Friday, August 21, 2015

On Arthur's Seat

Panorama from the top
Tastes change. Nothing reiterated that more for me than our recent trip to the United Kingdom. I used to love visiting cities while on vacation but now I'm all about getting away from the masses of buildings, stores selling items no one really needs, crowds and everything that goes along with them. Because of this Scotland was the perfect vacation for us. We spent time exploring small towns, exploring castles and wandering through lush glens with sheep as our only companions. But because we found ourselves so close to the Scottish capital of Edinburgh, we figured we needed to spend at least a day there and so we did. The city itself was crowded, bustling and a bit rainy. We joined the hoards in roaming the streets and taking in the sites. It was pretty but that was about it. But for us, the real treasure of the city is nearby Arthur's Seat in Holyrood Park.

One of my favorite things about Europe is their dedication to green space and Holyrood Park is yet another example of this. Just a few hundred meters from the city center sits this expansive green
The ruins of St Anthony's Chapel
space that is dedicated to outdoor pursuits. The mountain was formed by an extinct volcano approximately 350 million years ago with the highest crag itself being created two million years ago by a slow moving glacier.  Legend says the peak got its name from King Arthur and was perhaps the location of Camelot. The remains of a hill fort, a fortified earthen defense and a ruins of Saint Anthony's Chapel sit on the slope leading up to the peak. Both date to the 15th century when the are that is now the park was part of Holyrood Abbey land. The last chaplain to preside over the chapel departed in 1581 for unknown reasons. More recent history tells of 17 coffins being found in 1836. At the time they were thought to be a part of a witchcraft ritual but the more modern thinking links them to the serial murders William Burke and William Hale who killed 16 women and sold their bodies to a prominent physician for anatomy research in 1828. Arthur's Seat also holds significant for the Church of Later Day Saints as it was here that the apostle Orson Pratt prayed to god for more converts in 1850.

Today the peak and green space surrounding it tranquil. The 822 foot peak can be reached via a variety of paths so you can literally reach the top from any direction. We visited on a cool and cloudy day yet were joined by people of all ages and physical abilities winding their ways to the summit. Because there are so many paths to choose from, we took the one that looked the most traveled on the way up. It was impressive to look up and see the peak soaring above the city and the views of the land below grew more awe inspiring with each stop. Although we didn't spot any, evidence of sheep was everywhere (this is Scotland after all). We could see trail runners transversing the ridge above us and passed families with small children scrambling up the rocks.

There is always something a tad bit disappointing about reaching a peak and encountering other people. There weren't a lot as the high winds made lingering too long rather unpleasant. But the view from the top was amazing to take in. With a three hundred and sixty degree view you could look down into the center of Edinburgh and out past the shore were ships bobbed in the bay. Looking in the other direction you could see the suburban sprawl and farther away the rolling green hills that I had come to associate with Scottish countryside. Even with the low hanging clouds it was amazing. And from here we spotted the ruins of St Anthony's Chapel and made the decision make our return route pass through them. This route took us along the ridge and gave us an unparalleled view of the Edinburgh Castle anchoring the far end of the city. Just when I thought the view couldn't get any better, it did. The slippery slide down to the chapel (wet grass does not make for easy maneuvering) had us walking through fields filled with wildflowers and blueberry bushes. The ruins were small but once again reminded me just how old this area is and how much history has taken place here. Again, its is awe inspiring.

Our trek up to Arthur's Seat was definitely my favorite part of our time in Edinburgh. Regardless of the weather, or your level of physical fitness (because as the number of prams we saw at the summit attests to, there is a trail for everyone), a visit to Arthur's Seat is a must for every Edinburgh agenda. It will provide you with a perspective of the city that you simply can't find any where else.

At the very windy summit

If you go:
Arthur's Seat at Holyrood Park
Queen's Drive
Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Parking nearby

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