The path with no end in sight
The North Edinburgh paths offer a ‘pleasant, safe and car free’ escape from urban miasmas but bestow no direction, no goal. You are free to wander aimlessly, endlessly where trains used to choo, clangour and chug.
I head westwards, through Trinity, for no good reason. But why not? Here the paths are a sheltered haven on a windy day but a deep, unforgiving frost pocket on an early April afternoon. Walkers gravitate towards the sunshine but, at Ainslie Park, the avenue of densely packed trees casts us all into near darkness. The temperature dips once more until the sun is again spied as we approach Crewe Toll.
A swarm of traffic at the red bridge breaches the peace. Torrents converged here two days before, submerging vehicles and creating news headlines. Those on the path were well out of it. The flood waters have since receded but tell-tale patches of dampness on the walls and clogged drains remain.
Towards Drylaw the vista expands into a post-industrial clearing of brutal concrete and rugged grass. Light illuminates’ stark silhouettes as the path ascends towards Easter Drylaw Park. Dragging yourself to the summit you watch as mist shrouds the swings. The path darkens as sunset approaches.
Impatient fluorescent cyclists glide past in the gloom as we walk under Telford Road. Soon the path rises above the suburban dwellings of Groathill.
At Craigleith, I weigh up my options. Where am I going? If only the path took me home. Instead, I feel I must vacate the tranquillity.
Lorries shudder past, snapping me out of somnolence. Revived, I gratefully return to the path, ploughing on through Blackhall and the deep, curved ravine at Ravelston and Roseburn. The steep banks here enclose the walkers… I wouldn’t fancy this at night.
Suddenly, the three arch, masonry heft of the Coltbridge Viaduct towers into view as it crosses the Water of Leith.
High up there the Caledonian Railway built its’ freight line to Granton. Later, a passenger service to Leith North ran until 1962, the last ever passengers were King Olav of Norway and his entourage on a state visit to Scotland. In 1967 the tracks were lifted and, in time, the route was repurposed for cyclists and walkers as the Roseburn Railway Path.
This spot on the journey always serves to clear the air as well as the mind… a serene space perched high above the gorge. Pausing to absorb the last embers of sun, I take in the view of the valley below as the icy river ripples it’s way through the valley below, heading Leithwards.
The path continues, the remnants of Murrayfield Station languish in the undergrowth. The train at platform 1 has been indefinitely delayed since 1961. But could this station re-emerge? The graffitied information board imagines it as part of a new ‘congestion free public transport network’.
At West Coates Bridge you are told to ‘stay aware’. I’m all too aware that my options are running out. Nettles abound and the wild garlic surrounding the path beyond the bridge is going to seed.
At the Russell Road zigzag, trains and trams converge on us. Towards Haymarket, bland office space stretches out ahead. Glass offices on one side; drab, grey structures on the other. This and the tall fences and lights evoke a photo of a dissection that took place on ‘Potsdamer Platz, October 1980’.
Where are we now?
The moment you know you know, you know.
Too soon, I’m back in the heart of what I was escaping.
Large throngs head into the revamped station and scramble for seats. Soon they will carve through Stenhouse and Sighthill.
There is an end in sight, but it’s not the one I had hoped for. ■
Info: Charlie Ellis is a researcher and EFL teacher who writes on culture, education, coffee, and politics.
The Coltbridge Viaduct crosses the Water of Leith at Roseburn. Photograph: Graeme Yuill