A few walking options at Polton Mill, between Bonnyrigg and Loanhead, south of Edinburgh
A walk around the North Esk river, by the site of an old paper mill, and past a ruined mansion house.
How to get there
For Satnav, the nearest postcode is EH18 1JZ
Find the Sherriffhall roundabout on the Edinburgh bypass, then turn south, away from Edinburgh on the A7. Turn right at the second roundabout, on the A768, signposted Lasswade and Loanhead. Follow this road for about a mile, up a hill then down into Lasswade village, then take the second left, signposted Polton. Follow this road up the hill for about a mile and you will see the Polton Inn on the right hand side. Take the next right after the Inn which is Polton Bank. Follow this road up a short hill, then down a steep winding hill. At the bottom you will see a small car park on the left hand side. If the car park is full, it is possible to park on the side of the road before the bridge.
The easiest walk, and very suitable for wheelchairs, is just to follow the red cindered path around the small field by the car park.
You can see a map of the longer walk here. Starting from the car park, follow the red path for about 100 yards, then you will see a grassy path heading off to the left. Turn left and follow this path past a small pond and then up a short flight of steps. Turn left at the top of the steps, then follow this path around though the woods. At one point, the path splits and one branch goes downward, but take the other one, up into the woods and over a small, artificial hill. The path then heads down some steps past a broken dam to the river. Now follow the path right beside the river until you eventually rejoin the cinder path. Follow this path back to the road.
You can just go back to your car now, which is just a few yards away, but to extend your walk, turn left and cross over the bridge. Be careful, as this road is used as a rat run between Bonnyrigg and Loanhead, and few people take any notice of the 20mph speed limit. Turn right by the war memorial over the bridge, then follow the path along the North bank of the North Esk. At times this path is narrow with a drop into the river so some caution is required. Eventually you will reach the end of the wall on your left side and after about another 50 yards you will see a gate that leads into a field. Follow the path through the field and past the walled garden, then turn right up the hill. At the top of the hill you will see the ruined Mavisbank house on the left, and while it is all fenced off, you can take a detour here and walk around it.
At the top of the road you will see a small gate on the right. Go through this gate and cross the small stream, following what was originally the main driveway to Mavisbank House. After about 100 yards you will see a path heading down to the lake. Take this path and walk round the lake. A the end of the lake, turn right and head down the hill back to the river, where you turn right again and follow the riverside path back to your car.
For a much longer walk, follow the pathway down river. It eventually climbs up a flight of steps and at the top of the hill, cross the roadway to the path that runs between the big houses at Kevock Road. Follow this path right along to the the old Lasswade High school, then take the roadway back down to the river and stop off for a pint at the Laird and Dog. Now you can either cross over the river and follow the roadway back up the hill to Polton Hall, then down Polton Bank back to your car, or just retrace your path along the much pleasanter route by the river.
Looking at Polton village now, it's hard to believe that it was once a thriving industrial centre. The nature reserve was once the home of the Polton Paper Mill Company, which started up in 1717. It was served by a railway line which ran up the North Esk valley, and the small housing estate at the bottom of the hill is built on the site of the old railway station and its extended network of sidings. The railway was used to transport the finished paper to Edinburgh, and was also used by the workers for holiday trips to the beach at Portobello. The railway closed to passengers in 1951 and closed completely in 1964. The paper mill closed in 1967 and the main buildings were demolished in the 1980s. Plans to use the site for housing eventually fell through after a campaign by locals and the remaining buildings were levelled and the site was converted to a wildlife sanctuary.
Some of the concrete foundations of the mill still exist in the woods by the car park. If you look in the woods above the pond you can make out the platform on which Glenesk house stood "pleasantly situated in a secluded situation and surrounded with ornamental grounds". There is very little sign of the ornamental grounds now. The large hill that stands between the pond and the river is man made, and is the paper waste from the mill.
The mill race from the large dam below the road bridge ran through a tunnnel below the railway line, and what's left of it now lies underneath the dirty black roadway on the south bank of the river. You can still see the outlet from the tunnel, where the race goes back into the river, at the point where path bends away from the river.
On the second part of the walk, you pass Mavisbank House, which was designed by William Adam and was once one of Scotland's finest buildings. It was used as a hospital for the first half of the 20th century, but it was gutted by fire in 1973. After the fire, the front of the property was used as a scrapyard and a caravan park. The owner of the property was in dispute with Midlothian council and sold part of the property to three people in the USA. It was believed that these people did not exist, and the sale was just a device to prevent the council from taking posession of the property. The owner was evicted, but while the council was resolving the dispute, the property became wild and overgrown and was hidden in the woods. The lake in front of the propery was deserted and home to nesting herons. Midlothian council eventually took control and built the pathways that now provide easy access to the house and its surroundings.