With all of its twists, turns, alleys, and closes, Edinburgh hides a lot of secrets. It feels like I’m always talking about Edinburgh’s mysterious nature – that you never quite know what you’ll find when you walk out the door – but it’s what makes Edinburgh my favorite city in the world and draws me back again and again.
I’ve gone underground and over hills finding some of Edinburgh’s most spectacular and unique spots. When Ian Rankin told me about Dean Village, an old grain milling hamlet still intact within Edinburgh’s city center, and the Water of Leith walk, my activities for the following day booked up immediately. Turns out, in addition to spinning a good yarn, Mr. Rankin is an excellent ambassador for Edinburgh.
Dean Village, or the Water of Leith Village as it was also known (because the Water of Leith flows through it), was a successful grain milling village for some 800 years. The water’s strong currents kept more than 10 mills in service for those many centuries, and the village was spared from development by the Dean Bridge that opened in 1833 to carry traffic from one side of Edinburgh to the other. Unfortunately, prosperity declined and the mills shut down before the area was restored in the 1970s as a popular green space and residential area. They also added the Water of Leith walk which runs all the way from Balerno, southwest of Edinburgh, through the city to Leith in the northeast.
You don’t need to do that long trek to find Dean Village, though. A handful of blocks northwest of Princes Street takes you to Bell’s Brae, a street with a steep downward slope that leads to Dean Village. It’s incredible easy to miss and exactly why it’s rewarding when you look upon the old stone buildings and quiet cobbled streets just off Edinburgh’s main drag.
Dean Village gets its name from dene, which means “deep valley.” It’s an apt name; the Dean Bridge spans the Water of Leith more than 100 feet above. Green lichens limn the stonework of the bridges and buildings, and the fast slush of water is the only noise down here. There is the palpable feeling of having stepped back in time. This beautiful green crevice in the city carries on, seemingly forgotten or perhaps, smartly, left to its own devices.
I follow the path past signs that implore walkers to prevent their dogs from fouling the area and beneath the towering Dean Bridge. The roads end and the walkway resumes as it hugs the Water of Leith. The backside of New Town townhouses show through the trees on the right – high above the path. I’ve walked this way twice now and when the fog hangs in the valley it gives the Dean Village an otherworldly feel. Interesting monuments dot the path like St. Bernard’s Mineral Well surmounted by a circular Greek temple with doric columns and a statue of Hygieia, the Greek goddess of health.
As I press on toward Stockbridge, the next stopping point on the Water of Leith walk, I find it easy to forget where I am. I knew I was in the center of Edinburgh and yet all around me were the signs of being in some pretty national park (albeit with quirky and grandiose structures). It is a pleasantly disorienting feeling – and not the first time I’ve felt it in Edinburgh – but there’s nothing quite like this stretch from Dean Village to Stockbridge.
This stretch of the Water of Leith, from Dean Village to Stockbridge, is perfect for a quiet, contemplative walk. Benches line the path where the water reaches Stockbridge and many people stop to rest and take in the gorgeous green ripple of hidden Edinburgh. This was my first stop after arriving to Edinburgh on my last trip. There’s no better place in the city to unwind and decompress.
Plus, there are some really excellent pubs just up the steps in Stockbridge. 🙂