Perhaps it is thanks to the secretness inherent in this winding treasure trove of trees birds bugs dogs flowers birdsong jackhammers…(oh, wait, that’s Grove Street Municipal Electric Hammer Orchestra, putting in the gas lines…I have banjo’d at them …to no avail. They simply won’t leave.)

Back to the commute…I locate the Goldenacre path (the dirt one…completely devoid of people…almost to the Gee, I Wonder If Someone Could Get Away With Murder Here? point).

Roses on either side blooming madly among the nettles. Floppy yellow climbers, brilliant pink rugosas that smell intensely but drop their petals no matter how carefully you pluck them…and small pale pink ones, five-petaled with yellow stamens, most beautiful. These last hold up well to being arranged on the handlebars… Stop a minute to pick some and decorate handlebars.

I am spending a day with scarified, baggy gray & black- shorted riders with elbow pads, etc. Might as well do some “frill seeking” myself.

Gosh it’s so lonely here I might be able to get away (don’t even think about being late now) with some bike-o (as opposed to auto) eroticism.


I forget if this is permitted in blogs.


Overhead the sky is blue with some white clouds stirred in, the trees wheel around dizzily to the pounding of jacquiehammers.

And so… to work.

(Epilogue: I only lasted one week at my ‘Riderz” gig. On Ascot opening day I fabricated a darling helmet with leaves, paper, and flowers, and brought my banjo to amuse the kids during a brake at Gracemount school. The sheer out-in-left fieldedness of this unpredictably non-uniform presentation caused poor Ian to re-think my coming north with the crew and being in extremely close quarters. Perhaps it was the best, but I was given a mere three minutes notice, and suddenly I had a free week to kill.

I took a train to Inverness, just to be a real tourist for once. My bike ride was grand, but the town was a tiny bit depressing. I think I can’t really enjoy a place as much when I’m completely by myself, gawking at stuff….reader, this blog gives me the illusion of a traveling companion.

~ by jacquiephelan on June 17, 2008.

2 Responses to “Path of Leith Resistance Part 1”

  1. You were right, Jacquie – Iain Withers and his band of merry stunt riders were on STV this evening (so I did get home in time!). And nice to see that John Lauder had a piece to camera. If you look carefully, you made it into the background too, when the little boy with the blonde hair and rosy cheeks was talking about watching the scary back flips. “You not fancy doing it yourself?” “NO!”

    Looks like the children were having a blast. 🙂

  2. […] path to follow would be the cycle/footpath along the Water of Leith, hilariously described here by the irrepressible Jacquie Phelan. This is a hidden gem in the […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: