Pentland Hills Bicycle Circuit

IMG_0300 The Pentland Hills Bicycle Circuit makes a very different but equally enjoyable trip from bicycling on the Union Canal towpath.

A very nice day trip from Edinburgh is to do an easy crossing of the Pentland Hills, south of the city. This trip is about 35 miles and should take about six hours, counting stops. The trip is most suitable for mountain bikes but hybrids with aggressive tires should also be suitable, as there are no steep off-road sections.

The trip can be done with the Spokes Edinburgh Cycle Map and the Spokes Midlothian Cycle Map, but the Spokes West Lothian covers part of the trip, and is useful to find the correct entry to the Pentland Hills. The Guide to the Water of Leith Walkway, available from the Water of Leith Walkway information center (at the end of the walkway in the direction of the trip) is useful for the first part of the trip. The leaflet Mountain Biking in the Pentland Hills is also useful and is available at the Ranger Center (again, at the end of the Pentland Hills in the direction of this trip.) The trip is not too difficult to navigate, but there are some mildly tricky bits, and at least one sign pointing the wrong direction.

Edinburgh to Balerno, on the Water of Leith Walkway

IMG_0263 The trip can start anywhere on the Water of Leith Walkway in Edinburgh. The lower part of the walkway has some steps and narrow spots, so it is probably best to start at Roseburn Park. However, the lower Leith is very pretty, particularly around Dean Village, so starting lower down is definitely an attractive option. An alternative would to be to take the Union Canal towpath (NCN75) and join the Water of Leith walkway after the Slateford Aqueduct. This would be especially attractive if you haven't aleady taken the Union Canal towpath, but the towpath is so nice it deserves its own trip (or two). Getting to either starting point is not particularly easy, and the Spokes Edinburgh Cycle Map is helpful here.

IMG_0265 Continue up the Water of Leith Walkway, taking care to cross the Water when needed. There are several walking/cycling paths leading away from the Water, but you shouldn't go very far until you realize that you have gone wrong. The Water of Leith, and most of the small rivers around Edinburgh, was a center of industry since before the Industrial Revolution, and parts of the Water show this past. However, there are more than enough pretty parts to overcome the not-so-pretty bits. Eventually you will come to the Slateford Aqueduct, where the Union Canal crosses the valley of the Water of Leith, a magnificent structure. Next to the aquaduct is a railway viaduct. You can visit the Water of Leith Walkway visitor center, and buy a map that shows you where you have just gone.

IMG_0279 IMG_0270 Continue on the Water of Leith Walkway, behind the Tickled Trout. The walkway here has steps but there is a beautiful falls in this section, behind a small structure. Alternatively, climb up to the Union Canal towpath and follow NCN75, which connect to the walkway after about 1/2 mile. The walkway here is on an old railroad right-of-way, and thus has no steep gradients, but you will be steadily going uphill. There is a short, but interesting, tunnel that you will pass through. Take the walkway to its end at Balerno (still on the Edinburgh Cycle Map).

Balerno to Penicuik, through the Pentland Hills

IMG_0298 IMG_0296 In Balerno turn left at the road (not right, as does NCN75). Turn left again on Bavelaw Road, which will soon turn into Mansfield Road. Take Mansfield Road up a moderate, but long, hill towards Bavelaw. When you see the turnoff to the Threipmuir Reservor parking lot, continue on straight and soon onto the private road to Bavelaw. Take this road over the Threipmuir Reservor and up a steep hill to the open Pentland Hills.

IMG_0319 IMG_0308 After going through a gate (be sure to close it after you), turn left on the fields towards Glencorse Reservoir and Penicuik. Continue along this path through the lovely Pentland Hills. Don't worry about it being steep, you have already seen the steepest uphill part of the trip so far. The path winds between steep hills with lots of heather and ferns. On the downhill side, there is a lovely waterfall. At the end of the path you will end up at The Howe, on the Midlothian Cycle Map. From there a single-lane road will take you by two reservoirs to the Pentland Hills ranger station, where you can get a map showing where you have just been.

There are several other options for transiting the Pentland Hills. An interesting one would be to take the Old Kirk Road, which goes over the hills from The Howe to Penicuik. This "road" is quite steep, but is listed as suitable for biking, with care.

After the ranger station turn right just before the main road, and continue up the hill next to the main road. Most of the way up the hill, turn left towards Mauricewood, and then right on Edinburgh Road into Penicuik.

Penicuik to Edinburgh, mostly on old railroad rights-of-way

IMG_0330 In Penicuik, turn left on Eastfield Farm Road. Follow it around to its end, and turn left again on Eastfield Road. Quickly turn right on Kirk Hill Road, which becomes High Street in the center of town. There are lots of places to eat in Penicuik, if you haven't brought a picnic lunch to enjoy in the Hills. Turn left on Bridge Street and left again on Valleyfield Road, just before River North Esk. (The detail map of Penicuik on the back of the Midlothian Cycle Map is quite useful here.)

IMG_0332 IMG_0336 The next part of the trip is on another old railroad right-of-way, mostly along the River North Esk. The River Esk was also a center of industry, and there are some not-very-nice ruined industrial buildings. Continue on the right-of-way, which is in places overlain by minor roads, through several tunnels and on a very pretty viaduct over the river to just outside Rosewell. The right-of-way is mostly wooded, and there are some extremely lovely sections. There are many bridges to carry roads over the right-of-way. Almost all of them are very pretty, and some are spectacular.

IMG_0345345 Cross A6094 and continue on the railroad right-of-way, which is not too obvious here, but starts out paralleling the road. After a while, the right-of-way will come out in the open, with nice vistas over farmland to the Moorfoot Hills in the distance. This right-of-way goes through Bonnyrigg, where the station platforms have been converted to a park and a short section of the right-of-way is overlain by a quiet road. Here the path leaves the right-of-way and NCN Route 1 joins in from the right. Just after Bonnyrigg there is a jog to get back on the right-of-way, but the NCN1 signs are quite distinctive.

IMG_0346 The right-of-way continues through Eskbank. Here NCN1 turns off to the right at a junction in the right-of-way. A shorter way back to Edinburgh would be to follow the right-of-way straight and then continue on Old Dalkeith Road (A7) through Danderhall and into Edinburgh. NCN1, however, goes through Eskbank and Dalkeith. Dalkeith, in particular, is a very pretty town. Just don't turn right at the end of the railroad right-of-way on Eskbank Road. Turn left instead, even though the sign says to turn right. The back of the Midlothian Cycle Map has an excellent map of Bonnyrigg, Eskbank, and Dalkeith. After turning left, follow the NCN1 signs (but don't believe all the mileages on them) to an off-road path to Whitecraig.

IMG_0350 IMG_0348 From here NCN1 takes a wide variety of paths and minor roads to Brunstane. Just follow the signs, which are good, and plentiful. At Brunstane take the stairs over the railroad and continue onto a pleasant path, which is well marked. Soon you will reach the Innocent Railway Path. The Innocent Railway was one of the oldest railways in Scotland, and the cars were originally drawn by horses. At the end of the path there is an astonishingly long tunnel. After the tunnel, NCN1 continues to central Edinburgh, but you can get off anytime.