Me thinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.
-Henry David Thoreau
There’s nothing like a long walk to clear your head and yet, simultaneously, stimulate the senses.
I think one of my favourite memories from our three-week long post-grad trip was our hike up Arthur’s Seat in Holyrood Park.
Despite the thinness of our hostel “walls”, Kristen and I managed to wake up completely rested on our first full day in Edinburgh. We eased our way through the morning and eventually meandered out into the bright sunshine. Though we had planned to head straight for our hill-walk, our never-quite-satisfied appetites had other plans.
Striding down the hill from our hostel to the downtown core, we spotted a pub that looked like a good place to stop for a bite – and boy was it ever! Having thought only of some toast and maybe some eggs, we changed our minds immediately after glancing at the menu: A Full Scottish Breakfast?! Yes Please. (NB: I am a sucker for any breakfast item which starts with the word ‘Full’ as this usually translates to ‘You Will Never Ever Make This Meal at Home’ no matter how ambitious your kitchen plans are)
After tucking in enthusiastically to our meals, and pretending to be classy as we were chowing down at the very base of Edinburgh castle, Kristen and I hiked up our bags and set off for our goal: a grand ol’ hike to the peak of Arthur’s Seat.
The stroll through the town was lovely but passed in a blur of cobblestone streets and intricately ornate old houses set to the inane tune of insane motorists and the occasional bike bell. When we finally left the bustle of the city and passed through a sea of overhanging branches to enter Holyrood park, I couldn’t help but breathe in a deep whiff of the cool air – it was filled with the nutty fragrance of gorse and immediately set my entire being at ease. There’s nothing quite like the air of the British Isles, there really isn’t.
Not wanting to wait another second (OK, OK, we stopped briefly to document our first steps onto the hiking path) we hastened towards our trail, skirting hyperactive children and their accompanying dogs as we made our way towards the first set of stairs.
A word of advice here: If you’re going to attempt the hike up Arthur’s Seat, do yourself a favour and check the forecast before you head out. As it was sunny when we left the hostel, we figured we’d be fine, but it started raining a decent amount the very moment we started our climb.
Now, the thing about climbing this particular summit is that though it is a fairly easy climb – rain makes it devilishly hard to conquer. This is mainly due to the fact that most of the first steps are cut out of the very stone itself and they become treacherously slick when wet. Considering we were walking through sporadic bursts of downpour, there was next to no grip left on them by the time we had reached the second flight. I’ll admit I slowed down to a painfully tortoise-like pace myself, more to ensure I wasn’t to slip and tumble right back down the way I came, than anything else.
When I finally made it to the top of the steps, Kristen (bless her) was waiting patiently for me. As a perpetually injured child who ran before she could stand up straight, she is naturally much braver than I am or ever will be. We set off on the next leg together, this one being infinitely easier than the last. It helped that the rain had stopped by this point!
Having scraped and clambered my way up there – I thought I was in the clear once I finally reached what I believed to be the summit. Upon launching myself onto the surprisingly flat grassy plain, however, I was surprised by two things: One, the wind had moments so violent I was not entirely sure I would be allowed to keep my rather-long hair fastened to my head. Two, we had not yet reached the top. We stood for a moment or two and gazed up at the final frontier, so to speak. Oh, and we took a million pictures while we caught our breath.
Useless Historical Fact #7
Arthur’s Seat is actually at the peak of a dormant volcano – a place of natural power. 2000 years ago, the Votadini (the most likely group) recognized this as a place of power and christened it with one of their remarkable hill forts. As you round the end of the steps and reach the grassy plain, you can see the remnants of this ancient fort in the man-made stone formations sitting comfortably on the peak nearby. First the site of the raw and destructive power of nature, next a defensive center and sign of military might and now? It’s one of the most popular spots in the city for romantic marriage proposals. Ain’t life funny.
I’m cheating a little here but here’s another interesting story associated with Arthur’s Peak, because I just can’t resist. In 1836, a group of boys chasing after rabbits came across 17 miniature coffins containing small, oddly-shaped wooden figures, in amongst the crags of the peak. Initially, the highly superstitious Victorians, always eager for a gruesome or magical tale, assumed these mysterious coffins had something to do with local witchcraft. A later, and more probable, conclusion (thought sufficiently gory for Victorian taste) was that they had to do with the infamous Burke and Hare murders of 1828. If you’re into true crime, check it out. It’s Stephen King-worthy.
For all its mysteries, and history, however — my favourite moment after finally reaching the summit, was sitting down on the very edge and taking in the extraordinary scenery. It honestly left me awestruck and, had the climb not taken the wind right out of me, I may have suggested heading back up there the next day as well.
As we finally headed down the winding path from the top o’ the hill, I glanced back at the rocky crag and for a moment I could have sworn I could envision the sprawling castle of Camelot which is rumored to have been located among the hills and vales of Holyrood Park (hence the name ‘Arthur’s Seat’).
So much more to explore and yet here was another place I was eager to get to know better. But on we went.
Thoreau was right – when one’s legs begin to move, the thoughts do indeed flow.