Owing its name to Scotland’s capital city from which it starts, the Capital Trail is a 150 mile (245km) circular bikepacking route covering the very best of the Scottish Border trails. It may not be a long route by some bikepacking standards, but it certainly features some challenging sections and many borderlands hill summits!
Choose to ride the whole circuit in one go or in a series of shorter rides or overnighters, as these sections are easily accessible and are well served by both transport and accommodation options, making it a great option for beginner bikepackers in Scotland and experienced riders alike. The route was originally designed to be ridden in two big days with a single overnighter, but here we’ve suggested a four stage trip that can be easily combined.
The Capital Trail passes along the Firth of Forth, over the Lammermuir Hills, following the Southern Upland Way and Borders and Abbey Way, takes in the 7Stanes MTB trails in Glentress and Innerleithen, over the Cross Borders Drove Road and finally the Pentland Hills before returning to the city. These cover everything from wide gravel drovers roads to technical singletrack, hike-a-bike pushes to quiet country lanes.
Although there are no major water crossings on the trail, it will still certainly be best enjoyed in the spring and summer months when the trail is likely to be in better condition - not to mention the weather! Be sure to always have emergency equipment with you, including a survival bag and extra rations, as well as knowing the emergency procedure should the worst happen in a remote area.
The best bike for this route is undoubtedly a mountain bike due to the technical MTB trails at Glentress and some more natural challenges en route. According to the routemaster Markus Stitz, the dream build is a rigid 29-er mountain bike, but of course a hardtail would also be great.
Access to the Capital Trail is very good, starting and ending in Scotland’s capital city. Brunstane local station in Edinburgh is closest to the start and finish at Portobello, although it’s not much further than the main Edinburgh Waverley station by bike. Edinburgh Gateway station has a tram with connections to the international airport of Edinburgh. You can also use the Borders Bus Service (X62) from Peebles and Innerleithen back to Edinburgh, which can take a couple of bikes each.
Check out more about the trail here: bikepackingscotland.com/capitaltrail
Leaving the Portabello district of Edinburgh along the Firth of Forth, take the promenade cycleway for three miles (five kilometers) to start the day’s 41 mile (66km) stage, starting the loop in a clockwise direction. You’ll then turn inland, heading South along the River Esk.
The first highlight along the Capital Trail you’ll find is Carberry Tower, a Scottish castle mansion house now converted into a spectacular hotel. The trail runs through the heart of the 40 acre estate at Carberry, and onto the Pencaitland Railway Walk trail.
After passing though Pencaitland and West Saltoun, you’ll start climbing on a mix of singletrack, doubletrack gravel roads and quiet back lanes up onto Lammer Law in the Lammermuir Hills. The hardest part of the climb comes near to the top, with gradients ramping up to 16 per cent, but the views on a clear day down over the city of Edinburgh and the Firth of Forth is well worth every pedal stroke.
Continue along the tops to nearly reach the summit of Crib Law, now back on the paved road. You’ll enjoy a short descent here before heading back up past Waddelscairn Moor and South Hart Law, before descending all the way down to Lauder on roads and a small section of singletrack. There are a few hotels, bed and breakfasts and campsites to choose from in the town, most visited for the impressive Thirlestane Castle. If you’d rather wild camp, make the most of Scotland’s Right To Roam legislation and find a good place locally to overnight.
The second day of the Capital Trail is a 36 mile (58 km) stretch from Lauder to the town of Innerleithen in Tweedledale, covering 3575 feet (1090 meters) of elevation gain. The day starts almost immediately off-road, climbing gently out of Lauder heading South on singletrack and ancient drovers roads.
Descend off Kedslie Hill down to the river Tweed, passing through Melrose past the historic Abbey, then around Tweedbank. If you have time, why not take a visit to Abbotsford, the home of Sir Walter Scott?
Start to climb up away from civilisation again, past Cauldshiels Loch, close to the summit of White Law and back down to the Tweed further West. Take the forestry tracks through Lindinny as you start the biggest climb of the day up to the famous Three Brethren.
Continue West by Broomy Law, Brown Knowe and Hare Law as you approach Innerleithen, the final destination for the day. Contour around Taniel Hill, passing the black rated downhill trails in this area, and take a detour off route to descend into Innerleithen, a real outdoor town well used to housing mountain bikers, hikers and climbers. There’s a great Cafe at No 1 Peebles Road - if you miss it in the afternoon make sure to pop back for breakfast!
Get recommendations on the best single tracks, peaks, & plenty of other exciting outdoor places.
Head back up the hill to Traquair to rejoin the Capital Trail after your night in Innerleithen, to start today’s third stage at 28 miles (45 km). The first eight miles (13 km) is all uphill, so you’ll warm up nicely this morning! The road gives way to unpaved doubletrack on the Southern Upland Way at Glen House Castle, and after Glenshiel Banks the trail becomes the steepest at up to 18 percent - be prepared for a short but tough hike a bike here. After a little more singletrack, join the drovers road over the top of Birkscairn Hill to mark the summit at 2170 feet (661 meters).
Enjoy the descent of Gypsy Glen down to Kirkhope Law, on the Cross Borders Drove Road, which is part of a blue rated mountain bike trail network. You’re soon in Peebles, the end point of today’s stage, but it’s not over yet! You’re now in Glentress, one of the best MTB trail centres in the UK. There’s another twelve miles (20 km) to go, heading up the hill on Janet’s Brae, through the mountain bike skills area, then onto parts of the red route up to Caresman Hill and onto the Spooky Wood descent. Of course if you don’t fancy these more technical and challenging parts of the trail centre, you can choose to follow the fire roads instead or even enjoy a relaxed afternoon in Peebles!
Sail down Super G after Spooky Hill, both red routes down the trails - a real bit of fun on laden bikes! Then way then turns a bit easier onto blue, down to Glentress Peel, the trail centre with loads of facilities and a great cafe. If you’re wild camping tonight, why not take advantage of the showers here (if you have a few coins)?
The last leg is an easy roll into Peebles town along the River Tweed, a gorgeous market town in the Scottish Borders. Popular with tourists, there are many accommodation options, but it would be very wise to book ahead as it does get very busy in the school holiday season.
The last day of the Capital Trail takes you from Peebles back into Edinburgh via the Pentland Hills, a range of twelve peaks to the South West of the city and a popular rural playground for Edinburgh’s inhabitants. Leaving the lovely town of Peebles behind, start out on the final leg of 46 miles (76km), which with tired legs you’ll be pleased to hear is much more down than up, off the hills and down to the sea.
First climb past Hamilton Hill, then a steeper singletrack section past Kilrubie Hill. Next up is Drum Maw, before passing into West Linton on Lyne Water. Head North on the roman road to Carlops, along Monk’s Rig to the highest point at Cap Law. Beware, there’s a 29 per cent gradient at one point in the climb - a sure push!
Take in the views as you pass through Green Cleugh, a beautiful steep sided valley, and past Longlea Reservoir. Once you’ve passed Bell Hill on your left, it’s downhill all the way! Pass through Blinkbonny park and cross the Water of Leith, circling the city beyond the major bypass. You’ll soon be in Cammo Estate, riding past the iconic water tower and through the nature reserve before tracking the River Almond back to the Firth of Forth. Here you follow the coastline East, avoiding the docks and riding back through the centre of the city to Portobello beach, coming full circle. There are lots of great places along the promenade to conclude your tour with some refreshments before heading home - why not celebrate with some Scottish delicacies?