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The Romance of Rosslyn Glen

Tree-lined paths take you beside a river to a very special ancient chapel in this glorious glen.

Distance 5 miles (8km)

Minimum time 2hrs 30min

Ascent/gradient 279ft (85m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Generally good, but can be muddy and slippery

Landscape Woodland and fields, short sections of road

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 344 Pentland Hills

Start/finish NT 272627

Dog friendliness Can mostly run free, steps and climbs might not suit some

Parking Roslin Glen Country Park car park

Public toilets None on route; nearest at Rosslyn Chapel Visitor Centre

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1 From the country park car park, walk north east on to the track until you reach the river. Go up the metal stairs, cross the footbridge, then walk ahead, following the path uphill. In summer, the smell of wild garlic will soon waft over you. At the bottom of a flight of steps, turn right, walk under the old castle arch, down some stone steps, then turn to your left.

2 Your path now descends and you keep walking ahead, before climbing more steps. The path then ascends again, until you reach a crossing of paths where you turn right and follow the path that runs steeply downhill. Keep going down until you reach the water's edge.

3 Walk to your left, then follow the path as it climbs again - there is a handrail to assist you. At a crossing of paths turn right, following the direction of the river. Your way now takes you high above the river, and you continue ahead to cross a stile. After you cross another stile the view opens out to fields on your left, then takes you closer to the river again. Cross a burn and another stile to the point where the river goes back on itself.

4 Cross the broken fence, then keep ahead, passing an old pollarded tree on the left-hand side. Follow the small sign pointing uphill to Maiden Castle. At the top turn left (the sign says 'caution, path erosion'). You now get great views over the river valley as you cross the ridge then keep walking to reach a metal gate.

5 Turn left and follow the wide path. You eventually walk past buildings of the Animal Research Centre, then pass a memorial to the Battle of Rosslyn on your right-hand side. Keep walking straight ahead, through the outskirts of Roslin and up to the crossroads at the village centre.

6 Turn left here and walk ahead. After a short distance you see Rosslyn Chapel on the right-hand side. If you don't intend to visit the chapel, take the path that bears downhill to the right, just in front of it. When you reach the cemetery turn left, following the signpost for 'Polton', and walk between the cemeteries to the metal gate for Rosslyn Castle. Go down the steps on the right-hand side, over the bridge again and return to the car park at the start.

Despite the splendour of its lush woodland, gurgling waters and delicate wild flowers, the most striking feature of romantic Rosslyn Glen is artificial rather than natural. It's Rosslyn Chapel, the exquisite little church that you meet right at the end of this walk. Founded in 1446 by Sir William St Clair, it took 40 years to build and was originally intended to be a much larger structure. If ever I wished that a building could speak, it's this one. Rosslyn Chapel, you see, is perhaps the most mysterious church in Britain.

The interior is full of intricate stone carvings, created by foreign masons commissioned by Sir William, who supervised much of the work himself. The carvings are not just rich in biblical imagery, as you might expect, but also depict masonic and pagan symbols. For instance, there are over one hundred images of the 'green man', the pagan figure that once symbolised great goodness - as well as great evil. There is also a depiction of a danse macabre, an allegorical representation of death's supremacy over mankind. There are some surprising images too, notably the New World corn carved into a window arch. Just think about it - this was a century before Columbus discovered America. So how did they know what corn looked like? Well, Sir William's grandfather, Prince Henry of Orkney, is thought to have discovered the New World long before Columbus, sailing from Orkney to Nova Scotia in the 14th century. And there is a Native American tribe, the Micmac, who still pass on the tale that a great lord once sailed from the east and taught them to fish with nets.

Perhaps the most stunning carving in the chapel is the Apprentice Pillar, an extraordinarily ornate piece of work. It is said that the pillar was carved by a talented apprentice while his master was away. When the master mason returned he was so jealous of the beauty of the work that he killed the boy.

Rosslyn's greatest mysteries come from its associations with the Knights Templar, the medieval order of warrior monks. They were originally formed to protect pilgrims travelling to the Holy Land - and one of their founders was married to a relative of Sir William. The Templars became immensely wealthy and powerful and were eventually persecuted, being accused of immorality and even pagan idolatry. Many fled to Scotland, with help from the freemasons, taking their treasures with them.

The St Clairs have strong masonic links and Rosslyn Chapel is said to have been built as a memorial to the Templars. Some archaeologists think it hides many of their treasures, such as ancient scrolls from Jerusalem, jewels, perhaps the Holy Grail. Some have even speculated that under the Apprentice Pillar is buried the skull of Christ. This little chapel is full of secrets.

While you're there

Butterfly and Insect World is not far from here at Lasswade, near Dalkeith. It's a great place to bring kids as the enclosures contain loads of beautiful and exotic butterflies in a tropical setting. There are also some separate cages in which an interesting variety of creepy-crawlies are kept.

Where to eat and drink

There's a little café in the visitor centre at Rosslyn Chapel where you can get teas, coffees and cakes. Otherwise there are two reasonable pubs in the centre of the village. The Original Rosslyn Hotel is on your right-hand side as you come into the village and serves bar lunches and high teas. Opposite it, also on the right of your route, is the Roslin Glen Hotel, which also does light bar meals such as baked potatoes.

What to look for

The memorial to the Battle of Rosslyn commemorates a battle between Scotland and England. The carnage of the battle gave rise to many local landscape names such as shinbone field, kilburn and stinking rig - a reference presumably to all the dead bodies left in the fields.

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