Edinburgh: Up!!! (Holyrood Park and Arthur’s Seat)

On Sunday Erik and I decided to climb to Arthur’s Seat, something we had wanted to do ever since our first sight of the Salisbury Crags from Calton Hill. Arthur’s Seat may be the highest point in Edinburgh, though at 823 feet,ย it’s hardly a mountain. Still, with the wind whipping the trees against the window of our flat, Sunday was an adventurous day for a climb!

(Note: Contrary to my usual practice of embedding all the photos in my posts, this time I’ve linked some of them in the text. I think it improves the continuity of our shared walk — so if you see a link like this one, it could either be a URL as usual, or it might be a photo. I’m belaboring the point because some of the linked photos are the most stunning ones of the view! Don’t miss them!)

We began our hike near the Palace of Holyrood House, across the street from the Scottish Parliament. (The photo below, and the three immediately following, were taken on Friday during my sketch outing, when the weather was much calmer!)

View of Holyrood Park from next to the Parliament building

Paved walkway next to the crag

We chose a trail known as Radical Road, which is somewhat paved but slightly gravelly, and steep almost from the very beginning.

At the start of the Radical Road trail

At the start of the Radical Road trail

After the initial sharp ascent, the trail levels off for a while, and there’s even a little grassy area to the left.

Trail at Holyrood Park

In case those cliffs don’t look big to you:

Lisa standing by tall cliffs

I’m not sure what happens to the Radical Road after this point because we left it to take a smaller trail that snaked up and down through the tall grasses and the many rocks.

Trail at Holyrood Park

That’s the wind blowing the grasses:

Trail at Holyrood Park with grasses blowing sideways in the wind

Before long we found ourselves in a sort of valley, where the trail split in several directions. Deciding that our goal was to go upward as quickly and interestingly as possible, we chose the steepest path and the only one with stairs.

Fork in the trail at Holyrood Park

Trail at Holyrood Park

Trail at Holyrood ParkUp and up we went on the rough cobble-y steps, stopping frequently to look behind us at the view.

Trail at Holyrood Park

Trail at Holyrood Park

A couple of runners passed us and were soon lost to sight: I bow down to their stamina and agility! These folks must be in prime shape — we were already high above the city.

Trail at Holyrood Park

After a time, quite hot now, we went around a corner and up a steep slope, whose summit we couldn’t see. I hardly dared to turn around to see the view, but of course I did.

Trail at Holyrood Park

Erik silhouetted against the sky

I thought we would hit Arthur’s Seat at the top of this, but instead we found ourselves on a flat grassy area with views to every part of the city, and even to the ocean.

Just below Arthur's SeatI just wanted to lie down in that soft grass and roll around, but we still had to get to Arthur’s Seat.

Just below Arthur's Seat

As hills go, it was nothing, but the wind was much more intense up here, and what looked like a passable trail quickly became nothing but rock. Nice grippy rock, and not too steep, but I didn’t have the nerve to take it fully vertical — I used my hands and feet. Nothing like being a four-legger at times like this! (Again, a runner passed us, skipping up the rock as light and fleet as a mountain goat. Wow.)

Just below Arthur's Seat

At one point the wind blew so hard, it actually knocked my glasses off my face. Luckily I caught them!

After that exciting climb, Arthur’s Seat was almost an anticlimax. There was a stone marker there but nothing else to see (well, except the view!), and it was so windy I could feel fine grit piling up on my lips. Erik found a somewhat sheltered niche in the rock, and we sat there for a while, catching our breath and feasting our eyes (when we weren’t hiding our faces).

Other visitors at the summit


(Compare this photo with how fresh and clean we looked before we set out!)

Lisa and Erik windblown at the summit

After 5-10 minutes, we decided we’d had enough and it was time to go back down. We chose a different route, which proved much gentler and less exposed to the wind.

View down from Arthur's Seat

The undulating ground underfoot meant we still got fabulous views and interesting ups and downs before we properly began our descent.

Lisa at the top of a riseErik looking outAnd again, that wonderful thick grass:

More lush grassy trails

Lush green grassy trail

The stones on this trail were wet and slippery; I’d be extremely hesitant to (okay, I simply wouldn’t!) try this route on a rainy day.

Heading down

There were so many lovely wildflowers scattered all over the hillside, from daisies to foxgloves, and even some wild roses.


At some point the trail became much narrower until we were surrounded by plants and could hardly even see the view anymore between the shrubs. Thorny briars and thistles jutted into the path and we skirted them respectfully. (No point arguing with prickles, right? And I already had two tiny bloody spots on my palm when one of the rocks below Arthur’s Seat turned out to have a spiky plant on it!)

Thorny branch jutting out onto the trail

We encountered a couple of people walking their dogs, and yet more runners. Once we got down to the flat, wide trail of the valley, I decided to follow their example. After a word to Erik I took off, skipping over puddles, my backpack whomping up and down. Erik followed close behind. It was fantastically exhilarating, though not very sustainable. (Wo)man was not meant to run with a backpack and in a cozy wool sweater!

Trails heading back


Amazingly, the sun came out after that, and we had the great treat of walking almost all the rest of the way back with everything bathed in golden light. (And this view behind us.)

Valley in gold and green

And here’s the last stretch, with the city in sight (and a good dinner at the forefront of both our thoughts!). The whole hike took us just over two hours, and since we started late, we were done at just about 7 PM.

End of the trail with the city in sight

We had our dinner (not bad: steak and ale pie for Erik, macaroni cheese for me) and then headed home, stopping at a small supermarket for butter tablet and a chocolate bar, along the way. We were going to take the bus but it wasn’t coming for another half hour, so we ended up just walking home.

It was an excellent outing and definitely one of the highlights of our time in Edinburgh!