Edinburgh is known for its diverse natural and architectural landscape between city, countryside and coast, and Balerno does a marvellous job of showing off the city’s countryside charm.
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Known as the Gateway to the Pentlands, Balerno is a historic and rural village approximately eight miles southwest of Edinburgh’s city centre and two miles north of the Pentland Hills Regional Park. There is some evidence of a settlement in Balerno as far back as the late 13th-century, however, until the 18th-century, the majority of the land was typical Scottish farming country with a few large houses and small cottages dotted around the area. It wasn’t until the 19th-century that Balerno underwent major development with various mills opening in the area powered by the Water of Leith. This new influx of industry required a workforce and the village developed significantly to accommodate the growing population.
Completed in 2002, the Water of Leith Walkway starts at Balerno.
Balerno has been home to various well-known faces over the years and Scottish singer and songwriter, Nina Nesbitt, is just one of them.
Balerno sits on the outskirts of Edinburgh and is easily accessible by public transport. If you’re travelling from Princes Street, the most direct route is to catch the Lothian Bus 44 which takes just under an hour and will bring you to the heart of Balerno Village. If you’re visiting on a beautiful, sunny day, there’s also the option of catching a train from Edinburgh Waverley to Curriehill (roughly 15-minutes) and walking along the Water of Leith Walkway to Balerno (roughly 45-minutes).
Balerno’s quaint Main Street, with various places to eat, gives a taste of what an old countryside village would have looked like; woodland and rural walks offer an element of tranquillity which is often lacking in the city centre; and the Pentland Hills provide a scenic backdrop. It’s not hard to see why the area has become a very desirable place to reside in and visit.
Balerno Main Street
Suggested Route: If you’ve travelled by bus, keep an eye out for the “Balerno Main Street” bus stop which will bring you to the heart of Balerno’s old village.
The core of any village is its high street and Balerno’s picturesque Main Street curves through the heart of the village, lined with historic buildings. Although fairly humble in size, the high street has all the markings of a typical village high street with a variety of places to eat, hairdressers, an inn, a pharmacy and even a Community Council notice board. A few independent businesses to keep in mind are::
Balerno Hardware (26 Main Street)
As its name suggests, Balerno Hardware is Balerno’s local hardware shop but it also stocks a range of household objects and offers dry cleaning facilities, key cutting and photocopying.
The Balerno Inn (15 Main Street)
The inn has been a part of the Balerno community for decades and was affectionately known by the locals as ‘the Honky’ as it was a favourite with US airmen based at Kirknewton in the 1950s. By 2019, it had fallen into disrepair but, thankfully, Ben Watson rescued it and has beautifully restored the bar, restaurant and accommodation.
Carlyle’s Bar & Kitchen (36 Main Street)
Carlyle’s is a hugely popular local restaurant that is known for its sweet and savoury delights. It serves breakfast until noon, where you can expect savoury waffles adorned with classic breakfast favourites with a twist. Lunch is served until 2.30pm and offers a range of light bites and more delicious homemade savoury waffles. Additionally, for those just looking for a tea or coffee, there are also homemade cakes to tempt you.
Harmeny Community Woodland
Suggested Walk: From the top of Main Street, walk up Bavelaw Road until you spot a street on your left called Harlaw Road. As you walk along Harlaw Road, you’ll pass a community woodland.
Harmeny Community Woodland is a small yet tranquil mixed woodland which sits beside Bavelaw Burn. The land is owned by the Harmeny Education Trust (on the other side of the river) but was gifted to the community in 1998. The woodland is cared for by a woodland management group with the help of volunteers. Their work varies from selectively cutting back non-native trees such as Sycamore and replacing them with native species such as Oak and Ash to organising community events such as bat and moth nights, storytelling and bushcraft courses.
During the early summer months, a blanket of wild garlic covers the woodland floor with its scent permeating through the woodland and a section of Harlaw Road. A network of paths weave through the trees leading down to the riverside where you’ll find a small seating area overlooking the river with views of a small waterfall. As you walk around the woodland, you may notice trees which have been cut down or have fallen down naturally and have been left to rot down on the ground in an attempt to create shelter for insects and food for fungi, which in turn supports birds and animals in the woodland ecosystem and returns nutrients to the soil.
Red Phone Box
Suggested Walk: Continue along Harlaw Road until you spot the Red Phone Box.
The Red Phone Box is a charming village project which began at the end of 2019 when a note from BT appeared on the last red phone box in Balerno stating it was due to be decommissioned and removed. This particular phone box was designed in 1935 by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott to commemorate the Silver Jubilee of King George V and going into production in 1936, it was the first red telephone box to be used extensively outside of London. Due to its history and sentimental value, a group of residents approached Balerno Village Trust for assistance in saving it. Thankfully, the phone box was rescued and is now a firm part of the community. It’s no longer a working phone box but has been given a new lease of life in various forms such as a “share box” during spring 2020 where it was used as a sheltered space to drop off items to share such as board games, jigsaws, plant seedlings or bulbs, and many other things. Today, it’s filled to the brim with books accompanied by a notice that it ‘doesn’t accept any donations due to the storage capacity overload’.
Harlaw and Threipmuir Reservoirs
Suggested Walk: Once you’ve visited the Red Phone Box, there’s the option of heading back to Balerno’s village centre or extending your walk to another of Balerno’s attractions, Harlaw Reservoir. If you decide to extend your walk, continue along Harlaw Road (unfortunately, there is a small portion of the road where there’s no footpath, so keep this in mind) until you reach a sharp bend in the road and you’ll spot a footpath through a woodland.
Harlaw and Threipmuir Reservoirs are both located in the beautiful Pentland Hills Regional Park. The reservoirs were built in the 1840s by the Edinburgh Water Company as a compensation reservoir for the Water of Leith, however, they have both retired from their role in supplying water to Edinburgh and now provide essential upstream flood storage to prevent flooding of the Water of Leith plus a recreational space for locals. As well as various scenic walking routes, Harlaw Reservoir is a popular location with local anglers as it is stocked with rainbow trout by the Malleny Angling Association (permits can be purchased online).
If you have walked from the village, you’ll likely pass a few dog walkers and day-trippers with rucksacks before you approach the path at the bend of Harlaw Road. The path leads through a woodland with views over farmland towards the Queensferry Crossing bridge. At the end of the path, you’ll emerge to the sight of Harlaw House Visitor Centre which was originally built as a waterkeeper’s cottage soon after the reservoir was constructed in 1848. The house is now a visitor information centre for the Pentland Hills Regional Park but may be temporarily closed. To begin your walk, simply follow the path around the reservoir in either direction. The main path is set back from the reservoir’s edge, but there are informal paths through the trees that take you closer to the water’s edge (which can provide shelter on windy days). The path circles the Harlaw Reservoir and will bring you back to the start but there’s also the option of extending your walk to include Threipmuir Reservoir, Black Springs and Red Moss.
Malleny House & Garden
Suggested Walk: From Harlaw Reservoir, retrace your steps back to Bavelaw Road but instead of returning to Main Street, follow the road until you see a sign for Malleny Garden.
Malleny Garden is a three-acre walled garden with a delightful collection of old- fashioned roses and herbaceous borders. A wrought-iron gate embellished with the Rosebery crest marks the entrance to the garden and is accompanied by an honesty box for visitors to donate £3 to enter (unless they are members of the National Trust for Scotland). As you enter the garden, you’ll find yourself standing on a decorative porch overlooking Malleny Garden’s main feature, four 30-feet (9m) yew trees, dating back to the 17th-century, with two benches beside them. To the right of the yew trees are Malleny Garden’s Victorian glasshouses. During the summer, the larger glasshouse is filled with a colourful display of pelargoniums, fuchsias, and a Black Hamburg grapevine hangs from the ceiling. Normally, this glasshouse would be open to the public, unfortunately, it’s temporarily closed. Beside it is a smaller glasshouse, used for plant propagation and as a shelter for more tender plants during the winter.
The garden is divided into two large sections by a yew hedge. Following the path past the glasshouse will lead you to an opening in the yew hedge. This section of the garden is a walled garden laid out more or less as it has been for the last 100 years. Today, there are wide mixed borders with many unusual and beautifully scented flowers and shrubs, as well as around 150 varieties of roses. Another highlight of this section of the garden is the relaxing sounds of the Water of Leith which runs alongside the garden. There is an impressive number of benches dotted around the garden and, in this section, you’ll find many tucked away in secluded corners, partially obscured by the bountiful blooms.
Despite looking its best in the warmer months, Malleny Garden encourages visitors to visit year-round as there are snowdrops and winter aconites (bright, golden yellow flowers) to look forward to at the start of the year and sweet-scented Viburnum Fragrans (shrubs with clusters of pink buds) that bring the year to a colourful end.
As you follow the path around the walled garden, Malleny House will soon come into view. The present house was built in 1637 by Sir James Murray of Killaberton and was gifted to the National Trust for Scotland in 1968. The house is privately leased by the Trust, therefore, sadly, it’s not open to the public. However, you’re free to wander around the picturesque front garden which is home to a doocot that was built in the 17th- century and houses 915 nest boxes plus a beautiful fountain, and wrought iron gates decorated with kingfishers which leads to a woodland.
There are several further hidden gems in Balerno that we haven’t managed to incorporate into this guided walk that are still worth mentioning.
Balerno Farmers’ Market
A farmers’ market was once a staple of every village so it’s endearing that Balerno hosts a monthly community farmers’ market which takes place on the 2nd Saturday of every month (except January). Furthermore, each market is often themed such as ‘Tattie Day’ (a market focussing on various potato seed and grow bags).
Red Moss Nature Reserve
Red Moss of Balerno, on the edge of the Pentland Hills, is the only raised bog in the City of Edinburgh. In summer and autumn, the peatland is covered in a blanket of pink- purple heather, sundews, ragged-robin and Sphagnum mosses.
Balerno Village Screen
In 2013, the Balerno Village Screen was launched – a community cinema project with free admission and funded by donations. The screenings are shown monthly on the first Saturday of every month in the Ogston Hall and the St Joseph’s Centre.
There is a variety of places to eat dotted around Balerno village. Whether you’re looking for scrumptious waffles, a friendly volunteer-run cafe or somewhere to stop for a pint, there is a range of options. Unfortunately, there are too many wonderful options to list here so here are just a few to keep in mind for your visit.
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