Climbing Arthur's Seat, 251m - A Sleeping Dragon in Edinburgh

in travel •  5 months ago 

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The Celtic Legend of a Sleeping Dragon

There is an ancient Celtic legend regarding this natural monument in the middle of Edinburgh. It is told from generation to generation that it is actually an ancient sleeping dragon. Back in the days, the beast used to fly around terrorizing the local folk and eating their livestock. One day the dragon ate so much that he landed near the settlements and fell asleep, he never woke up again.

When I hear a legend like this, I cannot help myself, but start to wonder. Is there any truth in it? The Celtic people are to blame for many creatures and places in the popular fantasy culture and I refuse to believe that all of them are straight made-up tales. A popular example would be linking unicorns to narwhals, or dragons to dinosaurs, or even to recently extinct giant mammals. Although, in this case, I don’t think the Celtic people were talking about the dinosaurs.

Sleeping Dragon in Holyrood Park Sleeping Dragon in Holyrood Park. Photo by Mantas Ališauskas

Before I go further, I want you to stop and think of your own theory. What kind of an event, after so many generations, could be turned into this legend?

My Explanation of the Legend

Having in mind that I will ignore some certain facts disproving my theory, I could see an obvious link between the legend and an active volcano eruption. Everybody knows that Dragons spit fire and the aftermath of such an event could easily lead to crop failure. Also, a volcano eruption would form a mountain and once it is done, would go to sleep until the next time, until there is no “next time”.

Holyrood Park from Calton Hill, Edinburgh Holyrood Park from Calton Hill, Edinburgh. Photo by Mantas Ališauskas

An Ancient Volcano

Too bad this is not true. While Arthur’s Seat, in fact, is an ancient volcano, its last eruption was 340 million years ago. ~110 million of years before even the first dinosaurs appear in the fossil record, not to mention humans capable of passing the stories from generation to generation. Unfortunately, I have to trust this one, carbon dating is solid scientific proof. Nevertheless, could the story have different origins? If so, the eruption must have happened somewhere after the Younger Dryas, 11.700 years ago. Before that, Scotland was covered by a glacier.

Despite all that I don’t mind my theory being wrong, I like the legend version better anyway. What I do here is just a thought experiment. I like to look for connections between the factual history, tales and the real place I visit. Just to give you a bit of the context to make it more fun before we go, aye?

Climbing Arthur's Seat, 251m Climbing Arthur's Seat, 251m. Photo by Mantas Ališauskas

#MagicalHiking

Right next to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the place where Kings and Queens take their rest in Scotland, lies a park, an ancient forest, royal hunting grounds. In the middle of it – an ancient dragon rest. The dragon slept for so long, that we actually forgot it. Today, many brave inhabitants and visitors of Edinburgh climb to the top of this beast’s back to observe the surrounding landscape. The whole area reveals itself in front of you, like a map, everything could be seen: the surrounding Holyrood park, whole Canongate and even Edinburgh, Firth of Forth and Forth Bridges, the surrounding islands and the Kingdom of Fife. The view is just as if you were flying on the dragon‘s back. Simply magical.

The Palace of Holyroodhouse from Arthurs Seat The Palace of Holyroodhouse from Arthurs Seat. Photo by Mantas Ališauskas

Arthur’s Seat Hike

Arthur’s seat is the main peak in Edinburg, Scotland. You can climb it from almost any direction for a beautiful panoramic view of the city, but I will focus on the most common and easiest way, starting at the Canongate.

Location: Edinburgh

Starting point: The Canongate

Target: Arthur‘s Seat

Distance(one way): ~2km

Ascend: ~200m.

Difficulty: Easy/Moderate Depending on the Scottish Weather

Duration: 1 – 2h

 

St. Anthony's chapel on a rainy day St. Anthony's Chapel on a rainy day. Photo by Mantas Ališauskas

Getting to Holyrood Park

Located near the Old Town of Edinburgh, the park is easily accessible from multiple parts with different paths leading Arthur’s Seat or other interesting parts of the park.

By Bus

You can get to the area by public transport, either take bus 35 or 6 to get to the Scottish Parliament, in front of the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

By Car

Just park your car near Queen‘s Drive between the Palace of Holyroodhouse and Holyrood Park, next to the beginning of the path leading up to the top of Arthur‘s Seat.

On a hike to Arhur's Peak On a hike to Arhur's Peak. Photo by Mantas Ališauskas

Arthur‘s Seat

This ancient volcano has two smaller siblings living in the same city under the names of Calton Hill and Castle Rock. Just like the latter, where the Edinburgh Castle stands, it is thought that Arthur’s Seat had a castle as well and it is, in fact, an ancient hill fort, dating to the Iron Age, a tribe of Celtic culture – the Votadini. Back then, Edinburgh was called Eidyn and by the time the Votadini emerged as the Kingdom of Gododdin, Din Eidyn – a castle on the Castle Rock, was the center of the area.

Ross Fountain near the Castle Rock and Edinburgh Castle Ross Fountain below the Castle Rock and Edinburgh Castle. Photo by Mantas Ališauskas

Gorse in the Holyrood park Gorse in the Holyrood park. Photo by Mantas Ališauskas

As the name refers, Arthur’s Seat is sometimes associated with the legendary British leader King Arthur, as the place of Camelot. Allegedly, he successfully defended Britain against invading Saxons, unlike the latter kingdom of Gododdin, who notoriously fell to Saxons around 600 AD as it is told in a medieval Welsh poem Y Gododdin, where the name of Arthur is also mentioned.

Gorse If you ever happen to end up in Scotland wondering if you are followed by swarms of small yellow flowering plants know that it is Common Gorse. Photo by Mantas Ališauskas

Holyrood Park

Also called Queen’s Park or King’s park depending on reigning monarch’s gender, it is associated with the royal palace of Holyroodhouse and was formerly a 12th-century royal hunting estate. The actual meaning of Holyrood is „Holy Cross“ and it is such not by an accident.

On a hike to Arthur's peak On the hike to Arthur's peak. Photo by Mantas Ališauskas

Origins of Holyrood Abbey and the Canongate

Back in those times, Arthur‘s Seat was surrounded by the ancient forest of Drumselch, home to deer, roe, foxes and suchlike wild beasts. One day, an actual King of Scotland, David I was out for a game in these royal hunting grounds. The King got separated from his followers and once confronted by a white huge stag, he fell from his horse. The beast was about to ram him, but a cross appeared between his antlers and the stag calmed down. David I took that as divine intervention and allegedly founded the Abbey of Holyrood on the spot, with the Canongate burgh to support it.

The Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh Near the Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh. Photo by Mantas Ališauskas

The Canongate

The Stag‘s antlers with a cross between them to this day appear on the Arms of Canongate. The burgh remained independent up until 1636 and was completely absorbed by Edinburgh in 1856. Today it is a district in the central area of Scotland‘s Capital and the place where the hike to Arthur‘s Seat starts.

Ruins of St. Anthony Chapel in Holyrood Park, Edinburgh Ruins of St. Anthony Chapel in Holyrood Park, Edinburgh. Photo by Mantas Ališauskas

St. Anthony’s Chapel

The ruins of st. Anthony’s chapel in the Holyrood park was built not later than the 15th century, as in 1426 it is recorded that the Pope gave money for its repair, but the origins of the chapel are not certain. It was probably built to support Holyrood Abbey and it is recorded in 1779 that St. Anthony‘s Chapel was a beautiful Gothic building with a tower of 12m height. I can only wonder, maybe it is the place where King David I actually saw the White Stag?

View from Arthurs Seat, Edinburgh According to a Celtic legend Arthur’s Seat is a sleeping dragon which used to terrorize the local folk. The Edinburgh inhabitants got pretty prosperous ever since the dragon took a nap, aye? Photo by Mantas Ališauskas

My impressions of climbing Arthur’s Peak

Don’t be mistaken by the height of Arthur’s Seat, with a prominence of 186m. it provides a great panorama and for all its intents and purposes Arthur’s Seat is a mountain. By the words of Scottish novelist Robert Louis Stevenson:

"..a hill for magnitude, a mountain in virtue of its bold design.."

Arthurs Seat, Edinburgh Arthurs Seat, Edinburgh. Photo by Mantas Ališauskas

It is one of those cases where I would recommend visiting the city for different reasons, but once you are in Edinburgh and if the sky is clear, it is a must walk. Since I am from a region of really flat terrain, I might be a bit biased, but having a mountain in the city looks awesome to me. I can’t even describe how envious I am to all those people I’ve seen running in Holyrood Park.

Overall Arthur’s Peak is just one of the many amazing features in the magical Edinburgh. If you happen to be in the city and your weather cards played-out to be poor – don’t even think of climbing the mountain. There is plenty of other fun stuff to do in Edinburgh during the rainy days. Most of them, of course, should start with a glass of a fine local malt whiskey under a roof. But, if the weather is nice, you should be able to find a couple of spare hours to make the relatively easy climb to the peak of Arthur’s Seat. Believe me, you won’t be disappointed. It is not like you can observe such dramatic scenery from a tamed dragon’s back every day.

Climbing Arthur's Seat Map Climbing Arthur's Seat Map. Design by Mantas Ališauskas


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Author: Mantas Ališauskas
Photography: Mantas Ališauskas
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Always love your posts, Mantas :) The way you compose each post, the photographs you included, and how you narrate... they are absolutely gorgeous <3

There's so much personality, and a lot of interesting tidbits that you included that infused the places you have visited with depth and charm. They are not just another travel blog, with a photo dump. You took me to fantasize about sleeping dragons and volcanoes, and though some of the theories weren't 'real' the sense of wonders and amazement ..........was.

Love your work, @ctdots <3 I will continue to support you and your beautiful articles <3

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It is hard to describe how much I appreciate your feedback! Getting where I am now cost me a lot of work, and even more work I'll need to get where I want. People like you keeps me motivated, and since I don't get as much of support from the people surrounding me in real life, your support is much more important to me than it could appear.

From your feedback I start to realise that maybe I'm getting closer to where I want with my writing skills, and that is very important to me. Thank you! and I hope you are having a nice day, as your comments definitely cheered mine!

What incredible photography and such a detailed post. Thank you for sharing @ctdots

Thank you @vegoutt-travel I try to do my best! You produce a nice content as well. Followed ;)

Natural Landscape photography is so nice.
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It is a truly beautiful place, all I had to do was simply take those pictures:) Thank you for reaching me out!

That was quite an adventure. Thanks for such a detailed post. I have never yet climbed Arthur's Seat, and likely never will, so thanks for taking me there!

Hey, thank you for letting me know what you think:) Comments like these keeps me going! I'm happy that I brought you together with me on that journey!

Great! Some people have the knack of bringing the viewer along. You managed to do that in so many ways. Scotland is my home country, but I live in the USA, so I always like to read good posts about "home."

When I visit a place I want to know about the history and legends too. My travel posts take many hours to produce too, so I understand where you are coming from. For me it is a labor of love when I create such a post, but it is nice to be rewarded. I have joined your mailing list so that I won't miss your next post!

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