Saturday 2 September 2023

The Seven Tops of Holyrood Park: Part 1

My colleague and I were cooking up a plan. Leave work in Edinburgh - run over Arthur's Seat - a couple of pints in the Sheep Heid Inn in Duddingston - taxi home. 

Yes! And have you noticed there are seven tops in Holyrood Park - let's do them all!

Yes! And make sure we do it on a fine evening!

 Yes! And let's invite a few friends to make it even more fun!

Yes! And let's hold off until everyone's calendars align... at that point, the plan stalled. 

The calendars never aligned. Eventually I'd had enough, and just went myself over the seven tops.

What are these seven tops, you are wondering? Arthur's Seat is the summit, the scenic Salisbury Crags below, but what else?

I like the number seven, and Edinburgh itself has a long-standing race over seven hills (Calton Hill, Castle Hill, Corstorphine Hill, Craiglockhart Hill, Braid Hills, Blackford Hill, and Arthur's Seat). But Arthur's Seat itself has six other lesser-known companion tops in the confines of Holyrood Park, and it was time to visit them all in one trip! 

Haggis Knowe:

The first and easiest top is Haggis Knowe. This is a tiny top, barely a hill at all, but it is ringed by a low line of basalt cliffs that make its ascent easy from one direction only and gives the summit an airy, precipitous feel out of all proportion to its height.

No wonder Will Ferrell chose it as the home of his Icelandic Elves in the Eurovision movie

If you are short of time or energy, Haggis Knowe makes a great viewpoint, looking back at the Royal Mile climbing up its hill beyond Holyrood Palace and the Scottish Parliament.

Above Haggis Knowe looms the ruin of St Anthony's Chapel, but we aren't going there next: the crag the chapel stands on doesn't qualify as one of the seven tops. Instead I went to Salisbury Crags, the most spectacular of all the tops. This is one of the must-visit sites in Edinburgh. 

Wander up here, sit down and dangle your feet over the edge of the crags, look at the miniature city below going about its day, watch the sun set beyond the castle. You can climb all the way up to Arthur's Seat if you wish, but the views don't get any better: below the crags, a path built as a make-work scheme in the early 19th century called the Radical Road is currently closed due to rock fall. The crags are a popular spot for rock climbing, or would be if there wasn't a ban on climbing due to the risk of rock falling on pedestrians below. These rocks hold an important place in geology - James Hutton used used them to prove his 18th century theory of the volcanic formation of bedrock.

As well as beauty, science, and a bracing walk, Salibury Crags provided a mystery that remains unsolved to this day: a 19th century discovery of 17 miniature coffins in a small cave.

This alone makes a great walk. But so far, we've only visited two of the seven tops. Read about the rest in Part 2!