You can’t do a blog called ‘Healthy Edinburgh’ and not include a hike up Arthur’s Seat. In case anyone out there doesn’t know what Arthur’s Seat is – it’s an extinct volcano right in the heart of Edinburgh, with the main peak (Arthur’s Seat) sitting at about 250m. The adjacent small peaks and Salisbury’s Crag together make a mini walker’s playground, with infinite possibilities for ascents and descents along worn paths or across the lush greenery.
A few years ago my husband and I made our first attempt at climbing Arthur’s Seat. We thought we could just park at the Holyrood carpark and follow the signs to the top – simple right? Well as soon as we crossed the road we were faced with at least 4 paths going in separate directions – and NO SIGNS!! We really didn’t know which path to take and only ended up on Salisbury Crags; a sloping cliff with amazing views of the city and to the North. Definitely worth the walk but we still couldn’t say we had been on Arthur’s Seat! So Christmas Day 2013 we took advantage of the dry, mild weather and we tried again. This time we scouted about for people who looked like they knew where they were going and stealthily tagged along. It worked!!! It wasn’t the most direct route and was very steep in sections, and involved a somewhat technical scramble over rocks to reach the peak. Huffing and puffing (me) we were so proud to have made it – only to be greeted by hoards of people casually hanging about in street clothes and shoes, sipping tea from a flask – surely they didn’t just hike up a mountain like we did? Later research revealed that there was a ‘short-cut’ which only involved a 15 minute climb!!
I didn’t mind the longer, tougher walk but I was now on a mission to learn about where the different paths lead, for varied walks and for bringing visitors with different walking experience. So when I saw regular, organised, led walks with the Edinburgh Walking and Socialising Group I knew I’d have to go along:
Let’s Go up Arthur’s Seat….
A vigorous walk up and around Edinburgh’s finest extinct volcano.
A reasonable level of fitness is required and you should be prepared for the more challenging routes. You’ll need proper walking shoes as it can be muddy and slippery, as well as a weatherproof jacket.
These walks take place nearly every Wednesday and Sunday but it was a while before I was free on a day of a walk – and when there were spaces available as it does fill up quickly!!
So last Wednesday I secured my spot and eagerly headed to the meeting point at the black information kiosk in the Holyrood car park, counting my blessings that we had such a glorious day for our walk. As we were waiting for all the walkers to arrive – nearly 20 in total – we had a chance to chat and introduce ourselves. Our group was made up of men and women of all ages and experience. Some locals, some new to the city, some even came as far as Falkirk and the Borders and all super friendly! The leader for the Wednesday walks, Chris, lives nearby and started routinely wandering up and all around Arthur’s seat probably for the reason most people climb a mountain: ‘because it’s there’. This definitely helps explain why I consider Edinburgh to be a ‘healthy’ city – not only do we have planned parks, walks and paths but we’re also pretty lucky to have an extinct volcano plus 6 other hills to clamber about!! A perfect blend of design AND nature.
As Chris knows this area so well and does the walks so often, each week he chooses a different route; taking advantage of infinite combination of paths to tailor the walk to suit different abilities and the weather conditions. (Just remember – all routes to the top do require basic fitness and sensible gear.) This week we took a more gentle route as previous rain had left some of the more trodden paths muddy and slippery. We started on the most direct path, but as the gravel path curved to the right we went straight over the grass, marched along and eventually came to a descent that brought us down onto Queen’s Drive, overlooking Duddingston Loch.
At this point if I was on my own I would have thought I went the wrong way (going DOWN on the way UP??) but we followed our leader along the road around to the south-east, enjoying the views and wildlife including a hawk which I missed as I was taking photos of the loch and a pheasant which I thought might be a grouse. When I asked how they knew it was a pheasant, one of the other walkers explained that grouse fed on heather shoots which weren’t abundant enough on Arthur’s Seat. Wow – a walk and a nature lesson – definitely learning my something(s) new for the day!!
As we took a breather and waited for the whole group to join together I looked up and realised that we had come round to that elusive short-cut!!! There was a lay-by for cars and a straight path right to the summit – steep and stepped in places – but still direct. But we didn’t go the direct way. It was a beautiful day, we all felt great and were enjoying each other’s company so we marched up the grass to the top of a smaller summit giving us 360 degree views around Edinburgh and the Forth River and of the summit of Arthur’s seat.
We then went down a small slope leading to a valley between the two summits. At this point, someone named ‘Paul’ declared his love to ‘Megan’…..
Now all that stood between us and the summit was a rock gulley which formed a narrow staircase that we climbed single-file. The first to reach the top made sure the rest made it safely, lending a hand when necessary. The two stone markers were clear indicators that this was the true summit, Arthur’s seat!!
Views like this are a photographers dream (even a novice like me) so I’m going to let the pictures do the talking – but if you want to ‘do the walking’ I highly recommend going with the meetup group…..I know I plan to do it as often as possible and learn even more about all the different routes and landmarks along the way. And of course, for more after walk chatting and socialising at Hemma Bar after – fruity ciders and spicy fries anyone?
To join one of these walks, head over the the Edinburgh Walking and Socialising Group on Meetup, its free and fun!
Others guided walks around Holyrood Park are often available through Historic Scotland