For a while now I've wanted to see if it was possible to do a circuit of Roslin Glen, the gorge on the River North Esk between the villages of Roslin and Loanhead. If so, such a route would surely be a contender for top 100 walks in Scotland status: it is short and no mountain walk, but for interest hard to beat, a dipper-heavy river gorge with two castles, sandstone cliffs, a path formed of a river level rock ledge, a cave associated with William Wallace, and the famous Roslin chapel.
Accordingly I started at Springfield Mill near Polton, the river quiet, the sun up, and followed a path leading uphill. There was no way of accessing the river from this path, so I had to loup a gate (sorry) and cross a field, watched by horses, to enter the trees. Then the fun really started.
The way was overgrown and uncertain. I had seen a path marked on the 1:25,000 scale Pathfinder map, but it didn't seem to exist. At least the undergrowth was dry, as my steps cracked dry twigs and I wrestled with low-hanging branches, aware that below me was a steep fall to the roaring river.
Several scratches later, my speculative progress was rewarded as I stumbled across a bend in a path. I chose the downhill bend towards the river. The path had a well-made, Victorian feel to it. A footprint in mud made it clear that someone had been here recently. A rock-cut seat proved that at some time, somebody had invested considerable effort in this forgotten path. I enjoyed the sight of people on the other, public side of the gorge, unaware of my existence.
Rock-cut seat and the secret path:
The path rose and suddenly I was underneath Hawthornden Castle. This, the Midlothian Neuschwanstein, is a writers retreat and it is not possible for the public to access it from the road. Its situation on a rocky bluff high above the river, surrounded by trees, lends a fairytale quality. It was built in the early 15th century and extended in the 17th.
On the other side of Hawthornden Castle I passed through a door. The opposide side said 'Private, No Entry'. Oops. Is Exit allowed?
On the other side of the door some Victorian railings look over the river at its most spectacular point. What a place this is!
The path then divides. Which way? Down was impenetrable: up involved negotiating a number of fallen bushes. But up was the correct route: there were occasional duckboards, showing that somebody has been maintaining this route in the last few years.
Then I heard voices nearby. They weren't coming from across the gorge: they were closer. As they came round the corner the lead man exclaimed "a person!" He shook my hand in astonishment. "I've been coming here for twenty years, and you are the first person I've seen on this side of the river!" They loved this stretch of river and recommended I look at Wallace's Cave. I hadn't been sure about visiting this, but in the end it was easy to find.
William Wallace, so the story goes, hid in the cave at some point between losing the Battle of Falkirk in 1298 and his capture at Robroyston in 1305. Perhaps he was here around 1302's Battle of Roslin, a skirmish between English and Scots knights?
By now I was getting close to Roslin Castle and Chapel, though still inacessible on the other side of the river.
The path took me up to the roadside and I followed it down to the car park at the bridge over the River Esk. Suddenly there were people: locals at this car park, and foreign tourists wandering down from Roslin Chapel.
This is this fulcrum of the walk, where you can stop at the cafe at the chapel for a cup of tea, take a look round the chapel, and wander over the stone bridge to the castle, largely ruined, with restored private apartments built on top.
Roslin Chapel has always been an interesting place, with its ornate carvings, Sinclair connection and whiff of the knights templar. It remained fairly unknown however until the film of Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code was released. The climax of the film is at Roslin and now it is on the international tourist map. It was not that busy however on a sunny April weekend.
Following the riverside ledge:
This side of the glen is well-tramped, known territory: after my earlier adventures it was easy to forget that this side is also a glorious walk: up from Roslin Castle, down along a riverside rock ledge that floods at high water, cliffs towering above, then up again onto the cliffs.
From the top of the cliffs Hawthornden appears on the other side of the gorge.
The Midlothian Neuschwanstein
What a tremendous walk! The path falls back down to the river, heavy with wild garlic, wood sorrel and the first bluebells of the year, birdsong in the trees and ducks in the river.
Finally the path climbs Hewan Bank, with the option of following an old railway line between Roslin and Loanhead, or down a beaten earth path back to my bike at Polton. I was delighted to prove that it is possible - albeit with some route-finding difficulty and across private ground - to make a circuit of Roslin Glen.
This walk is only a few miles long. But if you fancy trying it, allow - if you are rushing it - the entire afternoon.
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