Corstorphine Hill

Old spread out tree on Corstorphine Hill
Park details
EH12 6UP
About the Park

Corstorphine Hill at 531 ft (161m) is the fourth highest of Edinburgh's "Seven Hills" situated in Edinburgh's Western suburbs about 5.5km from Edinburgh city centre.

The low-lying, forested hill takes the form of an L-shaped ridge spanning 1.5 miles (2.4 km) from North to South and is 800m at its widest. Corstorphine Hill is a good place to ramble with its mix of mature, broad-leaved woodland - oak, birch, elm, sycamore, beech, ash - and odd rock formations that jut out of the ground here and there.

Much of the hill is a public park (since 1924) and nature reserve, managed by the City of Edinburgh Council's Forestry and Natural Heritage with the support of local volunteer group Friends of Corstorphine Hill. The hill has also been developed, in particular, on its southern face for the 82-acre Edinburgh Zoo, and its lower slopes are occupied by golf courses, schools, a hospital, churches, hotels, and private residences.

Corstorphine Hill's distinctive L-shaped ridge is the result of igneous-hardened, dolemite rock withstanding the wear of glacial ice, water and wind over millions of years while surrounding, softer, sedimentary rock has eroded away around it. The retreating glacier left rocky cliffs in the west and deposits of clay in the more gently sloping East.  

The Hill is designated a Regionally Important Geological Site (RIGS) on account of its accessible, volcanic and ice-age scarred rock formations. Some of the rocks have marks left by people some 3000 years ago, such as a "cup and ring" marks near the top of the hill, which are thought to have been part of a sacred landscape during the Neolithic or Bronze Age (c3600-1500 BC), although the exact purpose of the markings remains unknown.

Corstorphine Hill is part of Edinburgh's green belt and has also been designated as a Local Nature Reserve, in particular because of the colonies of badgers. There is a healthy population of foxes, as well as rabbits, bats and occasional roe deer.

With its abundance of mature trees, Corstorphine Hill attracts around 60 different species of bird life including great spotted woodpecker, tawny owl, kestrel, buzzard, and sparrowhawk.

As well as being Edinburgh's largest public woodland, its lower slopes are covered in gorse bush and grassland.

The top of the southern part of the hill is split by the perimeter fence of Edinburgh Zoo. A path with occasional staircase and rocky climbs runs alongside the fence.

Clermiston Tower

Also at the top of the ridge to the south is a gothic folly, the Clermiston Tower, also known as the Scott Tower or the Corstorphine Hill Tower, a memorial to Edinburgh romantic novelist Walter Scott. The tower was built by William Mackie of Dreghorn in 1871 on the centenary of Scott's birth.

The tower re-opened to the public in 2003, with volunteers from Friends of Corstorphine Hill providing open days to the tower. You can climb to the top of the tower on Sunday from May to September, 2-4 pm (it's free/donations accepted). From the parapet at the top of the tower you can get some of the best views over the forest canopy, of the surrounding area, including the city and out to the Firth of Forth.

A tall, fenced-off aircraft communications tower now dwarves the Clermiston Tower. There are two communications towers, which protrude far above the hill's peak and are visible from miles around.

Walled Garden

One of the attractions of Corstorphine Hill is its restored walled garden at Hillwood House where, since 2001, local charity the Friends of Corstorphine Hill have been creating a quiet space and walled woodland walk using native tree species such as pinewood, birchwood, ashwood and wet woodland.

The formerly run-down 1.2-acre (0.49 ha) garden is now a rich resource of Corstorphine Hill's plants and features of interest, with creative seating. The garden was awarded a Community Green Flag Award, for which is was featured in BBC Scotland's Beechgrove Garden.

Volunteers from the Friends also hold regular guided walks exploring the history and flora of the Hill and are a great source of information about the Hill.

Nuclear Bunker

Another unusual feature to the North of the wood, near the car park at Clermiston Wood, is the Barnton Bunker. During the Second World War, a brick and concrete bunker was concealed in the woods as a command outpost for RAF operations at Turnhouse Airport (now Edinburgh Airport).

After the war, with the looming threat of nuclear attack, a second much larger bunker was built in 1951 to manage Scotland's operations in the event of a missile attack.

The walls were up to 3.5m (12ft) thick, the roof was a composite metal covered with 3m (10ft) of soil. It was considered strong enough to withstand a a 3MT nuclear bomb drop on Edinburgh city centre.

If the Queen had been in residence at Holyrood Palace, she would have been evacuated to safety here in the event of an attack.

In 1955, technological advances rendered its original purpose as an aircraft tracking centre obsolete and it was declassfied. From 1960 to 1965 it was a protected centre in event of nuclear attack, before being closed and transferred in 1983 to Lothian Regional Council.

The bunker was in a state of dilapidation and disrepair after to being sold to a private buyer in 1991 but in 2011 changed hands again. The plan is to restore the Barnton Bunker to its Cold War glory as a visitor attraction, exhibition space, and dedicated tourist attraction.

Getting there

There are many entry points to the hill, but the obvious starting point is one of the footpaths off Clermiston road in the West, near the Walled Garden. This is the one access area that has parking.

You can also access from the East, by the footpath at the bend in Ravelston Dykes road (no parking close by). Here, the rocky path cuts straight through Murrayfield Golf Club's 18-hole course. It's a 15 minute walk to the "Rest and Be Thankful" viewing point and a few minutes more walk to the Clermiston Tower.

In the North, there's a gate at Queensferry Rd and to the South an entrance from Corstorphine Road, opposite the top of Balgreen Road.

Other resources

A path through Corstorphine Hill has been designated as one of Scotland’s Great Trails, The John Muir Way. Scotland’s Great Trails are nationally promoted routes of more than 25 miles. Details can be found on the website for the John Muir Way - the section including Corstorphine Hill is South Queensferry to Edinburgh

Edinburgh Southern Orienteering Club (ESOC) has a permanent course set up over Corstorphine Hill which is available to the public at all times, in addition to the regular programme of events. Maps can be obtained at the ESOC site and from the visitor centres at Cammo Estate and the Hermitage of Braid.


  • Green Flag
  • Green Belt
  • Regionally Important Geological Site
  • Area of Great Landscape Value
  • Local Nature Reserve
  • Nature Conservation Site
  • Listed Wildlife Site

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