When I head out walking from my base in South Queensferry, the great temptation is to just hop over the Forth Road Bridge and bash up to the Highlands. But that is a great disservice to Edinburgh’s glorious Pentland Hills, which I’ve just spent a weekend amongst. If you’ve never been (or not been for a while) I suggest you head there soon to enjoy the hills whether you walk, cycle, horse ride or even ski them. There is an ace new accommodation option on hand too.
The Pentland Hills may look like a wild escape little touched by man, but this 20 mile long range of hills just outside Edinburgh actually boasts ripples of intoxicating history. It dates back to the days when the Goddin and Votadini Celtic tribes – who held sway over the Lothians – set up camp in the hills and glens here. They were joined by the Romans, who by all accounts they coexisted with. More turbulent times came with the Pentlands Rising in 1666, when around 50 Covanteers lost their lives here in battle. Robert the Bruce is also said to have hunted for the mythical white stag in the Pentlands, while remnants of hill forts can still be made out today. The hills have a dozen scheduled (listed) ancient monuments in total.
The Pentland Hills have been protected as part of the Pentland Hills Regional Park since 1986. This 35 square mile oasis is home to myriad flora and fauna, and much of the park is swathed in heather moorland. Britain is home to around 75% of the global spread of this unique habitat; when you consider that Scotland is home to the majority of Britain’s moorland the importance of preserving the Pentlands comes sharply into the focus.
On a practical level this conservation work allows people visiting the park to get closer to nature. During our weekend my wee girls and I spotted grouse, buzzards and roe deer – all of which were within sight of the city of Edinburgh. Walking was our chosen way of getting around the park, but you can also cycle many of the waymarked and rougher trails – though the park authorities prefer you not to take your wheels across the delicate hilltops. We also came across people horse riding and others waist deep in the water fishing. There are myriad things to see and do in the Pentlands, and myriad ways to see and do them.
One of the most surprising ways of exploring the park is on skis. You can ski year round here all within sight of Edinburgh. The Midlothian Snowsports Centre offers a dry ski slope that is ideal for learning the ropes and it also lets more experienced skiers brush up on their skills. They also offer ‘tubing’ rides down the hillside, which are fun for all the family.
Our weekend walking was sublime. On our first day we pushed from Threipmuir Reservoir through the Green Cleugh in search of Scald Law, the highest of the Pentland Hills. My wee girls enjoyed eking through the ‘fairy glen’, but were a little perturbed by the hulking hill that loomed up in front of them on the other side. This is the beauty of the Pentlands, though. It offers as easy walking as you can get in Scotland, with few crags or scree slopes. The altitude is well short of Munro height and the hilltop temperatures are comparably warm. We slowly hiked our way up, enjoyed epic views to the Trossachs and Highlands at the top and then ran all the way back down!
The next day we parked at the Pentlands Visitor Centre at Harlaw. From here we sneaked through a gap in the hills to make it to Glencorse Reservoir. Afterwards we dropped down to the Flotterstone Inn for a hearty lunch before snaking back to our starting point. The weather was again glorious as we wandered along with a bird book checking out the myriad species we came across.
Our base for the weekend was ideal. The Hayloft Edinburgh is a gorgeous design-led self-catering escape that has just opened in the shadow of the Pentland Hills, handily close to Edinburgh. The couple behind it have a real eye for design, not surprising as one of them is an acclaimed architect. They have brilliantly reinvented the space with great use of natural light, hardwoods and stone. I loved that they have sourced soap from the Little Soap and Candle Company and Scottish soft furnishings.
The well equipped Hayloft had everything my young family needed and the kids loved the welcome gifts that they leave for all guests. The goodies included beers from the new Ferry Brewery in South Queensferry, Tunnocks wafers and Borders biscuits. Handily Hayloft Edinburgh have secured a 10% discount at Letterbox Bistro in nearby Balerno, and we enjoyed a gorgeous, great value meal here. There was plenty of fresh Scottish produce on the menu, with steamed Glencoe mussels and Highland lamb the highlights for me.
All too soon our weekend was over, but we left vowing to come back to the Pentland Hills soon. It is so easy to forget about this green oasis of flora and fauna on the edge of Edinburgh. With a great new place to stay and so much to do in the regional park there has never been a better time to discover (or re-discover) this special range of hills that entranced the Celtic tribes and then Robert the Bruce so many centuries ago.
Looking for travel info on the go? Download Scotland’s most comprehensive travel App for FREE.