A peaceful escape: Edinburgh to Ratho and back

A peaceful escape: Edinburgh to Ratho and back

Andrew Burns

Andrew Burns has been a member of Cycling UK for some 36 years, since joining as a teenager when preparing to cycle John O’Groats to Land’s End! As the Leader of the City of Edinburgh Council between 2012-2017, and a local councillor for 18 years, Andrew has been a consistently strong advocate for cycling in Scotland. Andrew still cycles most days; and has ridden across the US from Los Angeles to New York among many other tours.

This is my favourite local ride in Edinburgh, which I have never tired of cycling throughout 25 years in Scotland’s capital. It’s basically a section of the NCN75, from Fountainbridge out to Ratho, and back again – it’s only 16-miles in total and very flat (it’s on the Union Canal towpath!)

The route starts at the Fountainbridge ‘Edinburgh Quay’ canal-basin, which is very close to Edinburgh city centre, yet still a peaceful and calm location to start the ride. The entire route is shared-use, so considerate cycling is required throughout.

The Union Canal opened in 1822, and was initially an industrial transport route for bringing coal, and other materials, from the west of Scotland right into the heart of the capital city. Its heyday was brief, with the opening of the ‘Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway’, in 1842, greatly diminishing the value of the canal. It quickly fell into commercial decline thereafter, and finally closed to traffic in 1933 with its official overall-closure happening in 1965.

Thankfully, the Union Canal re-opened gradually, throughout the 1990’s and was ultimately linked to the ‘Forth and Clyde Canal’ – at Falkirk – with the now famous Falkirk Wheel enabling the 35 metre height difference to be overcome!

The route leaves Fountainbridge and quickly takes you past the historic Leamington Lift Bridge – well over 100 years old and still in operation, allowing narrowboats to enter the basin.

The route then goes directly west, and quickly leaves behind the city centre tenements and goes out into the countryside. You pass over two aqueducts – you’ll need to dismount and walk over both.

The first you’ll encounter is the Slateford Aqueduct, which takes you over the Water of Leith. Then at around 5 miles, you will reach the second aqueduct, the Scott Russell Aqueduct (named in honour of a naval engineer), whereafter you will be completely immersed in the countryside. Trees overhang the path and there are no buildings in sight during the last section of the route, providing a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of the city centre.

Along the way, you’ll pass wooden sculptures carved into the nature of the route, and also the Calders Community Garden right next to the canal at Calders Crescent.

As you eventually enter the village of Ratho, you’ll arrive at a small picnic area where a commemorative display (see picture) shows a metal horse pulling a barge as a reminder of the original functions of the canal.

And at Ratho, you can choose to leave the canal towpath to visit the Bridge Inn for welcome refreshments, before returning to Fountainbridge by exactly the same route.

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