Crisscrossing in the Lothians

Crisscrossing in the Lothians

Spring is definitely here, the spring cleaning has been done, the allotment tidied up, time to get some cycling in. We have been out a few times this year, there was the ride out to Linlithgow Park Bistro Bistro for lunch with friends (who had also cycled from Glasgow, Stirling and the wee Kingdom), the jaunt out along the coast to enjoy the sunshine, and somewhere else which I have forgotten. One of the great things about Edinburgh is that there is a wonderful range of countryside just outside the city, and now, with summer on the way, we were looking for new access routes out to enjoy it. The standard route out to the east is along the Sustrans NCN 1, but there are sections of this route which we would rather avoid, so the search is on for new routes.

Having looked at the Spokes cycle map, Ulli wanted to try a route which would avoid the Niddry neds you sometimes come across on the Innocent Railway path, and the foot bridge at Brunstane Station. I do sometimes wonder if the people who plan the Sustrans routes ever try cycling them first, routing a long distance cycle route over a railway foot bridge makes no sense. Our route took us out through a traffic clogged Porty, apparently there were road works on Sir Harry Lauder Road, either way those trapped in cars were looking fairly miserable, which just served to show there are better choices than the car for local journeys. We tried a wee off road path, called the Christian Path (named after Major Hugh Henry Christian, Provost of Portobello, who campaigned for it as a shortcut between the station and Argyle Crescent in the 1880’s, apparently), which was passable but looked as though it could become overgrown later in the year. This pops you out on Argyle Crescent and provides a useful means of bypassing Sir Harry Lauder Road. From the end of Argyle Crescent we headed south and found our way back on to the NCN 1 by Brunstane Station on the far side of the footbridge, which then wends its way through “the Wimpeys”. I always find this bit architecturally challenging, it is as if a small housing 1980’s housing estate has been uprooted from the English home counties and dumped on the edge of Musselburgh with no regard for the local vernacular.

We carried on along the NCN 1 to Whitecraig, where we parted company from it. On a previous ride (which I half wrote up then never got around to publishing) we had the followed the NCN 1 route. This takes you through Whitecraig then just at the end of the 30mph speed limit, with very little notice tells you to turn right on to an off-road cycle path.

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The last place you want to execute a right turn as a cyclist, at short notice, is where the speed limit changes from 30mph to 60mph, because you can be absolutely certain the drivers following you will have just seen the national speed limit sign (known by police traffic officers as the GLF, motorist see it and they Go Like F… well you can work out last word for yourself). Many will be desperate to overtake and will not take kindly to the cyclists in front, either signalling a right turn or even stopping while they try to pass. If you use the Street View above, you will see that not only is the direction sign hidden by a bush, but you have to dodge around the end of the railings and there is no dropped kerb, fun, fun, fun, not. Once you have managed to join the off-road path, it leads off towards a couple of old bings. Nothing wrong with that, apart from their popularity with the local neds using quad and trail bikes. Being passed by a 14 year old on a quad bike travelling at about 40mph (65Km/h) on a narrow path is rather disconcerting, and not an experience one is inclined to repeat.

Therefore, we parted company with the NCN 1 and turned onto the A6094, which we followed for about 500 m, then turned off onto a farm road and headed uphill towards another bing. There are a number of old bings in this area, reminders of Midlothian’s mining and industrial past. At some point along this road we had joined Cycle Route 73 which we followed until it turned off along an old railway line. In the past we have cycled along this path, but this time we decided to follow the road up into the village of Cousland. The villagers seem to be much exercised by the prospect of a new opencast coalmine, so it looks like mining is not just in Midlothian’s past, but to judge by the number of posters, it is not popular with the residents of Cousland. We were looking for a shop but there wasn’t one here, so we pushed on to Ormiston, where we bought refreshments at the local Co-Op, taking it in turns to stand with the bikes. While I was waiting for Ulli to get her shopping, a number of the locals turned up, some tough looking lads who could have been intimidating if they hadn’t been discussing the late spring and that they were only just getting the carrots and onions sown on the allotment.

Suitably refreshed, we headed back the way we had come, then turning south rather than going back into Cousland. There was a short downhill section, I was just starting to crank up the speed to enjoy a sprint when a car appeared around the bend at the bottom and I had to slam on the anchors, drat and double drat. For the most part these roads were quiet with little traffic, even when we had a short section of A road. We picked up the B6367 and rode on through rolling farmland, and just before Pathhead we turned off onto a minor road which runs south, roughly parallel to the A68. Again this was pleasant cycling along quiet roads, highlights included the Doocot at Whitburgh House, a pair of wheatears (Oenanthe oenanthe) flying along a hedgerow, and a splendid cock fowl (Gallus gallus) outside a cottage.

At one stage we went down a wee road so little used, there was grass growing in the middle of it. This road then dropped steeply downhill through woodland, it was strewn with debris left over from a recent storm, which made for interesting cycling. This led us to Fala Dam, a pretty wee place, but uphill to get out of, first we tried Fala which would be a nice place if it wasn’t for the main road (A68). Then we tried the other way out of Fala Dam and crossed the A68 to find a wee road leading to Crichton, which gave us views across open country to the Lime Kiln House, which featured on Grand Designs, it’s huge.

Having reached Crichton, we stopped to revise our plans, originally we were going to work our way round south of Gorebridge to pick up the NCN 1. However, as we had set out late in the day, we decided to go for Pathhead, from where we took a wee back road, initially 10% downhill to the village of Ford. After crossing the Tyne Water the road climbed steadily uphill again. As we passed through Edgehead, a couple of the locals helpfully told us that we were over halfway to the top. Topping out at 187 m it was then downhill again for a couple of kilometres, until we crossed the South Esk in Dalkeith. We then turned for home through Gilmerton.

There is a map of our route here.

My stats were:

  • Distance cycled – 62.3 Km
  • Time spent riding – 03:15:00
  • Max Speed – 66.5 Km/h
  • Ave Speed – 19.2 Km/h
  • Vertical climb – ca. 610 m

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