Edinburgh’s Best Cycling: The Capital Trail
Bikepacking is becoming more and more popular in the UK and worldwide, and with the unique land access in Scotland, the country is a number one destination for bikepacking enthusiasts from around the planet. Edinburgh has its own bikepacking trail since 2015, designed by round the world cyclist Markus Stitz, and voted by Bikepacking.com as ‘Best New Trail‘ in 2015. The Capital Trail is the perfect challenge for advanced and expert mountain bikers wanting to explore the amazing trails around Edinburgh. It can be ridden as individual time trial or as part of the annual group start. More information about the trail can be found at markusstitz.com/capital-trail.
Could you tell us a little bit about the story behind The Capital Trail?
I have done a lot of cycling since I lived in Scotland, both on and off road. In the last years I got increasingly annoyed with travelling to places by train or car in order to ride on the weekend, so I started searching for local trails around Edinburgh with my mountain bike – so I wouldn’t spend hours and hours travelling.
One day in May 2014 I came across a sign for the Cross Borders Drove Road in the western Pentlands, and was curious whether I would be able to follow that further than just the bit in the hills around Edinburgh. The next day in Innerleithen I discovered a flyer for a section of Cameron McNeish’s trail across Scotland, and got a lift to Kirk Yetholm and followed that on my bike – and found out that it is doable with two wheels with the odd section that wasn’t ridable. And when Kim Harding, Director of the Edinburgh Festival of Cycling, caught up with me for a coffee in February 2015 the idea for the Capital Trail was born.
I started by using old drover’s roads, existing mountain bike trails like Glentress and Innerleithen and whatever I could find to combine them to a long distance bikepacking loop around Edinburgh. By June 2015 the trail that starts and finishes at the Tide Cafe on Portobello beach was finished and 85 riders took on the challenge to ride it.
How long is the trail and how long does it take to finish? Do you need to plan an overnight stay?
The trail is evolving year on year, but stays at around 240km. It is designed to be ridden in two days, but requires good experience on the bike as well as stamina. There are plenty of opportunities along the trail to stock up on food and accommodation as well, for a leisurely ride a time window of 3 to 4 days is possibly more suitable. As Scotland has some of the best access laws in the world and camping and bivvying for one night is no problem, I would encourage people to try that.
Is the trail suitable for beginners as well as more experienced cyclists?
It’s for experienced cyclists, as it requires a fair bit of off road riding experience, the skills to navigate and with roughly about 6000m of altitude gain it is one of the harder bikepacking trails out there. For beginners and intermediate riders I would recommend trying parts first and with a good bit of training riding the whole Capital Trail is something to aspire to. There’s now a train connection to Tweedbank, about halfway through the trail, this is a great bail out option if needed.
What kind of bike is best to use for the trail?
In my eyes the best bike is a 29plus rigid steel bike, with a 1 x 11 drive train and tubeless setup. However, any good mountain bike will do, and for the super experienced riders a cross bike will also be a choice, but in general I would suggest fat tyres and a good range of gears to choose from, as there are a lot of steep hills in the Borders.
What are your top 3 personal highlights along the route?
My number one highlight is the Gipsy Glen route, which is the connection between Traquair and Peebles. It’s an old drover’s route and the view from the top is mind boggling. My other favourite is the climb up to and the views from Lammer Law on a clear day – the Lammermuir Hills are a much overlooked secret on the doorstep of Edinburgh. And coming over Monks Rig and seeing the lights of Edinburgh at night is an incredible moment as well. For food, Melrose is a perfect place to stock up, and if you are riding the trail between the 15th-18th June 2017, the Borders Book Festival is perfect for a wee stop.
Do you organise any guided tours of the trail? Any events?
I don’t organise guided tours yet, but it is something I am thinking about for the future. There’s an annual event for people who can manage to ride it in two days or less, which in 2017 is held on 3-4 June. More information on the event can be found here.
Explore Edinburgh City too
If you’re travelling to Edinburgh to cycle the trail and want to spend a few days visiting the city as well (we highly recommend you do!) we can provide you with the perfect self catering accommodation in a location that gives you easy access to both the Old Town and Portobello where the trail starts. Please note that all our apartments are fully equipped and have WiFi. Below are three great options for you!
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- one double bedroom
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- sleeps 2 people
- 1 double bedroom
- 1 shower