Balerno is a village located around 8 miles south of Edinburgh. The mainly traffic-free cycle route to Balerno makes for an easy day out that takes you over an aqueduct, through a disused railway tunnel and alongside the tranquil Water of Leith. Once in Balerno you can visit the pretty walled garden of Malleny House.
The route begins on the Union Canal which can be found in the Fountainbridge area of Edinburgh. Once on the canal you have the delight of a traffic-free towpath shared with joggers, dogwalkers and other cyclists. After about 2 miles you will cross the Slateford Aqueduct. Shortly after this there will be a National Cycle Route 75 sign pointing to a path on the right. All you have to do is follow these signs to reach Balerno.
The route proceeds along the Water of Leith Walkway where the wooden signs guide walkers along this popular path.
There are also cycle route 75 signs to keep you on the right track, such as this one on the side of a bench:
One of the most exciting parts of the route is the tunnel at Colinton. This is the most obvious leftover from the railway. Passenger trains ran on this line until 1943, goods trains continuing until 1967.
After the tunnel you pass Spylaw Park in Colinton. In the park there is a particulalry striking grand house. This was the mansion of James Gillespie who made his fortune as a snuff merchant. He built the house in 1773 next to his snuff-mill and today it contains private flats.
All along this route there had been a thriving milling industry- saw mills, paper mills, barley and grain mills. The railway serviced these mills and led to a housing boom along the line as the train made it easy to travel to Edinburgh. Passenger usage was so robust that in 1914 a normal train consisted of 8 coaches and this was increased to 13 on Saturdays. After the First World War the railway started to go into decline, largely as a result of competition from buses.
There is very little evidence of the mills today. The one exception is the Newmills Grain Mill, a ruin not far from Balerno, alongside the cycle path.
These memorials to the area's industrial past are rare and what you will mostly find is trees, gently flowing water and the chance to spot wildlife. If you are lucky you might see deer, heron, badger and kingfisher.
Once you reach the end of the route, at Balerno, it is marked with a metal sculpture set into the pathway that signifies the twisting route of the Water of Leith. At this point you emerge onto Bridge Road. Turn left here to reach the centre of Balerno.
Main Street in Balerno contains a some pubs, a Post Office, a hairdresser and a pharmacy. It is a pretty little street the way that it curves uphill and is lined with attractive stone buildings and bright flower boxes.
Malleny Garden is sign posted from Bridge Road. You will see the large sign as you cycle towards the centre of Balerno.
Malleny House is not open to the public, but the gardens are in the care of the National Trust.
The entrance (admission fee) to the garden is through a small gate in the wall that has a bird, like a phoenix, incorporated into the ironwork. This is the Gore Brown Henderson crest, former owners of Malleny House. On the other side of the gate there is a coat of arms, representing the Rosebery family, also former owners of the house.
The gardens are small, but have many interesting features, including clipped yew trees planted in the 17th century, Victorian glasshouses and the largest rose collection in Scotland.
An interesting fact is that spring arrives up to 10 days later here than it does in the centre of Edinburgh. This is because the garden is north-facing and has an altitude of 170m.
Once you have seen the garden it is time to head back to Edinburgh, or if you want to go further you can keep following the National Cycle Route 75 signs. This cycle route goes all the way to Glasgow. It then continues to Portavadie on the Cowall Peninsula.
Have a look at my other blog posts about cycle trips from Edinburgh. Click on Edinburgh under the categories menu. Why not try the route to Musselburgh? It is also mostly traffic-free.
My name is Colin Baird and I want to see all of Scotland by bicycle. Follow my blog on Facebook: