Sunday, 20 March 2016

Edinburgh - Figgate Burn microadventure

I live in Portobello, Edinburgh’s seaside village. One of the best things about living here is the sandy beach. Anyone who walks the beach here will know that at one point you have to get wet feet crossing a small stream that empties into the North Sea. That stream is the Figgate Burn and for some time I’d had the idea to make a wee journey along its course, from its source in the Pentland Hills to its outflow close to my home here in Portobello.

The Figgate Burn has a couple of name changes over its course but is essentially 9 miles long and forms up near Bonaly in the Pentland Hills from the waters of Bonaly Reservoir and Howden Burn. It drains an area of almost 12 square miles and much of its catchment is urban. For my microadventure along the Figgate, I chose Allermuir Hill as my starting point as below its slopes is the source of the Howden Burn. On a cold, crisp, late winter morning I walked up Allermuir’s steep slopes on grass that was crunchy underfoot after a hard frost. Allermuir is only 493m high but its slightly isolated position at the northern end of the 25km Pentlands ridge, affords great views. 

This morning the air clarity was superb and I could see north to the snow-covered hills of Angus, Perthshire and Callander. I could even see Ben Lomond today, its snow-capped pointed peak looking Himalayan in character. The rest of the Pentlands range stretched westwards, its shades and contours delicately picked out in the soft, early morning light.

A descent westwards from Allermuir took me passed the deep cut formed by the early waters of the Howden Burn, then a stiff climb took me up and over Capelaw Hill to look down on the Figgate’s other source, Bonaly Reservoir. The water of the reservoir held a thin veneer of ice that reflected the low sun with an ethereal, ghostly glow. A steep stony track drops down from Bonaly into the woods. I’d left my bicycle here and jumped back on it now to travel the rest of the route on two wheels.

A bit of zig-zagging through the houses at Bonaly took me back to the banks of the Howden Burn as it gathered a bit of volume and cut a quiet route through the woods at Dreghorn. The low-angled sun cast long tree shadows across the water as I cycled along a dirt trail that eventually took me into Covenanters Wood. The wood takes its name from the Battle of Rullion Green in 1666 when 3000 soldiers of the Royal Scottish Army opposed 900 Covenanter rebels in the culmination of the brief Pentland Rising.

Beyond Covenanters Wood, the Bonaly and Howden Burns join to form the Braid Burn which then passes through modern housing. Despite the urban sprawl, there was always a way to cycle alongside the water and eventually I was pedalling into the lovely parklands of Braidburn Valley Park. The river meandered through this green valley and I stopped cycling to enjoy the open view back to the Pentland Hills under a warm sun.

A bit of a brush with busy roads took me to the next, and perhaps most beautiful, section of the route, the Hermitage of Braid. I had company for this section as I was joined by mum and her husband, Dougie – the wide, well-made trail was perfect for his mobility scooter. The Hermitage of Braid is a deep, dark defile cut in the last ice age by the flow of glacial meltwater. Today the warm rays of the sun didn’t reach many of its inner recesses so a cold chill hung in the still air that felt like a distant breath from the ice age. 

On one side the Hermitage is bounded by the Braid Hills and on the other by Blackford Hill, once the site of an ancient hill fort. Where the Hermitage broadened slightly and the sun’s rays bathed the woods, we stopped to look at a landscape feature called the Agassiz Rock. Its exposed face provided the first evidence of the action of glaciers to be found in Scotland and was discovered by Swiss geologist, Louis Agassiz.

Leaving the Hermitage, my bike route continued across Inch Park, leaving the Braid Burn for a little while as it disappeared under Cameron Toll. The rocky, knobbly top of Arthurs Seat towered above the allotments here as people dug the earth, busily tidied and stretched stiff backs. I crossed the burn again as it completed a big meander around Duddingston Golf Course. 

As the waters enter Duddingston, they undergo a further name change and become the Figgate Burn, named after the Figgate Whins which at one time covered the banks in its lower reaches. I cycled the bike route alongside the river as it passed down through the beautiful Figgate Park. With its woodland edge and large pond, it’s a mecca for wildlife with many types of birds, bats and foxes. Even otters are spotted here.

On the far side of Figgate Park I entered Portobello and cycled along the old cobbles of Brighton Place, a wide street that gives a narrow slice of a view back to the Pentland Hills. I turned into Rosefield Park which Figgate Burn crosses before cutting a secret route behind Adelphi Place. Here it can only be spotted from a couple of open bridges that are hidden away amongst the houses. As the sun started to sink and the cold of the morning began to seep back, I ended my journey on Portobello Promenade where the Figgate Burn finally empties into the sea.

Fact File

All the photos on Flickr - click here.
Start: Bonaly Country Park

Finish: Portobello Promenade

Transport: I cycled to the car park at Bonaly but it’s also accessible by Lothian Buses route number 10.

Map: For the Pentland Hills I used OS Landranger 66. For following the route across the city, I used the Maps With Me mobile app for the level of detail required.

Route: From the car park at Bonaly continue up the steep track then turn left after a small building. Follow this path as it contours round the hillside and eventually drops down to an open field. Turn right along the more faint path that crosses the field and picks up another track as it enters woods. Turn right and follow this track up hill, passed another small building and up the Dreghorn Drop to a pass between Allermuir and Capelaw hills. Turn east up a clear path to the top of Allermuir, then descend back to the track and climb Capelaw. Continue west along the path which drops down to a wider path, turn right and follow the woodland edge. Go through a gate and follow this track back to the car park at Bonaly.

I did the rest of the journey by bike as follows. Continue down the road, across the bridge over the bypass and into Bonaly. Take a right immediately after the school then another right, then another right to pick up a path that passes into the woods. Turn right and go down some steps then turn left after crossing a wee wooden bridge. Follow this track passed new housing and where it appears to end at a road, go straight across and pick up another trail that continues through Covenanters Wood. On exiting the far end of Covenanters Wood turn right on Redford Road. You’ll shortly come to a nursing home and at the back of the car park is a sign and entrance point for Redford Woods. Follow the trail and soon join the Back Path. Follow the path along the burn, switching sides a couple of times. It eventually emerges at Oxgangs Avenue opposite the entrance to Braidburn Valley Park. Cross the road and cycle through the park. On exiting the park, turn right onto the road and go straight on at the traffic lights. At the next junction turn right and then quickly turn left into the Hermitage of Braid. Cycle the length of the Hermitage to eventually join Blackford Glen Road. Agassiz Rock is on the left near the old quarry between Scout Bridge and Howe Dean Path. Cycle straight on at the traffic lights onto Kirk Brae then take the first left onto Double Hedges Road. Turn left onto Gilmerton Road then first right into Inch Park. Follow the drive and when it exits onto Old Dalkieth Road, turn right. Take a quick left onto the bike path through Craigmillar Castle woods and when it exits onto Peffermill Road turn left and use the cycle crossing to take the next right. Where the road swings right, take the bike path straight ahead. Turn left onto Duddingston Road West and immediately after the school, turn right onto Cavalry Park Road. Where it does a sharp right, take a dirt path straight on. It joins a road that crosses Duddingston Golf Course and passes over the burn. Turn left onto Milton Road West and at the next traffic lights, turn right onto Duddingston Road. Enter Figgate Park on the left and cycle along the main track. On exiting at the far end, turn right and then left at the traffic lights onto Brighton Place. Turn left into West Brighton Crescent and then right into Rosefield Park. On exiting the park turn left and at the end of the street cross the burn by a pedestrian bridge. Turn right onto Adelphi Place and turn left onto Portobello High Street. Turn right onto Bridge Street and cycle onto the prom. It’s here that the Figgate Burn joins the sea.