Travel: Urban nature in Edinburgh

Explore Arthur’s Seat with correspondent Garrett Palm

Calton Hill and the city of Edinburgh from the side of the Salisbury Crags.

Story and photos by Garrett Palm

Clinging to some crags, I boulder up the side of Arthur’s Seat, a 350-million-year-old volcanic outcrop carved by glaciers. Looking down on the valley and ignoring the city behind me, I can convince myself I’m in the backcountry. But looking over my shoulder I can see the monuments, palaces, and Victorian Gothic buildings of Edinburgh. The summit can get crowded, but reaching the summit is not the point. The point is to get mud, not car exhaust, on your clothes. On the more difficult routes, you’ll encounter fewer people.

From the top, I can see Edinburgh all around, Inchkeith in the Firth of Forth, and the mountainous County Fife across the water. There are many routes up. Both times we started by the palace. From there you can start up the valley with the Salisbury Crags between you and the city, skirt around Hunter’s Bog, and turn east. Or, you can go towards St. Andrew’s cathedral and hike along the top of another set of crags. There are moments on the walk I forget I’m in the middle of a city.

“A nobler contrast there can hardly exist than that of the huge city, dark with the smoke of ages, and groaning, with the various sounds of active industry or idle revel, and the lofty and craggy hill, silent and solitary as the grave; one exhibiting the full tide of existence, pressing and precipitating itself forward with the force ol an inundation; the other resembling some time-worn anchorite, whose life passes as silent and unobserved as the slender rill which escapes unheard, and scarce seen, from the fountain ot his patron saint.” – Sir Walter Scott
The ruins of St. Anthony’s Chapel. The chapel’s history can only be guessed at. It most likely fell into disrepair after the reformation in 1560.
A hiker looks out to the west over the city below.

Isolation in the outdoors is hard to find in the United Kingdom. It is an island where people have been building stone, steel, or glass structures on it for more than a thousand years. The far reaches of the Highlands and the Outer Hebrides  have spots of untouched beauty, but also ruins of ancient monasteries and castles — or at least a stonewall or a flock of sheep.

A bird rides a gust of wind, remaining in place in front of Leith (the port district), the River Forth, and Inchkeith.

It is a beauty that has served as the muse for the great classical poets. Loch Katherin on the Southern edge of the Highlands inspired Sir Walter Scott’s Lady of the Lake, part of which was later adapted to Schubert’s Ave Maria. There were monuments and speakers playing the song to point this out.

I love cities. Especially ones like Edinburgh — full of fresh air, parks, views of the Firth and mountains beyond. The crowded sidewalks and streets jammed with cars and pedestrians are draining. Getting into the woods and mountains around and in the city is a shot of energy and inspiration. All I want to do is muck around in the peat, boulder over the crags, and explore. I want to get muddy. I become a different person. I may not turn this inspiration into written poetry, but I feel the power.

The Holyrood Palace, traditional home of the Scottish monarchy and currently the Queen’s residence when she is in Edinburgh, and the new Parliament from the side of the Salisbury Crags.
A campsite and road bike laden with full panniers. Camping is not allowed in the park, but I doubt anyone bothered the man biking around Scotland.
A hiker sits atop the summit marker. Around on the rocks are etchings of names and dates ranging from today to the mid 1800s, and possibly further back.
Hikers making the ascent from the South.
Council housing with the Salisbury Crags in the background.
Arthur’s Seat’s summit from Nether Hill.
The Salisbury Crags overlooking the city.
Heather growing on a point at Loch Kathrin, which inspired The Lady of the Lake.

Garrett Palm is a photographer, writer, producer and improv actor currently living in Brooklyn, NY. You can follow his travels and photos at and find out more about him at

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