With the world on lockdown, I figured I’d revisit my first real backpacking trip – The Capital Trail.
I’ve always loved Scotland. It’s somewhere I’ve visited a lot as a kid. My dad spent quite a bit of time up there for work so we’d join him on the school holidays. Knowing this route would go through Edinburgh excited me as I’d get to visit somewhere I knew on my bike.
Planning the route
As this was my first big trip away from home I used a pre-done route from bikepacking.com. It didn’t look too bad from the pictures but it ended up being a bit of a lesson in taking comments about the surface a little more seriously. In the end, we did improvise some bits of the route to get us back on time and to just roll a little quicker. I’ll get to why a little later on.
After a long drive, we arrived at Portobello beach. The weather wasn’t great but I never expected glorious sunshine and blue skies in Scotland. I was just glad it wasn’t actually raining.
At the edge of the car park, we slowly strapped all our gear to the bikes. It turned out we had way more than we realised and the bikes weighed a ton! It showed our naivety in preparation but we never longed for anything whilst we rode.
I don’t think our gear could have been anymore squeaky clean if we tried – brand new Brooks saddles, bags without a spec of dirt and bikes that weren’t scuffed.
The start was great: we rode down the cycle paths for miles and had a relatively easy ride. It was nice to get a flow going at this point as the terrain got much trickier later on.
This made it especially nice to transition to more off-road riding as it quickly changed the feel of the ride. Not in a bad way just different experiences. I do like that in Scotland wild camping is fine anywhere. It made the evening much less stressful. We did have to cycle a little further than we expected as we were very clearly on fenced-in land for longer than we thought. We still got pitched before dark so all was well.
I don’t have many pictures from this day and I fully remember why. It was a bit of a shock to the system and certainly pushed us out of our comfort zone and somewhere where we couldn’t just get help.
I’d heard about the midges in Scotland and we took precautions with mosquito nets but we saw how relentless they were on this day.
It rained for pretty much the entire day but it was also fairly warm. This made it incredibly humid and brought the midges out in full force. We ended up hike-a-biking through a woods which just allowed them to constantly swarm us. It was horrible; we were tired, hungry and surrounded by midges. Fortunately, once we got to the top of the hill the wind slowed them down a little. I also lost my sunglasses (a common theme with me).
Another issue I’d had during the day was my front bag rubbing constantly on my front tyre. This got annoying pretty quickly and just added to the day’s frustrations. I distinctly remember throwing my bike down on the top of a hill when it slunk down again. I don’t know what I expected that to do but it certainly didn’t help.
With that slightly miserable day out of the way, the terrain and trip picked up. We were blessed with quite a lot of sun and some beautiful views. It seemed odd that only a couple of days ago we were in a city and now we were in the absolute middle of nowhere. The realisation was a little scary but with no other option we just plodded on.
We came across an amazing bridge/viaduct on our way and typing this from memory I have absolutely no idea what it was called. It looked stunning and was a nice photo opportunity (and to take a short break)
Day 4 (not really as we did this 3 days)
I can’t recollect exactly when we stopped but I do know we did it in 3 days. Well, this is my 4th significant part of the trip to happen.
We were on the final stretch before getting back and we’d purposely used some slightly more direct routes to head back to Edingburgh a little quicker. Some of the terrain had taken its toll on us and the bikes – I’d stopped for new brake pads and some straps already.
There were some amazing views on this final part which seemed odd as we were heading into a capital city. The Glencorse Reservoir before our final big climb was one of the most scenic things I’ve seen and it was incredibly peaceful – not a soul around.
Riding back through Edinburgh was crazy: the fringe festival was in full flow and we ended up walking most the royal mile. It was a great atmosphere to be in to finish our trip but we carried on up Arthurs Seat. We went a little too far up and ended up doing this crazy descent down it into a small village. After that, it was some nice quiet roads back to Portobello.
We finished at the beach with some sunshine and a lovely afternoon. It was a stark contrast to the start with grey skies and the threat of rain.
I don’t feel I’ve done this route the full justice it deserves as I’ve typed quickly from memory – memories that are now 2 years old!
Certain odd things stick out but I can’t place them timeline-wise, such as: stopping in a pub that didn’t serve food but had little pies; the one distillery we wanted to visit being closed, an old couple filling up our bottles in the middle of nowhere and a descent that gave me a puncture and rattled the bolts out of my friend’s pannier rack. It’s an amazing route and I wholeheartedly recommend anyone giving it a go.