Cycling the Lothian hills

If there’s one thing the Lothians have regarding cycling, it’s plenty of routes no matter what you’re looking for. It’s perhaps not so common for cyclists to search out hills, but there is a band, not unlike hillwalkers, that see the benefit both physically and mentally in taking on the behemoths and ascending the heights.

So for those people I have painstakingly chosen my favourite hills from each of the Lothians. It’s not quite Munro bagging, and we’re 280 short of a real target amount, but ride up these and you’ll have experienced every type of hill the Lothians can produce.

Midlothian – Soutra

It’s not pretty, and being on the main A68 road, this isn’t a particularly pleasant hill to climb, but it’s one to tick off, feeling like you’re crossing a major barrier to the south. Either direction is hard going, though heading north to south is a slightly shorter climb, and less steep. And with large swinging corners designed for fast passage by car this is a fairly steady slog to the top.

The huge windfarm at the top is another hint to the trouble you might have here, with head and sidewinds battering you, and at times making descending as much toil as the climb.

A more pleasant ride on the north side is to break off onto the B6368, but that doesn’t go over the top of the hill, and that’s defeating the purpose really isn’t it?

But if you really do want to get away from the traffic and don’t mind getting your tyres muddy, Midlothian also hosts the Pentland Hills, with lots of routes criss-crossing, and easy riding access from Edinburgh.

West Lothian – Cairnpapple

Not perhaps the biggest of hills that can be tackled, but Cairnpapple, near Bathgate, is short and sharp, with a pay-off that is worth any of the effort expended.

Tackled from any direction the roads are narrow country affairs, with high hedges around the Beecraigs Park giving a real sense of being ‘away from it all’. Tackle this on a sunny summer’s day and I would challenge anyone not to fall in love with riding out in the country.

That is, of course, as long as they can handle sudden steep changes in elevation. The hills are never really long, allowing you to build up a head of steam in preparation, but you should be ready for lung-busting the closer you get to the modest summit. Once there you’ll find an ancient cairn, used as a burial chamber, past a fence where you can chain up your bike. And the views are simply breathtaking. On a clear day all  the way to Glasgow in the west, and Berwick Law visible to the east.

East Lothian – Redstone Rigg

The only hill in the list I’ve not ridden, though that will be rectified in February. The annual Tour of East Lothian audax ride takes in Redstone Rigg in the middle of 100km, and having driven up the hill many times I’m pretty sure I know what is in store.


It’s a hill with a pretty gentle start from the north, but which gradually ramps up. Once on high the route becomes an up-and-down rollercoaster, turning before the Whiteadder Reservoir, past an ancient fort. With hopefully enough wherewithall left to enjoy the view. And avoid any stray sheep.

Edinburgh – Arthur’s Seat

It’s hard to ignore Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh. Okay, so it’s not quite on the scale of Table Mountain, but not many cities in the world can boast such a large lump of rock right in the middle. And riding up this hill is so popular there was, until recently, an unofficial time trial, complete with a website on which to register your time. Someone even did it by unicycle.

Every year the hill hosts the New Year triathlon, running and riding around the Queen’s Road. But you can do it any time. The road up is narrow, and can be a pain if a car appears behind you, so sometimes the best time to tackle it is on a Sunday, when the high road is closed to motor vehicles. The climb itself is only a little over a mile, but with an average gradient of around 1 in 9, and the hill getting steeper as it goes up, this will test your legs, heart, lungs and mind. And just as you get past the steepest bit the hill opens out and the wind will catch you.

Unforgiving in the extreme.


A lot of people may, justifiably, be wondering why on earth you would want to put yourself through a punishing climb on a bike, voluntarily. No matter the panoramic view or sense of achievement, it’s damned hard work. And while for me these ARE enough to make me want to go upwards, there’s one other thing above all else. The thing that thrills more than anything, that pumps the blood even faster than the climbing effort.

The descent. What goes up…

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Anthony Robson Anthony is the editor of online cycling magazine Enjoying most forms of cycling he does his daily work commute by bike, mountain bikes at the weekend, and fills other spare time renovating old bikes. Anthony is 30 and lives with his girlfriend Mel in Edinburgh, where he also works, but enjoys getting out of the city, especially by bike, but also in his pride and joy, a fun red Mini. At last check Anthony had three bikes (mountain bike, road bike, fixed wheel commuter), but this number is expected to increase with the addition of a garage to the household.

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