Water of Leith - Antony Gormley Statues

Sunday, 16th September 2012

The Water of Leith rises in the Pentland Hills to the south of Edinburgh then cuts through the heart of the city to spill out into the Firth of Forth at Leith. Over the years the river has been harnessed to power mills clustered along the river bank to process flour, cloth, timber etc. More recently under the auspices of The Water of Leith Conservation Trust it has been transformed into a popular leisure facility and with the completion in 2002 of a riverside path provides a fascinating walk from Balerno down to Leith.

Morning Coffee at Gallery of Modern Art

Statue at entrance to Gallery of Modern Art

The river itself has recently become a de-facto extension of the National Galleries of Scotland with the installation of Antony Gormley’s six life-sized cast-iron figures, four of them placed in the river bed itself.

An interesting morning or afternoon can now be spent spotting all six statues on the walk starting at the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art and finishing on the Leith waterfront, with a welcome award waiting in one of the many waterfront bars and restaurants there.

The walk starts at the entrance to the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art on Belford Road. The first of Gormley’s statues is located here, half buried within the road facing the sea in the distance.

The Gallery has a very popular restaurant featuring home cooked meals and snacks. Tables and chairs are also on an outside patio, ideal for morning coffee on a sunny day.

The footbridge behind the Gallery crosses the Water of Leith and leads to a quiet pool above Bells Mills where the second statue is situated.

The Water of Leith is also a wildlife corridor from the sea leading inland to the Pentland Hills and beyond. It has been designated an Urban Wildlife Site and provides a sanctuary for a myriad of species including Herons, Mallards, Swans, Tree Creepers, Owls.


Heron on River Bank

Bridge behind Gallery of Modern Art

Statue in pool behind Gallery of Modern Art

The walkway then passes through Dean Village and under Thomas Telford’s Dean Bridge which was opened in 1832. The river here appears as if from a classical painting.

Further on the walkway passes St Bernard’s Well constructed in 1789 to dispense spring water which was claimed to have medicinal properties, alternative views had it that the water was really not good and tasted of sulphur. Anyway, it’s an impressive piece of architecture by the Water of Leith.

The walkway now reaches Stockbridge where the third statue can be seen upstream from the bridge where Deanhaugh Street crosses the river.

There is currently a walkway diversion past Stockbridge due to extensive flood protection works which will reinforce the river banks to prevent future overspill and to protect the Colony houses by the water side.

Fortunately the diversion goes past Hectors, a famous Stockbridge bar which also serves meals, and so makes an ideal stopping off point after reaching about the half-way point on the way to Leith.

A detour can now be taken through the Botanic Gardens, exiting through the East Gate and then re-joining the walkway at Canonmills.

The fourth statue is in the river by Powderhall. A feature of the statues is that they are hinged at the base, so at times of heavy rainfall and river-flow, they collapse horizontally onto the river-bed until someone from the Modern Art Gallery wades in and puts them up again. During the first walk down the river, this had happened to the statue at Powderhall and a second walk was subsequently made to get the photograph - unfortunately the weather was not so good the second time !

The fifth statue is further downstream at Bonnington.

Water of Leith now widens out as it nears the sea and is flanked by numerous riverside apartments making it a very attractive living area.

Supporting these developments, the area is also becoming renowned for high quality bars and restaurants, including several with Michelin stars.

Having now arrived in Leith, the sixth statue can be seen sited at the end of an abandoned pier which can be viewed from Ocean Terminal.

All the statues seem to be sited so they face the sea, almost as if the figure is trying to escape from something.

Finally as promised, it’s time for a cold beer, this one taken at Bond Nº9 on Commercial Street. There are plenty of other choices in Leith with bars catering for all tastes. Recommended are Teuchters Landing and the KIng’s Wark

A few steps along there is Tom Kitchin’s Michelin starred restaurant. Prior booking would be advisable as they get busy at times, especially at the weekend. There are plenty of alternatives though, including Martin Wishart’s, also Michelin starred, or try Fishers or The Ship On The Shore for fresh sea food.

Dean Bridge looking West

Statue at Stockbridge

St Bernard’s Well

Hectors Bar at Stockbridge

Walkway Diversion at Stockbridge

Statue at Powderhall

Approaching Leith

Statue at Bonnington

Approaching Leith

The Sixth Statue, Looking out to Sea at Leith

A Welcome Beer !

Lunch at Tom Kitchin