Arthur’s Seat

I was going to tell you about volcanic plugs and St Anthony’s well, about James Hogg’s Confessions and the brocken-spectre, but as soon as I got here this morning I knew it was just about the hill and me. Arthur’s Seat lies at the heart of Edinburgh, and since I’ve lived here, it’s been at the heart of my life as well. I can see it from the back window of my home, and I’ve walked here with countless friends, with my dad and with my sister. It is a place of happiness and exuberance: Tom and I like to run around the hill in all conditions in our trusty fell shoes; we bury our home brewed mead in a secret place , and merrily drink it here each Christmas morning. Spectacular from all angles, and visible almost everywhere in the city, the hill has also provided a dramatic backdrop for many a crafty photo.

But Arthur’s Seat is a place with sad associations, too: a few years ago, a fine young man who was my childhood friend threw himself to his death from the nearby crags. And shortly after Belle died, Tom brought his own grieving brother to the summit.

In comparison with Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh’s other hills really do not feel like hills at all. At 823 feet it is not high, but the ground is steep, and very rough in places. For someone with a wonky leg and limited energy reserves, it is quite a serious proposition.

I found the going very tough indeed, and all I could think of was: I used to just run up here

How complacent and ungrateful was the able-bodied me, how little she valued her nimble, speedy limbs. Weak and unsteady as they are, I value my limbs now, by God.

It was early morning, and the summit took on a spooky aspect against the rising sun.

I wanted to follow our usual route, which is quite steep and rocky near the top. I abandoned the poles, and resorted to lopsided scrambling on my hands and knees.

Made it, Ma.

The last of the seven hills. The highest point in Edinburgh. I felt deeply emotional, but not in the least triumphant. It had been a difficult climb, and, precisely because the hill is so familiar, the comparison with the me of just a few months ago felt quite raw and painful.
At the summit, a nice young, American couple, who had risen with the dawn like us, asked Tom to take their photo.
“Do you know how high we are?”
“251 metres”
“Are you local to Edinburgh? Do you often come up here?”
“Well we did, but Kate has had a stroke. We’re just getting back into the swing of things again.”

I managed to hold it together for a photo at the trig point.

then it was time to inch my way back down.

As I descended I realised that, though my weak leg was very shaky, it was really much better than it had been when we climbed Blackford Hill, only a few weeks ago. I had to regard this as a walk of new beginnings, rather than old memories.

Bruce frolicked in the grass . . .

. . . and lost his ball.

The tourists were starting to come up as we were coming down. Kids on a geography field trip clutched clipboards and pencils. An Italian asked her tour guide about Edinburgh’s seven hills. Everyone stopped us to remark on the lovely morning. . .

. . . and, in the end, it really was.