Family Abroad

Going on TripAdvisor’s “Best Hike in the UK” (Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh)

OVERVIEW

Scotland is a land of legends with memorable and photographic lands. I don’t think you could ever feel that you took enough pictures of videos. It is simply breathtaking. Edinburgh was the main destination for our family travel in Scotland and it did not disappoint!  

The city is amazing with its cobblestone streets, fascinating buildings of history, and where your imagination comes alive with the turning of every corner or alleyway. The friendly atmosphere, the food, and the music (even bagpipers playing on a few street corners) is one grand welcoming invitation. The main street that runs through the very heart of old town Edinburgh is known as the Royal Mile and it runs from the famous Edinburgh Castle all the way to Holyrood Palace, which sits in the shadow of Arthur’s Seat.

The scramble to the top is worth the views!

About Arthur’s Seat

The Scottish Highlands makes its presence felt at Arthur’s Seat. Vibrant greenery and a protruding massive cliff are prominent, while overlooking one of the ultimate views of Edinburgh. It is a dichotomy of rural beauty and the urban and busy life of Edinburgh. Arthur’s Seat is the highest peak among a few hills located in Holyrood Park. It is actually an extinct volcano of 350 million years right here in Edinburgh.

The name, Arthur’s Seat, can conjure images of visiting a King’s royal throne and having a chance to sit where royalty and riches once graced. With the rocks and rolling mountains in the backdrop, it feels like you are out in Scotland’s tranquil great outdoors without even leaving the city far behind. Some even refer to this area as Lion’s Head because, depending on where you are looking from, there are those that say it looks like a crouching lion.

There is a legend that says the fabled King Arthur lived in the surrounding lands of Edinburgh with his noble knights. Many say that this could be where King Arthur’s Camelot was located. Others believe that while it may not be his iconic home, it could be the grounds where some of his battles were fought. Of course, you can find those that state it has nothing to do about a man named Arthur but was simply referring just referring to the height of Arthur’s Seat. The height of Arthur’s Seat is 250.5 meters, which corresponds to the maximum distance an archer could fire an arrow.

Scotland is all about imagination and tales. With energy in the air and the spirit you feel when you are at Arthur’s Seat, you can’t help but get caught up in all the magic and lore. One of the many legends of the area proclaims that on May Day, women should walk to the meadows and place fresh dew from the lands of Arthur’s Seat on their faces to help them maintain their appearance of youth. In the writings of Frankenstein, Mary Shelley even mentions the fabled hillsides of Arthur’s Seat. Even Queen Victoria has visited and Mary, Queen of Scots, loved to walk the grounds. Today, it has over 5 million visitors per year.

Another one of the creative legends that were fun to hear is that the hillside of Arthur’s Seat is a sleeping dragon. Once an energic and hungry dragon, it plagued the villages of Edinburgh, feeding its hungry stomach on the livestock below. It became greedy in its desires, causing fear amongst the people, eating so much that it became tiresome and lazy from all its feasting. From all its pleasure and flying around, it ended up being so tired that it needed to rest for so long that the dragon never did wake up, thus becoming the hill of Arthur’s Seat.

All the stories that surround the area make it part of the intrigue and pleasure of exploring. It takes you into a story-tale walk as you create your own fantasies and adventures along the paths. Hiking to the peak of Arthur’s Seat, although a bit of a trek, is well worth the effort and incredibly satisfying.

Being outside, exploring the outdoors and breathing in Scotland’s invigorating air – and just feeling its essence – brings such vitality! We all felt alive, happy and even a bit silly. The wind at the top wakes you up and makes you feel young and free. You can’t help but laugh and have fun. Make sure you bring something to rehydrate you and even some snacks to sit back at the top and revel in your efforts. It truly is spectacular with a sense of magic.

The Hike

First, I would suggest looking at Holyrood Park on Historic Environment. This is the Historic Environment Scotland site that is a great resource for not only Arthur’s Seat, but also other important historical sites around Scotland. Using this site, you will find general information about Holyrood Park and Arthur’s Seat as well as apps with trail maps. They also have a PDF that shows self-guided walking tours. And, although there is no signage on trail itself, don’t worry, it is really fairly easy to find and use whichever trail you decide to take.

Here is their PDF trail map. We took the Blue route.

The Blue Trail was one of the easiest trails and it was the one we took. Some people say they make it to the top in about 45 minutes, but we took a little over an hour to make it to Arthur’s Seat as we took a few detours on the way. I do suggest stopping by St. Anthony’s Well and Chapel, which now stands in ruins. These ruins were once a chapel that was probably built in the 1300s and once had a tower standing 40 feet tall. It was most likely destroyed during the reformation.

Nathan and Bethany hiking up the Blue Trail
The ruins of St. Anthony’s Chapel overlooking a lake

Once we made it to the top, the pictures I saw on the internet could not compete with the view before our eyes. Just wow! It was a bit windy and the last part of the hike is more like a scramble to the top. I would suggest wearing sturdy shoes, although a pair of sneakers should be just fine. Once on top, you will have uninterrupted, 360-degree views of the surrounding countryside and Edinburgh, all the way to the North Sea. And, be sure to check out the magnificent Salisbury Crags in all of their glory.

Miniature Coffins

As a side note, and possible the story I found most fascinating and mysterious about Arthur’s Seat, was the story of the boys who discovered 17 miniature coffins, each with expertly carved mini-figures. In June of 1836, the boys went to Arthur’s Seat to hunt for rabbits. While exploring the rugged, Northeastern face, the came across a small cave or hole covered with slabs of slate. The hole was said to be about 1’ high and 18” wide. Below the slate, they found three carefully laid out rows of coffins. The first row and the second row held 8 coffins each and the third row, which held only 1 coffin. Each 3’-4’ long coffin contained an incredibly crafted miniature figure, complete with an outfit and facial gestures. It looked like more coffins were expected to be placed in the third row, but for some unknown reason, it was not continued.

Being boys, they started pelting each other with their unique finds. In the end, most were destroyed or seriously damaged. But eight survived and can still be seen today at the National Museum of Scotland.

As seen at the National Museum of Scotland

Who made the Lilliputian coffins and who was so talented to make the hand-carved figures? Why were they placed in this small cave and when? There are several theories. The most prominent theory says that they were probably placed there in relation with the 17 Burke and Hare murders that took place a few years before the discovery of the coffins. It is said that because the victims were dissected and never received a proper burial, this was some type of memorial to the victims. The problem with this story is that the 17 coffins contained only male figures while 12 of the Burke and Hare murder victims were female. There are several theories, but no one has ever discovered the truth. What a mystery!

CONCLUSION

With our travels abroad, we take the time we need with everything we see and experience. Rushing from one thing to the next, not appreciating each moment, takes away from all that we believe and strive for in our family life and traveling abroad. Everything is a new adventure and most of the fun and memories come with the journey. So, finding the time to laugh and just be in the moment was what our slow travels gift us. We believe that the best memories can be made this way.

The McClure Clan at Arthur’s Seat

Watch the FULL VIDEO here!

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