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Cycling South of Edinburgh

It seems the majority of people in Edinburgh Triathletes do most of their cycle training in either East Lothian on the Hang-On-If-You-Can summer hammerfest or Gullane Triathlon routes, or in West Lothian around Linlithgow and Kirkliston. The aim of this article is to remind people not to ignore the best cycling in our area-Midlothian and the Borders South of Edinburgh-and to provide some suggestions on good places to ride. The first advantage of cycling South of the city is that for many people it provides the quickest exit away from traffic lights and congestion. I usually take the Morningside/Comiston Road route to Fairmilehead, and can be riding for real within 10 minutes of leaving my flat. The sketch map below highlights some good cycling roads, and also notes the locations of several good climbs within a reasonable cycle of Edinburgh. (A printable version [A4 size; 365 kb] is here - right click on it and do "Save As..." to save it as a file to your computer.)

Close to the city, I like the area between Roslin, the A7 and Gladhouse Reservoir, and the area down to Peebles. There are quite a few very quiet roads around here. I work at the Roslin Institute, and typical Summer evening rides after work would be something like: Roslin, Roslin Glen, Carrington, Temple, Gladhouse Reservoir, A703, Leadburn, Auchendinny and home, or perhaps Roslin, Auchendinny, Leadburn, Shiplaw, left on the A701, right towards Carlops, the high Pentlands road to Penicuik (recommended: quiet, high, flat and fast-good for intervals and views both), Penicuik and home. Both of these routes are just under 30 miles; going from Edinburgh itself would add about seven miles.

If going further afield, the B709 North of Innerleithen is a very quiet, straight road with a good surface and a moderate gradient that is downhill in the Northerly direction. As well as being attractive in its own right, and including a good climb, this stretch also provides the ideal location to safely(ish) practice bike-handling skills such as riding no handed, so that you can learn to open a chewy bar/sandwich in a race without stopping, put on or take off a rain jacket, etc. Going out through Peebles, taking the back road to Innerleithen, coming back along this road and then returning to the city via Middleton, Temple, Carrington and Roslin is quite pleasant, and is about 55-60 miles depending on where you start from-perfect for those training for a half-Ironman.

I think some people avoid cycling South of Edinburgh because they think that you will always end up stuck on the main roads, but these are avoidable. The A68 is busy, and although wide with a smooth flat shoulder that you can cycle on, is not pleasant even if it is safe enough. But it is possible to avoid most of it by taking the parallel roads, such as the B6371 to come out at Soutra Hill. As you leave Dalkeith, turn left on the A6093 and it is a right turning after a couple of km. The stretch of A68 between where the B6371 chucks out and Lauder, at least on Sundays, is wide and seems less busy, and there are also ways of avoiding the A68 completely such as the B6368 to the Moorfoots, or the B6362 crossing of Lauder Common. This includes a decent climb. If you do it the other way, from Stow to Lauder, it is quite steep.

It is possible to avoid the A7 completely, because there is a minor, almost car-free lane paralleling it along the valley on the other side of the river. You can join this road at Stow (cross straight over the A7 if coming from Lauder), or from the B709 at the North End or at the A72 at the Southern end. It is undulating, making it a challenging as well as nicer route. Another useful “Cyclists’ A-Road Substitute” is the back road from Peebles, which follows the Tweed along the other side of the river from the A72, past Innerleithen to come out for Selkirk or Galashiels. To get on this road, take the road over the river at the roundabout at the West end of Peebles high street, and it’s first on your left. This road also has a turnoff at Traquair for the B709 Southwards (follow the sign for “St Mary’s Loch”), which takes you to the climbs at Talla reservoir (go right at the Gordon Arms), Ettrick Forest (B709 straight on at the GA), and Witchie Knowe between Yarrow and Ettrickbridge.

The minor road that leaves the A708 at the top of St Mary’s Loch and passes the Megget and Talla reservoirs to join the A701 comes well recommended. It has a good climb-long and driving from the East side, fairly ferociously steep from the West, and feels quite remote, more like the Highlands, in the central bit away from civilisation. This is the highest pass within a 100 mile loop of Edinburgh that I have found so far-let me know if you find a higher one!

Sketch map of the area South of Edinburgh