• The Scottish Thistle greets us at Waverley Station
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  • The Balmoral Hotel in winter sunshine
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  • Edinburgh Castle clinging to the black granite
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  • Looking back into Edinburgh central from the old town. The National Art Gallery in the centre
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  • The cobbled streets on the Royal Mile
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  • The sound of the bagpipes echoes around the old town
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  • A wintery view from the Castle courtyard. The location for Royal Military Tattoo in the summer months
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  • The view back over rooftops from Edinburgh Castle back to Arthur's Seat
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  • So many colourful and splendid cafes and restaurants to choose from
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  • The ridge over the Pentlands at the top of this image. We crossed over these summits on Section 4 of the Northern Trek
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  • Colourful shops on the cobbles of Grey Street, Edinburgh Old Town
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  • The pub aptly named as The Last Drop - public executions were conducted outside its front door
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  • The Vennel. Edinburgh's iconic viewing point - so loved by instagrammers and influencers
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  • Leaving Edinburgh and following the Union Canal, on our first section of the John Muir Way
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  • Murrayfield. Home of the Scottish Rugby Union national team
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  • The tower on Corstorphine Hill
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  • The view into Edinburgh from Corstorphine Hill. Although only 531ft high (161m) it boasts one of the finest views of the capital city
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  • The Northern Trek reaches the shores of the Firth of Forth for the first time. Barnbougle Castle is in the background
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  • Beautiful shingle and shell beach on the shoreline of the Firth of Forth
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  • A UNESCO World Heritage site - the iconic Forth Bridge
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  • Queensferry main street. A must stop for lunch and the great views of the three bridges which cross the Firth of Forth
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  • Loving the colours on this Scottish pub. Queensferry
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  • Our coffee stop for the day. Queensferry
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  • The third bridge - the Queensferry Crossing
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  • The Northern Trek continues along the banks of the Firth of Forth - but views back are always worthwhile
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  • The Northern Trek takes a slight detour away from the shoreline. But its worth it to pass through the grounds of Hopetown House
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  • Martin and Ken heading along the shoreline to Blackness Castle
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  • Blackness Castle
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  • Looking back along the John Muir Way to Blackness Castle
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  • The best porridge for a days walking. And yes, thats fresh cream and fruit. The Richmond Park Hotel, Bo'ness
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  • Martin heading through the old canal tunnel on the outskirts of Falkirk
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  • The stunning Falkirk Wheel
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  • There are not many cafes on the Forth and Clyde canal. We made hay whilst the sun shone
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  • The Kelpies. A small detour, but its worth it. The mythical creature which entices travellers to ride with them
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  • Martin on the banks of the Forth and Clyde Canal
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  • Looking north from the Northern Trek near Auchinstarry
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  • Walking the canal tow path west from Kirkintilloch
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  • Fields of Gold. The location for our dance routine for 'I would walk 500 miles' by the Proclaimers
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  • We reach Milngavie station just before the great storm 'Babet' hits. Section 5 is now complete
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Section 5 - The Head
Edinburgh to Milngavie

Section 5 starts from Waverley Station in Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital (a UNESCO city) and heads west through the Old Town. On cobbled streets passing several well known features and places of interest (the Scott Monument and St Giles’ Cathedral) before heading down and beneath the imposing Castle, which sits proudly up above on the black granite rock face.

The trek now heads north and soon passes Murrayfield stadium, the home of Scotland’s Rugby Union team. It then passes the boundary of Edinburgh Zoo and climbs to the top of Corstorphine Hill - one of Edinburgh's great viewpoints. The Northern Trek continues for a few miles across fields to the shores of the Firth of Forth, past Dalmeny House with beautiful views across the river and along its sandy and shell laden beaches. 

In the near distance, the tops of three bridges can now be seen.

The Northern Trek follows the coastal footpath passing through the little fishing town of Queensferry - a lovely place to stop and have a coffee or a bit of lunch.

Perhaps the most famous of the bridges is the first, The Forth Bridge (A UNESCO World Heritage Site), a railway bridge built of steel in three diamond-shaped sections and painted an iconic red. Next along, is the Forth Road Bridge, and then the very modern 'suspension' bridge, known as the Queensferry Crossing which carries road traffic.

Three bridges running in tandem and spanning the river. Following the footpath is easy. It is flat and well signposted. We walked through the beautiful grounds of Hopetoun House with its large herd of deer very close at hand.

The walk now follows a section of The John Muir Way. Best known as the 'Father of National Parks' in America. It is well documented that whilst the Scotsman was camping, with President Theodore Roosevelt, the idea was agreed to open the first ever National Park in the USA. Yellowstone was opened in 1872 - followed by Yosemeite in 1890. The John Muir Way was opened in 2014 to celebrate his life and heritage.

As we reached the estuary, we noticed that the tide was out, and chose to leave the footpath and walk on the lovely sandy beach towards Blackness Castle - a 15th century castle, open to the public and with terrific views out onto the Firth of Forth. Bo'ness isn't far away and offers lots of good accommodation for the night. We watched in the small harbour at Bo’ness as several small boats were winched ashore for their winter clean up.

As we reached the outskirts of Falkirk we lost our way for a short while, simply by following the towpath of the Union Canal. However this proved to be a real treat, and it took us into a 1574ft (480m) long canal tunnel (visible on the OS map) used by cyclists and walkers. The walls of the tunnel were covered in minerals and stalactites. A detour which was well worth walking and we decided to just continue and rejoin the John Muir Way.

The Falkirk Wheel was for me, one of the best surprises on the entire Northern Trek. I knew little about it, until a few weeks before we arrived. A stunning piece of engineering - we called it ‘a mechanical wonder of the world’. Completed in 2002 at a cost of £100 million, it replaced 11 individual locks with one gigantic piece of steel engineering. Boats and barges can be lifted mechanically from the Union Canal to The Forth and Clyde canal - a distance of 79ft, in just four minutes. It makes occasional eerie creaks and groans like something from another world. We actually parked at the Falkirk Wheel on four occasions. Each time the weather and conditions were totally different which added to its aura.

The route continues along the Forth and Clyde canal and heads West. A  green and tranquil corridor with occasional short climbs to walk on the Antonine Wall - a turf fortification from the Roman Empire which was at one time, the most northerly home of the Romans (this is the fourth UNESCO World Heritage site on The Northern Trek).

The towns of Falkirk, Cumbernauld and Kirklintilloch are nearby, but these conurbations are barely noticed as the walk is through quiet woodland along the towpath and across the Central Belt. It's hard to imagine that these canals were once very busy with barges carrying coal and sand to and from Glasgow. The final section of ‘The Head’ is easy to follow.  

There is a lovely ‘pit stop’ at The Boat House at Auchinstarry Marina. A well earned lunch was much appreciated during our  long day's walk. Looking across the road we saw climbers on The Whin Sill, a vertical wedge of hard dark rock.

On the final section to Milngavie it's worth taking the footpath through the golf course at Cadder and walking through to Balmore. It will only make sense on ‘the ground,’ as there will appear to be quicker routes. A local walker advised us very well indeed. He said the fields that we had originally planned to walk through ‘were permanently under water.’

As we approached Milngavie we felt that Section 5 was just about complete. So at last, I decide to play the song which has been my anthem for the Northern Trek -  "I would walk five hundred miles" written and sung by the Scottish band, The Proclaimers. Perfect. Upbeat and confident in its rhythm. I start singing and dancing with my friend Martin on the towpath. But the sound on my mobile has been left on at full blast! It disturbs over 2000 migrating pink footed geese, which take off and whirl around us for several minutes whilst we laugh and continue to dance. Then we notice 82 whooper swans from Iceland on their annual migration south. A memorable moment just before we reach Milngavie, our ‘watering hole’ for the night.

We are just in time, as storm Babet comes sweeping in with its top wind speed recorded at 115 mph (185km/h).

68 miles
4,592 feet of ascent

Section Videos

68 mile 'fly through' Section 5. From Edinburgh, to The Forth Bridge, along the John Muir Way and North to Milngavie

Edinburgh from the Castle - The Pentland Hills are on the skyline

The Northern Trek reaches the shores of The Firth of Forth

Deer in the grounds of Hopetoun House

The Falkirk Wheel in action - 'sound' on for the wonderful noise made by this giant piece of engineering

The wonderful tunnel on the Union Canal - on the outskirts of Falkirk

Map ref

OS Explorer: 350, 349, 342

time to complete

4-5 Day

Route Downloads

Downloadable route files in .gpx format for use on your GPS device or to use in your digital mapping software

Elevation profile: Edinburgh to Milngavie