First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
A spatter of rain and a good strong wind over Edinburgh, but that wasn’t going to spoil our fun. Nor was the closure of Radical Road below the iconic ramparts of Salisbury Crags. ‘There’ll be another route up Arthur’s Seat,’ said Dave Richardson, botanist, musician and long-time friend. We put away the mandolins on which we’d been bashing through ‘The Steamboat’ hornpipe at his kitchen table, donned the boots and set out for Holyrood Park.
Lucky citizens of Edinburgh, to have this great wild upthrust in their midst, more of a wedge of unspoiled highland and wildlife than anything resembling a city park. Rock falls in 2018 saw Radical Road closed off to the public, and it hasn’t reopened since. But we found a stony path that led up along the rim of Salisbury Crags and gave memorable if head-spinning views down and along this volcanic curtain of dolerite that was squeezed up and out of the depths some 325 million year ago.
‘Wood sage, heath bedstraw, bloody cranesbill,’ enumerated Dave as we passed scatters of wild flowers in white and purple. At the apex of the crags the main spectacle of the park rose ahead, a double hump of high ground composing the striking miniature mountain of Arthur’s Seat. We dipped down into a saddle of ground where many paths met, then set our faces and feet to the steep and rocky climb. Greenfinches gave out their sneezy calls from scrub bushes beside the path, whose slippery rock steps had been polished green and red by countless footfalls.
Arthur’s Seat itself is a pluton, the top of a column of basalt that punched up from below into the crater of a massive volcano, long eroded away. Standing up there in the blasting wind we were lords of one of the world’s most remarkable cityscapes – Edinburgh Castle and the jumble of monuments on Calton Hill riding their volcanic crags, petrified lava flows shaping the nearby slopes. the Pentland Hills away to the south, and northwards a glimpse of the red cantilevers of the famous railway bridge stepping across the Firth of Forth towards the hills of Fife.
How we ended up sliding on our backsides down Whinny Hill’s prickly slopes is another tale entirely. But we landed back at Dave’s in time to give ‘The Steamboat’ another run-around.
How hard is it? 3½ miles; strenuous; cliff-top path, some slippery rock underfoot, short steep climb.
Start: Holyrood car park, Queen’s Drive, Edinburgh EH8 8AZ (OS ref NT 271737)
Getting there: Train to Waverley Station; right on Princes Street; first right (Calton Road); in 800m, right on Horse Wynd, then Queen’s Drive.
Walk (OS Explorer 350; many route maps online, e.g. travelswithakilt.com/arthurs-seat-walk-map): From roundabout next to car park, left along Queen’s Drive. In 50m, fork right uphill; in 100m, right again up stony path along top of Salisbury Crags (unguarded edge). In ¾ mile, opposite Arthur’s Seat, descend to meeting of paths in valley on left (273728). Bear left uphill under Arthur’s Seat; steeply up rock steps to saddle below peak (276731). Sharp right and follow path to foot of stone steps (277730) up to summit. Return to foot of steps; ahead, down and then up across Whinny Hill, bearing north for ⅔ mile, down to Queen’s Drive (279740). Left to St Margaret’s Loch (277739); clockwise along shore to south end (275737), then path along Queen’s Drive to car park.
Lunch: The Pakora Bar, 111 Holyrood Road EH8 8AU (0131-202-5200, thepakorabar.co.uk)
Accommodation: The Scott, 18 Holyrood Park Road EH16 5AY (0131-651-2007, uoecollection.com)
Info: ‘Discovering Edinburgh’s Volcano’ (edinburghgeolsoc.org);
Walking the Bones of Britain – A 3 Billion Year Journey from Outer Hebrides to Thames Estuary by Christopher Somerville (£25, Doubleday) is out on 24 August