The Pentland Hills, Midlothian and East Lothian
Think of East Lothian and Midlothian and a low-lying, predominantly rural landscape may well spring to mind, yet the Pentland Hills, just south of Edinburgh, rise to nearly 600m in height and provide some of the finest hillwalking in Scotland with wonderful views from the summits. To the east, the Lammermuir Hills may not have quite the same appeal as their near neighbours but they still offer superb hillwalking options, while North Berwick Law, Traprain Law and the Garleton Hills make up for what they lack in height with a succession of incredible panoramas. Away from the high ground there a lovely pockets of woodland, wildlife-rich country parks, fascinating historic sites and forty miles of coastline between Musselburgh and Dunbar with some of the best dune-backed beaches in the country to enjoy.
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The Pentland Hills, Midlothian and East Lothian
The Pentland Hills, Midlothian and East Lothian: Think of East Lothian and Midlothian and a low-lying, predominantly rural landscape may well spring to mind, yet the Pentland Hills, just south of Edinburgh, rise to nearly 600m in height and provide some of the finest hillwalking in Scotland with magnificent views from the summits. To the east, the Lammermuir Hills may not have quite the same appeal as their near neighbours but they still offer superb hillwalking options, while North Berwick Law, Traprain Law and the Garleton Hills make up for what they lack in height with a succession of incredible panoramas. Away from the high ground there are lovely pockets of woodland, wildlife-rich country parks, fascinating historic sites and 65km of coastline between Musselburgh and Dunbar, with some of the best dune-backed beaches in the country.
Coal mining, paper making, farming and the manufacture of gunpowder were the industries that fuelled the growth of many of the area’s towns and villages, including Gorebridge, Newtongrange, Roslin, Musselburgh and East Linton. Proximity to the Firth of Forth meant fishing was also a key industry, aiding the expansion of Musselburgh, Cockenzie, North Berwick and Dunbar. The historic Herring Road ran for 45km through the Lammermuir Hills and was a crucial through-route for fishwives who carried their huge creels of herring from Dunbar to the markets in Lauder in the Borders. Coal was mined in Midlothian as far back as the 13th century, but it was not until the late 1800s, with the opening of the Lady Victoria Colliery at Newtongrange, that the industry became a main employer. In 1794 Gore Glen was the site of Scotland’s first gunpowder mill while Roslin Glen echoed to the sound of its mills and gunpowder production from the early 1800s. North Esk Reservoir, which sits deep in the Pentland Hills, provided a constant water source for several local paper mills during the 19th and early 20th centuries while the Rivers Tyne and Esk were home to a number of mills processing wool and grain. The Pentland Hills are thought to have been farmed since the Iron Age when the Votadini tribe first ploughed the valleys, and by the 18th century an important drove route carried livestock through the hills to the great trysts at Falkirk and beyond. The Romans arrived in Scotland around 80ad and established a fort near the mouth of the River Esk at Musselburgh, while the castles at Tantallon, Dirleton and Dunbar played their part in the frequent fighting between Scotland and England which shaped our nation and identity. Like much of Scotland, tourism today plays a significant role. Visitor attractions such as the Scottish Seabird Centre at North Berwick, Preston Mill on the outskirts of East Linton and the National Mining Museum of Scotland in Newtongrange are all hugely popular. East Lothian’s glorious coastline, the Pentland Hills Regional Park and several country parks offer plenty for the outdoor enthusiast, with walking, cycling and wildlife watching all bringing people to this corner of Scotland.
The natural environment
Both Traprain Law and North Berwick Law were formed through volcanic activity more than 300 million years ago, with their shapely profiles left behind when the landscape was scoured during the last ice age. Today their summits are great vantage points over much of southern Scotland. The history of the Pentland Hills goes even further back, with the rocks within the range forming some 420 million years ago. The Pentland Fault pushed parts of the landscape upwards before ice rounded the tops and meltwater eroded the glens. Although not the highest hills in Scotland (Scald Law, the loftiest point in the Pentlands, rises to 579m above sea level), this area offers wonderful walking, scenery and wildlife. Away from the high ground, ancient woodland, riverbanks, open countryside and one of the most celebrated coastlines in the country highlight the diversity throughout the region. Even in towns such as Dalkeith or Newtongrange peace and quiet and far-reaching views are never far away. No matter where you walk in Midlothian and East Lothian, be it wood or moor, riverbank or reservoir, farm or village, this is a landscape brimming with wildlife and flowers. Buzzard, kestrel, cormorant, goldeneye, green woodpecker, great-crested grebes, skylark, redshank, plover, roe deer, cinnabar moth and small copper butterfly, harebell, wood sorrel, wood anemone, tormentil and common spotted orchid are a few examples of species that may be seen during the year.
How to use this guide
The 40 walks within this guidebook are between 2km and 14km in length and almost all can be completed within half a day. The region has excellent public transport links and the majority of the walks are accessible by bus or train. Public transport information may have changed from the time of writing and should be checked before commencing any of the walks (travelinescotland.com).Many of the routes are low level and take advantage of the excellent network of paths. A few walks are child friendly and any rocky, boggy or steep terrain is detailed. It is not advisable to stray from the described routes onto farmland or near exposed cliffs, and where livestock is present dogs must be kept on leads. A number of the walks cross steep hill or mountain terrain where good map-reading and navigational skills will be needed in poor weather. Winter walking brings distinct challenges with limited daylight hours – and walkers should be aware of strong winds, especially along the coast and over higher ground at any time of year. Preparation for a walk should begin well before you set out, and your choice of route should reflect your fitness, the conditions underfoot and the regional weather forecasts; www.mwis.org.uk provides daily, accurate forecasts for the Pentland and Lammermuir Hills. Even in summer, warm, waterproof clothing is advisable and footwear that is comfortable and supportive with good grips is a must. Don’t underestimate how much food and water you need and remember to take any medication required, including reserves in case of illness or delay. Do not rely on receiving a mobile phone signal when out walking, particularly away from built-up areas, and many walkers also carry a whistle, first aid kit and survival bag. Each route begins with an introduction detailing the terrain walked, the start and finish point, the distance covered, the average time to walk the route and the relevant Ordnance Survey (OS) map. None of the hill or moorland walks should be attempted without the relevant OS map and a compass. It is a good idea to leave a route description with a friend or relative in case an emergency arises. Use of Global Positioning System (GPS) devices has become more common, but while GPS can help pinpoint your location on the map in zero visibility, it cannot tell you where to go next and, like a mobile phone, should not be relied upon. Until the Land Reform (Scotland) Act was introduced in 2003, the ‘right to roam’ in Scotland was a result of continued negotiation between government bodies, interest groups and landowners. In many respects, the Act simply reinforces the strong tradition of public access to the countryside of Scotland for recreational purposes. However, a key difference is that under the Act the right of access depends on whether it is exercised responsibly. Landowners also have an obligation not to unreasonably prevent or deter those seeking access. The responsibilities of the public and land managers are set out in the Scottish Outdoor Access Code (www.outdooraccess-scotland.com). Sheep, lambs and cattle are found on the Pentland and Lammermuir Hills, as well as lower-lying farmland, throughout the year. During lambing season – March to May – dogs should be kept on a lead at all times on the hills or in areas where livestock graze. The East Lothian coast also provides a rich habitat for many ground-nesting birds, and from April to August dogs should be kept under strict control. Grouse shooting takes place on the hills between August and December and partridge shooting from September to February; look out for temporary signage with information on where it is safe to access the hills during that day’s shoot.