Scottish National Trail Guide: Week 1 – Kirk Yetholm to Edinburgh

The Scottish National Trail is one of the greatest long distance walks in Scotland

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This is Part One in a three-part guide series on hiking the Scottish National Trail- one of the greatest long distance walks in Scotland. I also recorded a v-log during my hike of the Scottish National Trail, subscribe to my YouTube channel to see all my videos!

In May and June 2018, I was the first solo female to complete Britain’s toughest and most varied hike: the Scottish National Trail. The Scottish National Trail begins in Kirk Yetholm and travels 864 kilometres (536 miles) all the way to the most north-western point of Scotland, Cape Wrath. It took me 7 weeks to complete, which included one rest day per week (and a few spare days just in case).

The Scottish National Trail is an ‘unofficial’ hike that links many of Scotland’s existing long distance trails together to create one massive hike that runs the length of Scotland. It probably retains its ‘unofficial’ status for this reason.

Read my Scottish National Trail Hiking Guides

Why I hiked the Scottish National Trail

My diary of the Scottish National Trail

Part 2 – Edinburgh to Drymen

10 bothies I stayed in on the Scottish National Trail

What happened after the Scottish National Trail

Some accommodation in this article was sponsored, however all opinions are entirely my own (as always). This article may contain links to products and services that I love. I may earn a small commission at no cost to you.

Scottish National Trail Map

The entire trail, beginning in Kirk Yetholm and finishing at Cape Wrath

There is a great guide on hiking the Scottish National Trail on the WalkHighlands website, and for the most part I stuck to this BUT there were a few times when I deviated from the course to save time, or take a safer or more picturesque route. I also discovered some fantastic facilities along the way that weren’t included in the WalkHighlands guide.

Rather than walk you through the Scottish National Trail step-by-step (there are good directions on the WalkHighlands website) I will discuss the route I took and why, and give helpful, up-to-date advice about everything you need to know to hike the SNT.

Not everyone can take the time off work or commit to a 7 week hike, so I am breaking the hike down into seven parts- going week-by-week.

If you have any questions, please leave a comment and I will do my best to answer!

Standing outside the Border Hotel next to the Scottish National Trail plaque

The official starting point of the Scottish National Trail, at The Border Hotel in Kirk Yetholm.

Scottish National Trail: Part 1 Summary

Resting along the Melrose to Traquair section of the Scottish National Trail

There are some fantastic views of the rolling hills of the Scottish Borders

Total distance: 141.25km (87.7 miles)
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Days: 6-8

The first week of the Scottish National Trail takes you from the Scottish/English border near Kirk Yetholm to the thriving capital of Scotland, Edinburgh.

It follows a portion of St Cuthbert’s Way- a trail that runs from Melrose in the Scottish Borders, where St Cuthbert began his religious life in 650AD, to his final resting place in Holy Island. You’ll be walking St Cuthbert’s Way in reverse from Kirk Yetholm to Harestanes, then along an old Roman Road named Dere Street to Melrose the following day.

From Melrose you will walk past the magnificent Melrose Abbey ruin to pick up the Southern Upland Way in reverse to Traquair.

You will then make your way to the quaint town of Peebles, where you can visit the Peebles Kirk ruin before walking taking the Cross Borders Drove Road to the village of West Linton.

From West Linton you will walk to Carlops then past the North Esk Reservoir, via a pass through the Pentland Hills before descending softly to Balerno.

You will then follow the Water of Leith walkway to finish the first section at the visitor centre in Slateford.

Signpost for the Pennine Way

The point where the Pennine Way crosses into Scotland

The first week of the Scottish National Trail is graded 2 out of 4. There are a few hill climbs to contend with, however the terrain is flat, the route is well-marked, and there are plenty of shops to re-stock your supplies.

There are also some fabulous bed and breakfasts along the way. If it’s in your budget, I would recommend making the most of the fabulous Scottish hospitality and staying in a different bed and breakfast each night. Alternatively, wild camping is great fun; I mixed wild-camping with B&B’s during my first week on the trail. Another great option is glamping- fellow Scotland travel blogger Kay from The Chaotic Scot has written a great guide on glamping in Scotland here.

Watch: Subscribe to my YouTube channel to see the rest of my videos of the SNT

The most difficult part of the week one is the first three days. The WalkHighlands website suggests you hike from Kirk Yetholm to Traquair in three days- making your first day 28km, your second day 24km and your third day 29km! This is a lot of ground to cover at the beginning, so my suggestion is to give yourself an extra day to complete this section (which is what I wish I’d done!).

If you’re a perfectionist like I am, you may want to start from the official border, which is 2.5km east of The Border Hotel, the official starting point of the Scottish National Trail. Bear in mind this will add an additional 5km to day one (you will have to hike to the border), making it 33km in total. This makes for a very big day for the start of a long journey! To get the the border you will hike the Pennine Way in reverse.

History on the Scottish National Trail: Week 1

The view of Melrose from Melrose Abbey

The first week of the Scottish National Trail has a lot of history

The Scottish Borders have a complicated and bloody history. The people were less loyal to any King or Queen than themselves, laying their loyalties with whoever suited them at the time.

It makes sense; the borders-folk were caught in the middle of the contending Scottish and English armies dating from the Wars of Scottish Independence in the 1200s/1300s until the Jacobite risings of the 1600s/1700s. As England invaded Scotland they would often leave a trail of mass destruction as they moved north. You will walk many of the roads the medieval English and Scots traveled.

The Scots of the borders would often switch sides as it suited them- sometimes midway through battle! Loyalty to a monarch or reliance on the law often left the borders-folk exposed, so they had to learn to fend for themselves, relying on their own resilience, strength and cunning to survive.

The term ‘Border Reiver’ was given to many borderers (‘reiver’ means to rob). It’s easy to understand that during times of uncertainty, the borders-folk would resort to lawlessness.

When should I hike the Scottish National Trail?

Highland cows or 'coos' graze near the Scottish National Trail in Peebles

You may be lucky enough to see some coos during the first week of the Scottish National Trail!

This was the question on my lips, so I decided to contact Cameron McNeish, the man who designed the Scottish National Trail. He suggested I start the SNT mid-May, which would have me finish at the end of June. The weather is getting warmer in May with less rain during these months. You’ll also finish before the midge season is in full throttle during July-August.

I have also heard of other hikers planning to do the Scottish National Trail beginning in September. Autumn is another good option, however I prefer hiking into warmer weather. Ultimately, it’s up to you; just keep in mind the higher north you travel, the cooler the temperatures.

Obviously, if you are planning on ticking off one week of the Scottish National Trail at a time, anytime between May to late June and September to October is great!

What you should pack

What to pack when hiking the Scottish National Trail

In warm weather your pack can be used as a make-shift clothesline!

Aside from your general hiking kit, here are my suggestions on what to take with you when completing week one of the SNT:

    • Compeed plasters. Compeed plasters saved me on day one. I’d spent a month breaking my Scarpa hiking boots in, however I hadn’t walked in them uphill. As soon as I began ascending, my feet began to rub against my boots. A very large blister appeared on my heel, and I was only able to continue walking thanks to Compeed. These plasters act like a second skin, and they won’t rub off in your boots. Never hike without them!
    • ViewRanger App. I used this app to navigate almost the entire trail. For only £25 you can subscribe for one year and it gives you the entire Ordnance Survey maps for Great Britain. You can download the maps for offline use.
    • Harvey Maps. I recommend buying the Harvey Maps for St Cuthberts Way and the Southern Upland Way. These maps are heavy duty and waterproof, and provide good details of your route.
    • OS maps. I also recommend the following Ordnance Survey maps: Explorer 337 – Peebles; Explorer 344– Pentland Hills; Explorer 350 – Edinburgh. You can also get 3x Ordnance Survey maps for £20 by clicking here.
    • Cicerone guidebooks. These guidebooks are fabulous! They currently have books available for St Cuthberts Way and the Southern Upland Way. Just note that the SNT follows these routes backwards, so they may be a little confusing to read. These guides aren’t a compulsory purchase, but they make for nice reading along the trail with mini maps of your route.
Scottish National Trail Guide: Week 1 - Kirk Yetholm to Edinburgh

How to get to Kirk Yetholm

The Border Hotel in Kirk Yetholm is the official starting point of the Scottish National Trail

The Border Hotel in Kirk Yetholm is the official starting point of the Scottish National Trail.

I live in Edinburgh, and the best way to get to Kirk Yetholm from the city is by bus. You will first take the 52 bus with Borders Buses to Kelso. This costs £4.50 and you can purchase your ticket via their app. Click here to view the timetable.

From Kelso you will take service 81 or 81A with Peter Hogg. Click here to view the timetable.

Kelso church

Kelso is a pretty town worth exploring on your way to Kirk Yetholm.

Kelso has a good range of shops and a pharmacy. If you need to purchase anything at the last minute, I recommend getting it here. Town Yetholm, a 20 minute walk from Kirk Yetholm, has a small and basic store- but that’s it.

Allow around 3 hours (including a layover in Kelso) to get to Kirk Yetholm. The bus will drop you 50 yards from The Border Hotel which is the official starting point of the Scottish National Trail.

Day 1: Kirk Yetholm border to Cessford Castle

Standing on the wall that seperates England and Scotland

Standing on the wall that separates England and Scotland

Length: 20 kilometres / 12 miles
Ascent: 400m
Difficulty: Easy/Moderate
Time: 6 – 8 hours
Accommodation: Wild camping outside Cessford Castle; the Temperhall Hotel in Morebattle.

Amenities: There is a small shop in Town Yetholm, which is a 20 minute walk from The Border Hotel. They only accept cash. The Border Hotel has a licensed bar and restaurant. There is also another bar and restaurant in Town Yetholm. If you need any last minute supplies I recommend stocking up in Kelso which has full facilities, including a pharmacy.
In Morebattle, the Temperhall Hotel serves food and drink, and there is also a post office and store.

Cool things to see: 

  • The Gypsy Palace. The home of the Scottish Gypsies for over 300 years. It was the royal residence of both Queen Esther and her son, King Charles Faa Blythe.
  • Wideopen hill. This is the highest point and official half-way mark of St Cuthberts Way. The view of the cheviot hills is breathtaking.
  • Cessford Castle. A ruin that dates back from the 1400s! It was the stronghold of Clan Kerr, who were notorious Border Reivers.
The view from Wideopen Hill, looking back towards Town Yetholm

The view from Wideopen Hill, the highest point along St Cuthberts Way.

The Scottish National Trail begins officially from The Border Hotel in Kirk Yetholm, which is also the official end point of the Pennine Way. I spent a wonderful night at the hotel, which has a well-stocked bar and lovely restaurant. If you choose to wild camp for most of the trail, it is worth booking yourself in for a night here so you can start the SNT feeling refreshed and energetic from the traditional Scottish breakfast that is included in the tariff.

There is a wonderful feel about this hotel; you will meet many hikers who have just finished the Pennine Way or are hiking St Cuthberts Way. The Gypsy Palace is also located 150 yards from the Border Hotel.

I decided to hike to the official English/Scottish border, which is 2.5 kilometres away along the Pennine Way. Officially, you are meant to hike from The Border Hotel to Harestanes, and because I hiked out to the border to start from there, it meant I didn’t reach Harestanes. I did have a fantastic first night wild camping outside the Cessford Castle ruins!

Wild camping outside Cessford Castle

Wild camping outside Cessford Castle

Once you leave Kirk Yetholm you will follow the St Cuthberts Way signs along a river, eventually coming out to a road. After some road-walking you will begin your ascent up Wideopen Hill. If you’re unfit like I was, you may find this challenging with the added pack weight, however the view is well worth the climb. It’s a great spot to stop for lunch.

You will descend Wideopen Hill to reach a town called Morebattle. You will cross a bridge, following the lovely Kale Water to reach Morebattle. I recommend having dinner here before setting up camp at Cessford. Morebattle is the only place between Kirk Yetholm and Harestanes where you can purchase a warm meal.

Day 2: Cessford Castle to Melrose

Hills viewed from the Scottish National Trail on route to Melrose

Hills viewed from the Scottish National Trail on route to Melrose

Length: 33 kilometres / 20 miles
Ascent: 450m
Difficulty: Moderate
Time: 8-10 hours
Where I slept: Melrose Campground; Burt’s Hotel.

Amenities: Harestanes has a visitor centre, which has a cafe. There is also another cafe near the centre of Harestanes which sells sweet treats. There is a gas station in St Boswells which sells snacks, and Melrose has full amenities.

Cool things to see: 

  • Lillian’s Stone. Apparently a woman named Lillian fought in the Battle of Ancrum Moor against the English during the War of the Rough Wooing, when Henry VIII attempted to wed his son to the infant Mary Queen of Scots. She supposedly lost use of her legs during the battle and “fought on her stumps.” Though this story is most likely a myth, the stone better represents the women and the trials and tribulations they suffered at the hands of war, and their strength to continue raising children and running a household solo.
  • Melrose Abbey. You just can’t miss visiting this beautiful abbey ruin founded by David I in 1136. King Alexander II is buried here, as well as other Scottish kings and nobles. Melrose Abbey is also the final resting place for Robert the Bruce’s heart.
  • Eildon Hill. Also known as ‘Eildon Hills’ or ‘the Eildons’ due to its triple peak. You will walk through the middle of the two highest peaks if you follow the exact route.
  • Rhymers Stone. The Rhymers Stone marks the spot where, legend says, Thomas the Rhymer met the Faerie Queen. He was then inspired to write the first notes of the Scottish muse. You will only see this if you choose to deviate from the original route to take a shorter route following Dere Street, and then the road that takes you through Eildon.
Lillian's Stone along the Scottish National Trail

Lillian’s stone

The walk from Cessford Castle to Harestanes is pleasant; you will follow a road that leads to a forest, before joining Dere Street, which is a path and not a street. Let me explain.

Dere Street is an old roman road that was built in 79-81 AD. It was the main route into Scotland at that time, and was also used around 138-165 AD during the Antonine period of Roman occupation. After the Romans withdrew from Scotland it fell into disrepair, however it will still used for many years as a line of communication. In 1298, King Edward I of England and his army marched north along Dere Street to the Battle of Falkirk.

It’s an incredible feeling walking on a road that carries so much history, though now it resembles a beaten track.

Before you reach Harestanes you will cross an impressive swing bridge.

Stopping for lunch in Harestanes at the visitor centre is a good idea before continuing on Dere Street, passing Lillian’s Stone. The route has you veer east to Dryburgh, however by this stage I was feeling pretty tired, and it was getting late so I decided to take a shortcut, bypassing Dryburgh. I continued on Dere Street until the path finished and took me out to the motorway. I followed this to St Boswells where I refueled with a cold drink and snack from the gas station, passing some very friendly donkey’s at the Borders Donkey Sanctuary. Then I followed a road to the Rhymers Stone, and on to Melrose.

The downside to taking this shortcut is you miss out on seeing Dryburgh Abbey, a ruin where Sir Walter Scott is buried. I also skipped climbing through the Eildon Hills. There are times when you need to listen to your body and take the easiest option available, which is what I did.

The shortcut meant I got to meet some cute donkey’s and see the Rhymers Stone.

Donkey Sanctuary in St Boswells

You will pass the Donkey Sanctuary if you take the shortcut through St Boswells

If you’d like to complete the full route, I recommend having dinner in Jedburgh and spending the night there, or wild-camping around Eildon Hill. This just means you’ll have to pick up the remaining kilometers later in the week.

Read: 8 romantic places in Scotland to visit

Melrose is a very attractive town; I arrived at 8.30pm that evening, just in time to have dinner at the Ship Inn. I was planning on wild camping but the bartender told me about the campground located up the road. She walked me there, but unfortunately the campground (the ‘Melrose Campground‘) doesn’t officially open until late May. Luckily for me the very kind woman on duty let me pitch my tent by the toilet block, only charging me a fiver for use of the facilities.

This was one of my longest days’ hiking at 33.3 kilometres (with shortcuts!). This is why I consider the difficulty ‘moderate’ as my feet were really feeling it by the end of the day.

Day 3: Melrose to Traquair Hills

Melrose Abbey along the Scottish National Trail

Melrose Abbey is an incredible sight to see

Length: 12km
Ascent: 350m
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Time: 3-4 hours
Accommodation: Wild camping next to the River Tweed

Amenities: Galashiels has full facilities, and is a short detour from the trail. I recommend having dinner here before heading into the Traquair Hills to set up camp. Restocking your supplies in Galashiels is also a good idea, as your next restocking point isn’t until you reach Innerleithen or Peebles the following day.

Cool things to see: 

  • Abbotsford House. You will catch a glimpse of this stunning Gothic palace across from the River Tweed as you leave Tweedbank. It was the residence of Sir Walter Scott!
  • Site of the Battle of Melrose. The battle of Melrose took place on Skirmish Hill in 1526. A then young King James V was under the influence and custody of the Earl of Angus, Archibald Douglas. The Scott family and supporters didn’t think this wise, and 600 borderers rode to Darnick to challenge Douglas and free their King. Scott and his supporters were defeated by an army led by Kerr of Cessford (the same Kerr family that lived in Cessford Castle that you’ll pass on day one of the SNT). Kerr was speared to death during battle, and there is a stone called the Turn Again Stone to mark the spot where this happened. James V is said to have watched this from the battlements of Darnick Tower.
Abbortsford House viewed from across the River Tweed

Abbotsford House, residence of Sir Walter Scott

From Melrose you pick up the Southern Upland Way to Traquair. I decided to explore Melrose Abbey in the morning due to arriving too late the evening before. The abbey really is something special- don’t miss it!

You will follow the River Tweed for the first half of this hike before heading west to Galashiels (or ‘Gala’ as the locals call it). After leaving Melrose and walking for a couple of kilometers, you will pass an information board that marks the site for the Battle of Melrose, also known as the Battle of Skirmish Hill.

Robert the Bruce's heart, buried at Melrose Abbey

Robert the Bruce’s heart is buried here at Melrose Abbey

You will continue walking and cross the river via a bridge, heading south-west where you will eventually be able to see Abbotsford House from across the river.

When I reached Galashiels, I had dinner at the Salmon Inn (their nachos are fantastic!). I also charged my phone and powerbank here.

When you leave Galashiels you’ll walk out of the town through a pleasant forest that leads you to the more remote Traquair Hills. When you reach the cairn at the top of a hill, look back to take in the wonderful view of Galashiels you’ve just left behind.

Cairn in the Traquair Hills looking back to Galashiels on the Scottish National Trail

A cairn in the Traquair Hills looking back to Galashiels on the Scottish National Trail

I camped near the River Tweed after passing through Fairnilee Farm. If it is midge season you may want to continue on further to avoid the wrath of the midges.

You also have the option to continue on and wild-camp somewhere once you’ve passed through the forest.

Day 4: Traquair Hills to Peebles

Traquair House on the Scottish National Trail

Traquair House, Scotland’s oldest inhabited house

Length: 28km / 17.3 miles
Ascent: 630m
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Time: 8 hours
Accommodation: Whitestone House bed and breakfast; The Tontine Hotel; Rosetta Holiday Park.

Amenities: Innerleithen has full facilities and is a good place to stop for lunch. Peebles also has full facilities and a fantastically cheap bed and breakfast, Whitestone House.

Cool things to see: 

  • The Three Brethren. The three cairns mark the three farm boundaries that touch one another. These cairns date back to the 1500s. The view to the east offers splendid views of the Eildon Hills.
  • Cheese Well. Inscribed stones mark the site of the Cheese Well, which got its name from the custom of leaving small presents of cheese to thank and appease the fairies that lived there.
  • Resolution artwork. Described as a ‘living’ work of art, look out for the crop circles cut into a field of heather. The circles also serve as a conservation tool, providing a habitat for Black Grouse.
  • Traquair House. Scotland’s oldest inhabited house. It has been lived in for over 900 years and was Originally a hunting lodge for the kings and queens of Scotland, it has been lived in since at least 1107! The early kings of Scotland also held court here and passed laws.
  • The Innerleithen Goose. A very friendly, wild goose that has made the River Tweed its home.
The Three Brethren sit in the Traquair Hills

The Three Brethren

From the River Tweed crossing you will climb a hill to reach the Three Brethren. The ridgewalk toward Broomy Law hills is fantastic.

There isn’t anything to see once you reach Traquair- just a few houses. If you are desperate for supplies, Innerleithen is nearby. I actually ended up walking to Peebles via Innerleithen after talking to a local at Traquair House who suggested I walk along the Tweed Valley Railway Path (a cycle path) instead. The road that leads you to Peebles is actually quite narrow with blind corners- not exactly safe for a hiker!

The woman told me that if I crossed the river, I may even get to meet the famous Innerleithen goose! Yup- Innerleithen has a famous goose. Oh, Scotland.

Descending into Traquair on the Scottish National Trail

Descending into Traquair

Now this is a story I’m amazed doesn’t exist on the internet (until now!). Apparently one day this goose just showed up by the Tweed Bridge and decided to make this area its new home. Two horses lived in the field next to the river, and sadly one of the horses died. The goose, sensing the sadness of the grieving horse, befriended it and moved itself into the paddock. They are often seen grazing together. Is that not the cutest story you’ve ever heard?

I was lucky enough to meet the Innerleithen goose- it was very friendly and even swam to the shore and waddled over to say hello.

To take the detour to meet the Innerleithen goose and follow the cycleway to Peebles you will walk down the road that leads to Traquair House, following the road to the right before reaching the house. You’ll then take a left at the end of this road to follow a road that heads north. Follow this road for 500m before turning left onto Traquair Road to cross the Tweed Bridge that takes you to Innerleithen. The Innerleithen goose lives on the river by this bridge.

Look for a cemetery on your left as you walk into Innerleithen. You will take a left once you pass it; look for signs indicating a cycle path and follow this path all the way to Peebles. The River Tweed will be on your left for some time before you cross it via a bridge before reaching Cardrona.

The goose in Innerleithen that made the River Tweed its home

The famous Innerleithen goose

Peebles is a royal burgh and is home to several galleries and craft shops. It was home to the novelist, John Buchan. As I wandered toward the center of the town I stumbled across a Victorian building which was home to a very cute bed and breakfast. The B&B, called Whitestone House, was built in the late 19th century as a manse. I decided to spend the night here to re-charge.

Don’t be put off by some of the grim reviews of Whitestone House on TripAdvisor. The woman that runs the B&B, Mrs Muir, is elderly and quirky, so don’t expect royal service. The room is only £30 for a single for one night, and this includes a yummy cooked breakfast, which I think is a fantastic price for what you get. Whitestone House is a wee Scottish gem, and if you love authentic accommodation, you will enjoy spending a night here.

Day 5: Peebles to West Linton

The Peebles Cross Kirk

The majestic Cross Kirk in Peebles

Length: 21km / 13 miles
Difficulty: Easy
Ascent: 487m
Time: 6 hours
Accommodation: The Gordon Arms Hotel.

Amenities: West Linton has a well-stocked Co-Op and The Gordon Arms hotel which is great for dinner and has a licensed bar.

Cool things to see: 

  • Peebles Cross Kirk. Now a ruin, the Cross Kirk in Peebles is the site where St Nicholas’ supposed cremated remains were discovered. Alexander III paid for a church to be built on the site. A stone cist containing fragments of bone was found during excavations in 1924 and is believed to be the saint’s grave.
    For over 500 years the church was a popular place of worship. In 1474 it became a house for Trinitarian friars.
    The Kirk was burnt in 1549 by the English, but seems to have been repaired two years later. The church was later unroofed and abandoned in the 18th century and by the early 19th century the south wall had fallen down.

You will follow the Cross Borders Drove Road for the entirety of this section, which is handily marked with green diamonds on the View Ranger app.

After restocking my supplies in the town centre, I explored the Peebles Cross Kirk before crossing hilly farmland and skirting the side of Hamilton Hill. Looking back there are lovely views of Peebles. I was even lucky enough to encounter a herd of Highland cattle during this section.

The Old Drove Road that leads to West Linton on the Scottish National Trail

This section is well-marked and makes for an easy day

I stopped for a break once I reached the forest, before carrying on to cross wide moorland with lovely farm views. This area has some great wild-camping spots. After crossing the moorland you’ll walk past small residences.

After reaching a group of cottages at Halmyre Mains be sure to look for Halmyre House, a mansion that  incorporates the remains of a probable 16th century castle.

Hiking through the hills on the Peebles to West Linton section of the Scottish National Trail

Heading north-west through the expanse of moorland

West Linton is a small, but friendly village. I met a local who kindly offered me her spare room for the night. In West Linton it’s easy to feel as though you’re in a small village in the middle of nowhere. Edinburgh is closer than you think, however; the only thing separating West Linton and Edinburgh is the Pentland Hills, which brings us to day six…

Day 6: West Linton to Balerno

Hiking the section from West Linton to Balerno

The trail follows close to an an old Roman Road

Length: 19.25km / 12 miles
Easy to moderate
Ascent: 254m
Time: 5-6 hours
Where I slept: JustB Bed and Breakfast

Amenities: Balerno has shops and a great restaurant Carlyle’s Bar & Kitchen. It is also home to the most wonderful bed and breakfast I have ever stayed in- JustB.

Cool things to see: 

  • Icelandic horses. You will pass horse stables’ home to the rare Icelandic horse breed.
  • North Esk Reservoir. Perfect for bird watching and taking some nice photos.
Icelandic pony in West Linton, Scotland

An Icelandic pony enjoys breakfast

I was particularly nervous for this day; the Pentland Hills looked mortifying on my OS map; a giant block of hills cutting Edinburgh off from the borders. The SNT requires you to walk directly through the middle of them. I soon discovered that this section was actually very easy, with the majority of the paths being wide and well-maintained.

You will follow a path that runs close to an old roman road that will lead you to Carlops. It was here that I encountered my first difficulty with navigation. The WalkHighlands website instructs: “before reaching the pub, a footpath sign on the north side of the road indicates where to cross back and turn left. The sign reads ‘Buteland by the Borestane'”

Confusing much?

The trail following the North Esk River in the Pentland Hills

Beginning the hike through the Pentland Hills

This sign is actually located once you pass the pub- so continue north through Carlops, and keep an eye out for the sign on the left hand side of the road. You will then turn left and walk down a driveway, following signs that take you into the Pentlands.

When you enter the Pentlands the first section is a little rough as you follow the River North Esk. You will eventually meet a well-defined 4×4 track and follow this for the majority of the walk through the Pentlands.

The North Esk Reservoir in the Pentland Hills

The North Esk Reservoir in the Pentland Hills

Once you come out of the Pentlands, after you take the right hand turn, be aware this section can be very boggy. Even during the heatwave the ground was soft and spongy! You’ll know you’re in this area when you see telegraph poles. You’ll eventually reach a country road, and to the left there is a forest with a track. I decided to follow this as it was parallel to the road, and it made for nicer walking.

Waiting for me in Balerno was a slice of luxury: Just B bed and breakfast. I was beyond ecstatic to reach this idyllic retreat, nestled between Sycamore and birch trees. My body was bruised and broken and in dire need of restoration. When I arrived I was greeted by the beautiful Karen, who runs JustB with her partner, Geoff.

JustB bed and breakfast in Balerno, Edinburgh

My incredible room at the JustB bed and breakfast in Balerno

The first thing I did once I checked into my room was have a nap in what I can only describe as the best bed I have ever slept in. Each of the rooms come with coconut based toiletries, herbal teas and a mirrored dressing table. The breakfast comes freshly prepared and is locally sourced with organic preserves and homemade breads.

To summarise, this place is heaven and a fantastic way to reward yourself for completing six days of hiking!

JustB is also located across the road from the next section of the SNT: the Water of Leith walkway.

Day 7: Balerno to Slateford (Edinburgh)

Castle Rock hostel is right next to Edinburgh Castle in Old Town

The Castle Rock hostel is in a great location, right by Edinburgh Castle

Length: 8.5km / 5 miles
Difficulty: Easy
Ascent: 20m
Time: 2-3 hours
Where I slept: Castle Rock hostel in Old Town; Hostelling Scotland also has several hostels in Edinburgh.

Amenities: Edinburgh has full facilities and a fantastic hostel, Castle Rock, nestled in Old Town, located right by Edinburgh Castle.

Cool things to see: 

I often get asked by travellers what activities I recommend in Edinburgh- here are my suggestions.

Read: The other castle in Edinburgh you need to visit

Water of Leith walkway takes you from Balerno to Slateford

The Water of Leith section is one of the easiest days on the SNT

The section from Balerno to Slateford is short and easy. In fact it’s probably the easiest day on the Scottish National Trail. You will leave JustB and cross the road to enter the Water of Leith Walkway. You will follow the walkway north until you reach Slateford.

This section of the walk is well sign-posted. Just follow the signs that eventually point you to Slateford. This section officially ends at the Water of Leith Visitor Centre. Once you exit the walkway to come to a busy road, there are two bus stops to choose from to get you to the centre of Edinburgh. The bus costs around £1.70 and takes just under half an hour to reach Edinburgh’s Old Town.

If you’re doing the Scottish National Trail in one go, I recommend having a rest day in Edinburgh. There is plenty to do here, and everything you need to stock up for your second week on the trail.

More tips

Inside Melrose Abbey

You walk through a lot of history during the first week of the Scottish National Trail

Here are some tips that will save you time and money:

  • It is worth investing in a Historic Scotland membership. For less than £5 a month, you can get free access to many of the castles and palaces throughout Scotland. During my hike I used my membership to see six different attractions. By the end of the trail I’d already paid off my yearly subscription three times over!
  • If you are staying in B&B’s for the first week of the Scottish National Trail, then it makes sense to hike from town to town. If you’re wild camping for the most part, like I was, it’s a better idea to stop either just before or after a town to find a good place to set up camp. Where I camped along the trail mainly came down to how many supplies I had left. If you have enough food, I recommend camping anywhere you deem suitable before you reach a town. If you are low on supplies, it makes sense to hike to the town, have a meal and restock, and continue past the town to set up camp.


Edinburgh in the distance, viewed from the Pentland Hills

Edinburgh in the distance, viewed from the Pentland Hills

The first week of the Scottish National Trail is one of the greatest long distance walks in Scotland. It takes you through the beautiful scenery of the Scottish borders, finishing in Scotland’s capital city, Edinburgh. It may feel overwhelming when you reach the city; you’ve wandered through remote countryside and passed through many small towns and villages, however Edinburgh is an enchanting city with a rich history.

The first week has one of the highest kilometre counts compared to the rest of the trail, however it is mostly flat with good terrain. It’s a great walk to get you hiking fit!

Read: Part II of my Scottish National Trail Hiking Guide

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Hostelworld is the best place to book hostels

Airbnb is another affordable alternative to accommodation in Scotland

For booking hotels, I recommend comparing prices with and Expedia

Need to get somewhere remote? I recommend booking car hire with Auto Europe

Check the Scotrail website for train times

Always take the correct OS Survey map with you

Shop my favourite travel guides on Scotland

Read my other articles about hiking in Scotland



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Hello, I’m Yvette and I’m from New Zealand. In 2016 I left home to travel the world; I met my husband after hiking the length of Scotland, and now we live in a wee Scottish village with our pup, Angus. I’m a full-time blogger and travel Scotland for a living! Read more about me here.



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