Scotland’s Edinburgh is a city of disbelief. Incredible works provide the structure upon which everyday life occurs. There is a castle upon a hill and streets upon streets. There is an old town and a new town, both feeling like they’ve been locked in amber, both many centuries old. There are visible histories, hidden histories, and certainly forgotten histories down in the closes that tumble to where the old lochs used to be.
Above it all, however, are the views. Edinburgh is a city of vision. I have been along the wind-swept battlements of Edinburgh Castle and marveled at the city. I’ve been up to the precarious peak of the Sir Walter Scott Monument and noticed what, alarmingly, felt like swaying. I’ve been to the high mound of Calton Hill with its Grecian-esque folly. But trip after trip after trip I missed what is arguably Edinburgh’s greatest view: Arthur’s Seat.
Perhaps Edinburgh’s most unique feature (and that’s saying something) is the extinct volcano called Arthur’s Seat. It sits amongst the city in the east and towers above everything at 251m in height (it’s classified as a Marilyn, part of Scotland’s interesting hill classification system that also includes Munros). Adjoining Arthur’s Seat are the Salisbury Crags, a series of canted sedimentary rock plateaus. Between the two, they are the parents of modern Geology as it was here that James Hutton developed his ideas.
Finally, on my fourth trip to Edinburgh, I seized a sunny day and decided to make the climb to the top of Arthur’s Seat.
You can begin climbing Arthur’s Seat from any direction: from the north near Holyrood Palace, from the west just off Dalkeith Road, from the south at Duddingston, or from the east and Dunsapie Loch. Ascent from the east is easiest as the incline is gentle grassland. However, I didn’t know this and I approached from the west. Everything turned out alright, though I did have to pull some moves I learned from Bear Grylls.
A wide grassy park leads toward Arthur’s Seat where I found a set of steps hewn into the earth. I followed this up, huffing and puffing in the brisk wind, and noticed other paths winding their way up both Arthur’s Seat and the nearby Salisbury Crags. I didn’t concern myself with being on the “right” path; I figured if I just kept going up I’d make it to the top. Not bad for a college graduate, right? Unfortunately, the steps I’d been climbing petered out and I was left facing an inclined patch of scree. Cue Man vs. Wild, but before I attempted this more adventurous leg I turned around for the view.
Even before reaching the pinnacle of Arthur’s Seat, I was able to see the Forth Road Bridge leading to the Kingdom of Fife and the southern edge of the Highlands in the distance. I scrambled up the red dirt and rock scree and imitated some fancy climbing techniques to haul myself up to the top. A fairly broad, flat, grassy top spread out before me, but I could see a slightly higher hillock further along. The wind whipped ferociously, bodily moving me along my course.
At the very top others milled about in their winter gear buffeted by the wind. It was seriously cold. The 360° views of Edinburgh, the Firth of Forth, and the Pentland Hills were incredible. How had I failed to do this on previous trips?
After filling my camera’s memory card to bursting, I eventually descended from the summit down the southeast slope. It’s true: much easier. The landscape is quite different on the other side of Arthur’s Seat and well worth a look. I tromped down into Duddingston where I enjoyed a celebratory pint at the 700-year old Sheep Heid Inn.
Don’t make the same mistake I did and delay a hike up Arthur’s Seat – this is a first-trip-to-Edinburgh activity. It’s a moderately strenuous hike, but if you ascend from the east most anyone without knee problems should be able to do it. Just make sure your camera battery is fully charged.