Cycling in Edinburgh by the Cycling Scot
Colin Baird is a keen cyclist and runs the popular Cycling Scot website. Colin writes about his cycling adventures around the country and has written this guest piece for us about cycling in and around Edinburgh.
Cycling within Edinburgh
Edinburgh is blessed with extensive traffic-free cycle routes. There are over 45 miles with disused railway lines forming the backbone of the network. There used to be train services from Edinburgh to Leith until 1952 and now you can follow the old track bed on smooth and speedy tarmac. The Innertube map, designed in the style of a London tube plan, provides a stylish overview of the paths. It is a good place to start planning your cycling adventures.
Across the city you will have noticed the blue signs with the white bicycle symbol, pointing to a destination. They will take you to some wonderful places, so give them a try.
To get you inspired I would like to share three of my favourite places to take my bike in Edinburgh.
The Meadows and Bruntsfield Links.
Combine sunshine, pottering around on the bike and a picnic for the perfect Meadows experience. There are dedicated cycle lanes marked on the wider paths around and through these green spaces. Everyone respects the lanes with the cyclists sticking to their side and the pedestrians staying in their bit, so it works really well.
Top tip: Why not add a round of golf to your bike trip? Bruntsfield Links is the oldest short-hole course in the world and free to play on.
The Union Canal
At Fountainbridge you will find the Union Canal, which has a flat and traffic-free path running alongside it. It is the ideal choice for those new to cycling with no vehicles to worry about and you can’t go wrong with the navigation. It is surprisingly green and peaceful for a city location. You can reach Ratho in 9 miles where The Bridge Inn provides a tasty lunch option, but the beauty of this path is that you can choose a cycling distance you are comfortable with and turn back when you have had enough. It is advisable to have a bell on your bike as it can be a busy place with dog walkers, runners and anglers.
Top tip: Do not miss tea and cake on a narrow boat! Zazou is moored near Harrison Gardens and you can step aboard for a unique café experience. They even keep puncture repair kits for cyclists in need.
For city views to die for you cannot get better than Holyrood Park. The trade-off is that you will face a steep climb that takes you to Dunsapie Loch, but after that you can then speed back down the other side. The road is smooth tarmac and goes all the way around the park and Arthur’s Seat. On Sundays the road is closed to vehicular traffic.
Top tip: Bring a camera for the best views over Edinburgh.
Once you have mastered these routes then why not consider some day trips from Edinburgh? Here are three of my favourites:
Crossing the Forth Road Bridge
This 13 mile route begins at Haymarket and proceeds, via Cramond, mostly on traffic-free paths and very quiet roads. There is a dedicated cycle lane on the Forth Bridge that is separated from the road, so it is very safe and easy to stop for a rest or to take photos. You will feel like you are on the bridge forever as it is 2.5km long, but this is a good thing as it gives plenty of time to enjoy the spectacular view of the iconic Forth Railway Bridge. Do not forget to look back at South Queensferry with its pretty waterfront promenade and dramatic backdrop of the Pentland Hills. If you are too tired to pedal the return journey you can hop on a train at North Queensferry back to Edinburgh.
Top tip: Surprisingly the Forth Road Bridge goes uphill, so be prepared for some legwork. It can also be windy on the bridge.
Tour a stately home – Newhailes
It is hard to believe that a mere 5 or 6 miles from the city centre is the peace and elegance of Newhailes, a Palladian style villa. You can start this mainly traffic-free route in the Meadows where you will find the blue sign for National Cycle Route One at Buccleuch Street. All you have to do is follow these signs in the direction of Dalkeith. You are soon on the Innocent Railway path (so-called because the line was originally horse-drawn). The most exciting part of the journey is going through a 517 metre long tunnel that was the very first railway tunnel in the UK. On a hot summer day the cooling effect of cycling into the tunnel is better than any air conditioning machine. It is dimly lit and quite spooky, but adds a fun element to the trip. At the other end you emerge into a corridor of trees and wildflowers with the craggy backdrop of Holyrood Park.
The route continues to Duddingston, Niddrie and Brunstane. When the path ends at Newhailes Road don’t follow the cycle signs- they point right, but you need to turn left to reach Newhailes. This can be a busy road, but you will be on it for less than half a mile and you can always walk along the pavement if you are not comfortable cycling it.
The unique thing about Newhailes is that the tour begins outside the house and the guide takes you in through the front door as if you are arriving as dinner guests of the Dalrymple family. Then you leave the house via a servant’s tunnel. The house has a lived-in feel as the National Trust deliberately left things the way they were after it came into their possession in the ‘90s.
Top tip: Enjoy a slab of cake in the Stable Cafe. These were the original stables of Newhailes and the tables are arranged cosily within the horse stalls. The cycle route passes two railway stations- Newcraighall and Brunstane- so there is the option to take your bike back on the train.
Sample “Edinburgh’s whisky”
Glenkinchie is the nearest distillery to Edinburgh and acquired the nickname of the “Edinburgh malt”. It is actually located in rural East Lothian farming country. It can be reached on a day trip and there will be plenty of time to do the tour and get your free sample of whisky.
This ride is approximately 30 miles and begins the same as the Newhailes cycle, except when you reach Newhailes Road you follow the Route One signs to take you to Musselburgh. From here you follow the signs for Whitecraig and then take Route 196 via Ormiston where you join the Pencaitland Railway Path.
This line closed in 1965 and is now a rough path that can get muddy in poor weather but is perfectly fine for cycling. Birdsong, trees and views of fields characterise the route. There are information panels at regular intervals that explain the history of the line and have humorous recollections from locals.
When you leave the path you are on quiet country lanes. Take a left, then the next three lefts to reach Glenkinchie.
The distillery has a visitor centre with a shop and exhibition. The standard tour takes about one hour and 15 minutes and it is a good idea to book in the peak summer season. Details are on the Glenkinchie website.
After your dram the route goes via West and East West Saltoun to join the Haddington to Longniddry path (another disused railway) where you can catch a train from Longniddry back to Edinburgh.
Top tip: the route can be tricky to follow, so using a map or GPS is a good idea. I also have a map on my website that traces the route. Bring some food and drink with you- once you are in the countryside there isn’t really anywhere to stop. You can chop 5 miles off the ride by taking the train to Musselburgh.