The zones in and around Dalhousie Castle, a mile to the south of Bonnyrigg, are not the easiest of zones for the turfer used to cycling smooth urban streets and paths, most definitely not. They offer a little more of a challenge, a delightful mix of forest trails, rough field margins and riverside paths eroding away each year by the River South Esk and that’s exactly the reason I asked them to be created. Yes, it is I, Gary of Planet Gary, who is to blame for these zones. You may curse me if you like, I don’t mind.
There are nine zones on this tour, taking in a three mile route starting and ending at Dalhousie Castle, a handy spot if you are travelling by infernal combustion vehicle and you can also get a nice afternoon tea here, obviously depending on Covid-19 restrictions. The tour is perhaps best tackled on foot, and to be honest, is a very pleasant walk in dry weather – it can be quite muddy in places when wet, but nothing a stout pair of walking boots won’t deal with. It can all be ridden by bicycle, though you will have to get off and push/carry in places and you’ll need to negotiate some very awkward steps as well.
But let’s start off easy at zone Dalhousie, located immediately next to the parking area at the castle. Note much to say about this zone other than it’s on a bit of grass. Note the birds of prey centre nearby. From here we head round to the front entrance to the castle and head off into the woods for our next zone, DeanWoodTurn.
DeanWoodTurn is located at the junction of two paths and a visit in May or June, when the wild garlic is in flower, will keep you safe from vampires and is also a splended sight to behold. Continue straight on along the path and before you start dropping downhill, veer right and follow the path upstream, keeping the deep gully of the Dean Wood Burn on your left. Out of interest, this path used to be little more than a game trail, not much more than a foot wide, but with the increase in footfall starting soon after the first Covid-19 lockdown it gradually increased to well over 6 foot in places. When I used to cycle here in the past, the path was so narrow that it was difficult not to crush the plants as you pedalled along.
Our next zone is DeanWoodPath. As you travel along the path you will drop down into a shallow dip. Head left here and onto the old troll bridge without any parapets. You are now in the zone. Next, we need to backtrack to the path and continue upstream and into the patch of conifers at the end of the wood. Follow the obvious path through the trees and go right at the small stream. Exit the conifers, turn left and then follow the field margin to the next zone UpperDalPath. The ability to actually ride a bike here will depend on the state of the crops and or how much footfall the field margin path gets. For the next zone, DalhousiePath, another located on a field margin, the best route is to keep to the north side of the small burn. The path on this side is easier to ride than the opposite side.
WatchTheMud is the next zone on our tour of Dalhousie and one of the easiest to reach. Join the tarmac road and proceed for approx. 500 meters south, then turn left at an opening onto a dirt track leading down to an old ford across the River South Esk. The zone is located about 20 meters along the track from the road.
Our next zone, SouthEskAside, is over 1 km from here. Follow the track downhill and just before you enter the conifer wood, duck through the hedge on the right and walk along the edge of the wood. Towards the bottom of the field there’s an entrance to your left which will take you through the trees and down to the river. There, follow the path along the fence to the zone. It’s not the best of paths either for walking or cycling, river erosion has removed parts of the path in places. I prefer using the field when cycling.
The next zone on our route is MillHolm. Simply continue to follow the path along the river bank, keeping an eye out for kingfisher, otter, dipper and goosander. The zone is just as you start climbing uphill at the bend in the river. The remains of MillHolm, an old mill, is behind you along the collapsed channel that was once the mill lade. Worth taking a look if interested. Note the adjacent apple orchard.
The WitchesHouse is our last zone of the tour. Again keep on following the path, starting with a steep climb – you can cycle this part if keen, fit or plain crazy, I’ve done it a few times but it’s hard going – but walk the dodgy part, you will know what I mean when you reach there. Note the drop into the river where the old path has been lost. The path then descends again along a man-made cutting and across another troll bridge. Keep the noise down and you should be able to cross without waking up the resident troll. You will see the WitchesHouse ahead of you across the field. The final leg is to follow the river back to the start at the castle. I spent the morning there yesterday with the Surly Pugsley fat bike, attempting to make a short video showing the area. Happy turfing.
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