«Tourism is sin, and travel by foot, a virtue.» (Werner Herzog) And for me -after three months of chain tour guiding- a much needed penitence, a purification. So early this morning I took the bus to Ratho, a small village some miles south of Edinburgh airport to follow the path that goes to Fountainbridge, near the town centre, along the north bank of the Union Canal.
These are some notes and pictures I’ve taken during the walk. For a full description of the itinerary (just one stage of a longer route that allows you to travel from Glasgow to Edinburgh through the towpaths of the Forth and Clyde and the Union Canal, visit Walk Highlands.
Since I left Ratho Bridge, under the usual amount of country noises, I feel the constant humming of the M8, the motorway that joins Edinburgh and Glasgow, usually described as one of the busiest of the United Kingdom. From the path, out of sight, the humming seems something almost natural and it’s a kind of presence that accompany many country walks in the island today. Only the sudden roar of a plane taking off -this one suddenly very visible- makes explicit the artificial nature of the humming.
I’ve brought with me my iPod, still unsure of what I was going to find during the walk, the exact proportion of country, city and edgelands. On it, the usual playlist of english pastoral music of the 60s and 70s, the soundtrack for the Electric Eden. But soon it’s clear that I will not use it. The superposition of the M8 roar, the songs of the birds and the buzz of bees and bumblebees (which are always in mi mind synesthesically joined with the decadent and slightly disgusting smell of the flowers), my own steps and their echo when I pass under a bridge seem to be far more absorbing and interesting.
I still need to think about the kind of pleasure that comes from walking near a water flow. The temptation of relating it with the memory of the species, with the first steps of every living creature out of the sea. Also the certanty -written by Marilynne Robinson in Gilead, that the water was created originally to bless
«Near this spot», I read in the plaque under a bridge during the walk, «John Scott Russell discovered the Solitary Wave». I had never heard about John Scott Russell nor, asuming the solitary wave is not a surfers legend, his discovery. I leave his wikipedia page for later today, where I will find out that he was a collaborator of my admired Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
After you cross the City By-Pass -I had driven hundreds of times down there and had never imagined that a canal passed over the road- you don’t say hallo anymore to the people you meet. The same cyclist who would have shouted you «cheers» when you leave him the free way, now just makes sound his horn and the lady who is strolling her dog and would have smiled you a «mornin'» now just looks awkwardly to the distance just when you pass her.
Another discovery for this nerdy admiror of victorian enginers. The Slateford Aqueduct was designed by Hugh Baird with the advice of Thomas Telford and helps the Canal to pass over the Water of Leith.
After Harrison Park we are in town. The variety of birds is replaced by menacing, crying seagulls. The canal runs between grafitti-decorated storehouses and the back side of sandstone buildings with their characteristic black pipes and old guillotine windows.
Soon I arrive to a development area, full of pretentious works and modern colourful buildings with high-tech ambitions. That’s the Lochrin Basin, where the old canal boats raucously painted create a touristic area full of chain restaurants and terraces.