Many of us use this thoroughfare every day of the week as we travel in from Fairmilehead through Comiston and Morningside to Bruntsfield and then in to the city beyond. But this is just a small fraction of the route of a road with great number of links to history. Lets take a little trip…
The whole route is about 80 miles long and would take around 2 hours 30 minutes on a good day. The trip is usually made in 2 sections – Edinburgh to Biggar;Biggar to the old County of Galloway. We will start at the farthest away point.The road starts deep in Galloway at the edge of the New Galloway Forest, near Loch Ken and the Rhinns of Kells in the grandly named St John’s Town of Dalry. The ancient origins of Dalry are said to be as a watering place for pilgrim travelling between Edinburgh and St Ninian’s Priory at Whithorn. The early journeys over high hills and through narrow passes must have been ardous.
The general direction is north-west from Galloway into Dumfriesshire through small villages to the town of Thornhill and high up through the gold mining hills to Elvanfoot and then down to meet the M74 at Abington, Lanarkshire. From here it follows the route of the Roman road which was built to connect the Clyde Valley with the important settlements at Cramond and Inveresk. We travel close by the sources of both the rivers Clyde and Tweed and through Lamington to the picturesque village of Coulter which is said to be the location of the fictional Midculter from Dorothy Dunnett’s ‘the Lymond Chronicles’.The traditional architecture of these villages is thankfully well preserved and at some points it is not difficult to imagine those far away days when the pace of life was gentler.
Two miles north of Coulter lies the old market town of Biggar. The writer has stopped many times here to visit the museums at the Moat Park Heritage Centre (vividly depicting times gone by in this part of Clydesdale and Tweeddale) and the Biggar Gasworks – perhaps the last remaining example of a town gas supply in Britain.
From here Lanarkshire becomes Peeblesshire and the villages and their coaching inns appear to be spaced at equal distances – perhaps a days ride in times of more arduous progress to Dolphinton then West Linton and on to Carlops.
As we drive on into Midlothian at Nine Mile Burn and skirting the side of Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘Hills of Home’ we are reminded again about the Roman past – firstly by some welcome remarkably long straights and then as we pass the Castlelaw Hill Fort which was strengthened by our ancient relatives when they heard that the Romans were on the march north of Hadrian’s wall.
From here we gently descend from the Pentlands past the reservoirs providing Edinburgh’s water supply to meet the City boundary and back to Fairmilehead