John Muir Way

Length: 216km (of which 15km walked in 2019), with a 16km extension to Cockburnspath via Dunglass

Salisbury Crags, Holyrood Park, Edinburgh, from the John Muir Way

John Muir — father of the National Park concept — was born in Dunbar, and a route across the central belt from Helensburgh to Dunbar now bears his name. Why, then, does the crusader for the wild outside have his portrait affixed to signs and lamp-posts in council estates, beside time-worn industrial canals, and so forth (and to Forth!)? The path’s website states one reason.

As the longest journey begins with the shortest step, encouraging Scots to engage with nature on their doorstep could awaken interest and respect for John Muir’s philosophy across Scotland.

The John Muir Way starts in Helensburgh, the town on the Clyde where the Highland boundary fault  hits the west coast, and arches through hill and forest through Balloch (at the foot of Loch Lomond) to Strathblane. For some of this part, cyclists must follow a less rugged route, but for most of the remaining 170+km, walkers and cyclists share the route, and inevitably the hardened surfaces mean that walkers’ feet will share the pain. From Strathblane, the route borrows canal towpaths, old railway trackbeds, urban parks and pathways, lanes and coastal trods as it passes to the north of Glasgow close to Kirkintilloch and Cumbernauld, goes through Falkirk to Bo’ness, and picks up the south coast of the Forth, past the iconic bridges, to the outskirts of Edinburgh. More railbeds, canals, streets and pathways guide the Way through suburban Edinburgh, and the coast takes over for the rest of the route via Musselburgh and North Berwick.

Edinburgh, dominated by Arthur’s Seat, from the Esk outflow at Musselburgh

It appears that the route has been devised to keep close to centres of population for the “nature on the doorstep” experience: this would explain some of the less breathtaking vistas (such as the back fences of Edinburgh housing estates), but it serves to strengthen the impression that this is a cycleway with afterthoughts for walkers.

Perhaps a John Muir Wild Way would rebel at Strathblane, striking out over the Campsie Fells, Fintry Hills and Touch Hills, cut through Stirling to take to the Ochil Hills as far as Tillicoultry, over to Culross to take the Fife Coastal Path to Inverkeithing, cross the Forth by the suspension bridge, up through Heriot-Watt University to the Pentland Hills, then by Penicuik and Ormiston to reach Longniddry, following the main route towards Dunbar. Not all National Park territory, but more in tune with Muir’s walks than Falkirk and the back fences of Magdalene Gardens.

The John Muir Way website has lots of detail. There is a guidebook, but the maps are no match for taking out a subscription to OS Maps and printing your daily sections, and the odd format (A5 spiral-bound with wraparound flaps) is probably more suited to the cyclist than to the walker.

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