Way back in the 50FootHead Pre-Amble, I said that I wanted my route to pass through Edinburgh because I’d never walked Arthur’s Seat. As it turned out, the famous hill wasn’t close enough to the Union Canal to feature on my LEJoG route. But it was still an essential climb. After I reached Edinburgh, I had a free Saturday set aside. However the weather was so wonderful that I postponed the climb and spent Saturday on Portobello Beach.
Two weeks later, I returned to Edinburgh to re-start the LEJoG walk. The relatively uninspiring canal section was scheduled for Monday 24th – Wednesday 26th August. My parents were enthusiastic about spending the preceding weekend in Edinburgh, so they drove me up on Friday 21st. We arrived mid-afternoon and stayed at the Premier Inn Leith Waterfront. The Friday was intermittently wet and we stayed around Leith and Newhaven. Saturday dawned much brighter, and after a 7:30 breakfast we drove to a free car park near the Palace of Holyrood, at the foot of Arthur’s Seat.
The traffic was horrendous for most of the weekend, largely due to extensive tramworks throughout the city.
The walk: Saturday 22nd August
Map used: OS Explorer 350 (Edinburgh)
Weather: Bright, warm, breezy, cloudy. The afternoon was warmer and sunnier.
[LEJoG progress at the start of this sidetrack: Day 63, Edinburgh]
As with Snowdon in 2019, my stepdad didn’t climb due to an injured foot. We tried to point out that Arthur’s Seat is no Snowdon in terms of height or time taken, but he stood firm. It’s not quite Snowdon in terms of crowds either, but it was much busier than any other walk I’d done since the visit to Llanberis 14 months earlier. We started at 9:50 and were on the summit within 45 minutes. By the time we were on the way down, the main paths were very crowded and it was obvious that social distancing would be impossible on the summit by lunchtime. Not suprising: it was an ideal Saturday morning for walking.
It’s a steady climb, with no really steep sections. The summit is only 250m above sea level and the real reward is the views of Edinburgh, the Pentland Hills, the Forth and Fife. I did appreciate the winding route up though, and the gradual change in the panorama.
First sight of the summit in the middle distance
Remains of St. Anthony’s Chapel, overlooking St. Margaret’s Loch
(visible before rounding the foothills to approach the summit)
Approach to the summit
About halfway up, looking ENE towards Dunsapie Loch and Portobello Beach
(Portobello’s ferris wheel is just visible)
About halfway up, looking north back down the main drag (Mum in foreground; Edinburgh, Port of Leith, Forth, Fife beyond)
There’s a conveniently situated platform about three quarters of the way up, maybe 10 minutes from the summit. This is an ideal place for photographs of Edinburgh, such as the one above. Thus far the path has been very easy underfoot: solid soil and a few stones. However, as you approach the summit you are required to negotiate some awkward rock formations, some of which were still wet after yesterday’s rain. I think this can be done without scrambling, but when you take into account the other climbers, people now descending and the requirements of social distancing, it’s not exactly a triumphant march to the trig point. My mum lost a bit of confidence here and said she didn’t want to go any further, but I found her a route that gave her a bit more soil and fewer rocks to work with.
There were maybe a couple of dozen people at the summit at 10:30 – I guessed this would be closer to a hundred by noon.
Trig point marking tjhe summit of Arthur’s Seat (looking north towards the city)
A couple at the second marker post on top of Arthur’s Seat
Views from the peak follow. Probably not a complete panorama, but I’ll do my best to point out directions and landmarks:
1. South West, over the suburbs towards the Pentland Hills
2. North West, over the city and Firth of Forth (Queensferry Crossing visible centre left)
3. North, over Holyrood and the city, towards Port of Leith and Fife
4. South East, over some of the less heavily built up suburbs, towards Dalkeith
5. East, towards Portobello and Musselburgh
6. North West as per 2 above, zooming in on Queensferry Crossing
We descended via the grassy slope to the east, avoiding the crowds on their way up the main route from Holyrood as far as possible. Still had to tackle the rocks though, as our first attempt to reach the grass was aborted upon reaching a gully with a drop much higher than I’d anticipated (probably over 7 feet). Rejoined the main route much further down and were back at the car just after 11am.
This is probably the easiest walk covered on my website, and recommended to walkers of any ability. It won’t seem outstanding to me set against the Lake District Wainwrights and my future ambitions of Olympus and Kilimanjaro, but in this strangest of years you learn to appreciate even the smaller pleasures. Summer 2020 was the ideal time to discover Arthur’s Seat and to take in those glorious views of Edinburgh and its surroundings. And to be grateful for my walking companion.
The rest of the weekend
The three of us walked the Royal Mile to Edinburgh Castle, had an ice cream, drink and sandwich and then drove to Portobello Beach. My mum was keen to see it because my grandad had told her he used to swim there as a little boy. Sadly his swim centre was disused and boarded up, but she took a number of pictures anyway. The sun was not as hot as on 8th August, and there were more clouds. Still a lovely afternoon though.
Edinburgh Castle, Saturday afternoon
St. Margaret’s Chapel, Saturday afternoon
Unfortunately it rained for most of Sunday. We visited Glasgow and boarded a city sightseeing tour bus. Social distancing and the understandable reluctance of anyone to sit in the open top section meant that places were very restricted. Stayed on for the full 90 minutes. After a meal, we returned to Edinburgh, taking a detour over the Queensferry Crossing to see the three bridges over the Firth of Forth.
In many ways this was a really ordinary weekend. But I am very fortunate to have a healthy family, and in the year of COVID-19 I can write this knowing that, in times to come, I will look back on this brief family holiday with immense fondness.
And that’s why I wanted to choose the picture below as the header image. These days I’m not that keen on being photographed. But I loved this picture the moment I saw it. Sadly, my WordPress theme cut off the bottom of the picture, so you wouldn’t see my mum’s face when clicking on the page. So here it is, presented as it was meant to be:
My mother and me, at the summit of Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh, 22 August 2020
Header picture (taken 22 August 2020, by my mother) shows me at the summit of Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh.