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Return to the John Muir Way (North Berwick - Falkirk)

Return to the John Muir Way (North Berwick - Falkirk)

Postby Ettrick Shepherd » Sun Oct 18, 2020 6:39 pm

Route description: John Muir Way

Date walked: 14/09/2020

Time taken: 3 days

Distance: 105 km

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John Muir Way – Stages 9 to 8 – North Berwick to Edinburgh (41km)
Walking time: 7.5 hours
Monday 14 September 2020

Last year I undertook my first ever decent sized day hike, walking stage 10 of the John Muir Way East to West. I enjoyed that day so much that in my write-up, I left little room to add any further stages. So this post will be used to add the remaining stages, as and when I get to them (or until I've uploaded maximum number of images permitted).

It took me longer to resume the John Muir Way than I hoped; a combination of Covid-19 and a herniated disc seriously disrupting my better intentions. Months later, my back is recovering but finally getting stronger. Running is still too painful, so I hope that walking will rebuild that strength.

I grew up in Midlothian so I know the towns along this stretch of the JMW pretty well, but not, as it turned out, all of the routes involved. I took an early train out to North Berwick unsure if I would be able make it back home to Edinburgh in a single day, or if I’d need to call it a day and jump on a bus at Prestonpans. The weather was kind when I arrived just after 9am. Despite spending many a childhood day in North Berwick I had never been along the cul-de-sac behind the golf course in the opening stretch. I knew North Berwick was monied, but this street is something else; a veritable estate of stately homes, each set back in their own grounds, competing against each other for grandeur like some kind of Downton Abbey on steroids. Fortunately, the path eventually veers into the golf course and I began to feel like I was walking the Way at last.

The John Muir Way Again! :)

Ancient battle-weary trees

Quicker than I expected, and a couple of gnarled trees later that looked like they could tell a tale or twenty, I found myself at a Yellowcraigs clearing with recently installed one-way Covid directions. Fortunately these didn’t disrupt the JMW and in no time I was stopping at Dirleton for a quick banana. Dirleton Castle itself was closed (yup, Covid again) so I didn’t linger too long. The next part of the route was pleasant enough but not much in the way of views. Arriving near Muirfield golf course I was struck by the pop-up landing strip, basically a narrow field with a wind sock. I had a quick look around for Indiana Jones but he was nowhere to be found. Pretty sure I heard a ghostly crack of a whip in the distance though...

Danger! Active Runway! Do Not Cross

The next section was disappointingly uninteresting. Barring a brief foray inwards at Gullane it follows the A198 all the way to Longniddry. It’s hard to escape the noise of the traffic; it’s a busy road and one too familiar to me.

i am groot

Anti-tank trees

I stopped for lunch on a bench dedicated to Robert Louis Stevenson at Aberlady before heading to Longniddry. Although the Longniddry section is reasonably close to another main road it’s fairly sheltered with thick copses on either side of the path.

Longniddry beach

Better still, you can jump over onto the beach and walk the remaining way to Cockenzie and Port Seton. I was keen to see the site where the gargantuan power station chimney’s once stood that had dominated the skyline for so long. A big gap site now and the local air will be a lot cleaner for it.

Chimneys no more

Roadworks meant I had to cross to the other side of the road entering Prestonpans. The pavement was lined with colourfully painted stones thanking NHS workers and generally making me smile so I stopped a while to take them all in. By this point it was nearly 3pm but I decided to crack on to Edinburgh.

Some excellent artwork here :)

Stage 8 of the JMW was less familiar to me. The initial part lacked the maintenance of some better funded areas of the route. The walk to Musselburgh behind the seawall reminded me of a 70s childhood where everything was in a constant state of disrepair. The benches here looked about seventy years old and built for post-war backsides. If any film directors are looking to make a 70s period drama I highly recommend checking out this area. I found it peculiarly heart warming, helped in part by the sea-skimming oyster catchers making quite a racket.

Life in the old thistle yet

Beyond Musselburgh, and into Brunstane just felt like walking in Edinburgh for me at this point (note to self – I was). By the time I eventually reached the closed-for-lighting-repairs Innocent Railway, I was beginning to flag. My feet, thighs, calves were throbbing and a couple of blisters were settling in for the day. Fortunately though, my back was holding up well. I hit the Meadows about 6pm, pleased to have covered two stages in a day but equally because I’ll now be heading westwards into new and less familiar territory. My watch told me I had been moving 7.5 hours in total. In summary, I can’t help but feel that this section could be so much better were the golf courses at North Berwick and Muirfield not quite so exclusive, forcing the route to follow the main roads.

The Meadows

Step tally for the day

John Muir Way – Stage 7 – Edinburgh to South Queensferry (25km)
Walking time: 4.5 hours
Friday 25 September

Westward Ho! but again setting off in extremely familiar territory, leaving Bruntsfield Links about 9.30am. The start follows the canal path, once a semi-regular running route but not since lockdown and hurting my back. With its narrow pathways it can get pretty busy with cyclists, walkers, runners, buggies and dogs all taking advantage of this scenic central route. Today it’s a 6/10 for busyness but most folk are wearing their considerate hats and giving each other ample overtaking space. Once I reach Corstorphine Hill I venture into lesser known territory. I’m grateful not to be jogging up this part – it is steep. Be prepared for to dig your heels in for this climb!

I stopped at a clearing halfway up the hill to look out towards the Pentlands and Blackford Observatory peeking out in the distance. I’m glad I paused here to take in the view as the hill is well covered by woodland. Further up there is no better vantage point.

Spot the helicopter

Distracted by Corstophine Tower I wandered off the official track before recognising my mistake.

Rest and be thankful

Corstorphine Tower

Down the back of the hill, the route takes you behind the homes at Drumbrae and Clermiston before cutting into Davidson Main’s and the posh hooses at Barnton Avenue. I finally feel that I’m walking the JMW again when it skirts the outskirts of Cramond, a leafy pleasant walk that heads in to the Dalmeny Estate.

Into Dalmeny

I especially enjoyed this section. Welcomed by a wide road and open vista towards the Firth of Forth, we’re in farming country with recently harvested fields.

Harvest time

There are a few people around including a kids’ bike club posse but not many. It’s peaceful here and the sun splits the sky over the Forth turning it into gold. I decide to lunch at a section a few minutes shy of the golf course. Where I stop, the beach is made up entirely of shells. The estuary really opens up here too, giving a completely different perspective on Inchcolm. The views all the way back to North Berwick are very impressive. Reluctantly I pack up and move on.

Can you get a better view for lunch?

So many shells! Jigsaw-makers, come hither.

View to Barnbougle Castle (for hire if you have deep pockets)

The Way briefly crosses over golf course then skirts alongside the coast, shielded by trees and woodland.

Picasso's Crocodile

This section does quite a good job of disguising the oil refinery; I was past it before realising.

Here comes the sun

The rest of the walk continues in similar until South Queensferry, a sturdy path with high trees either side, before opening out into the majestic and iconic Forth Rail Bridge.

The best bridge

By now it was 2.30pm and tempted to stay for a pint, I jumped on a bus home instead. I enjoyed this section much more than then the previous two, but Stage 10 is still my favourite. What lies ahead now though is completely unknown to me! According to my watch, my moving time was 4.5 hours.

Step count for the day

John Muir Way - Stages 6 - 5: South Queensferry to Falkirk
Walking time: 9 hours 40 mins
Date walked: 14 August 2021

The family were away for a few days, not due back until late on Saturday evening so I took the opportunity to continue the next stretch of JMW. I was unsure if I’d have the time or legs to push it to two stages but decided to play it by ear. The weather was very promising.

I forget how picturesque South Queensferry centre is. I imagine traffic could get a bit of an issue but it is a bonny wee place to walk through.

South Queensferry

As a kid, my parents would pay the toll crossing the Forth Road Bridge to visit relatives in Fife. Forehead pressed against the backseat window, I always wondered what the bridge looked like from below as we left land to cross the water. Finally I found out! So for any folk like me, this is the view from the Forth Toll Troll’s hideout… (well aware this photo won’t make the Countryfile calendar this year! :lol: )

Toll Troll’s view of the Forth Road Bridge

The new Queensferry Crossing is very majestic from this viewpoint but I soon left the bridges behind, and before long entered the Hopetoun House estate. The last and only time I was in Hopetoun House, I stood shoulder-to-shoulder (well, almost…give or take ten inches) to Kylie Minogue. Today, there was a horse trial going on in the estate so I stood and watched awhile.

Hopetoun Horse Trials

Once through the estate, the walk hugs the coastline again and the bridges diminish in size and scale. Bo’ness is a place I have never visited but was pleasantly surprised by the path along the sea front. It was busy with cyclists, walkers and dogs and open fields with animals grazing behind. The Forth was littered with smaller sailing vessels, unfortunately heading westwards, there’s no escaping the sprawling industrial behemoth at Grangemouth.

Bo'ness looking East

The route then cuts inland passing through Kinneil Wood, where alongside the grandeur of Kinneil House

Kinneil House

sits the more modest accommodation of James Watt where he worked in secret on steam engine prototypes.

Watt Cottage and steam engine cylinder

The walk through the wood was scenic, as was the view and eventual descent into Linlithgow.

View to Linlithgow

Linlithgow Palace never fails to impress.

Linlithgow Palace

By the time I reached the centre it was 3pm. I stopped for a sandwich and was weighing up if I had the stamina and/or time to go all the way to Falkirk then return to Edinburgh to meet the kids off the train. Just as I was beginning to falter, three women, none of whom looked under 85, walked past me and began to have a shot on the swings; each taking turns to push the other. This would prove to be my Robert the Bruce’s spider moment. I was instantly replenished by their youthful enthusiasm and spurred myself on.

Swing Easy

A short walk out of the centre and the JMW picks up alongside the River Avon with an impressive train-carrying viaduct to mark this entry point.

Avon Viaduct

The next section was leafy and fairly quiet when I walked through, only passing the occasional dog walker. The threatening rain held off and I felt quite far away from the urban central belt.


This path hooks up with the Union Canal and the view from the Avon Aqueduct was pretty mesmerising.

Avon Aqueduct

A View from the Bridge...I mean aqueduct

From this point it was an enjoyable walk but it simply follows the canal route for most of the way.

Union Canal.jpeg
Union Canal

So much so that I stopped paying attention to the actual JMW and just kept walking the Union Canal. By the time I realised my error I was too far on (and too tired) to go back and get back on track. I got off at Falkirk and headed home for a pint before meeting the kids. Total time including snacks approximately 9 hours 40 mins.

Final step count
User avatar
Ettrick Shepherd
Posts: 9
Joined: Sep 11, 2019

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