Or, you can take the girl out of the city…
Edinburgh’s wind is famous for its almost constant presence in the city. Sometimes it’s a light breeze gently dancing its way around the narrow closes and stony buildings, whistling happily along.
But at other times it’s a harsh, violent wind that snarls around the city and cuts you to the bone.
This particular day, we got the second kind of wind.
But this day was also the third day in a row I’d been putting off climbing up to Arthur’s Seat, the ancient volcano that rewards the people who scale it with spectacular views of Edinburgh.
Rather than slogging my way up, I’d spent a couple of days lazing around in my friend’s flat, gazing out the windows that looked directly onto the hillside.
Every so often, I caught a glimpse of people powering their way to the top. The slow but steady stream of hikers was rather soothing to watch. I felt a vicarious sense of satisfaction as the tiny black silhouettes in the distance made it all the way to the peak and raised their hands in victory.
Still, I was starting to feel vaguely guilty about literally lying in bed eating chocolate biscuits and drinking endless cups of tea while I watched other people work hard.
When Sunday rolled around, my friends went off to go run relay marathons while I snoozed. (I was quite shocked when I found out they’d voluntarily paid to go running for hours on a Sunday morning).
By the time I finally rolled out of bed, I saw that stream of little silhouetted hikers determinedly making their way up the hill.
The combination of the two events made my vague sense of guilt morph into full-blown shame. So after one last cup of tea, off I went to take on the hill myself.
Now, I really should have known from the beginning that I wasn’t very well-prepared. Right away, it was clear that everybody else on the trail was wearing sensible hiking shoes and bundled up in serious sporty clothing.
Meanwhile, I’d worn my city-stomping boots with a tiny heel and a flouncy wool coat with sparkly gold buttons. That should have been the first sign something was up.
But my friend said it only took half an hour to do the walk, and the last time she’d gone, she’d been shocked at how quickly she’d gotten back to her apartment. It certainly didn’t look very hard from where I was relaxing in her flat.
As my friend promised, it really doesn’t take too long – maybe 20 minutes – and there are some fantastic views. To get up, you have to hike up a twisting set of stone steps.
The path up is steep and a bit rocky, but I’m in reasonably good shape. I was perfectly warm and comfortable for a hike. I was breathing hard as I got towards the top, but it wasn’t a tough hike.
Or rather, it shouldn’t have been a tough hike. But naturally, I’d picked the worst possible day to venture up the hill.
As I neared the top, the Edinburgh wind whipped up into a frenzy.
It howled around the top of the hillside so hard that I literally could not stand up. My ears rang in pain as the freezing wind blasted directly into them. The wind was ever fiercer here, forcing me to one side of the hill, seemingly trying to push me over the edge.
But I hadn’t gotten out of my cozy nest of tea and treats to give up now. I pushed back harder, and found myself scrambling up a rocky path to get to the very top.
The views were, indeed, spectacular.
Or at least, they seemed fairly nice in the brief glimpses I got between squinting my eyes shut to protect them from the clouds of dust being flung up into the air.
I tried taking a few pictures, but every time I held my Canon up, the wind was so strong that it forced the camera back towards my body.
At one point, I literally could not stand up without clinging onto something. So I sat down behind a big rock and waited. At one point, I tried to get up and was firmly pushed back on the ground by the wind.
Finally, the wind died down enough that I could stand. I started picking my way among the rocky top to get down as soon as possible.
Suddenly, a vicious gust of wind knocked me off my balance, and the tiny heel on my silly little boots got caught on a rock. My ankle twisted and I stumbled. As I tried to get back up, I realized I couldn’t put any weight on my ankle.
I was alone, getting buffeted every which way by the wind, and in pain. How on earth was I going to make it down?
(Er, I should mention I’m not much of an outdoorsy type, though it may hardly be necessary at this point!).
Once my initial panic subsided, it wasn’t nearly as bad of a twist as I’d expected. My ankle definitely hurt, but I could walk, and I just wanted to get off the hill as soon as possible.
I started off back down, crouching down low so I couldn’t get blown off balance. I used all fours to scoot my way down the peak. On flatter sections of the trail I ran, getting pushed to one side by the wind and with my hair streaming across my face so I couldn’t see. I didn’t care – I only wanted to be back inside.
Then I got to the little rocky trail of steps. My feet slipped and skidded on the stones on the narrow trail, and the wind buffeted me so hard I really thought I was going to get blown straight off the hillside. I had to stop and sit down, clinging once again to the biggest rock I could find.
As I sat, freezing cold and more than a little worried, I looked longingly at the towers of the city below – and a little lightbulb went off inside my head.
It suddenly became crystal clear to me why I hardly ever ventured out into nature, and why that was an excellent rule to live by.
Eventually, I managed to get to a section that was more protected from the wind, and rushed down as quickly as I possibly could. My whole body hurt from the wind – especially my ears and lips. As I passed a few hikers making their way up the trail, they looked completely at ease, like they did this every day. I knew I didn’t look anything even close to “at ease”.
When I finally got my little urbanite self back to street level, I stopped being so frazzled and had time to think. That’s when I realized this hike had combined pretty much everything I try to avoid:
1) Being exposed to the elements (especially my least favorite of them – wind)
2) Being inappropriately dressed for the occasion (ha)
3) Being more than ten minutes’ walk away from a cup of tea.
When I wrote this piece from my friend’s bed, watching the late afternoon hikers making their way up the hill as I was tucked up safely away from the wind, all those vague feelings of guilt had gone.
“Better them than me,” I laughed to myself, feeling relieved as I wrapped my hands around a warm cup of tea – and reached for an extra chocolate biscuit to go with it.
Postscript: The evening after my hiking adventure to Arthur’s Seat, I did a ghost tour of Edinburgh. Walking around graveyards in the middle of the night hearing scary stories was approximately a million times less frightening than walking up that dratted hill.
The views are nice, though.
Read more about Edinburgh:
10 Things You Didn’t Know about Edinburgh’s Royal Mile
Hey, but aside from that Edinburgh is really gorgeous, one of my favorite cities in Europe 🙂 but I must confess I haven’t climbed up to Arthur’s seat yet, must do for my next time 🙂
Beautiful photos! I love the walk to Arthur’s seat. It’s not too beautiful and the view is awesome!
Arthur’s Seat was one of my favorite things about Edinburgh when I visited the city on a high school trip back in 2008. I was kinda bummed that it was extremely foggy/cloudy and so we couldn’t appreciate ~the views~ and all, but I think the fog added to the moody/medieval atmosphere of the mountain. Glad you made it down in one piece to get a proper cup of tea!
Ha, ha! That is so like me! I never wear the right shoes etc. and usually stay away from hikes and climbs. (Although I broke my ankle walking down the stairs of our apartment in Spain on the way to dinner)The views are great and at least you can say you did it!
I didn’t climb up Arthur’s Seat when I briefly visited Edinburgh in 2009. We didn’t really have time but it did look super pretty and I will definitely do it if I ever visit Edinburgh again. I’ve done some hiking in national parks and in the Catskills and I actually do own hiking shoes, so I will take your advice into account haha. I did a couple of hikes in the Sierra de Guadarrama mountains around Madrid too so I like being in nature. But that wind sounds terrifying and I’m glad you made it down okay. I’ve had to deal with that kind of piercing wind when I’ve gone skiing–it picks up the snow around you, you can’t see anything, your goggles fog up, you’re trying to move forward as the wind pushes back and it’s an all around scary.
You were lucky. Sturdy shoes are essential for something like you attempted – blow what it looks like! It is a great city though.