Hiking Arthur’s Seat (and almost getting blown off)

I almost got blown off an extinct volcano the other day.

Really though.

But I wouldn’t trade Edinburgh’s plentiful natural scene for anything – even a sense of stability while hiking through enormous gusts of wind.

When I was twelve and planning on moving to Edinburgh (lofty dreams, I know), I wrote in my journal about being able to see modern shops, a castle, and an extinct volcano all at once.  And all I could do was marvel, wide-eyed and in love.  Now, ten years later, I still feel like a wide-eyed young girl in love with something I don’t quite understand.  In love with a place defying the rules of a normal city – a place that’s unbearably, beautifully unique.

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For a city to have plentiful nature surrounding the busy streets makes me happier than I can say.  While living in Paris, I realized how much I need to live among nature.  Paris does have its share of parks, and when I reflect on my time there with pretty rosy glasses, everything appears sun-drenched and idyllic.  Honestly though, I did find the overall absence of nature rather startling, particularly when I first arrived.  Even the parks, although relaxing, retained a cultivated aesthetic I couldn’t lose myself in.

And that’s what I need.

Nature where I can lose myself.

Nature untempered by our overhanded involvement – forest glens and rocky alcoves – snowfalls that silence the pine trees, and cast the world in soft silvers.

Rarely do cities offer such magical escapes; lifestyle is generally regulated to a more metropolitan cityscape, towns, or the countryside.  Finding all three in once place?  That’s Edinburgh for you.

Beyond the crooked cobblestone streets, beyond the ancient alleyways tucked alongside the Royal Mile, it’s Edinburgh’s diversity that enamors me over and over again.  Edinburgh allows for the few bustling city streets to flow gently into the quieter neighborhoods, creating a town-like city, all under the shadow of Edinburgh Castle and Arthur’s Seat – the crowning pillars of the city nestled high above the lights and noise, atop grassy, rocky, softly rounded extinct volcanoes.

Arthur's Seat

It’s astonishing.

As Robert Louis Stevenson once said, Arthur’s Seat is “a hill for magnitude, a mountain in virtue of its bold design.”

Seeing Arthur’s Seat from afar – simply knowing it’s nearby – doesn’t offer quite the same experience as actually hiking through Holyrood Park for yourself.  Because only there, in the grassy footsteps of the large hill, does the man-made world dissolve into the natural one.  The hike takes less time than you’d expect, though the climb is relatively steep, and the February winds can leave you raw.

Every time I go hiking, I’m overwhelmed by the vague sensation that at some point, the wind will simply blow me off the mountain.  Although I consider myself fairly in shape, if anything can remind me of my sheer lack of density, it’s hiking a mountain.

Guys.  Arthur’s Seat isn’t even that high.  I hope you understand how embarrassing this is.  With nothing to shield you from the fierce winds, the likelihood of simply lifting straight up into the air feels all too real.  But hiking Arthur’s Seat is all worth it when you reach the topmost point, where, according to legend, King Arthur may have once reigned over the perfectly imperfect city of Camelot.

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Whether or not the Excalibur-wielding king and his bride Guinevere did gallop across this ancient space is irrelevant, for it’s the illusion, and the sense that once upon a time, Camelot could have existed in such a place, that matters.  It’s a place home to thousands of years gone by, impervious to its visitors, standing solid and welcoming in the wind – home to the most beautiful spot in the city to look out at the glimmering North Sea.

north sea

Rather than returning the way I came, I hiked down the other side of the hill, towards Duddingston Loch.  The lake is nestled at the seat of the hill along Queen’s Drive, and is protected from the sheering gales above.  The swan-filled peaceful water allows you the perfect moment to pause and simply breathe.

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Just beware nearby couples nestled in the tall grass – they can be hidden from view, and if you’re not careful, you may almost step on them.

Seriously.

After, you could explore Duddingston Village, home to the Sheep Heid Inn, the “oldest pub in Scotland.”

Countless pubs scatter this green rugged country, and at least 100 claim to be “the oldest” establishment.  Is the inn I visited is actually the oldest?  Highly debatable.  I can confirm, however, that the Inn is quite old, and used to serve as a stopping point for both Mary Queen of Scots and later, her son, James VI.

After hiking Arthur’s Seat, stopping in a pub and soaking in the atmosphere by yourself could be the best way to unwind.  And trust me, once you go out alone enough, you realize nobody actually cares you’re by yourself, and it can be quite lovely to simply sit and people watch.

Duddingston Village

sheep heid inn

I love places where time ceases to matter.  Or rather, it matters so much, the place embodies the times of many centuries colliding in one present moment. They’re the places where crumbled walls, crooked streets, or grassy, untouched meadows reveal flickers of the past, blended with the present, creating some beautiful imperfect chasm of time.

Arthur’s Seat reminded me of this feeling.  And nothing will ever quite compare to it.

Despite the worn steps and nearby hikers, Holyrood Park still feels uncultivated  – beautiful in its ability to disregard the comings and goings of people.  It’s nature to get lost in, just above the lively city streets of Edinburgh.

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