Roslin Glen, Midlothian

You will probably have heard of Rosslyn Chapel, an ancient and sacred place near Edinburgh. It has been well-known for years, centuries even, but ever since its appearance in the mega-blockbuster book and film The Da Vinci Code, visitor numbers have gone stratospheric. The sad result is that, with a modern visitor centre tacked on to the side and coach loads of visitors turning up every day, the Chapel has now all but lost its unique magic.

Roslin Glen, which lies just a short walk from the Chapel, is a different story altogether. For while the wild and dramatic scenery of this rocky gorge has long attracted attention from lovers of Romantic landscapes, including Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott, the Glen still retains a magical atmosphere like nowhere else I have ever visited.

Beginning the journey into Roslin Glen

Beginning the journey into Roslin Glen

The best place to begin a journey down Roslin Glen is at the foot of the craggy ruins of Roslin Castle, which rise imperiously above the wooded valley floor. The air here is thick with the heady stink of wild garlic and the incessant rush of the nearby River Esk. The going is easy, although sometimes rather muddy, but the sinuous sandstone cliffs which line the edges of the river give hints of the drama that is to come.

The imposing walls of Roslin Castle

The imposing walls of Roslin Castle

Further along the Glen the path becomes steeper and more treacherous. There are rocks to be climbed over, and fallen trees to squeeze under. At one point a huge landslide has recently taken place, taking many of the tall trees with it, the slippery remnants of the path still passable, but only just. Further on again the path all but disappears, replaced by a thin stone ledge along the water’s edge. 

The dramatic cliffs which line Roslin Glen

The dramatic cliffs which line Roslin Glen

As you venture deeper into the valley, it’s easy to forget that you are only a few miles from Scotland’s capital city. There aren’t many, if any, people around. The cliffs and crags become more misshapen and bizarre, formed from millennia of water erosion into the strangest of shapes, the gnarled and knotted tree trunks which sprout from them twisting into picturesque forms. I even came across a small naively-carved face in the rockface of an outcrop known locally as Lovers’ Leap; curious and most definitely magical!

A mysterious carved face in Roslin Glen

A mysterious carved face in Roslin Glen

I had hoped to visit Wallace’s Cave, a large rock cavern with a neatly chiseled doorway, reputedly used by William Wallace at the time of the Battle of Rosslyn, which took place nearby in 1303. Unfortunately I found myself on the wrong side of the gushing torrent, with no access to the other side, so had to make do with a distant view of its temptingly shadowy entrance. The steep path down to it suggests that any future visit will require stout shoes and a lot of courage.

A dark doorway into Wallace's Cave, Roslin Glen

A dark doorway into Wallace’s Cave, Roslin Glen

At the far end of the Glen you will find another castle. Hawthornden sits atop a rock riddled with caves, most of them apparently man made, but as the fine house is now a private writers’ retreat, these are not currently accessible to the public. The origins of the caves are unknown, although they possibly date back to the Bronze Age and have been linked to Robert the Bruce. Like Wallace’s Cave, Hawnthornden will have to remain a distant, tantalisingly magical mystery, for now at least.

The distant rooftops of Hawthornden Castle

The distant rooftops of Hawthornden Castle

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10 Responses to “Roslin Glen, Midlothian”

  1. It seems to me that woods have distinctive personalities – some are friendly, some moody and others downright threatening – convinces me of the genii loci. I love the way that in woods it’s easy to step out of the present and into a sense of timelessness.

  2. Reminds me a bit of my visit to Castle Campbell/Doom up in Dollar Glen, about 10 miles east of Stirling. Looks like there would be an interesting hike from the village to the castle, but I hadn’t the time the day I was there.

    • Castle Campbell and Dollar Glen are beautiful. I visited a few times as a child, I remember it as more rugged than Roslin, and a much harder climb – maybe I should check it out again next time I am up North…

  3. The cavern looks very tempting indeed. The Scottish landscape is so lush.

    • I know, I was so disappointed when I found out it was on the other side of the valley. Although I am not sure I would be brave enough to face the very steep path down to it anyway…

  4. Now that is a spooky place…love it 🙂

  5. Beautiful! I’m newly inspired to try to get there myself this week. It seems so magical at the glen, I might just skip the chapel altogether.

    • Go, I can’t recommend it highly enough. The chapel is interesting, but expensive and busy, so I would just bypass and go straight down into the glen. Take care on those slippery paths though!

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