Bikepacking Scotland: The Capital Trail

  • Distance

    148 Mi.

    (238 KM)
  • Days

    3

  • % Unpaved

    80%

  • % Singletrack

    50%

  • Difficulty (1-10)

    7

  • Total Ascent

    16,432'

    (5,008 M)
  • High Point

    2,427'

    (740 M)
Although this route doesn’t venture too far from Edinburgh, the Capital Trail takes you through some very remote and beautiful places around the Scottish Capital. It features beaches, superb singletrack, Land Rover tracks, quiet roads, cycle paths and more.
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The Capital Trail is a self-supported mountain bike time-trial, starting and finishing on Portobello Beach, where the Scottish Capital meets the sea. This is where Sean Connery once served as a lifeguard while Commonwealth diving legend Peter Heatly practiced his first dives. The route is quintessentially Scottish: tough, rugged and scenic at the same time. It features the beautiful Firth of Forth coastline, the River Esk, Carberry Hill, where Mary Queen of the Scots surrendered, the Winton Estate and the Pencaitland Railway Path, Saltoun Big Woods, the quiet and scenic country lanes of East Lothian, Lammer Law, the Southern Upland Way, Thirlestane Castle, Melrose Abbey, the River Tweed, the Borders and Abbey Way, the Three Brethren, the 7stanes trails at Innerleithen and Peebles, Dun Rig, Kirkhope Law, the Cross Borders Drove Road, the Meldons and Pentland Hills.

And to finish a great route, the Capital Trail will take you to all the tourist must-do sights in Scotland’s Capital on two wheels. Edinburgh has recently been named the fourth most beautiful city in the world by the Rough Guide, so you are in for a treat. Once you leave the hills behind you, follow the Water of Leith and the Union Canal into the city, and whizz through the lively Meadows and down the Royal Mile. You might even spot the Royal Family at Holyrood Palace, the Queen’s official residence in Scotland, before enjoying a final climb up Holyrood Park and down one of the many secret urban trails the city has to offer.

An unsupported social ride will be held on June 13, 2015 as part of the Edinburgh Festival of Cycling. Visit the official site for more

  • Highlights

  • Must Know

  • Camping

  • Food/H2O

    💧

  • Trail Notes

  • Most of the trail is very scenic. The views onto Edinburgh from top of Carberry Hill are amazing on a clear day, as is the view from the top of the Lammer Law track, form where you can view all across the Firth of Forth and might spot some of the peaks of the Highlands.
  • The section to Thirlestane Castle on the Southern Upland Way is beautiful singletrack, and the descent into Melrose offers more splendid views.
  • Possibly the best section of the trail is the ride from the Three Brethren.
  • The singletrack sections near Innerleithen and Peebles offer you a taste of two hugely popular bike parks, and the descent from Kirk Hope into Peebles is one of the best Scotland has to offer.
  • And finally, the Pentlands offer remoteness and sheer beauty so close the Edinburgh.
  • Accessible throughout the year, the conditions in winter are very challenging, mud and snow can be encountered throughout the route almost anywhere.
  • Take care during lambing season from April to end of May.
  • As the trail is entirely in Scotland, you are allowed to wild camp anywhere, but please avoid areas near towns. All about outdoor access in Scotland can be found here: www.outdooraccess-scotland.com
  • Hotels, B&B’s are available in Lauder, Melrose, Galashiels, Innerleithen, Peebles, West Linton and Edinburgh.
  • There is a bunkhouse at Traquair Mill, and various serviced campsites in the route.
  • The water from running streams is usually drinkable, and there are public toilets bars/pubs, all of them will allow you to fill up on water.
  • There are shops in Whitecraig, Pencaitland, Lauder, Melrose, Galashiels (small detour), Innerleithen (small detour), Peebles and West Linton. Pubs/restaurants are in Edinburgh, Whitecraig, Elphinstone, Pencaitland, Carfraemill (small detour), Lauder, Melrose, Traquair (small detour, the brewery is worthwhile the extra mile), Peebles, West Linton and along the route into Edinburgh.
  • The Tide Café at the start has yummy coffee, cakes and light bites.
  • A few hundred metres from the finish the Espy offers a great selection of ales and tasty food.
  • Bike shops can be found during normal opening hours in Edinburgh, Melrose, Innerleithen (small detour), Glentress & Peebles.

Detailed Trail Description

The Capital Trail starts at the Tide Café at Portobello Beach. It follows the coast until Musselburgh Harbour, and then the River Esk Path to Whitecraig. From Whitecraig it follows a short section of national cycle route 1, before climbing on a mixture of farm tracks and singletrack to Carberry Hill. From there the trail crosses Hillside Farm, and then joins a track to Elphinstone. Shortly after Elphinstone it joins the Pencaitland Railway Path, and follows another path past the Winton House to Pencaitland. From here it follows the river into West Saltoun, and then crosses Saltoun Big Wood to Gilchriston, before it continues on quite country lanes to Longyester. After Longyester it follows an old dirt road over Lammer Law, shortly after Windy Law the track continues across the ridge, before it dips into a valley and climbs steeply up again. After Bunny’s Bothy it follows a beautiful valley to join the road at Cleekhimin Bridge. After a short section on the A697 it joins the Southern Upland Way, passing Thirlestane Castle, Lauder, and then climbing onto Chester Hill. It briefly joins a minor road again, but follows the route of the Southern Upland Way (signposted) all the way to the banks of the River Tweed at Melrose, passing its famous abbey. After a short detour through Melrose (bike shop) it follows the Borders Abbeys Way to Abbotsford, and further on the Glenwhilt. From there it sweeps down a minor road to Sunderland Hall, and then follows a beautiful singletrack onto Cribbs Hill. It climbs up to Three Brethren, and form here you follow the Southern Upland Way (signposted) to the turn off to Minch Moor. From there take the Red XC trail for a bit before joining the Southern Upland Way again shortly after you left it, on the left you will find a bothy (great for overnight). From Traquair Mill you keep on the Southern Upland Way all the way to Blackhouse, from where a good Landrover track takes you to the bottom of Dun Rig. From the end of the track it is a tough ca. 1km steep hike and bike up Dun Rig, the highest point of the route. Follow a rough path to Stake Law, and join the Old Drovers route, the downhill from Kirkhope Law into Peebles is superb. In Peebles turn right at the signpost to Gypsy Glen, and follow trails to Janet’s Brae, where the route climbs into Glentress Forest. Shortly afterwards you join the blue route and then the red route to the top of Spooky Wood. The section down from Spooky Wood is full of jumps, and again is one of the best bits of mountain biking you can find in Scotland. Follow the red, blue and black routes down to Glentress Peel (bikeshop), cross the street and follow the trail along the river Tweed to Peebles. Shortly after you leave the town of Peebles take the trail towards the Meldons on your left, past Hamilton Hill, this follows the Cross Border Drovers Road again. After a short section on the road the tracks crosses a hill and follows the Finglan Burn to Romanno House. From here follow the Drovers Road to Kaimes, and join the road to West Linton. From West Linton take the track to Carlops, after Carlops follow a small singletrail on the left to Nine Mile Burn (signposted). From Nine Mile Burn follow the track signposted to Monks Rig and further on down to Bavelaw Castle. From here follow the trail to Loganlee Reservoir, down Logan Burn and past Glencorse Reservoir. From here follow the track to Harlaw, and further on continue on the track to Currie. Past Middle Kinleith take the trail down the Poet’s Glen to Currie, and shortly afterwards join the Water of Leith. In Slateford, join the Union Canal until the end, and then continue on the road to the Meadows, from where a cycle trail takes you all the way to the Royal Mile. Follow the Royal Mile down to Holyrood Palace, and turn right into Holyrood park, and follow the road round Arthur’s Seat. Before Dunsapie Loch follow a path through a stone wall, which takes you onto a short pump track and down a grassy slope onto the roads again. A mixture of singletrack and roads takes you back onto Portobello Promenade, where the trail finishes.

Links and Resources

Terms of Use: As with each bikepacking route guide published on BIKEPACKING.com, should you choose to cycle this route, do so at your own risk. Prior to setting out check current local weather, conditions, and land/road closures. While riding, obey all public and private land use restrictions and rules, carry proper safety and navigational equipment, and of course, follow the #leavenotrace guidelines. The information found herein is simply a planning resource to be used as a point of inspiration in conjunction with your own due-diligence. In spite of the fact that this route, associated GPS track (GPX and maps), and all route guidelines were prepared under diligent research by the specified contributor and/or contributors, the accuracy of such and judgement of the author is not guaranteed. BIKEPACKING.com LLC, its partners, associates, and contributors are in no way liable for personal injury, damage to personal property, or any other such situation that might happen to individual riders cycling or following this route.

  • Jack Luke

    Missed a cheeky wee ‘H’ from your logo ;)

  • Wow, fantastic catch, thanks! Fixed…

  • Lance Bumstrong

    That’s ALL ME ! Great Loop..most of it I know..I live in Oxton and traverse many of those routes on training rides..The Lammermuirs are on my left- the Moorfoots on my right as we speak ! Great wee video and I hope to be able to join in if timing allows. I have been asked to come up with an Adventure Challenge- and darn if you haven’t done it for me ! Only recently did I discover the spot where Queen Mary surrendered- and what a tucked away quiet spot it is ! Should not be in my opinion ! That’s at Carberry.. For my money I would include Glentress, but then I don’t usually pack for over nighters- love the idea. It’s ALL GUID ! B-) Vive Ecosse !

  • Lance Bumstrong

    I stand corrected on the GT comment- I now see you include a loop ! Well Done !

  • I’d recommend doing the route in Spring or summer rather than trying in January :) http://www.shanecycles.com/bike-packing-the-scottish-borders/

  • Clayton

    I’m planning on doing this solo at the end of April. How will it be on a rigid gravel bike?

  • Drpav83

    It’ll be a struggle on a CX bike IMO. I did it on my Fargo with 2.4 inch tyres which was about right. Gearing will be an issue as well in the Lammermuirs with any sort of load on a CX bike, plenty of 15%+ sections which you’ll probably end up hike-a-biking.

  • Clayton

    Haha, I ended up hike-a-biking a good chunk of it and bailed early. Ultegra did not suit me well for this adventure. Also could have used some wider tires and bigger rotors. Oh well, still managed about 100 miles of trail before a bailed and took the roads back to Edinburgh.

  • Antony

    I’ve just signed up for the 2016 edition of the time trial – exciting times!

    Oh and to whoever admins this website, it might be an idea to update the route to remove the references to the bothy at Minch Moor. According to the locals it was demolished a few months ago.

  • Luca

    Hi,

    I have just done the Capital trail as solo and I confirm it is a wonderful trail! Some note from my side:
    1) I have done it in 3 days, with intermediate stops in Selkirk (the Glen hotel) and Peebles (Lindores Guesthouse): both hotels were very friendly and they allowed me to store the bike in their garage.
    2) In Edinburg I stayed in hotel “Mansion Festivals – Fountainbridge” which has a very great position because a) it is very close to the track (I started the ride from this point) b) it is in front of a very good bike store (Evans cycles), very useful in case of last minute issue c) it is in front of bus stop of line 35 (direct link from airport where my bike, properly dismounted and stored in the bike bag, was allowed).
    3) The climb to Dun Ring is very hard with no way to stay on the bike, be prepared!

    4) My bike is a classic cross country MTB, front suspended, with 26′ wheels and 2.1′ tires, equipped with 2 x 30 liters water proof bags. It was perfect for all situations.

    A very warm thanks to Markus Stitz for creating the route! I spend very nice days there!
    Cheers,
    Luca