Seven Hills of Edinburgh – by Bike

When one is setting out on a strenuous day’s mountaineering it’s important to set up a secure basecampe at the foot of any summits, and thankfully, a mere 15 minutes out of the door at home, some of those delightful stands from Sheffield (bike racks) have been placed at Dunsapie Loch on the slopes of Arthur’s Seat.

This is perhaps the best known of the Seven Hills of Rome Sheffield Edinburgh, also the highest at 251m, the straight line wander from the base camp posed no significant problems. None that couldn’t be solved with a brief pause to take in the view, a trick taught me by Sir Ranulph Fiennes which he had perfected on the slopes of Everest.

The view confirmed it was grey and windy, and that my outward leg, taking in the first 5 hills, would be into a virtually constant headwind. Of more concern, however, was the dawning realisation that I had no flapjacks, nor Kendal mint cake, with me. It was a chilling thought, but not more so than wondering, if it came to it and I found myself stranded with no other option, could I eat the bicycle….?

2/7 Blackford Hill
Headwind confirmed I pressed on. Some might say heroically but I couldn’t possibly comment. Fountainhall Road funneled the wind into my very soul after the freewheeled descent down the Queen’s very own Drive.

But this was nothing as to the incline that awaited, hidden behind a couple of residential switchbacks. A short sharp shock to reach the Observatory, home of the viewers of celestial matters, and a car park seemingly devoid of bike parking. The greyness was getting… greyer. And rain had begun to fall, almost obscuring the view of my first conquest.

It was here that I saw two horrific sights. The first was a golf course; the second the climb that awaited my attempts at a third peak, in the Braid Hills.

3/7 Braid Hills
Taking a secret back route through the trees to Blackford Pond turned into a long shortcut, but back on tarmac on Hermitage Drive it wasn’t long before the road pointed upwards once more. My geographical knowledge was being tested. These previously unconquered hills were, naturally, unknown to me and so heading up (and up and up and up) Braid Road, past the delightfully salubrious-looking Braid Hills Hotel complete with parked busload of tourists happily taking in the sight of such an intrepid explorer, I was searching for any possible route away from the road. And it presented itself to me a short distance past Braid Mount.

With the wind still howling, the greyness still grey, but the rain slightly abated, I considered it time to rectify the parlous state of the area in my bag set aside for snacks. Pondering my route to the fourth mountain of the morning, and the chance thereupon to take luncheon, all the blasted bicycle seemed capable of doing was pine in the direction of home.

4/7 Craiglockhart Hill (West)
Cyclocrossing from the Braid summit, and provisions procured, I set for the formidable seat of learning which clung to the slopes of an equally formidable mount. More formidable than both, however, was negotiating Glenlockhart Road. A narrow strip of land, rough going, with danger lurking round every corner. But eventually I found myself in the hallowed grounds of Napier University, and here I found a camp that surpassed the quality of even the stands by Dunsapie Loch. Safely under cover, the bicycle seemed happier with its lot, and so leaving it a bone to gnaw on I made my way upwards.

The going here was steeper than before, but a shorter climb opened out a view which had just begun to include blue sky. This did nothing to lessen the danger however as I found myself in the territory of kestrels.

Undaunted I took luncheon as the patches of blue sky found themselves once more consumed by the encompassing grey. The sustenance, however, had put a spring in my step. As did the knowledge that I was about to pass through a river-lead valley to my next obstacle, and the last of the outward leg.

5/7 Corstorphine Hill
It is always best, as an explorer, to have contingency plans to take account of the unexpected. Fluidity is the key, and so it was as I dropped down Craiglockhart Avenue and joined the mighty flow of the Water of Leith. The initial plan had been to find myself on Gorgie Road, and thereafter meander through some streets towards the next summit. Instead I stuck by the river as far as a skatepark for young ruffians whose trousers don’t fit, taking Balgreen Road through what turned out to be bandit country. Punk-haired viking invaders successfully negotiated I found myself behind schedule and set about a direct ascent of the target. Corstorphine Road turned into Kaimes Road. I declare it to be the longest and steepest in the city.

To dampen my glow of success it is at this point that the heavens opened, but taking shelter under a tree the bicycle and I contemplated the success of this ‘towering feat’!

6/7 Castle Rock
With the wind at our heels, complacency entered our heads at the worst being over, with the two smallest peaks remaining (this was no random planning at work…). Johnston Terrace, however, has a kick, and that kick is in the teeth when rain is added to the equation. But the summit was achieved with time to spare watching tourists paint on smiles so that their relatives didn’t know they’d had a miserable time getting soaked in a cold country.

Me? I was smiling, despite encroaching soakingness, although that smile was almost wiped from my face as the juddering on the cobbles leaving the castle caused my rear gear changer thingy to interact with the spokes in the rear wheel in a way unintended. First fears of a premature end to the adventure with a broken chain were allayed. A broken spoke, bent and curled round the remaining intact spokes, would see me up the last summit and onward to home.

7/7 Calton Hill
The wet cobbles provided a cautious, rather than exhilarating, freewheel down the Royal Mile, turning onto North Bridge to once more mix with the traffic, before it almost disappears, as is its wont, along Regent Road.

I knew the last kick would hurt. It was still raining, and the top of the next mountain turned me once more into the headwind that had been my tormenter for much of the day.

I arrived to an utterly deserted summit, and messages on my phone presuming I was sheltering somewhere from the rain and would likely be abandoning the endeavour. Far from it, I replied, today was a good day. A day for the soul.

If anyone wants the route, I’ve done it as a loop route starting and finishing at the car park by St Margaret’s Loch at Arthur’s Seat.

For those who like to do it on foot, there’s an annual race, beginning and ending on Calton Hill of 14 miles in length and with 2200′ ascent.

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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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