“A hill for magnitude, a mountain in virtue of its bold design.” – Robert Louis Stevenson
When you’ve walked all the way down the Royal Mile you reach Holyrood Park, a 640 acre park adjacent to Holyrood Palace. That’s one of the things I love the most about Edinburgh: you can go from immersing yourself in centuries of history to enjoying nature in a matter of minutes. You could spend more than one afternoon exploring the beauty of the park; I’ve been there multiple times and still find something new each time I go. What make Holyrood Park so special is that a group of hills lies within its borders, the most famous being Arthur’s Seat.
There are plenty of cities that are known for a distinguishing landmark. New York and the Statue of Liberty. London has Big Ben. You can’t think of Paris without the Eiffel Tower. Sydney with their Opera House. I would argue that while Edinburgh clearly has a well-known landmark in the Edinburgh Castle, the first thing I think about when I think of the city is Arthur’s Seat. The hill that adds a new dimension to the city skyline and makes Edinburgh feel a little more wild.
But first, let me explain myself a little bit. Why do I wax poetic about this hill? When we first moved to Seattle, I became obsessed with nature. We went hiking and camping almost every weekend. It’s not that we didn’t have nature back in Pennsylvania, it was just so much more dramatic on the west coast. So when we decided to go to Hawai’i last year, one of the things I was most excited for was seeing an active volcano. We had been living in the shadow of Mt. Rainier for a year and although dormant, there’s still a chance for “The Big One”. I knew people who had emergency kits and a mapped escape route. But in my mind it was so far from happening that I refused to believe in the hype. So I was pumped to see some flowing lava from Kilauea. As you’ll learn later this week I never actually saw any lava, but it was still pretty awesome to be so close to an active volcano.
Like the rock Edinburgh Castle sits on, Arthur’s Seat was also at one point an active volcano. Extinct now, the hill rises above the city at 251 meters (823 feet). It is thought to be about 350 millions years old, as it dates from the Carboniferous age. It was eroded by a glacier, which left behind what we now see. If you look at it knowing it once used to be a volcano, you can kind of see what it used to look like.
Some say that Arthur’s Seat got it’s name from the legendary King Arthur. There are many peaks, both hills and mountains, in Britain that bear similar names; Ben Arthur in the western highlands and Arthur’s Chair in the Cumbrian lake district among them. However others believe it came about due to human error. You see, the Gaelic name for the volcano Àrd-na-Said means “Height of Arrows”, which gave us the name Archer’s Seat. Over time the name was eventually changed to Arthur’s Seat. However the name came about, it’s hard to picture the skyline of Edinburgh without this gorgeous landscape towering behind it.
There are multiple ways to get to the top, some easier than others. We decided to take the first route we came to, up flights and flights of stairs across a valley from the back of the Salisbury Crags. We later came down one of the ‘easier’ routes and had to laugh about it. We enjoyed the challenge of the steps and felt like we really did earn the views. Once you get to the top hold on as it gets quite windy!
On our way back out of the park we passed St. Anthony’s Chapel, which is the ruin of a 15th century medieval chapel. All that remains are parts of the north wall as well as a bit of another building lying to the south west; the design of the building was thought to have been as tall as it was long, which provided a religious beacon for people for miles around. Unfortunately we didn’t make the trip up to the ruins this trip because we ran out of time.
With how easily accessible Arthur’s Seat is, I’m positive we will be going back time and time again. Climbing the hill can be challenging at some points, especially if you take the stairs route, but it is also such a rewarding experience. Thanks for letting me share this experience with you!