A good park takes planning and Holyrood Park began as a hunting preserve long before 1541 when James V enclosed the area with a wall. Though adjacent to Holyrood Palace at the east end of the Royal Mile (where the Queen was recently in residence), the former hunting grounds are now a world-class park that encompasses Arthur’s Seat, a popular walk to the highest point overlooking Edinburgh. Arthur’s Seat is the remains of the heart of a volcano, highly eroded over the years and scraped by glaciers during the ice age. There are a few low junipers and grasses. (There are also gorse bushes, but I haven’t seen any. As a reader of Winnie-the-Pooh, I must see some.) It’s the high point Holyrood Park, 650 acres now surrounded by Edinburgh and its suburbs. We took only one walk of many possible paths that include several slightly lower hills and an area of cliffs, the Salisbury Crags. There is historic significance here, too, as James Hutton, the father of modern geology, made some of the observations that led him to propose the theory of uniformitarianism from viewing the geology of the area. He concluded that the earth’s crust, the surface of the land, was formed by continuing processes over long periods of time.
- At the time, this was a fundamental, crucial change in thinking, because the history of the world was still viewed as very recent, so Hutton had to brave criticism of those who believed strongly and devoutly that the world was only a few thousand year old. Unimaginably long periods of time before people existed was rarely even discussed.
- Hutton recognized that erosion and deposition along with volcanic action could explain the layers seen in any geological cross-section. It changed geology from the observation of curious features to a puzzle that could be solved. Based on Hutton’s principle, any section, even any landscape, could be explained by tracing the sequence of deposition and erosion. Geologists and archaeologists still rely on the underlying significance of uniformitarianism.
Guidebooks tell you the walk to Arthur’s Seat takes 45 minutes. That figure assumes you won’t be stopping to take photos, chat, look around,or breathe. We did all those things, so it took us a bit longer, but the view was excellent, the day was perfect, cool and comfortable, and there was no rain. The upper part of the route is uneven underfoot, slick from wear and rain in places, with exposed rock waiting to trip you. We got to the top and back without any (additional) twisted ankles, but it is not a hike for everyone, despite the deceptively smooth green view from a distance.
At places, it’s surprising to remember that we are within the city. The park seems vast when you are in the center. (I dreamed of an endless green landscape afterward.) Yet the city is just over the hill in every direction.
We made it to the top where we promptly took a selfie, now posted on Facebook. What you don’t see from my bucolic photos is the number of other people on the same walk. It shows you how we edit what we see and experience.
Lillian’s hair loved the top of Arthur’s Seat. It stood up and did a dance.