It’s been a busy Thursday for me, so I’m cheating a bit with this week’s Travel Pic. Instead of the usual couple of photos and quick facts from my travels, I’ve copied a full post from a now-retired travel blog of mine. So, strap on your hiking boots and let’s climb up Arthur’s Seat (wait, that sounded a bit dirty, didn’t it?).
Arthur’s Seat: Edinburgh, Scotland (originally posted June 2014)
All my trips to Europe involve what seems like endless walking along city streets and all that pavement pounding can get tiring on the legs and feet. So it’s always nice to trade in the concrete for hiking trails and even better when those hiking trails are near where I’m staying. And in Edinburgh, Scotland, Arthur’s Seat wasn’t too far from my front door.
About Arthur’s Seat
As with Castle Rock, Arthur’s Seat is another of Edinburgh’s extinct volcanoes. At 260 meters (about 850 feet) high, it’s twice as tall as Castle Rock (which measures in at a mere 130 meters above sea level), it just happens to not have a big castle plopped on top of it so it gets less notice from tourists.
As far as where the name came from, well, it seems to be anybody’s guess. Of course, it can easily be said to have come from the legends of King Arthur, but King Arthur was more of a southern/western England kind of bloke, but still, the legends got around and everyone wanted their city put in as the possible location of Camelot (cue Monty Python music).
Another theory claims the name derived from a mash up of the Gaelic phrase Ard-na-Said (“Height of Arrows” or “Archer’s Seat”), or even Ard-thir-Suidhe (“Place on High Ground”). Basically, no one’s completely certain, so go ahead and make up your own story if you like.
There’s not a clear history of people dwelling on Arthur’s Seat – after all, it’s quite steep in places, not the best place to set up a homestead. Still, there are remains of hill forts thought to date from around 600 AD (about the time when people were also making hill forts on Castle Rock).
Moving up 1200 years, you come to the creepy story of a boy who, while playing on the hill, found 17 tiny coffins. No one knows why the coffins were put on the hill or what they mean. As with the name of the hill, it’s a toss up of theories. Some say the coffins are part of a witchcraft ritual, others say they relate to the serial murderers Burke and Hart. Either way, you can see the coffins at Edinburgh’s Museum (which we’ll visit next week).
Connection to Holyrood
Arthur’s Seat is located next to Holyrood Palace. Why was the palace built there? Legend has it that King David I of Scotland fell from his horse near the Seat one day while hunting stag. The stag was ready to take his revenge on the hunter and trotted over to give him a taste of antler. At the critical moment, King David saw a cross between the stag’s antlers and the deer ran away. (No one is certain how hard David hit his head). The king, feeling he owed God a thank you note, built Holyrood Abbey (rood means cross, so Holy Cross Abbey) on the spot.
All this happened back when monarchs still resided in Edinburgh Castle. Not wanting to trudge back up the Royal Mile after a hard day of praying, they would stay in the guest house adjacent to the Abbey. Well, this just won’t do when you’re trying to impress other monarchs and fancy pants types, so James IV had a palace built in the 15th century.
Finding Your Seat
As mentioned, Arthur’s Seat is near Holyrood Palace in Holyrood Park. Once you reach the end of the Royal Mile, turn right toward the big hill and pick any of a number of trails to scramble up and along the Seat. The paths are well maintained, but the hill does have some steep slopes making for some gut-gurgling views as you walk along (I would suggest blinders if you happen to have any in your luggage).
Most paths themselves aren’t terribly steep (except for very short stretches), but to get all the way to the top, you will have to clamber over loose stones (and a few tourists). This climb up can be a bit scary and, to be honest, you don’t see a great deal more than you would see from 10 feet lower, so if you don’t want to risk a twisted ankle, don’t feel too bad about skipping this bit.
Whether from the top or from 10 feet below the top you can see Edinburgh Castle, take in terrific views of the city, and (on very clear days) see all the way to the sea and the Forth Bridges.
For a bit more on Arthur’s Seat and Holyrood Park, check out these links:
While You’re Near the Seat
Yes, you could pay a bundle to go to Holyrood Palace or you can save your money and stop in at Scottish Parliament building that is also located at this end of the Royal Mile. Built in 2004, the architecture isn’t exactly beautiful, but it is quite interesting and said to very eco-friendly. It sort of grows on you the more you wander around it.
Visitors are welcome inside the building (lovely interior!) and after a quick zip through security, you can pass through the displays that tell about the history of the Scottish Parliament (in both English and Gaelic), which only was allowed to start up again in 1997. If you like, you can sit in on a session or you can just hit the gift shop (which has some very tasty jam, by the way!).