“Is this the way to Arthur’s Seat?” is a question I’m asked more and more on my rambles around the Holyrood area. Since my job moved to Edinburgh I’ve found myself spending my breaks doing circuits around Holyrood Park, a far cry from jogging round Possil…
When I first came through to Edinburgh my circuit of choice was to run from Waverley to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, and up over Salisbury Crags, before dropping onto Queen’s Drive and returning to Waverley. I found that reversing this route was easier on the knees. Not that easy however as at was not long after this that my knee pain became such that it ended my running altogether and reduced my hillwalking to virtually zero.
Over the last three years or so I have managed to walk many of the paths leading up, over or round Arthur’s Seat, so my response to being asked if this is the path is more along the lines of “Yes, or to be more precise, it’s one of them…”
I can do an ascent of Arthur’s Seat at a fast walk, from Waverley Station and back, in around an hour, but if you are visiting the area I’d recommend slowing it down a little and taking a few hours to enjoy it. One of things I usually ask anyone looking to climb Arthur’s Seat is how long they have to spare and how adventurous they are. To get the most out of it I recommend climbing both Salisbury Crags and Arthur’s Seat, gaining great views of one from the other, as well as the city and beyond.
This walk starts at the car park at Holyrood Palace and can be done in either direction, being circular in nature, but I’d recommend starting with Arthur’s Seat first, allowing you to gain views over the city from Salisbury Crags.
Crossing over the pedestrian crossing, the path heads left and you should take the right hand fork leading uphill. This main path carries on through between these two features and leads ultimately to Queens Drive and the start of the most popular route up, the staggered steps of the “tourist route”. After only a few hundred yards a minor path veers off from the main path, towards the prominent ruins of St Anthony’s Chapel, and it’s this path that we now take. You can detour up to the ruins or follow one of two prominent paths which run up hill on either side of a craggy spur (the Long Row); either way will lead to the same point. You may notice some smaller paths leading off into the gorse, and if you are brave enough (and not wearing an expensive shell jacket) then these can make interesting alternate routes.
Both paths meet at the top of the spur (I’ve seen owls here on more than one occasion) before ascending for a short section where the path becomes steeper and the final ascent is made up a well worn, rocky path. For those who enjoy the “hands on” approach, you can deviate from the footpath and ascend a small gully which rejoins the path just below the summit.
The summit itself is a rocky jumble, polished smooth in parts from the hands and feet which have clambered here over the centuries. It is crowned with a trig point at its highest point, and a few metres away a pillar topped with a view indicator panel, Ben Lomond being one of the hills visible from here. It’s an ever changing vista here, the Queensferry Crossing being the most notable change currently taking place.
There are many routes down from the summit, but it should be noted that a descent via the west side should be avoided. The southern descent is steep, exposed and rocky, while the eastern descent is polished and slippy. Arthur’s Seat is often described as having the profile of a lion, the summit being the head. The shoulders and back are part of Nether Hill. Many people try to descend a very steep route from here which I call The Chimney on account of having witnessed two women in Santa costumes trying to go down it. As an ascent route it’s a great scramble, and can see you make an ascent in little over ten minutes; as a descent it’s not recommended, I’ve witnessed many groups clinging on as they head down here and it appears an uncomfortable experience. Instead head over Nether Hill and pick up the main tourist route which twists its way down a well defined series of steps to a meeting of the ways: the path which we left near the start arrives here, another path disappears through the trees and skirts round the western slope of Arthur’s Seat, while our route ascends up the rim of Salisbury Crags. The crags, like Arthur’s Seat and Castle Hill were formed through volcanic activity and shaped by glacial activity, and they form an airy and impressive backdrop to the city below.
As you traverse the exposed edge of the crags you can see below you the Radical Road, constructed in the wake of the failed 1820 uprising as a means of providing employment (and therefore income) to Weavers and other “radicals” who had rose up in protest at poor pay and working conditions and who saw an independent Scotland as the means to achieving this. With the ringleaders rounded up and executed or exiled the construction of a road was proposed to provide employment and take the workers minds off rebellion. Some things never change…
The view from the crags is stunning, from Ben Lomond and the Forth Bridges, across Fife, with East and West Lomond and Largo Law too, not to forget the city below; the Castle, Calton Hill and the Parliament being particularly prominent. If the view from the crags is stunning, the view of them is just as breathtaking, and they feature prominently in the movie T2: Trainspotting, which I’m sure will lead to even more visitors over the coming years.
The path along the crags is well worn and prominent and it soon drops down to the main path and the short walk back to Holyrood Palace. Around two hours should cover this walk. While I’ve seen folk going up this hill in everything from flip-flops to high heels I’d recommend wearing footwear with a decent grip, as it can get slippy on wet days, as my rear end will testify…