Grand Tour of the Lammermuir Hills

Route Out – Gorebridge to Newlandrig to Ford to Pathhead to West Saltoun to East Saltoun to Gifford to Garvald to Whiteadder Reservoir to Ellemford to Longformacus. For route map click here.

Route Back – Longformacus to Longyester to Longnewton to Humbie to Fala to Fala Dam to Tynehead to Middleton to Gladhouse Reservoir to Gorebridge. For route map click here.

See route on Strava.

  • Weather – warm and sunny and hardly even any breeze, clouding over later in the afternoon but stayed dry all day.
  • Bike type – road bike
  • Distance travelled – 82.08 miles
  • Riding time – 6 hours 36 minutes
  • Maximum speed – 35.1 mph
  • Average speed – 12.4 mph
  • Height climbed – 5877 feet

Dad and I have more or less cycled all over the Lothians and Borders the past couple of years. But one area we have never really explored properly is the Lammermuir Hills which more or less mark the boundary between East Lothian and the Scottish Borders. Well, that is at least until a few weeks ago when I decided we would embark on our longest and hilliest route so far…

IMG_20180609_090259240

After leaving Gorebridge along Vogrie Road we were soon climbing up the steep hill on the narrow road that takes you over to the Borthwick crossroads. Once you emerge from the trees the gradient eases and you also get an amaing view on your right over to the Moorfoot Hills and Fala Moor. Then, after reaching the top of the hill, the views of East Lothian, including North Berwick Law and Traprain Law came into view, as did our destination – the Lammermuirs. At the crossroads we went straight over onto the smoothest single track road in the world, speeding our way for a mile or so down to Newlandrig right next to Vogrie Country Park. There we turned right onto the B6372 and after a few yards of very bumpy road, the surface became lovely and smooth again and we had an enjoyable couple of miles of fast, slightly downhill cycling until we turned right again and down a steep hill into Ford, where we stopped for a quick photo of the

IMG_20180609_091953764

Lothian Bridge viaduct before heading up an equally steep but reasonably short hill into the village of Pathhead. Here you have to cross over the busy A68 road and you often have to wait for a long time for a suitable gap in the traffic, so take care at this point. Once across, we headed downhill on a rather bumpy road with glimpses of the viaduct to be seen through the trees on our left. At the bottom of the hill there’s a grand archway with lions on it leading into the Oxenfoord Estate but we didn’t bother going in today and stayed on the deserted country road. After going straight through another crossroads, we had a mile or so of really flat, speedy cycling and soon we went past a sign welcoming us to East Lothian. Oddly, on the other side of the sign there is no sign welcoming people travelling in the opposite direction into Midlothian. Perhaps East Lothian people are just a nicer bunch…!

IMG_20180609_102912617

At the next junction, we went right onto yet another really smooth, flat and quiet road, passing endless fields of barley and oil seed rape as we cycled past Templehall farm and skirted around Glenkinchie Distillery on our way to the lovely villages of first West Saltoun and then up a short but steep hill into East Saltoun. There we joined the B6355 road and after a few easy miles with only one short hill on a very straight road, we soon reached Gifford, zooming down the hill on brand new tarmac into the village, possibly breaking the 30 mph speed limit – who knows?! Gifford is a really nice place and we normally stop there for a snack, but recently, I have been managing to cycle for long periods without stopping and we’d only gone about 20 miles so I decided – even though Dad was feeling peckish – that we should press on… Unfortunately for my hungry companion, pressing on meant continuing on the B6355 out of the village, heading up a very steep tree-lined road for a mile or so before turning left onto the B6370, which was thankfully (for Dad!) much flatter. We started to get some closer up views of the Lammermuir Hills on the right as we cycled the 4 miles or so to the village of Garvald. Garvald is located right at the foot of the Lammermuirs and as we left the village the minor road suddenly became very steep as it took us slowly, twisting and turning through the trees. This is a very long and challenging climb into (and right over) the hills. The narrow road is at times rather bumpy but at least it is very quiet, with lots of corners and some extremely steep bits. Dad was really running low on energy by now and was

IMG_20180609_105227464_HDR

finding it hard going as I left him for dead, going as fast as I could manage until I was sure I was definitely at the top of the climb. I waited for about 5 minutes until Dad finally panted his way to the top and I allowed him to have a short rest and a bag of crisps to help him get an energy boost before the next section of the route… Along the top of the hill, the road surface suddenly improves and you get some brilliant easy downhill riding for a while on very smooth tarmac and you really get a chance to take in the views of the rounded, patchwork, heathery hills all around. Even though it’s not particularly high (about 345 m) you almost feel as though you are riding on the top of the world along

IMG_20180609_110420669_HDR

here. The road goes down and then steeply up again several times along the way and it’s quite fun to cycle with virtually no traffic to be seen. At one point, the road got unexpectedly steep straight after one of the dips into a ford (which was dry today) and we both almost got stuck in too high a gear on the way back up. Luckily neither of us fell off and eventually, after several seconds of barely travelling about 0.5 mph, we managed to get going again…

IMG_20180609_111942676

After a short while, the road descends down to meet up with the B6355 once again. Here we went left, passing by the picturesque Whiteadder Reservoir before tackling a short but steep section of road (15% according to the sign). What followed was a very pleasant, relatively flat 5 or 6 miles of cycling along the valley. It was the complete opposite of the previous 5 miles and we made good progress along what was, other than a few motor bikes, a susprisingly quiet road. After crossing an impressive old bridge, we reached the village of Ellemford where we saw a sign for Longformacus pointing right so that’s where we decided to go. This turned out to be my favourite 3 miles of the entire route. It began with another long 15% gradient climb straight up out of the village but after that it was either flat or downhill all the way to Longformacus and we didn’t see another person during that time. We got an amazing view down over the valley we’d just cycled along minutes earlier and at one point, a buzzard flew from its perch in a tree and almost crashed right into Dad’s head as he cycled along. That would have been quite a spectacular accident but thankfully the bird missed by a few inches…

IMG_20180609_122110390

Longformacus seemed like a pleasant enough place so, after 40 miles, I finally agreed to stop for lunch, much to Dad’s relief as he was about to pass out (so he said anyway…). Fuelled by Parma Ham, cheese, oatcakes and salad, we set off again, heading north-west and along a tree-lined minor road, going back uphill once more, though fairly gradually. The mostly gradually uphill theme continued for a while as we climbed back up high into the Lammermuirs. At one point we got a view across to Whiteadder Reservoir far away on the right, as well as views across to Soutra wind farm on the left. This road seemed very quiet once again (we saw 1 other cyclist and only about 2 cars in 10 miles) and it climbed up to well over 400 m. It’s quite a challenge as it has a few long, steep downhill

IMG_20180609_131629176

sections immediately followed by incredibly steep long uphills. Needless to say, Dad was struggling to keep up and I found myself having to wait for several minutes for him at the top of each of the long climbs. By the time we reached the junction with the B6355 yet again, we almost felt as though we had cycled over the Lammermuirs about 5 times in a row. When you see the Lammermuir hills from a distance they look rather low and rounded and fairly gentle. However, when you are cycling over/through them, you quickly find out that that is nothing like the truth. These hills provide some of the toughest cycling in southern Scotland.

IMG_20180609_133327755

The B6355 gave us with a very enjoyable and fast descent for a few miles – a well deserved rest almost… Rather than head all the way down the hill to Gifford again, we turned left at a crossroads and headed onto some really quiet back roads that skirt around the edge of the hills, heading vaguely westwards. These roads are quite bumpy at times but it was a pleasure to cycle on as, compared to the previous hour of so, it was mainly quite flat and easy going. We passed through tiny settlements such as Longyester and Longnewton, in and out of the trees and dodging sheep and horses at times. Before

IMG_20180609_142750352

long we came to a juntion with the B6368 where we turned left on to the slightly busier but lovely and smooth road. By now even I was starting to feel a bit peckish and in need of an energy boost. Luckily, after a mile or 2 we came to the village of Humbie where there’s a nice community run  cafe/shop called the Humbie Hub. We decided to stop there and get some ice cream – a tub of strawberry for me and 2 tubs (chocolate and vanilla) for greedy Dad!

IMG_20180609_143531111_HDR

After filling our faces we continued on and soon turned right onto the B6457 for a couple of miles up the hill to Fala Village before turning right onto a minor road for a short time, speeding down the steep hill into Fala Dam and then crawling back up the even steeper hill out of the other side of the village and up to the junction with the main A68 road. Thankfully, there is actually no need to cycle in the busy traffic as there’s a path along the side of the road which we cycled on for a few hundred yards. We then waited for a gap in the traffic before crossing over onto the B6458 road. This is a quiet road with a reasonably good surface, slightly uphill at first and then flat for a few miles with the Fala Moor hill high up on your left side, before going downhill again until the village of Tynehead. Here the road goes across a bridge over the Borders Railway line before it starts to climb gradually once again for the last mile or 2 until it reaches the junction with the A7 road near its high point at Fala Hill. After such a long cycle so far, the gradual climb certainly felt a lot steeper than the road actually looks… The A7 road is quite busy at times but compared to the A68, it perfectly safe to cycle on. We turned right and sped downhill along the main road for about 2 miles, enjoying the views of the Pentland Hills in the distance. Next, we turned off onto a minor road that took us a short distance uphill to the collection of houses and farms known as Middleton.

IMG_20180609_154811081

From there, it should have been a short, downhill spin back home. But I checked our current mileage (72 miles by then!) and realised that if we managed another 10 miles or so, we’d break our distance record. Dad wasn’t too keen but reluctantly followed me as I headed along National Cycle Route no.1, skirting around the back of the Middleton quarry (lots of potholes, bumps and gravel on the road so be careful here) before turning left to head uphill towards Gladhouse Reservoir in the shadow of the Moorfoot Hills. No way would we be climbing over those hils though so we skirted around the reservoir and headed back to Gorebridge along the ups and downs of the rollercoaster ride that is the B6372. Home just in time for tea – a well deserved fish cake supper for me and a scampi supper for Dad. It had been an epic adventure: the longest, hilliest and possibly the best route I’ve ever cycled.

Bathgate to Glasgow (via the Falkirk Wheel)

Route out – Bathgate to Linlithgow to Falkirk Wheel to Kirkintilloch to Bishopbriggs to Glasgow. For route map click here.

Route back – Glasgow to Uddingston to Coatbridge to Airdie to Plains to Caldercruix to Blackridge to Bathgate. For route map click here.

See route on Strava.

  • Weather – dull at first then much brighter but with 1 horrible heavy shower around midday. Mainly sunny and warm later in the afternoon.
  • Bike type – road bike
  • Distance travelled – 80.62 miles
  • Riding time – 6 hours 42 minutes
  • Maximum speed – 32.6 mph
  • Average speed – 11.9 mph
  • Height climbed – 1958 feet

It seems like Dad and I have cycled everywhere in the south of Scotland. But last Saturday I woke up and suddenly realised that we’ve never been to the largest city in Scotland – Glagow. So I decided at 6:30am that morning that that was where we’d be cycling to that day. Unfortunately, to get to Glasgow and back from Gorebridge in a day would be basically impossible so we loaded up the car and travelled to the West Lothian town of Bathgate and by about 9:15am we were on our bikes…

We left the car on Kirkton Avenue in Bathgate and started by cycling straight up a really steep and long hill (14% gradient according to the sign) heading north for Linlithgow. It didn’t actually seem that hard a climb and soon we were out into the countryside going up and down (mostly up) for a while until we reached the top of the narrow road near Cairnpapple Hill where, despite the grey and overcast sky, we got a fine view across to the 3 bridges crossing the Firth of Forth away in the distance. From there, it was mainly downhill all the way for the few miles to Linlithgow on a relatively busy “C” class road which passes by Beecraigs Country Park on the way. The is road has a lovely smooth surface but has lots of very sharp bends on the steepest downhill sections so be careful…

IMG_20170826_094507335_BURST001

Not far into the town of Linlithgow, we turned left off the main road onto the Union Canal, cycle route 754. We’ve cycled on the canal before from Edinburgh to Linlithgow but had never gone further until today. The surface of the path was much better than I remembered, fairly smooth and with a hard-packed covering of fine stone chips, so it was perfectly OK for the road bikes. The gradient is totally flat so you have to keep pedaling pretty much constantly so it is a bit of a slog at times. You have to pass beneath many bridges and the turns here are very tight and bumpy so you have to slow to a crawl at times. You’ll also find that the path is used by millions of dog walkers (we even passed someone skiing on rollerblades!) so you have to pay attention and slow down a lot – we didn’t notice much in the way of dog dirt on the path though amazingly! Don’t expect many good views from the path either because you are always low down. The exception to this is when you cross the Avon Aqueduct (you have to push along here in case you fall in…) which gives you a stunning view down into the Avon Gorge.

IMG_20170826_100751805

Before too long, we had reached the Falkirk Tunnel. I normally like tunnels but this one was very dark, bumpy and wet, with water leaking down from above in many places. It was too dangerous to cycle through it so we pushed our bikes for what seemed like about a mile in the darkness. It wasn’t much fun and really ruined our average speed. Thankfully, we made it safely to the other side and were greeted by a much more pleasant sight – the Falkirk Wheel. It is a rather clever mechanical contraption which joins onto the end of the Union Canal and lowers a barge down into the Forth and Clyde Canal about 50m below and at the same time raises a barge up into the Union Canal. We stopped here for an early lunch of boiled eggs, Parma Ham, cheese and oatcakes whilst we watched the barges move slowly from one canal to the other. Luckily, we didn’t require the assistance of the Falkirk Wheel to reach the Forth and Clyde Canal – we just freewheeled down the hill and turned left onto our second canal path of the day.

IMG_20170826_110702724

Compared to the Union Canal, the Forth and Clyde Canal seemed much more “open” and you get much better views all along the way, especially of the Hills on the right hand side. The path surface is similarly decent, though perhaps a bit more gravelly in places. We saw fewer pedestrians and dogs on this path but many more cyclists, most heading the opposite way than us. Perhaps they were escaping Glasgow…? Interestingly, unlike the Union Canal, you don’t pass under many bridges on this canal, you tend to have to cycle up the slope until you meet the road and then cross over and down to the canal path again. This was quite annoying as there never seemed to be any pedestrian crossings and most of the roads were busy and hard to get across. On the plus side, there were loads of brambles growing along the canal-side so we managed to stop and fill our faces a couple of times. By about 1:30pm Dad spotted some high-rise flats on the other side of the water so he said we must be nearly there. Sure enough, it wasn’t long before we came upon a signpost pointing to Firhill Stadium 1 mile away. This is Partick Thistle’s football stadium and funnily enough Dad’s favourite team Aberdeen (OK, I quite like them too) was playing there today with a 3pm kick off. We could have stopped for a few hours to watch the game but we’d never have had enough time to cycle back to Bathgate in daylight so we cycled on. Luckily, the path took us right around the edge of the stadium and we were able to sneak a photo of the Aberdeen FC team bus. We also made note of the fact that because Firhill only has 3 stands, you get a great view of around 90% of the pitch if you are standing on the cycle path. That bit of knowledge will save you £25 next time your team are playing Partick Thistle…

IMG_20170826_140343169

From Firhill it was a short ride along the riverside path, down a steep hill, under the M8 motorway and then right into Glasgow city centre at Cowcaddens. We thought it would be sensible to push our bikes along the pavement in the city centre but as it turned out, pushing along the crowded pedestrianised Sauchiehall Street was the worst (and slowest) thing in the world. So we decided it would be best to brave the bus lanes and one way streets, cycling around George Square and then south towards the River Clyde. It was actually easy enough, and relatively safe, and soon we were on the pavement again, heading east along the river side path of Cycle Route no.75.

Route 75 starts off as a lovely path (watch out for dogs and children though) which follows the River Clyde for quite a long way, passing Glasgow Green and at one point giving us a glimpse of another football stadium, Celtic Park. Although the path has a mainly good surface, there are places where tree roots are growing close to the surface and this makes lots of mini speed bumps which are annoying (for Dad) or fun (for me) to cycle over. Near the outskirts of Glasgow we found a ginormous patch of brambles so stopped for quite a while to fill up. The outskirts of Glasgow basically never end as the city joins on to the fairly grim-looking towns of North Lanarkshire and around these parts there was a lot of broken glass on the path to try and avoid. At one point between Uddingston and Coatbridge, the cycle route directs you to go along a very narrow, muddy path that’s overgrown with nettles – not fun at all, especially on road bikes.

IMG_20170826_161719325

There’s also quite a number of sections where cycle route no.75 makes you go on the pavement alongside some busy main roads – this does not make for a fun cycling experience. You keep having to stop and start again, cross over roads at junctions and traffic lights so it’s hard to go a decent speed. We would have been better just going on the road and braving the traffic. It also seems to take a rather long and winding route. I reckon there must be a more direct and/or pleasant route that takes you through the country roads instead of the town so I will need to check the map later. Anyway, when we reached Airdrie, the route took us right past our 3rd football stadium of the day, the Excelsior Stadium, home of Airdie FC, so that was quite nice. After Airdrie we came to another rather grim place called Plains, where again route no.75 suggest cycling on the pavement alongside the main A89 road. At one point, we had no choice but to divert onto the road as a McGills bus had crashed into car at a junction and was blocking the way. We found the road to be much nicer to cycle on so we stayed on it for a short distance until the cycle route sign pointed to the left and we left the grim towns behind…

The 12 mile section of cycle route 75 from just outside Plains all the way to Bathgate is one of the nicest cycling paths ever. If you ignore the brief visits to Caldercruix and Blackridge, this section is almost all on a very quiet path with an amazingly smooth surface which makes you speed along nicely, especially on the long, slightly downhill sections. The views of the countryside are remarkably good too, including the beautiful Hillend Loch which the path skirts right around the edge of. You also get some very close up views of a wind farm which Dad and I both liked. The path follows the same route as the railway line as well, so we were lucky enough to spot about 10 trains before we made it back to Bathgate…

IMG_20170826_173630083

By the time we reached Bathgate it was about 6:30pm and we were both starving. Luckily, even though he doesn’t know the town at all, Dad has a strange homing instinct and somehow managed to direct us straight to a Dominoes Pizza. So we stopped there for tea, eating outside in the sun before cycling back to the car. It was our longest cycle route so far, our first ride over 80 miles, but it didn’t actually seem that hard as there were very few hills to climb all day. Both of us commented that we felt we could have gone for another 20 miles! Apart from cycling through the grim towns of North Lanarkshire for an hour or 2, we’d had a really great day.

Oh, and in case you are wondering, Aberdeen won 4-3 to go top of the league so Dad was happy…