Capelaw Hill

A gentle introduction to the Pentland Hills that is easily accessible from Edinburgh.  

Distance: 5 ½ miles
Start and Finish: Bonaly (NT 21359 68279)
Access: Bus 10 from Edinburgh terminates at Bonaly.

From the bus terminus at Bonaly, follow the road past the village shop and primary school to cross a bridge over the city bypass. This soon leads past Bonaly Tower and on towards the local scout centre.

Bonaly Tower started as a 17th century farmhouse, which was much renovated once it came into the ownership of Lord Henry Cockburn, a successful lawyer who would go on to become Solicitor General for Scotland and had served as the defence for the Helen McDougall, the wife of William Burke of the infamous Burke and Hare murders.  Given the property’s age, the peel tower is a 19thcentury imitation – it was designed by the renowned Scottish architect William Henry Playfair.

Before long the road passes the entrance to scout centre and climbs gently to reach the car park at the entrance to Bonaly Country Park.  Pass through the gate here and onto the track signed for Glencorse heading through a small stretch of woodland.  After emerging from the trees above the Dean Burn gorge, you can take in spectacular views across Edinburgh and over the Forth to Fife.

The view from the path above the Dean Burn.

Follow the path towards some trees to reach Bonaly Reservoir.  The reservoir dates to the 1850s and once made up part of Edinburgh’s water supply, although the remains of a second, older reservoir can be seen opposite the reservoir’s dam.  Today though it serves as a popular rest spot for walkers and makes for a nice place for a picnic on a summer day.

Looking from the path across to Bonaly Reservoir.

Beyond the reservoir, pass through the gate and immediately turn left onto a path signed for Allermuir.  Bear right when you reach a fork to take a well-walked track uphill through the heather. Take a second right as the path climbs more steeply, and when you reach a track continue to follow it uphill

Journeying through the heather at the start of the climb up the side of Capelaw Hill.

As you continue to climb, you’ll soon reach the sizeable metal marker signifying the summit of Capelaw Hill (NT 21616 65958).  Beyond lies Glencorse reservoir, a secondary supply of drinking water for Edinburgh.  Across its waters lie Turnhouse Hill, beside which lie the two tallest hills in the Pentlands – Carnethy Hill and Scald Law.

The marker indicating the summit of Capelaw Hill. The three peaks of Turnhouse Hill, Carnethy Hill and Scald Law loom in the distance.

A path to your left crosses the hilltop, offering fine views of Arthur’s Seat and, further afield, the conical summit of North Berwick Law and the Bass Rock off the coast of East Lothian.

Views across Edinburgh towards Arthur’s Seat and the Firth of Forth.

The path soon descends steeply down towards a wooden ladder stile in the wall separating Capelaw from Allermuir Hill.  Cross this to reach a gravelled military road.  Turn left and follow the track as it leads you through the pretty Howden Glen.

Following the path into peaceful Howden Glen.

When you reach an old stone outhouse, the path splits.  Bear left following the sign for Bonaly and pass through a stretch of woodland. After a gate, the path skirts around the edge of a field to reach an overgrown metalled track.  Turn left here and follow the track, which soon peters out and is replaced by a grassy path.

The path follows the course of the pylons to your right, separated from them by a high metal fence. Ignore the stile that can be seen in the fence ahead.

Continue along the grass, crossing a path signed for Laverockdale, until you reach a gate on your left.  Pass through this, then through a second gate, before the path climbs through a further stretch of woodland.  The path here is narrow and can be quite muddy, but it leads up a series of wooden steps and along the flank of White Hill to a small footbridge across the Dean Burn to rejoin the outward route just after you entered Bonaly Country Park. Turn right when you reach this track to head downhill and retrace your steps back to Bonaly to catch the bus back into the city.

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