For the past few weeks I’ve been helping to look after a friend’s horse. The problem is, the horse lives in East Calder in West Lothian, 17 miles from Edinburgh. The other problem is that I’m yet to pass my driving test, though as I regularly insist to anyone who will listen: ‘I’m great at driving. Did you know I once drove the length of the A9 from Inverness to Perth in heavy snow?’.
Sadly, driving instructors won’t accept that anecdote as proof of my driving prowess, so until they do I’ve come up with a novel solution to my transport woes: taking the train from Waverley Station to Kirknewton after work with my trusty steed. No, not the horse (they won’t let him on the train, sadly) I’m referring to my cobalt blue Specialized Myka women’s mountain bike, pictured here without the extensive mud coating/creaky chain I can’t seem to get round to cleaning and oiling.
As the trains back to Edinburgh drop off after eight, I usually bike all the way back home along the Union Canal, which links Edinburgh to Glasgow. The first time I did this, I was a bit daunted. 17 miles sounds like quite a lot and I’d already had a full day at work. However, it’s not at all difficult, in fact, I’ve come to look forward to my ride home along the canal almost as much as my rides on my friend’s adorable horse (Mr Chance: pictured here without his extensive mud coating).
To get on the canal, I bike through the lovely Almondell and Calderwood Country Park, up a fairly steep hill, take a left, a right and suddenly I’m in another world: a lovely, secluded, peaceful path with water on one side and fields all around. It’s idyllic.
As you progress along the canal back towards Edinburgh, you find yourself crossing Lin’s Mill Aqueduct some 200 feet above the River Almond. It’s truly stunning and if you’re anything like me you’ll have to stop and take a picture. Here’s mine.
Moving on, you head through pretty woodland towards Ratho with its massed barges belonging to the Seagull Trust who provide free cruises for disabled people of all ages across Scotland. And of course, the lovely Bridge Inn, the perfect place to stop for a mid- cycle tipple if you’re not on a ‘get home before dark’ deadline, as I usually am.
After that, it’s a long and pretty stretch of woodland punctuated with green fields, cottages and wild flowers until you finally reach the Scott Russell Aqueduct that takes you back into the city and through Wester Hailes. It might not be the prettiest part of Edinburgh, but the canal is always insulated from the estates around it so you can still see moorhens, nesting swans and- occasionally- the occasional gang of young people setting fire to a car, which I think adds a bit of local colour.
Wester Hailes can be a bit sketchy, but I’ve never had any trouble (mainly because I bike quite quickly and ignore any hecklers), and it’s not long before you cross the Slateford Aqueduct that takes you towards Craiglockhart and- eventually- Bruntsfield where the canal comes to an end. I always feel a bit sad when leaving it to join the road that takes me home, but I know it won’t be long before I’m back there as I currently bike home from East Calder three times a week.
I’ve lived in Edinburgh for nearly 14 years and I’ve had a bike of some sort for about seven of those, but I’ve never explored West Lothian, the Union Canal, Ratho or Almondell despite the fact it’s only an hour away by bike along the canal. It feels like a completely ridiculous omission, but I suppose you do sometimes need a reason to go somewhere, and Mr Chance, his owner Val and the lovely Jane and Graham at Shielmill Livery Yard are that reason.
If you live in Edinburgh and own a bike, you should really make this article your reason to head out of town this weekend. Pay £4.10 for a single to Kirknewton, bike to Almondell Country Park and beyond it to the canal. Jump on and ride slowly back to the city, savouring the heady smells of early summer: the pungent green aroma of wild garlic, freshly cut grass and wild flowers. Not to mention the lovely hoppy tang of the pint of real ale you’ll drink in the Bridge Inn!
It’s like a little slice of heaven, and I wouldn’t be able to get there without my trusty steed, Myka.
This was a guest post by Hilary Wardle. Hilary is a freelance journalist and editor of the television review site TVJam.co.uk. You can follow her on twitter: @Hilary_W. If you are interested in guest posting for Bikeable Jo, just give her a wee shout.