A pleasant, unchallenging walk following the course of a former railway line between Eskbank and Penicuik, passing the remains of a medieval castle and historic mills.
Distance: 7 ½ miles
Start: Eskbank Station (NT 32360 65890)
Finish: Penicuik (NT 23560 59640)
Access: Eskbank station is on the Borders Railway between Edinburgh and Tweedbank; Penicuik is served by a regular bus service between Edinburgh and the Borders.
Once a stop on the Waverley Route between Edinburgh and Carlisle, the original station at Eskbank closed along with the railway as a result of the Beeching Cuts in 1969. It wasn’t until 2015 that trains returned to the town with the inauguration of the Borders Railway running from Edinburgh to Tweedbank in the Scottish Borders.
The Peebles Railway, one of many branch lines that once split from the main line, ran from Eskbank to the town of Penicuik, then south through the hills to reach Peebles. From there, the line followed the course of the River Tweed to Galashiels where it rejoined the main route. This walk follows a section of the line that has since been converted into a multi-purpose path for walkers and cyclists.
Alight at Eskbank station. From the southbound platform, follow the path towards the large Tesco supermarket, turning left before the supermarket itself to join the railway path signed for Penicuik. You will soon cross a bridge over the busy main road out of Edinburgh.
After joining a residential street, you will arrive at a crossing over a road; on the other side is the remains of Bonnyrigg station, the first of many former stations we will pass on the walk. Make your way between the platforms and proceed ahead to pass by the heavily overgrown Rosewell station.
The path continues a distance from the nearby road on your right, crossing smaller roads on several occasions, before joining it near a roundabout. Cross the roundabout, and follow the path to your right onto a gravel track next to a small parking area. You are now leaving the Peebles Railway onto a short branch line known as the Penicuik Railway – though the Peebles line did go to Penicuik, the station was outside the town itself and another was later built to provide better access, and this required a new line be built to access it. As you continue, you will soon pass under a stone bridge to enter the fringes of Roslin Glen.
After passing Roslin Castle station, bear left at a junction. As you arrive at the Firth Viaduct across the North Esk river, note a large earthen mound on your left. This is the site of Old Woodhouselee Castle, of which only the cellars remain.
Old Woodhouselee Castle was once home to the Hamilton clan, supporters of Mary Queen of Scots. After the Queen’s exile and imprisonment, Lady Hamilton and her infant son were evicted from the castle by James Stewart, the Queen’s half-brother. The pair soon died – but not before Lady Hamilton was driven mad with grief over the loss of her son.
Her husband, James, sought to avenge their deaths. After months of planning and preparation, he shot Stewart dead on the streets of Linlithgow – marking the first recorded political assassination by firearm.
Stewart’s supporters would burn the castle to the ground in revenge, and Lady Hamilton’s ghost is said to haunt the ruin to this day as she searches in vain for the child she will never find.
Cross the viaduct and pass through the tunnel to reach Auchendinny. The path joins a street which you should follow to arrive at another tunnel. Continue along the riverside as you pass through Beeslack woods, crossing the river on several occasions, to reach Penicuik. When the path temporarily joins a short stretch of road, ignore the temptation to follow it right and instead continue straight on. Soon the signed route rises to meet a row of modern houses; bear left and keep to a gravel path along the river bank.
Though now primarily a commuter town for nearby Edinburgh, Penicuik was for over 200 years a major player in the paper making industry. Many mills lined the North Esk, with papermaking starting here as early as 1709. Sir Walter Scott’s novels were printed on paper produced in the mills at Valleyfield, while another, at Eskmill, was Scotland’s first cotton mill. During the Napoleonic Wars, this mill served as the largest Prisoner of War camp in Scotland. The last of Penicuik’s mills closed in 1975 due to dwindling profits, and only a single corner of the Valleyfield Millremains as testament to the town’s former life.
Pass the site of the mill and head over a footbridge. On a hill to your left stands the remains of Uttershill castle, a 16thcentury tower house. Pass through the peaceful Valleyfield park with its pretty pond, then cross the North Esk one last time. When you join a road, bear left until you reach a junction where you can turn right to reach the centre of Penicuik. While you may not have much luck catching any trains, from here you can take buses north into Edinburgh or south to the Borders, depending on where you joined the train to Eskbank.