Traquair to Milngavie
Follow my progress as I attempt to walk the length of the UK, from Dover to Cape Wrath, wild camping every night. This chapter is the second part of my walk along the Scottish National Trail, from Traquair to Edinburgh over the Meldon and Pentland Hills. Then I follow the Union Canal and Forth and Clyde Canal from Edinburgh to Milngavie, and the start of the West Highland Way.
If you’d like to see an overview map of my whole route from Dover to Cape Wrath, it’s here.
Day 30 continued (day 3 of Scottish National Trail): Traquair to Flemington Burn
I’d arrived in Traquair just after lunch, and left the Southern Upland Way here. On the map, it looked like I’d be following a road to Innerleithen, but it turned out to be a lovely, well-made cycle path off the road. I didn’t need to walk into Innerleithen, but I fancied a cafe. So I walked an extra mile but the small, tatty cafe was closed. There was a bakery open, but as it was 3pm there wasn’t much left.
Then it was back to the cycleway to follow the River Tweed into Peebles. The sign said 5 miles, but it felt more like 10. I made it to Peebles just before 5pm, but I had sore feet after the hard tarmac all the way. My wife called while I was walking, though, which made it a bit easier.
Peebles is a lovely town, and one I know well, having spent many holidays mountain biking near here with my children. Sticking to my rule of never passing an open pub, I stopped for a pint.
It was great to have a sit down and look at the maps properly for the next stage of my walk. My world had now grown from a phone screen to an A4 map, but I still get a bit lost with where I am and what is coming next. Edinburgh was closer than I thought, and I was looking forward to getting back on the canals to Milngavie.
I had time for two pints in the pub, but I wasn’t sure I’d be able to put my pack back on and get through the pub door if I did. It was probably time to find some food. I found a nearby pub serving food, and was given a great table for one (especially one wearing a smelly shirt).
The only trouble was, the menu said I had to order my food through an app. Now I was in trouble. I’d had a second pint by this stage, and give me another 5 miles without eating and I would be in no fit state to even find my phone, let alone work out what an app is. The helpful staff at the pub got me out of my predicament, but I still had a worry. They told me they were training new staff, and so my food may take longer to arrive than usual. If it took too long, I feared I might be asleep in the snug, across the bench. I think I might be low on calories. Perhaps another pint would help – I’d forgotten how good Abbot is on tap.
My food arrived quite quickly, so perhaps the staff realised how drunk I was getting. When I left, I realised there had been two sets of cutlery on my table – maybe I shouldn’t have eaten my starter with my fingers.
I finally left Peebles on a minor road, and then a track that climbed steeply up Hamilton Hill. At the top it turned into a lovely grassy lane with good views.
Then it was a track, a minor road and another track to a nice path in the woods (Cloich Hills).
This led me into a deserted valley with a lovely stream running through it (Flemington Burn). I filtered some water here (having left yet another pub, forgetting to fill up my bottles), and made camp. In my rush, I realised I was on a bit of a slope, but it was 9.30pm and I was losing the light. I made a coffee and ate some chocolate brioche rolls, then washed my feet in the stream. Or was it the other way around? In any case, it was 10pm and I wanted to be in bed.
Day 31 (day 4 of Scottish National Trail): Flemington Burn to Ratho
I slept extremely well last night in this very quiet valley. I woke to light rain on the tent at 6.15am. After a very leisurely coffee, I was away at 7.15am. Yesterday I had studied the mileage, and in order to be home before my wife goes back to school, I am going to have to keep pushing. It wasn’t a great feeling on a day like today, when I would rather have stayed in my sleeping bag in a nice dry tent.
It was a grassy path, tracks and road into West Linton. I got a bit bored on the road walk, as the photographs below possibly testify.
Waiting for 10 minutes for a car to go past the slow down speed limit sign to check it was working was possibly also a waste of time. I was quite sad when I realised it wasn’t working – I had thought it quite funny to think I may have triggered it. But no, that’s 10 minutes of my life gone forever.
I passed the Toll House Cafe at 9.30am, and it didn’t open until 10.30am which was too long to wait. Then I passed the Pyet Deli, which sounded posh, but I was encouraged by the number of builders queuing outside. It is a small, very well-run place and was excellent value. My takeaway cooked breakfast was £5 and I also got a salad box with ham, cheese and tuna for later (£3.25). A bargain and highly recommended.
The walk from West Linton to the North Esk Reservoir was mostly along gravel and grassy tracks. It was still drizzling on and off – too wet to take my waterproof trousers off, but I was far too hot wearing them.
I found a bird hide at the reservoir, so I sat watching the birds for a while. I had no idea what they were, but it was a lovely windbreak to make coffee and eat the salad I bought from the deli earlier.
I ended up sitting in the bird hide longer than I intended as the rain started coming down much harder. It was much more pleasant looking at the rain from inside in the dry. I also loved the peace and quiet.
Finally it was time to leave. I dropped off the Pentland Hills on a good track, then a little less good path.
It was quite overgrown, but easily passable.
Once I reached the road I got growled at by another dog. I actually had to defend myself with my walking poles as the dog went to bite me. The dog’s owner said it was because of my poles. Made no sense to me either.
It was then a road walk into Balerno. I needed to find some food here; it was only 3.45pm but I wasn’t sure I’d find anywhere later on and I needed a sit down. I was also pretty wet by then. My merino shirt was up to its limit of keeping me warm while wet, as I hadn’t bothered to put my waterproof on.
I dropped in to the nice centre of Balerno to find a really nice pub, and a little further down the road, a rougher-looking one, the Grey Horse Inn. With this shirt on, I chose the latter. How lucky was I. It was great service, lovely Chinese food and I got to sit next to a radiator for two hours. I was an hour too early for food, but they brought me out a big bowl of prawn crackers to keep me going. Highly recommended.
On the way out of Balerno, I followed a cycle path beside the river all the way to Slateford, where I joined the Union Canal. I passed through a lovely painted tunnel on the way, which made a lovely change to the usual graffiti.
The Union Canal out of Edinburgh was much more built up for a lot longer than I expected.
I had to walk all the way to Ratho before I could camp. The spot was not ideal, as it was right next to the tow path, but it was so late that I had little choice. I threw my tent up at 11pm and fell asleep, exhausted.
Day 32 (day 5 of Scottish National Trail): Ratho to Falkirk
As my camp spot was so public, I was packed up and away before 6am. I didn’t even have coffee, and that was a first for this trip. I had forgotten to buy water (again) in the Balerno Co-op earlier. What an idiot.
The Union Canal tow path is a cycle way as well as a footpath, so it has a good surface. Even at 7am it was busy, with both cyclists and runners. The canal itself seemed dead though. Ratho was the first place I had seen a few canal boats, but there weren’t many. There weren’t even any moored up with people living on them, liked I’d seen on most of the other canals I’ve walked.
The walk to Linlithgow was OK. Much of the canal was wooded and peaceful, until I got closer to Linlithgow itself.
As I approached Linlithgow, the canal became more open with views of the surrounding farmland. The tow path also got much busier, with lots of cyclists who seemed to have right of way. I was low on water again (yes, it’s my fault) but I didn’t fancy the climb down to Linlithgow itself and back up again. The canal is surprisingly high.
I kept walking and luckily found a little stream running from the golf course. I stopped here to filter water and make lunch. The weather had improved to the point where it was almost too hot – around 26 degrees. I had got used to a fairly constant 17 degrees ish.
The walk from Linlithgow to Falkirk in the afternoon was much the same as the morning. I saw one canal boat moving, and only a handful moored up. The canal was popular with kayakers and paddle boarders though. Today (a Friday) was busy, so I’d hate to think what it was like at the weekend.
My pace was slower along here, as I had to keep getting out of the way of cyclists. The path isn’t always wide enough for two as the undergrowth hangs over quite a long way. Social distancing means I often had to wait for other people too.
Eventually I passed through a long tunnel and arrived at the Falkirk Wheel. This was one of the highlights of today, as otherwise the walk had been a bit dull.
At Falkirk I left the Union Canal and joined the Forth and Clyde Canal. Straight away I was looking for somewhere for dinner and a place to camp later. At 8.15pm I put the tent up next to the Forth and Clyde Canal path again, on some rough ground. It wasn’t a great spot, but the rain started at 8.25pm so I was glad I stopped when I did. There’s nothing worse than being dry all day and then finishing it with wet clothes.
Day 33 (day 6 of Scottish National Trail): Falkirk to Milngavie
I had been woken around midnight by a chap singing drunkenly as he walked past. I did manage to get back to sleep, and was then up and away at 7am.
The weather was much cooler today, 17 degrees with a cool breeze. Perfect walking weather. The Scottish National Trail follows the Forth and Clyde Canal along the stretch to Milngavie, and it is a bigger canal than the Union. There were still no boats though – just lots and lots of runners, walkers and cyclists. If this is normal, then the £84.5 million spent on the Falkirk Wheel was not good value for money.
I stopped for a meal at about 10am, mainly through boredom to be honest. I was really looking forward to getting off the Forth and Clyde Canal and heading for Milngavie. The canals are much less interesting without the boats. It was a fairly unexciting walk to Kirkintilloch, but then it got very exciting when I found a Wetherspoons with Doombar for £1.79 a pint. I stayed here for a meal too.
I left Kirkintilloch at 2.15pm to put a few miles in while I still had the sugar rush from the 3 sugars I put in my coffee. The Scottish National Trail follows the Forth and Clyde Canal to Cadder, and then heads north on an easy path towards Milngavie.
There were hills again too, which were a shock after the last few days’ flat walking on the Forth and Clyde Canal.
I did have to watch the navigation through the second golf course, as there were no signs to get you through it correctly. One golfer hit a ball directly at me and it came pretty close. If it had come much closer I would have picked it up and thrown it in the river. These golfers at least didn’t seem to want the Scottish National Trail through their golf course.
Otherwise it was a nice path and quiet country roads into Milngavie.
I stopped in the Talbot Arms for a pint and some map studying. This was the end of the canal walking for me, and time to head north on the West Highland Way and Rob Roy Way.
I walked a few miles out of Milngavie, filtered some water and made camp in the woods.
Read the next section of my travels here: Dover to Cape Wrath Chapter 12: The Scottish National Trail (part 3)
Further reading and links:
Scotland End-to-End: Walking the Scottish National Trail by Mountain Media
Scotland End-to-End: Walking the Scottish National Trail – DVD by Mountain Media
Scotland’s 100 Best Walks – Lomond Books
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