A Walk through Craiglochart and Colinton Dell


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf the literary walking group had enjoyed an eleventh literary outing, it would have been to walk up river from Slateford to Colinton through Craiglochart and Colinton Dell. Had they done so, they would have walked through a glorious wooded valley, one of Edinburgh’s “hidden gems”, and visited the newly unveiled statute of RLS, standing outside the gates of Colinton Kirk.

As a boy, Stevenson often visited Colinton where his mother’s father, the Rev Balfour, a man born in the 18th century, was minister.  Mid nineteenth century Colinton was still, in some respects, a hill village, but the Water of Leith, which flowed through the Dell, was home to relentless industrial activity.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHistorically, a succession of mills – flour mills, snuff mills – had been built along its banks, from Balerno to the sea.  In the 1840s, a chain of reservoirs had been constructed in the Pentland Hills to satisfy the drinking needs of a growing urban population, and “compensation reservoirs” were built at Bavelaw and Harlaw to ensure that the Water of Leith didn’t run dry.  From the garden of the manse, Stevenson’s favourite view of the river was through a water door embowered in shrubbery:

The river is there dammed back for the service of the flour mill just below, so that it dies lies deep and darkling, and the sand slopes into brown obscurity with a glint of gold; and it has but newly been recruited by the borrowings of the snuff mill just above, and these, tumbling merrily in, shake the pool to its black heart, fill it with drowsy eddies, and set the curded froth of many other mills solemnly steering to and from upon the surface.

The Manse: Memories and Portraits


Over the borders, a sin without pardon,

Breaking the branches and crawling below,

Out through the breach in the wall of the garden,

Down by the banks of the river, we go.

Here is the mill with the humming of thunder,

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere is the weir with the wonder of foam,

Here is the sluice with the race running under –

Marvellous places, though handy to home!

Sounds of the village grown stiller and stiller,

Stiller the note of the birds on the hill;

Dusty and dim and are the eyes of the miller,

Deaf are his ears with the moil of the mill.

A Child’s Garden of Verses (XXIV)



Dark Brown is the river,

Golden is the sand.

It flows along for ever,

With trees on either hand.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGreen leaves a-floating,

Castles of the foam,

Boats of mine a-boating-

Where will all come home?

On goes the river

And out past the mill,

Away down the valley,


Away down the river,

A hundred miles or more,

Other little children

Shall bring my boats ashore.

A Child’s Garden of Verses (XIV)

Yesterday, I couldn’t help feeling – and the literary walking group, had they been with me, perhaps might have agreed – that the day had the feeling of the last Sunday of autumn, so I decided to catch a bus from the centre of the city and walk up river from Slateford  to Colinton Kirk.  I began my walk immediately opposite the Water of Leith information centre along the path that threadsOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA behind the Tickled Trout. On the opposite bank of the river, I had good views of the walled gardens at Redhall.  There was frost in the glen, otherwise golden. Up river, I noticed the remains of a mill race and a OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAmassive weir.   At Colinton, I encountered the statue of Stevenson at the kirkyard gate.  On the wall behind, an official notice told me of a Stevenson walk.  I couldn’t help wondering what RLS would have made of all this -the sickling child who dreamed from an invalid’s bed, the vagabond who loved the freedom of the open road, the  man who, above all, occupied the world of the imagination.  Would he, I wondered, be puzzled by a life explained, and a carefully delineated Stevenson route?

  • Stevenson, RL, Memories and Portraits, 1887
  • Adam Smith, Janet (Ed), Stevenson, Collected Poems, 1971

One thought on “A Walk through Craiglochart and Colinton Dell

  1. Sandra Thomas

    I googled the quote “over the border, a sin without pardon” since my 89 year old neighbour had mentioned it this morning and I was interested to read the rest of the poem. Google led me to this article by you about Colinton etc. As a child growing up in Edinburgh I recall visits to Colinton Dell with affection. My neighbour however remembers the manse where her family lived, which is the one where the poem is set. And recalls crawling under the hedge to have adventures with her siblings by the river. I loved your piece.


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