By Craig Neil
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The Pentland Hills are located south of Edinburgh where they span Midlothian and West Lothian in a regional park that’s over 38 square miles in size.
There are 9 peaks over 1,500 feet in the Pentlands and more than 600,000 people visit them each year.
Visitors will find a number of entry points to the park but one of the best is Swanston which is just a 20-minute drive from Edinburgh city centre.
1: The Pentlands Hills are surprisingly big and there are lots of places you can enter them, but Swanston is one of – if not the – best entry points.
The village is less than half a mile from the city bypass, it has a dedicated car park, and it’s close to footpaths that run into the heart of the hill range.
2: The summit of Caerketton Hill offers superb views across Edinburgh and the Firth of Forth.
The walk to the summit from Swanston is leisurely (apart from a steep incline towards the end) and makes for an enjoyable afternoon away from the hustle and bustle of Edinburgh.
1: Due to its location, a walk from Swanston into the Pentlands Hills can easily be joined with a visit to the Midlothian Snowsports Centre (address: Biggar Rd, Edinburgh, EH10 7DU).
The centre has a large dry ski slope, tubing runs, and even zorb ball runs.
2: Swanston Golf Club has an 18-hole course that is open to visitors, as is the clubhouse which is open to non-members.
The clubhouse serves alcoholic drinks and hot and cold food. It’s located immediately opposite the Swanston car park.
The Pentland Hills regional park is situated to the south of the Edinburgh city bypass between Juniper Green and Straiton, running south-west for around 20 miles to the town of Biggar in South Lanarkshire.
The park is a firm favourite with locals thanks to its sweeping hills that offer a great way to escape the noise of the city in a short drive from the city centre.
There are many places to enter this scenic hill range but one of the most popular is the historic village of Swanston which is situated less than half a mile from the A720.
Swanston is notable for its quaint whitewashed thatched cottages that are set around a small village green which is almost entirely unchanged from the time it was built in the 18th century.
The tiny settlement was established to accommodate workers who farmed the land around the northernmost area of the Pentlands, but the heritage of the surrounding land goes back many hundreds of years earlier to the time of the Knights Templar.
The knights owned much of the land around Midlothian in the 12th century and they were instrumental in the building of Rosslyn Chapel – the nearby ornate stone chapel that featured in the film The Da Vinci Code (Amazon link).
The Templar’s association with Swanston is well documented and a charter of 1614 proves their ownership, but by the 1700s the land had transferred to two large farms, both of which required a workforce – hence the location of Swanston.
The village consisted of a farmhouse, worker’s cottages, and a schoolhouse, but it was deemed uninhabitable by the 1900s due to the lack of facilities (there was no running water till 1934 and no electricity till 1947).
Today, Swanston is owned by private residents and is something of a minor tourist attraction due to its scenic location and the traditional cottages that are the only surviving examples of thatched buildings from the 1700s in the Lothians.
The Pentland Hills are clearly visible from the city centre so you’ve probably already seen them if you’ve ever climbed Holyrood Park and looked south.
The slopes of the Midlothian Snowsports Centre can just about be seen from that location and if you cast your gaze a little further to the west you might just be able to make out Swanston.
This part of the Pentlands is rather hilly at the northernmost end but once at the summit of the nearest hill (Caerketton Hill) it’s fairly easy going, especially if you keep to the circuit shown below.
To find Swanston, head along the city bypass and take the turn-off for Dreghorn, then take the B701 heading east, turn right onto Oxgangs Road, and take the right turning onto Swanston Road.
Follow this road for 3/4 mile and you’ll arrive at the Swanston car park, located behind Swanston Golf Club.
There are plenty of signposts as the car park sees a lot of visitors so you shouldn’t have any problems finding it, but you can always use Google Maps to keep you on the right path (use this address for the car park: Swanston Road, Edinburgh, EH10 7DS).
There are umpteen options for heading out into the hill range from Swanston, but you might consider the well-worn circular trail around Caerketton and Allermuir hills which shouldn’t take much more than 3 hours to complete and presents fantastic views once you reach either summit.
Looking north you’ll see the Firth of Forth and the coastline of Fife in the distance, as well as Holyrood Park and Edinburgh Castle – as you can see in the photo slideshow at the top of this page.
Photos aren’t always the best way to get a feel for a place though, so the 360° photos above the slideshow will give you a good idea of what the terrain is like.
You can extend the route around Caerketton and Allermuir hills even further by joining the path to Castlelaw Hill Fort, or you can follow any of the rough paths that head north-west which lead towards Bonaly Country Park and Harlaw Reservoir.
The majority of this part of the hill range is comprised of rough grass with occasional patches of heathland, but as it’s such a well-used area there are lots of signposted tracks to follow, meaning you shouldn’t ever get lost.
That being said, I do recommend purchasing an Ordnance Survey map (links below) so you can make the most of the available trails.
If you’d like to see another recommended part of the Pentland Hills, read the Flotterstone Visitor Guide.
Discover more places to visit in Edinburgh with: Things to Do in Edinburgh – The Complete Guide
Explore this area with a detailed paper map from Ordnance Survey:
Edinburgh – 350 Explorer.
Pentland Hills – 344 Explorer.
OS Explorer Maps: Best for walking, mountain biking, and finding footpaths. 1:25,000 scale (4cm = 1km in real world). Buy OS Explorer maps direct from Ordnance Survey.
OS Landranger Maps: Best for road cycling, touring by car, and finding attractions. 1:50 000 scale (2 cm = 1 km in real world). Buy OS Landranger maps direct from Ordnance Survey.
Things to do nearby
Castlelaw Hill Fort. Penicuik EH26 0PB. Distance: 3 miles. A raised earthwork that is believed to have been used for storage by the tribes that lived around the area 2,000 years ago.
There is a car park nearby and a footpath that continues past the fort in the direction of the City of Edinburgh bypass.
Glencorse Reservoir. Penicuik EH26 0PP. Distance: 5.5 miles. An attractive reservoir set within the Pentland Hills. The reservoir can be reached on foot from Flotterstone car park by a path that continues past it to Loganlea Reservoir. Trout fishing permits are available on request.
Midlothian Snowsports Centre. Biggar Rd, Edinburgh, EH10 7DU. Distance: 1 mile. A large dry slope centre on the edge of the Pentland Hills overlooking the city of Edinburgh.
In addition to the downhill snowboard and ski runs there are children’s tubing runs and zorb ball runs. The centre has a café and a ski coaching school on-site.
Roslin Glen. Roslin EH25 9PX. Distance: 4.5 miles. Riverside walk with rough paths that follow the River North Esk. The country park is a short walk from Rosslyn Chapel and there is a car parking area with nearby seating and picnic benches.
Rosslyn Chapel. Chapel Loan, Roslin EH25 9PU. Distance: 4 miles. Widely recognized as one of the most beautiful buildings in Scotland.
Rosslyn Chapel was founded in 1446 and is covered with intricate stone carvings. The chapel features a visitor centre with a shop and a café with outdoor seating.
Frequently asked questions
How long does it take to climb the Pentland Hills?
The time required to climb the Pentland Hills depends on which area you are visiting. For the highest point of Scald Law, expect to take 4 hours from Flotterstone.
For Turnhouse and Carnethy Hills from Flotterstone, expect to take 3.5 hours.
What animals are in the Pentland Hills?
The Pentlands Hills are full of wildlife and many animal species can be seen in each area of the hill range. Wildlife in the Pentland Hills includes roe deer, grouse, otters, badgers, skylarks, lapwings, plovers, pipistrelle bats and common bats, to name just a few.
Where are the Pentland Hills?
The Pentland Hills are a 38-square mile range of hills located immediately south of Edinburgh, just beyond the city bypass. The hill range extends southwest from Edinburgh for twenty miles to the town of Biggar.
Who owns the Pentland Hills?
The land within the Pentland Hills is owned by a number of different landowners, including private farms, the City of Edinburgh Council, Midlothian and West Lothian councils, and Scottish Water.