Arthur's Seat

Explore one of Edinburgh's most distinctive landmarks, an extinct volcano only a 15-minute walk from the city centre

Arthur’s Seat has always been at the heart of Edinburgh life. Archaeological finds suggest that a metal smith was at work on the slopes about 3000 years ago, while the cultivation terraces made by medieval farmers are still visible above Dunsapie Loch. Today, the peak and surrounding parkland are mainly used for recreation, offering visitors and locals alike the chance to disappear into beautiful countryside without ever leaving the city. Rising to a modest 251m, the seat is perfect for a bracing Boxing Day walk. Holyrood Park, of which Arthur’s Seat is the highest peak, is a Scheduled Ancient Monument and Site of Special Scientific Interest.

START From St Anne’s Yard car park, close to Holroodhouse Palace and the Scottish Parliament, ascend Salisbury Crags by the Radical Road. It is named after the radical politics of unemployed weavers from the west of Scotland, who were recruited as labourers by Sir Walter Scott and friends. Steeply climbing, the path offers some wonderful views over the west of the city. After three-quarters of a mile the path dips down to Powderhouse Corner, where explosive charges used to be stored. Dolerite quarrying from the crags in the 19th century led to a popular outcry – locals didn’t want the crags’ distinct shape mutilated. Arthur’s Seat is famous for its lion’s haunch pose, so it’s understandable that locals wanted this to be preserved.

1 MILE Turn left and climb the steps to The Nether Hill, from which you can reach the summit. On a clear winter’s day you can see as far northwest as Clackmannanshire, at least 40 miles away. The most famous inhabitants of the summit are 17 tiny wooden figures, encased in equally small coffins and discovered in 1836. They are now in the Royal Museum, and their purpose remains a mystery. Another mystery is how Arthur’s Seat got its name: unfortunately it’s probably not because of a link with King Arthur. Head east and look out for two stone banks, which are the remains of a hill fort over 1,500 years old. To keep on track, look for Dunsapie Loch, and fix your route to the right. Turn right along Queen’s Drive for about 100m, then left along a marked path through a field. On reaching a wall, continue right until you come to stairs leading to Duddingston.

2 MILE At Duddingston Loch there is a bird sanctuary and if you’re lucky you might catch a glimpse of a bittern. Turn left up the cobbled path, running parallel to the road. In front is the Sheep Heid, Edinburgh’s oldest surviving pub, with reputedly the world’s oldest working skittle alley, so why not take a break from the cold and enjoy some excellent food and local ale. Once you’ve had your fill, retrace your steps as far as the loch and then, instead of heading up to the summit, walk along the valley towards Long Row.

3 MILE If you look to your right, above St Margaret’s Loch, you will see the ruin of St Anthony’s Chapel, which dates back to at least the 16th century. Now rejoin the road, turning left to the car park.

Terrain: Most of the route follows grass or tarmac paths. Care should be taken at the summit where the bare rock, worn down by millions of feet, can be very slippery.
Car: Arthur
Public Transport: Edinburgh is a small city so walking is often the best plan. Locate the Royal Mile, running down from the castle, and walk to the palace and parliament at its foot. As the name suggests, this is a distance of about one mile.
More info: Tourist Information 3 Princes Street, Edinburgh, Lothian EH2 2QP 0845 225 5121
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