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Walk Scotland's Pentland Hills with a Cicerone guidebook - Sample Route

Cover of Walking in the Pentland Hills
7 Oct 2016
17.2 x 11.6 x 1.1cm
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Walking in the Pentland Hills

30 walks in Edinburgh's local hills

by Susan Falconer
Book published by Cicerone Press

Guidebook featuring 30 circular walks on Scotland's Pentland Hills, easily accessible from Edinburgh and home to peaks such as Scald Law and Carnethy Hill. Ranging from 2 to 17 miles, the routes are suitable for all abilities. Written by a local Countryside Ranger, the routes offer interesting and varied walking through diverse landscapes.

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This guidebook details 30 circular walks in Scotland's Pentland Hills, a range of low summits which extends between Edinburgh and Biggar in South Lanarkshire. Ranging from 3 to 27km (2-17 miles), there is something to suit all abilities from the novice to the experienced hill-walker, with each route showcasing a different aspect of the area's unique character. 

Step-by-step route description is accompanied by 1:50,000 OS mapping and a wealth of interesting information on the region's rich natural and cultural heritage: its geology, history, wildlife and connections with literary greats such as Robert Louis Stevenson and Sir Walter Scott. Local place names are explained, local folklore explored and there is a helpful glossary of dialect terms.  

The Pentland Hills can be enjoyed in all seasons. Although the highest summit, Scald Law, stands at 579m, stunning vistas belie their modest elevation: this is a region of grass and heather-clad slopes which rise above picturesque valleys hiding streams and reservoirs. Walking in the Pentland Hills is an ideal companion to discovering great walking on Scotland's most accessible hills. 

  • Activities
  • Seasons
    All seasons - a mild climate with little snow
  • Centres
    Edinburgh, Penicuik, West Linton, Lanark
  • Difficulty
    A basic level of navigational skills is required, but the routes should not cause any wayfinding difficulties. Height mainly 400-550m.
  • Must See
    Archaeological remains, historical and folkloric associations, castles, literary connections (Scott and RL Stevenson), views from the tops, wildlife
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We are always grateful to readers for information about any discrepancies between a guidebook and the facts on the ground. If you would like to send some information to us then please use our Feedback form. They will be published here following review by the author(s).


Approaches and accommodation
Choosing a walk
Access rights and responsibilities
Following a route
Geology and landscape
Cultural heritage
Place names and dialect Words
Old maps
Previous Pentlands guidebooks
Literary Connections with the Pentland Hills
Protecting and enjoying the hills
The Walks
Walk 1 A capital view
Walk 2 In Stevenson’s footsteps
Walk 3 Hill, moor and wood
Walk 4 Three reservoirs
Walk 5 A phantom walk
Walk 6 Harlaw Reservoir circuit
Walk 7 Black Hill, Green Cleuch and Red Moss
Walk 8 Carnethy and Turnhouse
Walk 9 Three peaks
Walk 10 Pentland classic
Walk 11 Thieves’ Road
Walk 12 West Linton and Siller Holes
Walk 13 Roman road
Walk 14 Covenanters and cairns
Walk 15 Walking with wolves
Walk 16 Poets and witches
Walk 17 North Esk Valley
Walk 18 The Monks’ Road
Walk 19 The four tops
Walk 20 The Carnethy 5
Walk 21 Carnethy canter
Walk 22 History in the hills
Walk 23 Flotterstone and Fala Knowe
Walk 24 Two cleuchs
Walk 25 Pentland tops
Walk 26 Historical hike
Walk 27 Exploring Caerketton
Walk 28 Find your way
Walk 29 Reservoir round
Walk 30 Robin’s round
Appendix A Route summary table
Appendix B Bibliography
Appendix C Glossary

Sample Route

Hill, moor and wood
Start/FinishDreghorn car park (NT228679)
Distance7km (including a circuit of the reservoir)
Total Ascent225m
MapsOrdnance Survey Landranger 66 or Ordnance Survey Explorer 344

Wooded areas contrast sharply with open hill and moorland. This is a walk of variety, through a mosaic of habitats, with the opportunity to enjoy good views in fine weather.

1 Start from Dreghorn car park, just off the A720 at Dreghorn junction (NT228679). From the car park, go east towards the road entrance that you entered by and take the track that heads towards the hills. There is a signpost: ‘Castlelaw by the Howden Glen, with the co-operation of the landowner’.

Follow this track, which is tarmac in places, passing a copse of trees on a knoll called Chucklie (mistakenly) or Chuckie (correctly) Knowe. (The 1852 OS map shows a quarry here, and ‘chuckie’ is the Scots word for pebble.)

Capital views from the drystone seat commemorating the centenary of World War 1

The place names in this area are interesting. Dreghorn is recorded as ‘Dregerne’ in 1240, ‘Dregarne’ in 1374 and ‘Dragorn’ in 1682. The name is British, from dre, ‘the farm’, and gronn, ‘a bog’. Capelaw Hill is part Celtic, ceap meaning ‘pointed hill’ (also referring to the Kips) and part Anglian, law also meaning ‘conical hill’. The 1794 Statistical Account applies the name Capelaw to Allermuir Hill. For a full description of place names refer to S Harris’s The Place Names of Edinburgh, Their Origins and History (see bibliography).

Keep on the track, crossing a broken gate, fording a small burn and heading on the track up a grassy area until you eventually cross a bridge and reach a small stone building, Green Craig Cistern.

‘Edinburgh Thomas Elder Praefect MDCCIXC’ is carved on the lintel of Green Craig Cistern. Thomas Elder of Forneth was lord provost of Edinburgh from 1788 to 1790, and the construction of a water pipeline to supply the city was begun during his tenure.

Green Craig Cistern, with Arthur’s Seat in the distance

Go past the cistern and head up a grassy track to the southwest. Much of the gorse has been cleared to allow native trees and shrubs to be planted, and to enable the planting of the First World War Centenary Wood, opened by the Princess Royal on 23 May 2015. There is a lovely drystone seat with magnificent views over Edinburgh.

2 Remain on the track as it climbs up the slope of White Hill (not named on OS66) and keep to it on rising ground that can be boggy in places.

3 As the ground levels out you will reach a tumbled-down drystane dyke and you may need to pick your way through the rushes alongside the dyke and fence. Keep on this path until you reach a cattle-grid and gate at NT217665.

Pick up a path that goes right, to the plantation around Bonaly Reservoir. Follow the fence and drystane dyke on your right until you reach a gate. Go through the gate and walk straight ahead downhill for a few metres, where there is a signpost indicating Bonaly.

4 Follow the path to Bonaly and you will see Bonaly Reservoir on the left. A pleasant diversion is to walk around the perimeter of the reservoir, picking out a narrow path that starts by the plantation (this is included in the 7km distance for this walk).

The present Bonaly Reservoir was constructed in 1851 to replace two smaller reservoirs, built in 1789 when Edinburgh’s expanding New Town was placing greater demands on the water supply. In 1786 the town council drew up plans to create two ponds at Bonaly, and after a prolonged court case these reservoirs were built. The abandoned dam at NT212663, to the northeast of the present dam, is a relic of the first reservoir. The present-day reservoir was constructed on the site of the second reservoir.

Back at the point from which you made your diversion round the reservoir, there is a good track leading downhill towards the woodlands of lower Bonaly Country Park.

An area of heather moorland lies to the west of the track, and curlew, skylark, meadow pipit and red grouse are heard and sometimes seen here. The views across to the Ochils and beyond are spectacular on a clear day. To the east, Dean Burn cuts its way down a steep rocky gorge. The ungrazed slopes are where juniper, rowan and birch grow, and common blue butterflies feed in sunny spots in summer.

Go through the gate at the top of the woodland, where there is another signpost indicating Bonaly. Follow this track down, past a disused building on the right and a circular stone viewpoint on the left, to reach a car park. Don’t go through the gate into the car park.

A sign by the gate at the car park indicates Dreghorn. Follow this sign and take a small path that cuts down through the trees to cross a burn by a wooden bridge. The path is very narrow here, and after about 10m ascends to a few steps to the left. An orienteering control post is here in the shrubs.

5 From the top of the steps take this path as it leads off to the east and follows the perimeter fence of Bonaly Scout Camp. There has been a good deal of woodland creation on these slopes. Areas have been fenced to exclude deer and to allow natural regeneration and additional protection to planted native woodland. The path climbs steeply and eventually flattens out, then descends through a grassy area to a gate. There is another signpost indicating Dreghorn just next to the gate. Go through the gate and walk across the field ahead of you, on a grassy path under a line of electricity pylons that marches parallel to the city bypass, roaring 400m away to your left.

Having crossed the field, the path leads onto another track next to a hedge. Stay on this until you reach a cattle-grid, and the foundations of Dreghorn Mains, a ruined farm, is on your left. The farm is about 1km from the gate and previous sign to Dreghorn. A SRWS sign at the cattle-grid points your return to Dreghorn car park, passing the farm buildings and going through a small wooden gate, with the traffic on the bypass tearing by.

Dean Burn Gorge

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