For years, I’ve had camping in the Pentlands on my bucket list, but I only managed to check it off this year while being stuck in Edinburgh. The Pentland Hills Regional Park is located 7 miles south of Edinburgh and covers 35 square miles. The park is full of forests, streams, pastures, waterfalls, reservoirs, and, of course, lots and lots of hills.
The hills are so extensive, it takes a good day or more to hike from the northern to southern ends. There are about 60 miles of official trails, and plenty more animal trails to hike. I’ve mostly just explored the northern half of the Pentlands closest to Edinburgh, and that’s where I camped too. I’ve been told some of the best camping spots are in the southern half of the park, but I’ll have to get there another day and update this post when I do.
Getting to the Pentlands
Due to its close proximity to Edinburgh, you can usually get to the Pentlands in under an hour by public transportation or just by walking, depending on where you’re staying in Edinburgh. There several buses which go to the Pentlands. Leaving from the New Town, the 44 bus will take you to the western side of the park, and you can hike in from several points in the towns of Juniper Green, Currie and Balerno.
Also leaving from the New Town is the 4 bus, which will take you to the Midlothian Snowsports Center on the northeast corner of the park. This is the most popular way to get to the Pentlands, as the trails start just beyond the bus stop and lead to some of the most prominent hills in the Pentlands with the best views of Edinburgh.
If you want to go further down the Pentlands, you can take any of the 101 buses from the New Town and jump off at the Flotterstone Inn stop. If you’re looking for a good hike that doesn’t get too steep, this is the way to go. The main trail goes past the Glencorse and Loganlea Reservoirs and maintains a comfortable grade, although you can split off onto many of the other trails leading up into the hills.
Where and When to Camp
Scotland is one of the few countries in Europe (along with the Nordic countries, Estonia, France, Spain and Poland) where wild camping is legal and often encouraged…at least by fellow travelers. Scotland has several laws in place for the right to roam across the land and sleeping under the stars, but there are rules to follow.
In the Pentland Hills, the main restriction to camping is that you must pitch your tent at least a mile away from a public road. You also can’t camp in enclosed farmland (these are often clearly marked with signs). Finally, ensure you don’t choose a spot near buildings, private roads, or historic landmarks. Oh, and it goes without saying that you should avoid the military shooting range which is also clearly marked out.
If you do make it to the southern half the Pentlands, I’ve read that some good spots to camp at are around East Kip hill, which you can find on the Google Map below.
It’s good to keep in mind when in the year you plan to camp for several reasons. Scotland is a very wet country, and it rains quite often from October through April, but also relatively frequently throughout the rest of the year. Thankfully, the temperature is fairly consistent through the year – averaging about 43°F in the winter and 61°F in the summer. That’s not particularly warm, but it’s still comfortable for camping, as long as you have a good sleeping bag.
The other reason to keep track of when you’re camping is the time of sunset. In the winter, the sun sets as early as 3:45 p.m. In the summer, it’s around 11 p.m. It’s always a good idea to get to your camping spot before sunset, so you have some light for pitching the tent and cooking dinner.
An Evening Under the Stars
The spot I found on my own trip camping in the Pentlands was by Bonaly Reservoir. This has the advantage of being relatively close to town, but more than a mile away from the closest public road. There are a couple spots around the reservoir that have been clearly used for camping on many occasions, with well-established fire pits. A lot of the ground in the forested areas surrounding the reservoir is wavy and not flat for sleeping, but just out of the trees are several flat grassy patches. The disadvantage of sleeping out in the open is that the wind can be quite strong.
I slept on the west side of the reservoir, just before the dense pine forest. That forest is far too thick to pitch a tent in, although the deep bed of pine needles on the ground would probably be quite comfortable. Outside the forest and away from the small trail are a couple small patches to pitch a tent. There are a few trees about that act as a bit of a windbreak.
The quickest way to get to Bonaly Reservoir is to take the 10 bus from the New Town to the last stop in Torphin, and then hike any of the trails leading up to the reservoir. It’s about half an hour on the bus, and then however long it takes you to hike a mile and a half up the trails. They are at a decent incline, but not particularly steep. As I left from my dad’s house in Juniper Green, it only took me about 45 minutes of walking and hiking.
I went with a couple of my friends. We made a small fire in the pit clearly used several times before us. I carefully surrounded it with several big stones to ensure there would be no fire spread, and the ground was sold dirt (which isn’t always easy to find in Scotland – much of the country is covered in loam or peat, which is decayed vegetation and flammable). I roasted a couple sausages, but most of the food was vegetarian for my friends. We also had some salads, fruits and cheeses to enjoy.
By the time we were done with dinner, it was dark. It had been raining for several weeks before we went camping, but the night we chose was wonderfully clear and the stars were bright. Upon the reservoir were two white swans swimming about. It was also warmer than it had been for days. Simply put, it was idyllic. I stayed up late just enjoying the reflection of the moon on the water and watching the swans swim about.
Additional Rules to Follow
There are a few other basic rules to mention. Wild camping in Scotland is meant to be lightweight and in small groups. That means don’t take a four-person, heavy-duty tent or go with a large group.
It goes without saying that you must take away with you anything you bring. The motto in Scotland is “leave no trace.” Don’t leave any trash, bury your ashes, don’t damage the flora (plants and trees), etc.
Scotland is a very green and wet country, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have to be sensible with fires. Don’t make your fires in the forest or on dead leaves or peat. Only make a fire on bare dirt or rocks, and try to surround the fire with stones if possible. Don’t cut branches from living trees – it damages the trees and the branches will be too wet to burn. If you can, bring a portable stove to cook your dinner. These are cheap to get on Amazon.
Leave no trace also applies to defecating. Don’t ever leave toilet paper on or under the ground, as wild and domesticated animals will almost certainly dig it up. Use a heavy-duty plastic bag to remove and seal any products you use. If possible, try to collect your excrement in the bag as well. If that isn’t possible, ensure you bury that in the ground.
When urinating, ensure you do so at least 100 feet away from any body of water, whether it’s flowing or not. People swim in all the reservoirs of the Pentlands, and bacteria can multiply in them rapidly if you’re not careful.
Map of the Pentlands
Click on the star by the title to open and save in your Google Maps.
Other Places to Camp Around Edinburgh
Camping in the Pentlands is certainly the closest option near Edinburgh. If you have a bit more time, you also check out places like the forest around Rosslyn Chapel or, my personal favorite, Yellowcraig Beach. During the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August, you’ll also find camping in the fairgrounds beside the Edinburgh Airport.
Of course, the best places to wild camp in Scotland are up in the Highlands. I’ve done a fair share of wild camping all around Scotland, including on the Isle of Skye.
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