To the infamous Arthur’s Seat:
They said it would be easy. A nice fifteen minute stroll.
They said I could even wear my rain boots. A grand idea to fight off the forecasted downpour.
They said it would be windy, cold to the bone. But worth the shivers to see the view.
They said so many things. Of where to go, how it would be. But the things they said are just words I never came to see.
But oh, dear Arthur and your strange cemented-cone of a seat, you had different ideas for me.
We found the base of the extinct volcano on which you sit a mile east of Edinburgh Castle. Your height of 251 meters—822 feet—above the sea was hidden beneath a blank canvas of a sky. With no signage to be seen, no one around to ask, we let our guts be our guide.
I had come to Edinburgh, a 45 minute train ride away from the center of Stirling, to spend the day with my friend from home, Charis, and Amanda, a friend she had met in her current study-abroad location of Seville, Spain. It would have been easy to skip out, let the Scottish weather choke the adventure, but we kept on. Tucking into our raincoat pockets the hope of panoramic views of Holyrood Palace, Scottish Parliament, and the rolling green country-side.
Shedding layers as we looked upwards into grayness, we trudged on.
“Hiya, uh, which way to King Arthur’s seat?”
I pet her wee scruff of a dog as she laughs, correcting our ignorance: “Oh no, it’s not King Arthur.”
She points upward into the mist, questioning why we bothered, there’d be nothing to see, not today anyway.
Onwards, out of breath, finally we stumbled up onto where you sit. Funny, because you’re not a seat. Just a cone-shaped dome of white cement. We took our tourist pictures against the white backdrop. We tried to ignore the creepy black crow hopping around the cliff’s edge. Imagined the view; beautiful, I’m sure. It was anti-climactic to say the least.
Into the whiteness we descended. Retracing our steps, or so we thought.
That’s when the clouds cleared, just enough to let us see the loch below, a palace, pieces of the country-side. The kind of sight that stops you in your tracks. The kind that makes the climb worth its bother. One that makes room for silence, the peace of clarity.
But the thing is, it wasn’t a trail that brought us there. No, in my post-googling research on the place, we shouldn’t have seen it at all. Actually, seeing that breath-taking fragment of a view, well, it put us in a place of breaking the law.
Due to hazards rock climbing is now restricted to the South Quarry & a free permit is required.
We didn’t have a permit. This was definitely not a path. But the route back was more dangerous than continuing on; with the lack of rocks and places to wedge our feet, the return climb up the muddy cliff-side we came down would have be insanity.
I soon found myself on my bum, sliding down the cliff-side, regretting not having put on shoes with more traction. Amanda was next to eat the mud. Charis somehow stood strong till the end. Laughing deep in my belly, there was nothing to do but go on and pray nobody would be broken. At one point, the descent turned into rock crevices I had no way of conquering in my poor-choice of shoes, let alone if I had a rope and serious mountaineering gear. So we found ourselves on all fours, crab crawling down the speed of a snail, the road below coming into view.
I wasn’t scared, though I was well aware of how wrong this could turn. One crab leg in front of the other, I kept on. We all did. And suddenly stairs appeared in the hill-side, as if someone knew we were coming and had decided put them there. Random beyond belief. It was the path most don’t take. So much more could have went wrong, but I wouldn’t take it back. We saw something beautiful. Beneath the clouds, we knew it was there, imagined what it would be like, but for a moment, we caught a fragment with our own eyes. No view can match the beauty of sharing an experience so absurdly beautiful together. And the thing is, we made it to the bottom, caked in mud, smiling and laughing and looking forward to a change of clothes, washed hands, and a big cup of tea.
But I have to say, Mr. Arthur, if we meet again, though I enjoyed the fellowship of a mudslide and lack of panoramic scenery, I’m doing a few things differently. I’ll know not to call you King Arthur—though Wikipedia ensures me that you may very well be named after the legendary Camelot King. Though I know a true Scott may prefer to believe you come from the Gallic term meaning “Height of Arrows.” Whoever you may be, though no one truly knows, I will come see you on a clearer day. I’ll heed the internet’s advice to not take the diagonal path heading up the right side of Salisbury Crags and take the path more traveled by. And I certainly will not wear my navy blue Hunter rain boots.