In a week’s time I’ll be halfway through my 2017 trip to Edinburgh and Tom wants to go up Arthur’s Seat so let’s go back to my 2015 climb.
Right in the heart of Edinburgh is a volcano. It’s an extinct volcano and it manifests itself in two places – Castle Rock and Arthur’s Seat. Castle Rock is the eroded remains of a smaller vent and it has Edinburgh’s famous castle plonked on top of it and a city sprawling all around it.
Arthur’s Seat, on the other hand, is part of Holyrood Park (to paraphrase the commentary on the tour bus “it’s three quarters of the size of Central Park in New York – but as you can see, it’s taller.”). It rises up over the city to 250 metres, it’s green and wild and surrounded by hills and cliffs. As geological features go, Arthur’s Seat is much more interesting than Castle Rock. It’s a popular walk with tourists and locals alike. When I went to Edinburgh in 2013, it was for two weekends, during neither of which I had time to walk up there but since I was there for a week this year, I decided I absolutely had to do it.
The park is criss-crossed with paths. The quickest and easiest path up is from Dunsapie Loch but if you’re on foot and heading from the Royal Mile, you’ve got to walk all the way around the park and it seemed just as easy to go up the Dasses or the Dry Dam (I’m actually not sure which route I used) from the Holyrood car park. I daresay it’s not the most interesting or challenging of the routes but I was after merely crossing it off. I intend to be back in Edinburgh at least a few times in years to come, so I’ll try other routes in the future.
It starts off easy enough, walking along a tarmac path which doesn’t so much stop as just fade away. There are no signposts so it took me a few dozen yards to realise I’d passed the turning for the Summit Path and was walking along the Volunteer’s Walk, in totally the wrong direction.
The weather had no idea what it was doing. It was breezy and it kept trying to rain and then suddenly, about halfway up, it suddenly turned really hot and sunny. Deciding what layers I needed to wear and what I needed to carry was something that changed about every two hundred yards.
It’s slow and steady for the first two thirds of the way, just plodding along uphill and then you climb relatively steeply up to where the Summit Path meets the path up from Dunsapie Loch. It’s not quite a scramble in places but it’s getting there and you definitely want to be in half-decent boots. I saw far too many people in flip-flops and flimsy little “dolly shoes”, as an ex-colleague of mine called them. Just at that point, the weather really turned. Suddenly it went cold and wet and windy and for a moment, I considered abandoning the mountain. But I was now right underneath the summit and who knows how long it’ll be before I’m next in Edinburgh. I pushed on.
There’s a path with a chain fence leading most of the way from there to the summit – a chain under admirable tension, actually. I don’t recommend using someone else’s chain or rope to haul yourself up but this one felt good and secure. But once you’re past the chain and the path, you just have to pick your own route across the rocks and up the side to stand triumphant on the top.
Or to stand hunched up and trying not to get blown away. I have never ever experienced wind as strong as it was up there that day. The sort of wind where you can get blown over sitting down. The sort of wind that makes it really awkward if you’ve picked the wrong route and have to climb up the side using your hands as well as your feet. The sort of wind that disrupts your balance and makes you stumble awkwardly over the uneven rock, even though you’re being as elegant and goat-footed as you possibly can.
But I was there! I queued for my picture next to the trig point. I spent as long as I could appreciating the view that I’d climbed so far for. It’s a good view. There’s a perfect lone conical mountain – a volcano! – somewhere to the northish east (Google refuses to tell me what it is – please help!) and the sea to the north and then Edinburgh spread out below you. As I was about to start my descent, a couple came up from one of the southern routes and the man had bagpipes with him. We’d heard him playing on the meadow below but now he was at the top, carrying these unwieldy things and he proceeded to stand at the trig point and play them for about ten minutes without stopping, apparently unaffected by gale force winds. For a few minutes it’s amazing – live bagpipes right there on Arthur’s Seat and then you start to feel like he’s milking it and it’s someone else’s turn and will you put those things away!
The internet had said it takes about an hour to climb Arthur’s Seat, two if you’re walking slowly. I’m a slow climber. I knew I’d be in the two hour bracket, so I was astonished to be at the top in less than three quarters of an hour and to be halfway up the Royal Mile, having stopped for food and in just about every shop along the way by the two hour mark. I was hoping to find something like a badge “I’ve climbed Arthur’s Seat” or something like that for my camp blanket. They don’t seem to exist but I checked every tourist shop along the way.
So there we go. I’d put it off for almost the whole week because I thought it would be too hard and it wasn’t too hard at all.