The South Esk rises on the western slopes of Blackhope Scar (651m), the highest of the Moorfoot Hills. The river flows north through Gladhouse and Rosebery reservoirs, and through the village of Temple, before receiving the Redside Burn.
It is then joined by the Gore Water and then the Dalhousie Burn, just to the west of Newtongrange, before passing Newbattle Abbey. It proceeds through Dalkeith before merging with the North Esk just north of Dalkeith Palace, on the border of East Lothian, having completed a course of 30km. Migratory fish can run the river South Esk as far up as Dalkeith where access is barred by a weir.
The North Esk rises in the parish of Linton, Peeblesshire, at Boarstone and Easter Cairnhill, and, after a brief course through barren moorland it is joined by the Carlops Burn and some other small tributaries. It proceeds in a north-easterly direction through the parishes of Penicuik, Lasswade, Glencorse, Cockpen, and Dalkeith. There are numerous dams on the North Esk which prevent fish migration upstream of Dalkeith Palace. These are the legacy of a once thriving paper manufacturing industry.
Below the confluence of the two streams, the Esk winds for 6km in a north-easterly direction and reaches the sea at Musselburgh. Just upstream of Musselburgh there is a weir and a fairly large lade off-take where water is believed to be abstracted for supplying the racecourse.
Some fishing on the lower river is leased by the Musselburgh District Angling Association.
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