Outdoor Education at the River Almond

We are writing this on 29th April 2020. We, like the rest of the world are still in lock down, and for some, this also means home schooling. Like other families across the globe, the rhythm of home schooling should now be at a good tempo, right? Working through the on-line lessons, taking tasks on and solving problems, reading, art, science and more! Really! Was it like this in the 70s?! Our task is to keep our 9-year old son, Andrew, enthusiastic about his education. Thankfully, our 14-year old daughter is working like a bee on her own in her bedroom, right? But back to our son… the home-schooling day is either a runs smoothly day, or a wading through treacle day! Today, our first lesson is getting out into nature for some fresh air (also known as Physical Education) yep, you’ve guessed it, it is a ‘wading through treacle day’! So, we are donning our cycling gear and bikes and getting out for some fitness, nature and history. What a perfect start to any day…

After a short bike ride, we find ourselves in the north west part of Edinburgh, known as Cramond Brig. The place takes its name from the bridge which crosses the river Almond (brig is a Scottish word for bridge), and this bridge has stood here since the 17th century. But there has been a sandstone bridge here over the river Almond since the 1400s and it linked historic Edinburgh-shire to Linlithgow-shire, however the original bridge fell into disrepair and was derelict and unpassable by 1587. It was re-built in 1619 with additional repairs in 1761 and 1776. Today the bridge is used for walkers and cyclists only. The bridge has three arches and is a wonderful piece of workmanship and engineering.

Stepping off the Cramond Brig we walk on the east side of the river Almond heading north. Here, the river Almond is an ‘only the locals know about it’ kind of place. Local people love this spot for walking and cycling - it is a noticeably quiet, serene walk alongside river, trees and nature. The river is also known for its history in milling. Between the Cramond Brig and the village of Cramond on the mighty Firth of Forth, which is only a distance of one mile, there were five mills all in operation from the 18th to the early 20th century. Dowie’s Mill, Craigie Mill, Peggies Mill, Cockle Mill and Fair a Far Mill used the power of the river Almond through a series of weirs to mill Iron, Old Grain and Walk (washing, stretching and beating woven yarn), Corn and paper. The best-preserved mill building is Fair a Far Mill about one mile down the river but today we are at Dowie’s Mill which is right beside the Cramond Brig and we can cycle no more. Remember, this is a treacle day!

David or (Dowie) Strachan, was the owner of local Whitehouse and lands in 1750. Dowie was also a partner in the Smith and Wright company which bought other mills on the river and by 1782 they were all converted to assist with iron works ventures. Spade making became one of the Cramond Company’s specialities during the 18th century and it was also at this time that Dowie’s employed a colony of nail workers. Later the mill was converted to a sawmill and used for timber production.

There are no remains of the actual building of Dowie’s Mill but you can still see sections of the sluice and sluice gate socket remains at the old mill dam. This is a beautiful spot and is now an approved location for Hindus and Sikhs to scatter the ashes of their loved ones into the flowing waters of the river Almond.

There are some old workers cottages still standing by the river and it is nice to see they are still used for housing today. I would say it is a lovely place to stay, gone is the noise of local industry to be replaced by the sound of nature and bird song, now I like the sound of that!

There is another reason for our cycle to the Cramond Brig & The River Almond, we are doing some sound tests for our, soon to be launched Podcasts on off the beaten track gems across Edinburgh and Scotland…

So now we must cycle back to the house. It is only one and a half miles, I am feeling good and I think Andrew is out of the treacle, phew! Let the afternoon’s education commence…