WALK – Loanhead to Bilston

Walk length: 2 miles
Gradient: Very low
Parking: Yes; although the suggested route is not circular. The start & end are well-served by public transport.
Dogs allowed: Yes
Disabled access: Some of the paths are narrow and can be muddy; discretion advised

Walk route, description and photos by Dougie Mathieson

View a full-size version of the map of the Loanhead to Bilston walk.


Situated just to the southwest of Edinburgh, and easily accessible by public transport, Loanhead and Bilston are adjoining former mining villages. Bilston Glen Colliery, which opened in 1963, was one of the deepest mines in Europe – it closed in 1989, after being flooded during the 1984-5 miners’ strike, and few traces of the former colliery buildings remain.

However, the site is a splendid example of a former industrial site returning to its natural state – although new developments have sprung up in recent years, much of the area is still covered with the spoils associated with the former mine, and has been colonised by a rich variety of wildlife.

The short walk described here is only one of several possible routes taking in the many paths and tracks in the area – a good map is a help, although most paths and junctions are well signposted. Many of the paths can be muddy, so good walking shoes or boots are recommended. Incidentally, the OS Landranger map (sheet 66) which covers this area, displays a curious lack of contours or other topographical information for the land around much of the old colliery workings – a local Area 51, perhaps?

From the bus stop in Loanhead, it is a short stroll to one of the many access points to the dismantled railway track which once formed part of the Glencorse branch of the Edinburgh, Loanhead & Roslin Railway, one of many branch lines used to transport passengers, as well as coal and other freight around the Lothians. The track leads southwest through a cutting for several hundred metres, before arriving at an open expanse of ground, formerly the site of numerous sidings for the trucks carrying coal from the colliery.

Disused railway sidings

Disused railway sidings

The track then continues across the spectacular Bilston Glen Viaduct, originally built in 1892, and renovated in 1999. A metal plaque at the northern end of the viaduct details some of the history of the structure. From the middle of the viaduct, there are panoramic views both southeast towards the heart of the Lothians, and also northwest to the Pentland Hills.

Bilston Glen Viaduct

Bilston Glen Viaduct

In late autumn, the mixed woodland clinging to the sides of the steep valley carrying the Bilston Burn far below provides a splendid tapestry of autumnal colours. A few hundred metres from the southern end, a path leads off to the right into Bilston Woods, and twists and turns its way along the top of a steep, tree-covered slope high above the Bilston Burn. 

A few hundred metres southwestwards through the woodland, the path veers to the right, and after crossing a small burn, a signpost is reached, with the choice of heading right, back to Loanhead via the old Bilson Glen Colliery workings and the viaduct, or left, to Bilston or Roslin.

Taking the left hand turn on this walk, head southwest along a narrow path, between gorse and bramble bushes. On a previous visit here, we spotted a fox amongst the undergrowth, which gave us a baleful look before scampering off. Follow this path until it bears round to the right, to arrive at another signpost, offering the choice of Roslin & Polton, or Bilston.

The path marked Bilston curves round to the right, and follows a straight route northwest between fields, to the A701 at the northeastern end of Bilston village. If you take this path, you will notice the distinctive shape of Dryden Tower, a 19th century Gothic folly, situated in the middle of a field to the right.

Dryden Tower

Dryden Tower

As you approach the A701, you pass close to the western end of Bilston Woods – this is/was the site of the Bilston Glen anti-bypass protest, an encampment constructed by eco-warriors to protest against the proposed destruction of part of this beautiful woodland to make way for yet another busy road carrying traffic to and from Edinburgh. I am not sure if the camp is currently in use – perhaps you will find out should you walk by here!

Treehouse

Treehouse

The path marked Roslin & Polton descends gently until a narrow wooden footbridge crosses one of the many small streams feeding into the Bilston Burn. A few metres from the southwestern end, another choice of routes is offered – turn left, and a narrow path wends its way southeastwards amongst bushes and shrubs, eventually rejoining the Loanhead-Roslin cycle track next to the stone memorial for the Battle of Roslin in 1302. From here, you can either return northeastwards back to Loanhead, or walk southwestwards into the historic village of Roslin, perhaps visiting Rosslyn Chapel or Roslin Castle.

If, however, the right-hand path is followed from the wooden footbridge mentioned above, this curves round the high perimeter wall of one of the many agricultural research institutes in the area, and overlooks a steep, wooded slope leading down to another of the many streams which make this area worthy of exploration.

View of the Pentlands

View of the Pentlands

The path eventually joins a metalled road, which continues past yet more research institutes, before joining the B7006 Roslin to Bilston road. Turn right, enjoy the view of the Pentland Hills to the northwest, and you will soon reach Bilston, from where a variety of buses will take you back into Edinburgh.

View a full-size version of the map of the Loanhead to Bilston walk.

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