The Esks at Dalkeith

Rivers of the Lothians are like members of a family – the North Esk at Roslin, the Avon near Linlithgow, Almond, Water of Leith etc. The valleys bear certain resemblances to one another. They are all beautiful but, as I was brought up here, Dalkeith must have the finest setting of all.

I went there twice in December, on hard frosty mornings. I was disappointed on the first occasion that there was so little to see in the way of wildlife. It ought not to have been surprising, however, as the temperature did not rise above freezing all day.

On my second visit, I saw a heron, a buzzard, a family of goosanders and some roe deer less than a mile from town. I had walked from the foot of the High Street round behind the Palace, under the Old Wood to the ‘Meeting of the Waters’, a well-known beauty spot where the South Esk runs into the North. There are many paths and variants through the ‘Old Wood’ which contains remnants of the Forest of Caledon, a Site of Special Scientific Interest. It is the policy of the Buccleuch Estate to accommodate responsible public access, wherever possible. That circuit was about 4km or 2.5 miles.

For a first visit to the area, I might choose the South Esk, however, and suggest a loop between Newbattle and Lothianbridge. As it is a circle, you can do it either way round, starting more or less anywhere. In this short description, I will start from Newbattle and take what is the north side of the river there. The path begins opposite the gateway to Newbattle Abbey, perhaps 50-60m from the bridge and 20m from the opening of Newbattle Abbey Crescent, while the other crosses the old lade back and forward to keep close to the river.

Near the end of the first group of houses, look into the old lade. The remains of the sluice gear are still there, that regulated the combined flow from the weir at Lothianbridge and the Pittendreich Burn. The burn itself was shifted about 150m southwestward when the houses were built in the 1970s. The last few yards of its original course can still be seen near the ‘Broken Bridge’.

21 arch viaduct

About now you will also become aware of the ‘Twenty-one Arches’ – the imposing viaduct that carried the Waverley railway line over the Esk Valley – and, who knows, may do so again. A few stone steps take you out to the busy A7. Left here, 200m south towards Newtongrange, then left again. Another good path leads back parallel to the way you came. Two options present themselves immediately. One path leads more or less straight ahead and uphill, while the other, narrower, bears slightly left and soon gets involved with fallen trees etc. Take the uphill option and follow it, keeping close to the rim of the steep slope above the Esk, back to Newbattle.

The circuit as outlined is just over 2km so you may well want to extend it. This can be done quite readily by starting from Dalkeith itself. From the south end of Newmills Bridge (where the A68 left the town centre) go into Waterfall Park; from here a good path follows the south bank to Newbattle Bridge. From Brewlands Lodge (about 150m nearer the town) another path follows the north bank. Be careful to keep round the south side of new buildings here and, as you come nearer to Newbattle Abbey, keep to the path by the river.

Such a pity that the original circuit, otherwise fine for buggies or wheelchairs, is spoilt by four steps at Lothianbridge and a flight of 30 as you come back to Newbattle. As it is, either half is an enjoyable walk but the circuit is impossible for wheelchairs and presents these awkward details for buggies.

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