Edinburgh Walks – The Braids Hills

The Braids Hills begin a couple of kilometers directly south through the Meadows from Edinburgh city center and continue south towards the larger Pentlands Hills outside the city limits.  The Braids can be accessed via the Morningside or Newington neighbourhoods, but to get the best vistas of the city, start from south to north so that you are facing the old town, castle and Forth on your approach.  The numbers 11 or 15 buses will take you to Fairmilehead junction in roughly 20 minutes.  From there, a jaunt eastwards along Frogston Road will bring you to any number of opportunities to start a southerly overland hike through the woods.  If you’re making a full afternoon of it, I would recommend a pint and a hot pie at the Stable Bar at Mortonhall to ensure an excellent start to your hike.

An alternative starting point, and one to cut your hike an hour or so shorter if you’re worried about time, is from the Mortonhall golf club.  To get there, simply jump off the 11 or 15 bus a few stops before Fairmilehead, when Comiston village, at the junction of Braid Road, is announced.  A short walk southward along Braid Road will take you to the golf club on the right hand side.  The clubhouse is a more formal affair than the Stable Bar, and is not recommended for a pre-hike lunch in casual dress….  But they’re not all that strict with their dress code, as they claim on their website that “there is no restriction on the length of socks.”

For either starting point, you will most likely end up walking across golf courses.  Etiquette should be observed that you do not walk onto a green while a ball is in play.  This might be difficult since nothing seems to deter Scotsmen from their golfing.  I have seen golfers on these very courses at ten  o’clock on a winter evening in a hailstorm with 60 mph winds.  Stick to the rules and you’ll be safe from these madmen.  Don’t hang around the holes, keep out of the bunkers.

Golfers in the Braids Hills with Edinburgh in the background.

Following this happy and haphazard system of hiking, climb the next range southwards and you will see below you a deep valley and a road halfway down.  The road is Braids Hills Drive and must be crossed to get to the Braid Burn, the river far below.  The walk along this river is very much worth a small detour, but try not to go further than the Hermitage house if you are heading upstream, turn around and get climbing again, up to your last peak, Blackford Hill.  You may pass or notice the Royal Observatory near the peak, while the top itself is crowned with more weather stations and communications towers.  But the view, anytime of day or night, is glorious, with Edinburgh sprawled out from Corstorphine Hill to Arthur’s Seat in all its majesty, and the Forth making the backdrop.There are no signposts across the Braids and one must make their own way as one sees possible or fit.  Have some fun, take your time, and just meander south.  Head for the peaks, there’s legwork enough in this.  The first, and highest, peak you encounter should be the Buckstone Snab, on the western end of the hill system, topped by a weather station.  There are several ways up through the thick gorse, but you may have to walk across a fairway or two to get there, depending on your direction.  This will offer you your first grand sweeping view of the city, a full 360 degrees, weather depending.

Edinburgh from Blackford Hill at dusk.
Arthur’s Seat from Blackford Hill at dusk.

Follow the cluster of church steeples midway towards the western end of town into Morningside for a much recommended pint at the Canny Mans on Morningside Road.  This famous pub has a very mixed reputation, and a list of rules as high as the door on the way in.  In fact, reviews of the place are hilariously polarized.  Nonetheless, I have dropped in to the place on every Edinburgh visit and have never had anything but a friendly reception.  The cluttered and close atmosphere offers a combination of different drinking establishment experiences I favour; a mix of posh English tea-room and Dublin snug, a fantastic range of liquors and an appreciation of wine, a curio/antique shop feel to the passageways and a bit of a west-country bareness to the beer garden.  Having made several miles and 2 to 4 hours walking, depending on your route and your stops, relax and relish the rewarding end of your hiking experience.  This doesn’t need to be a specific walk description, as you’ve hit the best bits if you hit the peaks.  And if you had a clear weather day, luck to you!