A Pentland circuit to Glencorse


Pentland Hills


7 miles (11.3kms)

837ft (255m)

About the walk

Although this walk starts just beyond Edinburgh's busy city bypass, you'll soon think that you're miles from the city. The Pentlands are an uncompromising range of hills which clasp the city in their craggy, green arms. Their peaks rise 1,500ft (457m) above the sea and offer many great walks where you can easily escape the crowds.

This walk takes you past several reservoirs, which keep Scotland's capital supplied with water. The first you pass is Torduff Reservoir, which was built in 1851 and is 72ft (22m) deep. Later on you come down to Glencorse Reservoir. Beneath its waters are concealed the remains of the Chapel of St Katherine's (or Catherine's) in the Hopes. This dates back to the 13th century and the reign of Robert the Bruce. In the unlikely event that it's been extremely dry and the waters are shallow, you might even see it peering out above the surface.

In Mortonhall, on the other side of the bypass, is the site of St Catherine's Balm Well, or Oily Well. Tradition has it that St Catherine travelled through here carrying holy oil from Mount Sinai. She dropped a little and the well appeared in answer to her prayers. The oily water was said to heal skin diseases and attracted many pilgrims – the nearby suburb of Liberton is a corruption of 'leper town'. A modern explanation for the oily water was deposits of paraffin shale. James VI visited the spot in 1617 and ordered that the well be protected by a building. This was destroyed by Roundhead troops when they camped on the surrounding hills in 1650. Oliver Cromwell, who had been helped to victory in England by the Scottish Covenanters, had fallen out with the Scots after they decided to recognise Charles II as King.

The Pentlands are full of similar memories. The Camus Stone near Farmilehead commemorates a battle fought against the Danes. And in 1666, General Dalyell of The Binns (an ancestor of MP Tam Dalyell) beat a Covenanting force at Rullion Green on these hills, crushing the so-called Pentland Rising. These days you may still see soldiers on the Pentlands, for there are army firing ranges at Castlelaw, while recruits from barracks at Glencorse and Redford are often put through their paces on the hills.

Lord Cockburn's inspiration

At the start of the walk you'll pass Bonaly Tower, once the home of Lord Cockburn (1779–1854), writer and judge, who was inspired by his glorious surroundings to pen this verse:

'Pentlands high hills raise their heather-crowned crest,
Peerless Edina expands her white breast,
Beauty and grandeur are blent in the scene,
Bonnie Bonally lies smiling between.'

Walk directions

From the car park, go through the gate and take the right-hand path, signposted 'Torduff Reservoir'. Cross the reservoir dam by a metal bridge, at the other side of which it intersects with an asphalt path.

Turn left along the lane, signposted to Kinleith, keeping Torduff Reservoir on your left. When you reach the top of the reservoir, walk over the little bridge and follow the metalled track as it bends round to the right beside a waterfall. Walk under a line of electricity pylons, and cross a small bridge, passing a water chute on your left-hand side. Continue past Clubbiedean Reservoir.

The path now bears right, with fields on either side. Pass under another line of pylons and bear right to Easter Kinleith farm. Now follow the lane as it bends back to the left, signposted 'Harlaw'. Pass a sign for Poets' Glen and continue ahead, over a bridge and on to a large white house on the left-hand side, at a sharp corner of the tarmac road.

Turn left. Follow the track towards more pylons, to and past a conifer plantation on your left, then go through a small wooden gate which is part of a larger metal gate. Continue walking ahead until you reach an intersection. Turn left through a gate, which is signposted to Glencorse.

Follow the path across the moor and up into the hills, where you cross a stone stile. Continue in the same direction until you reach a copse of conifers on the right, with Glencorse Reservoir ahead. Turn left at this point, following the sign to Colinton by Bonaly.

Walk uphill and maintain direction to go through a metal gate. The track now narrows and takes you through the hills, until it eventually opens out. Continue in the same direction to reach a fence encircling conifers. Keep the fence on your left and walk down to a gate on the left-hand side.

Turn left through the gate. Walk past Bonaly Reservoir, then through a kissing gate and continue downhill, enjoying good views over Edinburgh as you descend. When you reach a wooden gate, go through and continue ahead, walking downhill, with trees on either side. Go through another kissing gate and follow the tarmac path ahead to return to the car park and the start of the walk.

Additional information

Wide firm tracks, short stretches can be muddy; several stiles

Reservoirs, fields and hills

Good, but beware of ground-nesting birds

AA Walker's Map 27 Edinburgh

Car park at end of Bonaly Road, beyond Bonaly Tower

None on route

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About the area

Discover Edinburgh

Edinburgh is one of Britain’s most spectacular cities and both Old and New Towns have UNESCO World Heritage status. At its heart, the Old Town is a treasury of architecture stretching back to medieval times with its labyrinth of narrow lanes (‘wynds’ or ‘closes’). While the New Town's splendid district of squares, crescents and gardens are surrounded by impressive Georgian town houses.

It isn’t just a magnificent, bustling city, it’s surrounded by countryside – offering visitors the best of both worlds. Dominated by hills and the sea, with the rolling Pentland Hills to the south and the broad expanse of the Firth of Forth estuary to the north, it benefits from a rugged and varied landscape. So much so, the city has its own miniature mountain, Arthur’s Seat, which looms over the Old Town and the Palace of Holyroodhouse, dwarfing even Castle Rock and its crowning fortress, Edinburgh Castle.

A couple of miles east, Portobello is Edinburgh’s seaside area, with a long stretch of golden sand that attracts droves of city dwellers on sunny summer days. 


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