Balerno to Hillend – on foot.

Taking the bus for a walk – Pentland Hills, Balerno to Hillend
(7 miles/11 km – 3.5-4 hours walking time)

We are lucky in the Lothians to have the Pentlands on our doorstep.  Rising steeply from the southern edges of Edinburgh, they offer fabulous views over the city, the Firth of Forth, Fife, the Ochil Hills and the Lothians.  And though they are still surrounded by working farms, the Pentlands retain a feeling of wildness and remoteness, just 30 minutes by bus from Princes Street!

The Pentlands are good to visit at any time, yet I tend to come most often at the end of the year when daylight hours are short.  Sometimes it doesn’t feel worthwhile travelling a long way to go for a walk only to drive back in the dark, but I really feel the need to get out into the wilds.  These are perfect hills for a good leg stretch and a blowing away of the cobwebs.

This route from Balerno skirts around the northern edges of the Pentlands, with a great ridge walk high above the bypass.  It starts at the terminus of the Lothian bus route 44/44A and finishes at Hillend at the terminus of Lothian bus route 4; both buses pass along Princes Street.  It makes use of paths, but the Pentlands can be muddy and wet at times.  Height is gained gradually, but there are one or two short, steep sections and a longer steep descent at the end.  A map and compass are advisable, since these are featureless hills if the mist comes down.  There are two escape routes noted in the description if you need to reach lower ground in a hurry.

From the bus terminus north of Balerno, turn right up Mansfield Road.  After 300m turn left into Malleny Millgate and follow this road which crosses a bridge over Bavelaw Burn to reach Harlaw Road, then turn right.  After Balleny Farm, at a sharp left hand bend go straight on along a path signed for Harlaw Reservoir, which runs along a fenceline.  Emerge from this path on to a road where you turn left to the car park.  Before you head off, take a brief detour right to the nearby Ranger Centre.  At the car park, turn right through a gate and follow a path signed for Glencorse Reservoir.  This path climbs gradually and views begin to open up behind you.  [Escape Route 1 – at a gate, follow a sign to Currie on a path to your left.]

Carry on until you reach the highest point of the path, at the gap between Harbour Hill on your left and Bell’s Hill on your right.  Take a path to climb up Harbour Hill.  It soon divides, so take the lower route to the left and contour around, enjoying the city views and head for the trees of Bonaly Reservoir ahead.  When the path forks, bear right over a broken wall, then take a smaller path straight ahead which meanders towards the right-hand corner of the trees.  Climb over a fence and a stile, then cross over a wide track and head straight up Capelaw Hill.  [Escape Route 2: take the wide track downhill to Bonaly.]  Capelaw Hill is the start of a long ridge walk high above the bypass, with views down into the heart of the Pentlands on your right.  Carry on up Allermuir Hill to a Trig point, then follow the path down and up to Caerketton Hill and the final cairn.  From here the path bears left and goes steeply down past the ski slopes and Lothianburn golf course, winding through gorse bushes until it reaches the road and the bus stop.

There’s more information about organised walks here

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