Gunpowder in the glen

Yesterday I enjoyed a gentle 6(ish)-mile walk to and from the old gunpowder mills in the Roslin Glen. It was a great way to stretch my legs at the end of the weekend, and the weather was more than cooperative for the adventure.

The Roslin Gunpowder Factory was in operation for 150 years, from 1804 until the mills were shuttered in 1954 and were the largest gunpowder producer in Scotland. The mills were used to supply mining and quarrying industries with powder, but they were also used to manufactured war munitions, including the Napoleonic, Crimean, Boer, and First and Second World Wars.

Situated along the banks of the River North Esk, the factory buildings were set into the hillside with a waterwheel along the water. The buildings were sited around the glen to ensure that an explosion in one part of the factory didn’t create a chain reaction, destroying the remaining units (presumably there was a consideration of the human costs to a chain reaction, too).

When the gunpowder mills closed, the area was acquired by the Forestry Commission and was later given to Midlothian Council. At that time, several of the buildings were torn down as they posed a safety hazard. The whole site is now part of Roslin Glen Country Park and is almost a second thought to the rest of the area. There are a few signposts around to let visitors know what the buildings once were, although the waterwheel building is the only part that is truly accessible. (I like to go off the main path though so that I can see the crumbling buildings in the trees!)

This was not my first visit to the gunpowder mills, and will certainly not be my last. Indeed, if you’re planning to walk through the glen you’re most likely to encounter at least part of the compound – either the factory buildings, waterwheel, or weirs along the river. If you go, I would suggest packing a nice picnic lunch and making a day out of it!

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