The number of cycle routes which are opening up around the Lothians on which families and novices can enjoy a relaxed morning or afternoon riding means that there is often little excuse left not to get out on your bike. And so it was that I headed out from Eskbank with my girlfriend and her dad, making for Penicuik along a disused railway.
This is actually Sustrans Route 73 and technically starts just south of the Sheriffhall roundabout but, with a lack of parking there, the more obvious starting point if you come by some other method of transport, is behind Costcutters in Eskbank. Linking with Sustrans Route 1 you could actually ride this route starting in Musselburgh. Rolling down the access path, turn left to head for Penicuik some eight miles or so distant.
The surface here is smooth tarmac, but soon you reach a dirt track onto which you turn right, then, at the bottom, turn left to cross the main road beside a 24 hour Tesco using the pedestrian bridge. From here there is only one more turn to make before you hit Penicuik.
Skirting round the back of Bonnyrigg possibly isnâ€™t the most picturesque start to the ride and, while the surface is good tarmac, you will have to watch out for occasional broken glass and dog walkers coming from the houses on your right to the open fields on your left. The views to the south, however, are open and give you a feeling of heading out into the countryside.
As you do reach the real countryside, after having passed through the nice remains of an old station, the path suddenly deteriorates. I was still able to ride a road bike, but would have preferred some slightly wider tyres (slick 1.5 inch tyres would do the job fine) as the hard packed mud narrowed to single file. Itâ€™s not that much of a chore to ride along, but if there happen to be a lot of walkers, joggers or dogs on the go you will inevitably have to stop at regular intervals for easy passage.
But this section only lasts a mile at most and, once past it, you are back to a wider track, though the tarmac does not make a return. And from here you can just enjoy the ride. Half the distance to Penicuik is out in the open, with impressive views opening out on the Pentlands. Crossing the road just after Rosewell you then move into the valley towards your destination.
This was my favourite part of the ride. A number of tunnels are past through, bridges crossed, and in amongst the trees you start to feel like youâ€™re really getting away from things. It was also on this section that the path turned slightly downhill, so it was easy going to roll towards Penicuik.
As with many Sustrans routes, the emergence from the path is into a housing estate with no real idea where youâ€™re supposed to be going. But if you keep following the road you will see it turn upwards and climb to a junction with the main road. Turn right and you are in the centre of Penicuik, where cafes await to refuel you before you turn for home.
I would urge you to search out a memorial within the housing estate at the end of the path as well â€“ a huge monolith erected for the prisoners of war held in the area during the Napoleonic Wars. This impressive monument is given a surreal twist by being surrounded by modern houses.
Retracing your steps to head for home the hill out of Penicuik seems to disappear and emerging from the trees out into the open again you know that the majority of the rest of the route will see you drop back to Eskbank. A ride of around 16 miles in total, which, at an easy pace, would give a morning or afternoon out in the fresh air, with a pleasant cafÃ© stop in the middle.