Running to Arthur's Seat

Friday, July 10, 2009

Almost as soon as I arrived in Edinburgh, I could sense that Scotland is different than England. The city itself seems a lot like London, but there's also an unmistakable sense of otherness here. Anyone who's seen Edinburgh Castle may know what I'm talking about. Unlike the Tower of London (the place it seems to compare most closely to historically and politically) it's got a sort of wildness about it. First of all, it's perched on top of a giant ancient volcano, so you can't really miss it. More striking though is the fact that it seems to actually grow out of the rock, or cling to it, or something.

See what I mean? Isn't that great?

Instead of carving up the rock to conform to where they wanted to build the castle, they just kind of stuck the castle onto and into the rock. There are lots of spots inside the castle walls where the rock is poking out, which I just loved.

The whole whole city just feels a bit less domesticated than England; I think I like it. Emblematic of that was the run I took today. Besides the castle, the other sight you can't escape in Edinburgh is Arthur's Seat*, which tour guides invariably refer to as a "volcanic plug". Actually there's the Seat, and another slightly lower peak, and the imposing Salisbury Crags. All of it looks like a wild chunk of Highlands plunked down in the middle of the city.

A view of Arthur's Seat, from part way up.

If this park were in England, the whole thing would be very different. The Seat - the very very top bit - would probably have a manicured lawn, and a gated formal garden at the top staffed by eager blue badge guides who would be able to quote the history of the area from approximately the time the earth's crust cooled. And the path to the top would be well-marked, with warning signs posted at regular intervals:
"Warning: Arthur's Seat is 822' high, individuals with heart problems, pregnant women, the elderly, and lazy bastards should consult a physician before attempting the climb."
And there would probably be a gift shop and a place to get a nice cup of tea.

But I'm in Scotland now. So instead I had to just plunge in without the aid of anyone wearing a badge of any colour. I guessed which path to take, and there were several. Some were switchbacks, and some were steep ascents, and some had really rough stone steps. I ended up on a path that had some quite steep sections. There was a lot of scrambling up loose gravel, and hopping over endless chunks of exposed "volcanic plug", and some more guessing. There were no signs, and there were no guides. I did run most of the way up, though I had to stop very frequently for breaks.

And then I was there.

See? And this time, with talking. Just for YOU Rob Hamilton.

The way down was even more treacherous. There were moments when I was kind of sliding on my bum down fairly sheer rock faces. (Really, I'm all for a bit of wildness and such, but would it kill them to put up a freakin' sign?) As I was contemplating my own mortality, I couldn't help but wonder how many stupid tourists fall, or twist an ankle, or break a leg up on that rock every year. I'm guessing double-digits at least.

This was the GOOD part of the path

Still, I'm glad I did it. The run up was really really hard, and I had to walk most of the descent until I got along the path that goes in front of Salisbury Crags (Interestingly, that sheer rock face of the crags is not natural. It was quarried in the early 19th c. by the Earl of Haddington - my cheesey audio guide suggested that the stone was used to cobble streets in London, but that could just be the Scottish-English thing rearing it's head, which it does here frequently, with varying degrees of amiability. Anyways, it took an act of Parliament in 1831 to stop the Earl from carting away the whole thing.)

The view of the back of the crags, taken on the way down from Arthur's Seat

When I got to the bottom, I ran all the way up the Royal Mile, which ends at the gates to Edinburgh Castle, and then I ran all the way back down again feeling pretty damned good about myself and thinking, "I am the coolest person I know right now."** And then I went and had haggis (really good) and a pint (even better).

There's more to say about Edinburgh, but that will have to wait. Tomorrow I'm planning on going to an overnight hash beach party at Gullane. Friendly Edinburgh hashers are loaning me a tent, sleeping bag and pad, and other are giving me a ride, and there's going to be a pub, and a BBQ on the beach Saturday night, and a campfire, and a hash run on Sunday and another BBQ after the run, and it all sounds great.

* Go ahead and read the Wikipedia, but don't believe for a second the bit where it says it's "quite easy to climb". Also, I really wish I'd read that article before I went out. The bit about which ascent is easiest would have been nice to know...

**Except, of course, for Rob Hamilton.


Anonymous said...

I'm sorry Pam, but I have to disagree with you.
Currently, you are WAY cooler then Rob Hamilton.

Steven G.

eme said...

Make sure that you have some whiskey in Scotland - as you have most likely already noticed, every shop along the Royal Mile has either whiskey, wool or tarten (some have all three)!

Also, try to get a picture of some sheep (I'm kind of surprised you don't have some already, the things are everywhere in Scotland).

Scotland is a very cool place.

anne said...

I guess you were hot as well as cool - have another pint.

Steve said...

I'm glad that you ate haggis...


Karen said...

Nice to hear your voice.

Karen said...

By the way - would Mike consider that run 'undulating hills'? Ha ha!

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