At one time, the canal transported coal and manufactured goods to and from the capital. But it's now found a new lease on life as the backdrop for a variety of leisure pursuits.
Union Canal at Fountainbridge — Photo courtesy of Kim Traynor
The canal was first opened in 1822 to bring the raw materials and minerals of Lanarkshire to Edinburgh and to improve industrial transport between Glasgow and Edinburgh. It was built as a “contour canal” (staying on the same level to avoid the need for locks, which would delay the journey) and so made use of a number of tunnels and three large aqueducts as it cut its way across the countryside.
The Slateford, Avon and Almond aqueducts are impressive engineering achievements in their own right, and they're rather beautiful.
However, competition from the railways and coaching services led to a drop in the income derived from canal tolls, and by 1933, commercial traffic had entirely ceased.
In 2001, the canal was reopened with great ceremony as part of a multi-million-pound regeneration program known as the Millennium Link.
The canal was originally connected to the Forth and Clyde Canal system (and thus to the great industrial city of Glasgow) by a series of 11 locks outside Falkirk. As part of the Millennium Link Project, these locks were replaced by the spectacular Falkirk Wheel, a rotating boat lift that's the only one of its kind in the world.
Falkirk Wheel — Photo courtesy of Sean Mack
The canal starts at Edinburgh Quay in Fountainbridge, close to the top of Lothian Road. The area was redeveloped as part of the Millenium Link, and it's now home to a variety of bars, cafes and restaurants. On a sunny day, the outdoor seating with a view of the canal berths is very popular with locals and tourists.
One of the best ways to enjoy the canal is on one of the many colorful barges. You can hire a boat for yourself or join a cruise. You can even jump on board the boat of the Bridge Inn at Ratho and enjoy a delicious meal as you cruise along the waterway.
Those looking for a more strenuous workout can hire a canoe or rowing boat or instead walk, run or cycle along the tow-path, which skirts the side of the canal.
The canal is also a popular site for fishing with enthusiasts who catch pike, roach, perch, tench and common bream from the banks of the canal.
Shorn of its industrial role, the canal has become a haven for wildlife. The banks of the canal are home to otters, water vole, hedgehog, brown hare, badger, weasel, water shrew and toad.
The skies are also teeming with a wide variety of birds, such as sparrowhawk, skylark, kingfisher, swift, linnet, reed bunting, spotted flycatcher, tree sparrow, grey partridge, great crested grebe, bullfinch, song thrush and even bats.