Fit for a King

Holyroodhouse
Holyroodhouse

Edinburgh is a beautiful city. It’s got food, it’s got shopping, it’s got history, it’s got museums, it’s got literature, and it’s got looks. It’s a very well-rounded city. Sometimes, though, a body needs a break from the hustle and bustle of big cities, even one as diverse as Edinburgh. Luckily for people of this disposition, Edinburgh is diverse enough to have a solution in store for them.

If you find yourself in Edinburgh, chances are you’ll find yourself at the beautiful and wonderfully historical Holyroodhouse, or Holyrood Palace. Holyroodhouse used to be on the outskirts of the city, and was in a quiet, forested area, popular with the royals as hunting grounds. The story goes that one day, one of the royals was out hunting when a wild stag went on a rampage. The crazed deer was about to rush the young royal (and in so doing cause considerable bodily damage), when a cross miraculously appeared between the stag’s antlers. The young prince grabbed the cross, the deer ran away, and he was left with a piece of the Holy Cross (the cross upon which Jesus died) in his hands. He founded a monastery on the site of this miraculous delivery, and named it after his saving grace: Holyrood Monastery (‘rood’ is the Old English word for ‘cross’; ergo, the name of the monastery is ‘Holy Cross,’ after the cross that appeared above the deer). The monastery was such a lovely, quiet, remote place that the royal family of Scotland later built themselves a palace nearby and lived there instead of Edinburgh Castle, naming their house Holyroodhouse after the monastery. To this day, it’s still the official residence of Her Majesty the Queen when she’s in Scotland.

the steep way up
the steep way up

Holyroodhouse has lovely gardens, which are well worth taking a stroll through. However, it’s the park behind the palace grounds that provides the true solace for the city-tired traveler.

Holyrood Park is situated in the middle of the city of Edinburgh, much in the same way Central Park is situated in the center of New York City; that is, it used to be way the heck out in the boonies, but due to urban expansion, it now serves as a pastoral retreat for city dwellers. On one tour through Edinburgh, I was informed that Holyrood Park is slightly smaller than Central Park. However, there’s a dormant volcano in the middle, which makes it taller than Central Park. This seems to be a point of pride with the people of Edinburgh.

Along one side of the mountain is the Salisbury Crags. According to another tour guide, Queen Victoria, during one of her stays at Holyroodhouse, was particularly annoyed with the Duke of Salisbury, and made a jab that the side of the mountain was ‘as craggy as Salisbury’s soul,’ at which point my tour guide pointed out that “Queen Victoria was amused sometimes.” The Internet disputes this particular etymology, but I rather enjoy it.

Above the Salisbury Crags, though, is a more impressive viewing point. The top of the mountain is called King Arthur’s Seat. In addition to being absolutely beautiful to look at, difficult to climb, and an absolutely stunning lookout point, King Arthur’s Seat is connected to the very man, King Arthur himself. At least, if you put any stock in the local lore it is. According to one story, King Arthur and his trusted Knights of the Round Table climbed this mountain in order to get a better perspective of an ongoing battle below. According to another story, this mountain was the location of the actual Round Table. That’s right, you could climb a mountain in Edinburgh and (maybe) stand on what’s left of the legendary keep of Camelot!

Edinburgh from King Arthur's Seat
Edinburgh from King Arthur’s Seat

When I climbed to King Arthur’s Seat, I was a bit unprepared for the whole experience. Luckily, I had worn good walking shoes, but I had also simply stopped at the park on my way to another attraction. I thought, hey, forty-five minutes or an hour in the park would be a nice break. Besides, a friend told me that the views from King Arthur’s Seat were spectacular. He told me it was a ‘little outcropping,’ which turned out to be a bit of an understatement, but the views were everything that was promised and more.

The way up was difficult because, being me, I found the more difficult way to climb up before I found the easier way. It seems that I was not the only one to do so, because I met quite a few people who had stopped and were resting, either on their way up or their way down. It created a nice little community, really. Everyone was commiserating together on how the path hadn’t looked so steep, on how they hadn’t thought it would be such a long climb, and hey, Would you like your picture taken here?

I, for one, am not one to resist photographing the view of lovely green hills, a beautiful city, and deep blue water in the background. Shopping bags in one hand, a camera in the other, short of breath, hair going every which way, and I took in the splendor of Edinburgh from the top of a mountain fit for a king.

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