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…

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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

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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…!

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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

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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

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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…

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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…

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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

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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.

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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

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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!

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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.

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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.

Gorebridge to North Berwick (vol. 3)

Route out – Gorebridge to Mayfield to Elphinstone to New Winton to Pencaitland to East Saltoun to Bolton to Haddington to Drem to Dirleton to North Berwick. For route map click here.

Route back – Scotrail train to Edinburgh then Borders Railway train to Gorebridge.

See route on Strava.

  • Weather – Dry, cloudy and cold but not much wind.
  • Bike type – road bike
  • Distance travelled – 32.24 miles
  • Riding time – 2 hours 45 minutes
  • Maximum speed – 29.1 mph
  • Average Speed – 11.7 mph
  • Height climbed – 1771 feet

There seems to have been a lot of cold weather this winter compared to normal. I don’t mind this because we’ve been able to go out sledging and building igloos but it has been virtually impossible to get out for a decent cycle run for months now due to the snow, ice and wind chill. Amazingly, even though it was still very cold today, there wasn’t much wind at all and the roads weren’t slippy for once so Dad and I decided to venture out on our bikes.

We left the house at 9:30am and took our usual route through the houses, uphill out of Gorebridge and onto the B6372 heading east. Almost immediately we turned left onto the quiet narrow road that heads steeply up to Camp Wood. As we climbed, we got a fine view over to the snow-covered Moorfoot Hills on our left and at the top of the hill, we were able to see right over to East Lothian and the snowy Lammermuir Hills to the south. The Moorfoots and Lammermuirs always look much more impressive when covered in snow I think. From Camp Wood we sped off down the hill to Mayfield with a great view of the equally impressive and snowy Pentland Hills on our left as we free-wheeled down the smooth road.

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After skirting around the edge of Mayfield, we started climbing up another steep narrow road for half a mile or so until we reached the highest point of the route at d’Arcy. After cycling only 2.5 miles so far we’d already climbed 300 feet – possibly one of the hardest starts to a route ever! From d’Arcy, we turned left and cycled along the quiet high road (there was even some snow at the side in places) and we enjoyed some amazing views over to Edinburgh and the Pentland Hills once more. We then turned left at the next junction and headed north towards Whitehill for a few hundred yards before turning right onto the rather bumpy but very scenic road to Fordel Mains farm, along which you get some of the best views in Midlothian as you look down upon Edinburgh and Fife in the distance. Soon enough we were speeding down the hill along the (very quiet) A6124, out of Mid and into East Lothian where we had to stop at the traffic lights at Crossgatehall.

When the lights changed to green we turned right onto the B6414 and climbed up the gradual hill for a couple of miles to the village of Elphinstone. This road is reasonably quiet and you get some good views on your right of the Lammermuir Hills as you cycle along. Just past Elphinstone we turned right at the sign for “Research Centre” and after half a mile or so of easy riding (passing the research centre on the way – no idea what they research there though) we turned right onto another B road briefly before a quick left turn onto another narrow and flat but smooth back road which took us quickly to the B6355. This is a nice road, not too busy and it has a good surface. It’s also very scenic, with good views of the hills in front of you. We even spotted a couple of rather grand

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turreted gatehouses to private Estates near Pencaitland so we stopped to have a nosey as usual. Not far after East Saltoun, we turned left onto the B6368 and sped down the hill to a nice little village called Bolton. We didn’t stop though and carried on along this road, following the River Tyne until we came to the town of Haddington.

As you enter the town, there is a bridge across the river with traffic lights and it was here that I had my first ever crash. As we approached down the hill towards the bridge, the lights changed to amber and even though there would have been plenty time to get across, Dad apparently disagreed and decided to stop for some reason. I must have braked too hard and my back wheel skidded on the damp road surface and I ended up on the floor. Thankfully there was little damage to me (just a small bump to the knee) or the bike but it was a bit scary at the time. It was lucky the road was quiet and there were no cars anywhere near us at the time. So after dusting myself down and having a quick bag of crisps and an apple, we were back on the road again. We left the town as quickly as possible and took the road signposted for Camptown. This is a lovely road that takes you steeply up into the lesser known Garleton Hills. At least it should be a lovely road as it’s a nice smooth surface and you get great views behind you of the lammermuirs and then a fine view of the Firth of Forth as you descent the other side of hill. Unfortunately, far too many cars seem to use this road (probably as a short cut) and many of them drive far too fast and overtake when it’s not safe to do so. So take care if you decide to cycle this way.

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In fact, taking care is the main piece of advice for the last 8 miles of the route from here to North Berwick. We’ve tried out a few routes to North Berwick now and each time, the section from the Haddington area northwards has been entirely unpleasant. Even though the roads are only B class, do not be fooled by this. They are very busy (busier than most A roads in Midlothian), have lots of bad corners and there are a lot of bad drivers out there. At one point just before Drem, a white van decided to overtake us even though there was a car coming the other way. Shortly after that we observed the worst piece of driving ever on the B1345 near Fenton Barns when an impatient driver decided he could wait no longer to get past so he decided use a layby on the left to undertake us! Dad couldn’t believe it and indicated this to the driver by holding up one of his fingers…

Thankfully, the rest of the journey was less eventful but was completely spoiled by the heavy traffic. We were glad to turn off briefly into the peaceful village of Dirleton and then onto the shared use cycle path next to main road that took us to our destination. After all that, we decided to go for a well deserved ice cream before getting the train home. As much as I like East Lothian, I think we’ll be sticking to the much quieter and more pleasant southern and western parts of the region from now on.

Gorebridge to North Berwick

Route out – Gorebridge to Crichton to Humbie to Longnewton to Garvald to East Linton to North Berwick. For route map click here.

Route back – 2 Scotrail trains (North Berwick to Edinburgh then Edinburgh to Gorebridge).

  • Weather – dry and mainly sunny, quite warm but rather windy.
  • Bike type – road bike
  • Distance travelled – 47.3 miles
  • Riding time – 3 hours 36 minutes
  • Maximum speed – 72.5 mph (not sure how that happened as it was a more believable 31.8 mph just before North Berwick…)
  • Average speed – 13.1 mph
  • Height climbed – 2064 feet

A few weeks ago we went on the train for a day out in North Berwick on the East Lothian coast. That day we climbed the Law Hill, went crab catching at the beach and had an ice cream. On the way home, the train conductor didn’t bother to check our tickets. Dad noticed that the return tickets were valid until the end of the month so we decided there was nothing to stop us using them a second time. Of course we’d need to find some way to get to North Berwick first…

So last Sunday, Dad and I left the house at around 8:30am on our new road bikes (so much faster than my old mountain bike!) with our train tickets in our pockets and headed for North Berwick again. We began by cycling along some of my favourite quiet Midlothian back roads, including the steep hill near Crichton. The roads are mostly very good smooth surfaces around here and there’s lots of nice scenery and wildlife to see. At one point a blackbird decided to fly right through the frame of Dad’s bike when he was travelling at over 20 mph! We stopped at a ford in the road at the border with East Lothian for our first snack of the day (banana for me and apple for Dad). This was about 9 miles in to the ride and we’d still seen no traffic at all.

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Soon after, we were on the B6371 heading for Humbie when a car finally drove past. I spotted some wild raspberries so we stopped to stuff our faces as another car and a whole load of cyclists sped by. At the junction in Humbie we turned left onto the B6368, crossing a river and up a very steep hill until the Lammermuir Hills appeared in the distance on the right hand side. This a great cycling road as it has a nice surface and lots of straight bits and interesting humps and hollows but we didn’t stay on it for long today as we turned onto a narrow road on the right, heading towards the hills. East Lothian has lots of amazing ancient road signs dotted around the countryside (with distances give to the nearest 1/8 of a mile!), and it was at one of these that Dad made a wrong turning and we ended up back at the B6368 by mistake. Rather than go back, we turned right onto this road again and then took the next proper road on the right to head uphill and into the middle of nowhere once again. At the top of the hill we got a great view of the Lammermuirs on one side and Traprain Law and North Berwick Law miles away in the distance.

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The next while was spent in some very remote parts of the region, going up and down a lot, skirting along the edge of the hills. When you think of East Lothian you think of the coast and beaches and golf courses and tourists and this area really felt a million miles removed from that. It was fantastic cycling territory though and we saw loads of road cyclists when we were there and basically no cars. At one point Dad also saw a ferret scuttling across the road in front of us but I missed it… The only real village we passed through was Garvald and after that we had to climb a mammoth hill at Papple before we finally started to get some good views over to the East Lothian coast with the impressive Traprain Law not far away now. We took a rather round-about route which took us up quite high and then down a long fast hill before going right round to the other side of the Law, where we joined up with Cycle Route 76. This took us onto a tiny road past the ruined Hailes Castle where we stopped for lunch of oatcakes with crab and cheese. Tasty. Note that this road may be very narrow but does have a fair amount of cars using it to get to the castle so be careful. After that, it was mostly downhill to the picturesque village of East Linton where we stopped in to say hello to my cousins Ella and Angus. Oh, and to eat their biscuits and use their toilet too…

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In East Linton, dad spotted an incredibly stupid signpost which pointed to North Berwick in two completely different directions. We chose left and headed uphill on the B1377 for a short distance before turning left onto the first road we came to. This quiet road gave nice views to the west and after a couple of miles of pleasant cycling, we came to the junction with the B1347 which took us past the Museum of Flight. Immediately we noticed that this road was very very busy. It might have been because it was a sunday and the weather was nice but it wasn’t much fun to cycle on. It’s also mainly uphill and there’s a lot of bad corners on it (some right angled bends too) which make it hard for cars to overtake safely. We witnessed some rather dangerous overtaking today by an idiot in a BMW. Thankfully the driver failed to kill himself or anybody else… If we ever come this way again, we’ll certainly try and find a quieter road from East Linton to North Berwick. Eventually, we got to the top of the long, gradual hill and got some stunning views of North Berwick Law with the Bass Rock in the distance.

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Dad actually spent too long taking photos that we got to the train station 1 minute after the train had left! That left us with  an hour to kill before the next train so we cycled down the hill into the town centre and bought come ice creams… The train journey back to Edinburgh was rather interesting as there were only 2 bike spaces but at least 12 bikes managed to cram their way into the carriages. Luckily the ticket conductor didn’t seem to be too bothered and everyone made it back to Edinburgh OK. We’d made it this far without having our tickets checked again so we were already planning an alternative route to North Berwick to re-use the tickets once more. Most annoyingly though, on the train back to Gorebridge, this conductor actually bothered to check our tickets, so those plans have had to be postponed – for now.