outside in

When traffic on the Union Canal was at its height, the small village of Ratho boasted 14 pubs and its own distillery. One of these watering holes, appropriately called the Pop Inn, appears to have been designed with a door at either end of the bar. This allowed a bargeman to leave his horse towing on the canal, enter the bar, down a half and a half or two and make a sharp exit at the other end of the bar without his horse noticing his absence. Today the Pop Inn is no more. The Bridge Inn opposite the towpath does offer good food and drink, although you're more likely to be assaulted by a gaggle of geese and ducks demanding bread with menace.

Opened in 1822, the canal linked Edinburgh with the Forth and Clyde canal at Falkirk. Dug by an army of navvies, including the body snatchers William Burke and William Hare, it offered Edinburgh to Glasgow in 13 hours, plus easy access to Edinburgh for Monklands coal. For a while Hare's wife Lucky worked alongside her husband - dressed as a man. But within 20 years the first rail link had been built between the cities. The Union Canal was closed in 1965 and sections infilled, built over and blocked by roads. The ambitious Millennium Link hopes to re-open much of these waterways to traffic. Meanwhile, the canals offer recreation to walkers, cyclists and kayakers. The towpath, easily gained from one of the large car parks close to the Bridge Inn, starts quite open, but is soon hemmed in by crag-lined banks and trees. As the canal opens out again, the history of transport confronts you. A canal

at your feet, vehicles thundering past on the M8, jets roaring overhead from Edinburgh Airport and trains clattering over the Almond viaduct en route to Waverley Station. This section of towpath can be windswept, but once you are beyond the bridge into Clifton Mains the towpath is sheltered once more. Pass under a series of bridges - if you have kids with you then don't forget to holler, the echoes are surprisingly loud - and suddenly you are at the Almond aqueduct. It's difficult to appreciate what all the fuss is about until you walk into the middle and look down on the River Almond 75ft below. Downstream the M8 passes over the river on a distant bridge, upstream the Almond leads to Almondell and Calder Wood Country Park. Steps beside the aqueduct allow you to descend to the river. Return to Ratho by retracing your outward steps.

l Map: OS Landranger sheet 65; distance: four and a half miles; time: about two hours; terrain: level towpath; kit: boots or wellies.

Tom Prentice