Hiking Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh
“A hill for magnitude, a mountain in virtue of its bold design.”
~ Robert Louis Stevenson describing Arthur’s Seat
I was drawn back to Edinburgh for many reasons; for its wealth of history, its memorable writers and the beast of a hill that dominates over the city – Arthur’s Seat. Why? For me it was about so much more than the physical hike to its peak, it was about exploring the mysteries that linger in the mist that shrouds it. With its name perhaps derived from the legendary King Arthur and a possible location for Camelot, Arthur’s Seat has had its fair share of strangeness. Like the 17 miniature coffins that were uncovered there in 1836 and the link to King Arthur and his men.
Within Holyrood Park’s 650 acres lies the highest point in Edinburgh, Arthur’s Seat is one of the seven hills of Edinburgh and was formed by an extinct volcano. At over 800′ (250 metres), Arthur’s Seat offers fantastic 360 degree views of Edinburgh and Leith and on a clear day beyond. But my first glimpse of it was from Carlton Hill and there it crouched in front of me, just beyond Salisbury Crags, and all I could think of was Scotland’s very own Sir Walter Scott’s words, “Arthur’s Seat, like a couchant lion of immense size.”
On a tour bus the day before I planned to hike Arthur’s Seat I learned of the Radical Road that takes you through the awesome cliffs of Salisbury Crags. Once I heard the trail was linked to Walter Scott, the famed Scottish writer and his band of unemployed weavers who in 1820 he commissioned to help create the trail we now see today, I knew that’s where my hike would start.
Hiking Arthur’s Seat
So, on a beautiful clear day where the sky was that beautiful shade of vibrant blue that only show themselves on a warm summer day I headed to Holyrood Park and as I approached the trail head of the Radical Road I paused to look up at this epic formation before me and wondered where my trail would lead, would I stumble upon a forgotten miniature coffin, perhaps I’d see the ghosts of Arthur’s men of the round table, wherever it would lead me I was ready and excited.
I set out up the Radical Road, and by up I mean on a 45 degree angle up the steep hill, but after 2 months of walking 6 to 12 hours a day my legs were strong and ready. When I reached the top where the trail leveled out I was met by the astounding cliffs of Salisbury Crags that stretched out and up before me, making me feel so small as I craned my head up to see their height. As I made my way around them I couldn’t help but stop occasionally to pause and look out at the great views it offered of Edinburgh, to stop and smell the pretty flowers growing out of the cliff and as I continued I realized the path was getting very narrow, leaving maybe three feet in sections for my feet to hit the trail, and looking down it was a steep slope falling straight down to the floor of Holyrood Park.
I loved hiking along the Radical Road through the Salisbury Crags and feel like it made my hike to Arthur’s Seat that much richer. After the cliffs turned to a sweeping green slope down I found myself descending only to see the great mass that is Arthur’s Seat before me. I must admit I had been struggling with migraines since arriving in Edinburgh and the day was hot, the warmest of my time in Scotland, but I was determined to reach its peak.
There are many trails, ranging from easy to hard, leading up Arthur’s Seat but I choose a mid-range one as it was close to the end of my Radical Road trail. And so, up again I went, zigzagging up the hill, sometimes on steps built into the path, often times on janky gravel where it’s best to be mindful of your footing. But I made it to the first peak where I sat for awhile in utter amazement at the view of where I’d come from – laid out before me was Edinburgh in the distance, the stunning cliffs of Salisbury Crags and so much rich greenery, I must say it took my breath away – well, maybe it was the steep ascent that did it but I choose to believe it was the magnificent view. In that moment my mind slowed down and I just breathed it all in, the beauty of Scotland, the experience of hiking Arthur’s Seat and a tug at my heart whispering ‘remember this feeling in this moment forever.’
After a light snack and an Advil for my thumping head I heaved myself up and turned to see the peak of Arthur’s Seat in front of me, but I had to once more go down a bit to once more head up! But that’s pretty typical of my life, I may not always choose the easiest path and find many a ups and downs but its made me a stronger person for it. Off I went on the last leg of my hike and somehow I choose the steepest path that was also the narrowest, where I was climbing on sometimes unstable rocks, needing to hold on to the large ones to pull myself up. Then I was there, at the top of Arthur’s Seat and a rush of happiness, pride and relief washed over me. I was there, I did it! I came, I conquered and I was rewarded with more astounding views of Scotland from Edinburgh to Leith and on a clear day as it was, it was amazing!
When one goes up one must eventually come down… And the descent turned out to be an unexpected adventure. I didn’t go back the way I came and upon leaving I was the only one at the time so I headed off down what appeared to be a relatively relaxing path gently down hill. But somehow I found myself hiking down along a narrow trail rich and dense with bushes, some as tall as me. Then there were literally drops where I had to crouch down, place a firm grip on the rocks and lower myself down, sometimes with a bit of a cautious leap. This continued all the way down and I never saw anyone else on that trail. With only a few bumps and bruises and one slip on even ground, of course, I made it back to Holyrood Park’s ground level. I couldn’t help but laugh and smile as I looked back on the trail I’d just taken. Life is full of adventures – especially when you take the path less traveled.
Tips for Hiking Arthur’s Seat
- Always where proper footwear – running shoes or hiking boots as weather can change quickly and you don’t want to be caught with flip flops on uneven, slippery ground in poor conditions
- There are numerous trails ranging in difficulty which take various times to hike it, but my trail through the Crags took less than 3 hours – with time spent on each peak, time for photos, reflection and the descent.
p style=”text-align: center;”>For more information on maps, trails and more visit Walking Highlands
Have you ever hiked Arthur’s Seat?