Once more we have been drawn to go a’ cycling in East Lothian, only this time we didn’t take the train. Instead with no particular plan we headed out after lunch into Holyrood Park and down onto the Innocent Railway. The railway was closed in 1968 and is called The Innocent because in its 137 year history no one was killed on it, a great rarity in the age of combustion power transport. It is now a cycle path and is part of National Cycle Route 1.

The path passes south of Duddingston Loch and affords great views of Arthur’s Seat and Samson’s Ribs (a formation of 57m high columnar basalt cliffs to the south side of Arthur’s Seat), if you stop to look. As this is a popular path, cycling while looking over your shoulder is not recommended. Then on through Craigmillar, an area with a rough reputation, neither of us had ridden the path for some years and we were both surprised to find that there wasn’t a shard of glass to be seen.

The signage has also improved dramatically over the last few years, so the chances of getting lost were fairly low. On reaching Musselburgh Station, we decided to carry on along NCR 1 towards Dalkeith, up until this point the route had been almost entirely off road. From Brunstane to Newcraighall the route weaves its way through a series of housing estates, here again the signage is excellent, although Ulli complained that the leaves on some trees were beginning to cover some signs. At Newcraighall the route goes off road again along a path leading out to the new Queen Margaret’s University [www.qmu.ac.uk/] (just one of Edinburgh’s four universities). The most interesting thing about this path is the solar powered lighting system, hopefully this sort of thing could be more widely used across town.

After passing QMU’s shiny new campus, we carried on through Stoneybank and then along the River Esk, under the Edinburgh bypass and to Whitecraig. It was at Whitecraig where we had our first and only problem with the signs. The route takes you along the main road then, just as you reach the end of the 30mph speed restriction, there is a poorly signed right turn, just where the cars are starting to speed up and overtake, care is required. Here again the NCR 1 goes off road following an old railway line, past an old coal bing, to Dalkeith. Ahead of us we could hear the sound of kids on dirt bikes and quad bikes up on the bing. Past experience had taught us that they often ride their bikes without adult supervision along this section of path, this make it more dangerous than cycling on the road. We decided to skip Dalkeith and head into East Lothian instead.

A quick check of the map showed that the path crossed under a road bridge, where we turned off and joined the minor road which took us towards Cousland. We didn’t bother going into Cousland itself but joined another former railway, now an off road cycle path, which took us to the north of Ormiston and then into Pencaitland. At Pencaitland we picked up the road again, it was noticeable how much easier it was cycling on the tarmac road rather than the softer offroad surface. After another look at the map we decided to head towards Gifford via the villages of West and East Saltoun as we hadn’t taken this road before. This was easy back road riding, beyond East Saltoun we joined the B6355 and with the wind at our backs glided into Gifford where we stopped for ice cream.

Ice cream finished, we set off from Gifford and continued along the B6355, as this was a route we had intended to take the week before, but had been taken off course by a large slow moving group from the ERC. This turned out to be the pleasant back road which we had hoped it to be, and carried towards Danskine. On reaching the 17% gradient sign, I was minded not to repeat the error of the week before, and changed to a low gear long before I reached the bottom of the hill. Being in such a low gear, my legs were spinning wildly to no real purpose, so I stopped pedalling and free wheeled the rest of the way. Having reached the bottom, I shot across the short flat section and started pedalling furiously, expecting the momentum to carry my on up the hill. However I was surprised to find just how rapidly the momentum died away. Having made only a few metres forward I went from pedalling furiously to standing on the pedals cranking over slowly to grind up the hill. Still it was an improvement over the last time. Having reached the top, I stood gasping like a fish out of water until Ulli came to join me. She of course arrived gliding along with swan-like grace, having taken the whole thing at a much more sensible pace.

From Danskine we carried on a short way to the crossroads, where we had a choice of a steep climb up onto the Lammermuirs (which had done before) or turning off and looping back to Gifford, either via Carfrae or Longyester. We choose the latter, turning down a pleasantly winding road which, after we missed the turning to Longyester itself, took us across the Castle Park Golf Course. The road led us back to the B6355 just west of Gifford at which point we reversed our route back to Edinburgh. We were now cycling into the prevailing wind, and decided to use the off road cycle path from Pencaitland, thinking that this would be easier cycling, as it was more sheltered. However, we found the increased rolling resistance of the loose surface rather harder work than expected and were greatly relieved to get back onto tarmac. The only other change from our outbound route was outside of Whitecraig, where instead of dropping down onto the cycle path and going round to the east, we followed the minor road to the end and turned right on to the A6094 for about 500m. This turned out to be the least pleasant 500m of the day, due to the bad manners of a few drivers. But I wasn’t going to let such things spoil a good ride, there are always going to be a few idiots out there who drive like they found their licence in a cornflake packet, strange how so many of them drive BMWs though.

If you would like to follow this route, there is a map here, the stats for the day for anyone who is interested are:

  • Distance cycled – 80.33Km
  • Time spent riding – 03:54:13
  • Max Speed – 55.3Km/h
  • Ave Speed – 20.57Km/h