At the top of Lothian Road, one of the city's main arterial routes, is an area of the city which has received a significant amount of redevelopment in recent years. Between Morrison Street and Fountainbridge today you'll find the Scottish Widows building, and a series of new build office spaces, which belie something of the areas industrial heritage.
In 1822 Scotland's grand Union Canal was opened, linking Edinburgh with Falkirk, where it connected with the Forth and Clyde Canal which ran across the width of the country into Glasgow. This man-made waterway was crucial for the transportation of goods across the lower part of Scotland before the age of rail and motorways.
The eastern terminus of the canal was in Port Hopetoun, which was in the area adjacent to Fountainbridge in Edinburgh today. The large monolothic building on Lothian Road, today housing a series of shops and the Odeon Cinema, were the original offices for the canal companies, backing directly onto the basin in which the canal ended.
The canal is still there today, and indeed still functions, but it ends slightly short of its original terminus, just behind the new Edinburgh Quay office buildings housing Cargo bar and restaurant, and a variety of other businesses. Here you'll find a number of barges moored for the purposes of providing pleasure, including the Four Sisters Boatel, a quirky and unique self-catering space which can accommodate up to six people.
In its heyday the canal was a vibrant hub of industry, transporting goods from the nearby factories and warehouses, which have been demolished and given way to new developments (some open areas are still awaiting development). Today the canal itself has a more gentle and sedate atmosphere, with the towpath alongside the water offering passage to cyclists, joggers and walkers. During the summer you may still see barges carrying pleasure seekers, with local canoe clubs also using the area for practice. Ducks and swans make frequent appearances in the area, and fishermen can often be found casting into the waters for leisure.
The Leamington Lift Bridge is a distinctive iron bridge across the canal which can be raised and lowered to allow the passage of barges - originally the bridge stood further east, approximately at the junction between Fountainbridge and Gardner's Crescent, where is provided a similar role during the years of industrial functioning.
From Edinburgh Quay, visitors can travel along the canal (on foot, bike or by boat, if they have the means) over 30 miles along to the Falkirk Wheel, which connects the Union and the Forth and Clyde canals. The route passes over a variety of impressive aqueducts and via a series of tunnels, allowing a unique perspective on the local landscape.
The Union Canal fell into disuse with the rise of the railways in the 1840s, and finally ceased its industrial functions in the 1930s. With a significant amount of modern investment and intervention from heritage groups, the canal has today been restored to functioning order, and provides not just an alternative to the city's often crowded and bustling centre, but an important link with the city's industrial past.
Explore the canal and Fountainbridge with a bespoke city tour - contact me for more information.
Edinburgh Expert is run by Gareth Davies, an adopted native of Edinburgh with 18 years of experience living and working in the city.