Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Arthur’s Seat – Edinburgh

Sometimes when I wake up, it takes me a little bit to remember where I am. Two days ago, I woke up, rolled over, stretched a little bit and farted. Laughter reminded me that I was in mixed-dorm of 10 bunk beds in Edinburgh, meaning Leslie and I had 18 roommates. There was “hairy guy who can’t seem to cover himself with his blanket” and “long-haired friendly guy who only knows the word ‘hi’ in English.” I said hi to him. Across the way was “petite woman who snores surprisingly loudly”. Leslie and were next to “friendly Canadian who has been here a long time” and his bunkmate “hungover guy that can’t figure out what he drank last night”. I never did figure out what he drank, but I did figure out it wasn’t his. The worst of the bunch was probably “guy who farts loudly in the morning”. Oh, wait. . . .

The Canadian guy had been working around Edinburgh, so I asked him what was the best thing to do in town. Without hesitating, he said Arthur’s Seat. Arthur’s Seat is a hill off the edge of Edinburgh, but the word hill doesn’t do it justice. It was very steep rock formations that jut up out of the ground and seemingly straight into the mist. Than he added, “well, it’s great on a nice day”.
The first day in Edinburgh was not a nice day, it wasn’t bad mind you, but it was overcast and cold. We couldn’t see the sun and it was cold. Did I mention it was cold?
We started at Edinburgh castle, which is a huge castle on a hill overlooking the entire city. The High Street (a.k.a. Main Street) led from the castle, down the hill through the most touristy part of Scotland we’d seen, known as Old Town. There were characters dressed up leading historical or ghost tours, a bunch of over-priced pubs serving haggis and a ton of “Scottish stuff” shops selling hats, scarves, kilts, cashmere shawls and other Scottish swag. My first swag purchase of the trip was a beanie was the Scottish flag and Leslie got a wool scarf. Did I mention it was cold? At the end of High Street we found Holyrood Park (the start of the hike to the Seat), the Scottish Parliament and a tired pair of travelers.
Day Two saw us leave the hostel with me determined to get up the Seat. It also saw temperatures lower than the day before . . . and rain. Our first stop became an outdoors shop with discounts on all their winter gear. I got a fuzzy fleece that makes me look a little like a bear, but it’s warm. Instead of the planned trip to Arthur’s Seat, we walked through New Town, which is much newer than Old Town, with construction starting in 1767. There were again a bunch of pubs and shops, but it was clearly a section of town used by locals, as the prices dropped dramatically and the “Scottish” shops were gone. There were still characters, but they were just regular Scottish people. The day ended with the obligatory Manchester Derby and watching City off United 1-0.
On day three I woke to the aforementioned “petite woman who snores incredibly loudly” doing her thing, but looking outside, it was sunny. I woke up Leslie and we were off.
Our other goal for the day was to figure out the “Scottish Explorer” bus pass, but we breezed right by the places that had information and immediatly headed for the Seat.
We headed back into old town, and learned the walk which took us six hours before could be done in about 20 minutes if you have a mind to.
We began the walk in extreme wind on a six foot wide path of rocks. On one side was a cliff-face and on the other was a drop. I glanced over the edge and thought it was pretty steep, but the ground was close.
Then I tripped, the path had rocks jutting out of it, which were going to be an issue. After about five minutes we were shedding all the warm gear we had purchased the day before in favor of the sweat we’d built up from hiking up the hill. I glanced over the edge again. I probably could have climbed the cliff, and I might have stopped before reaching the bottom if I’d fallen, but I was no longer sure.
That said, the city of Edinburgh began to stretch out before us. The guidebook  said the hike was about two hours, but we were likely to accomplish it in 3 or 4 at this pace, mostly due to pictures and goofing around in the glens and whatnot.
After about twenty minutes we turned left around the Seat and the wind immediately died, making the whole experience much more enjoyable. On top of that our path widened and we were suddenly in what I’ve always pictured the Highlands to be. There were rolling hills, the stone-face jutting up next to them and grass that looked as manicured as a golf course. I’m going to have to look up why the grass does that.
Another thirty minutes and we saw ourselves looking at the final approach. The hills got larger, with maybe two football fields of the fine grass, followed by a spire and people hiking switchbacks up to the top. There were actually two ways. Steep and short or gradual and long. We went for the steep.
When we reached the spire I was surprised to find “steps” to the top. They were “steps”, but moreso they were rocks. Rock-wall sized rocks that created an uneven, but ever rising path to the seat. I couldn’t help but marvel at the amount of man-hours that had to go into creating this path.
Up, up we went as layers of clothes went into the backpack. Some of the steps were small, others large, but each and every one was uneven and a potential for tripping. I decided that it was now unlikely that I’d stop before I hit the bottom. Looking up, I couldn’t see the top. Switchbacks and the uneven cliff made it difficult to see the top.
After what seemed like an age of climbing, the ground leveled and I knew we were getting to the top. We poked our heads up off the top of the stairs and got walloped in the face by the wind . . . and the mist. The bear-fleece went back on.
There was about 100 yards of golf green-like grass, spotted with boulders, and then another spire. This time, we could see people standing at the top. There were no steps at the last, no path, just rocks we climbed the last bit to get to the peak.
We reached the top and looked out to see . . . mist. During the hike the clouds had moved in to cover the Seat, and it was cold. We decided to wait, and after about ten minutes the mist began to clear. About 20 other people were at the top with us, and you could hear the excitement as the mists parted. Then, you could hear the camera shutters.
To one side was the English Channel and the harbors of Leith. 30 degrees to your left was Edinburgh, with the castle that had looked so large before seeming small. Another 60 degrees and you could see where Edinburghers(?) actually lived, in neat little houses, much larger than anything we’d seen in England.
And at the top a small white monument.
Next stop, Highlands.

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