Ratho stands on a ridge on the south-east side of the plain of the River Almond. The name is thought by some to come from the old Gaelic for fortress, and while no remains of an ancient fortress exist, it is clear that the village dates back at least a thousand years.
The best evidence for this lies towards the northern edge of the village, where you find St Mary's, or Ratho Parish Church. Parts of St Mary's can be dated as far back as the 1100s, and it has been steadily added to and expanded since: to the point where the later extensions almost completely hide the original church. Ratho is also home to a second St Mary's in the form of the Episcopal church built in 1850 on the edge of the nearby Dalmahoy Estate.
With the exception of the Huly Hill Cairn, a mile and a half to the north, nothing else still standing in Ratho is as old as the early parts of the parish church, though by the 1400s Hatton Castle stood a mile or so to the south-west of today's village. This was developed into Hatton House in the 1660s, but burned down in 1952 and the ruin was later demolished. The most recent addition to the surrounding landscape is the spectacular Edinburgh International Climbing Arena.
Ratho itself grew steadily until 1822. That was the year in which the Union Canal opened, linking Edinburgh to Falkirk and the Forth and Clyde Canal. The canal is 31½ miles long and follows the 240ft or 73.1m contour the whole way, thus avoiding the need for any locks throughout its length. It just so happens that the 240ft contour passes through Ratho between the main part of the village and St Mary's church, and the Union Canal follows it. Two miles west of Ratho the canal crosses the River Almond via the spectacular Lin's Mill Aqueduct.
For a golden age of 20 years until the advent of the railways, the Union Canal was part of the quickest and most reliable route across Scotland, and Ratho grew in importance with it. But when the railway linked Edinburgh and Glasgow it took a more northerly and lower route. Ratho Station is actually a separate settlement a mile to the north on the A8: and even it now has no station.
And though the M8 motorway passes a few hundred yards north of the village, access is via a network of very minor roads, leaving Ratho feeling oddly secluded for somewhere less than 10 miles from the centre of Edinburgh and only a couple of miles from Edinburgh Airport. Between Ratho and the airport is the excellent Norton House Hotel.
The canals of lowland Scotland effectively closed in 1965. The building of the M8 later cut the Union Canal a few miles west of Ratho, while the building of the new housing scheme on the outskirts of Edinburgh at Wester Hailes involved filling in a whole section of canal only a few miles east of Ratho. In most people's eyes the old canals became just a minor footnote in history books.
But in the face of this overwhelming evidence of their demise, some people still believed that Scotland's canals had a future. One was Ronnie Rusack, who took over the Bridge Inn in Ratho in 1971. By 1974 he was offering a canalboat restaurant service along the restricted length of the canal still open either side of Ratho.
In 1989 Ronnie Rusack opened the Edinburgh Canal Centre at the Bridge Inn: and slowly the tide began to turn. Incredibly enough the Union Canal and the Forth and Clyde Canals have now been completely restored. This huge undertaking involved re-digging filled-in stretches of canal in both Edinburgh and Glasgow, and it involved physically raising a section of the M8 motorway to allow the Union Canal to pass underneath. And, most spectacular of all, it involved building the Falkirk Wheel. The opening of this by the Queen in May 2002 marked the completion of the restoration of the canals. It links the two canals together and replaces a filled-in staircase of 11 locks.
As a result it is once again possible to cruise from Ratho to anywhere on the restored canal system and the range of cruising and dining options offered by the Bridge Inn and the Canal Centre has expanded dramatically.
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