The layout of this city becomes clear as I walk the circumference of Arthur’s Seat and Salisbury Crags. It takes to me a height from where I can pick out districts of the city and find my bearings. I try to take this walk daily, but as the days shorten, so too does my window of opportunity to get out.
Entering the park under the railway line, there is an immediate hush: a retreat from the city and a feeling of time travel as I walk along an ancient stonewall bearing a mantel carved with the words ‘Croft-An-Righ’. Moss and lichen stick to it in an impossibly subtle palette of colours. Often tourists with selfie-sticks will pose here – they could go home and plausibly tell their friends, ‘this shot was taken in the Highlands’. From here, it is only a three-minute walk to the Parliament, but it suddenly feels peaceful and far removed from city life.
Just the other day I overheard a guide standing high on the wall inside the grounds of Holyrood Palace tell stories to a young couple who had hired her. “I really should get a tour some day,” I resolved. I know so little about the landmarks I pass each day. I believe the ruins behind the high walls in the grounds of the palace are St Anthony’s Chapel Ruins, and that the much more crumbly ruins, high up on the hill behind St Margaret’s Loch, are (funnily enough) St Margaret’s Chapel Ruins. I know little else, however. For the time being, though, I can leave history to one side. For me, this walk is a threefold exercise: movement to keep fit; deep breaths of fresh air to keep sane; and orientation, so I can begin to know this city and feel I belong.
There is a huge flat grassy area adjacent to the Palace that I cross to begin my walk. Lately, I see a woman there training whippets, about 10 of them. During the festivals two young men tied tightropes between trees down here to practice balancing their act. I would sit on a felled stump in the sun and admire their agility. Further along, near the car park, an entrepreneurial, kilted-man in a van was running his summer business: a few bales of straw, some wheelbarrows, and a few caber-esque poles made up his ‘Highland Games’ which seemed mostly to attract the Far Eastern Market. I loved it when they were there. My step had a little more bounce when I heard them whoop and laugh as they raced in teams with their straw bales. Usually they looked like they were dressed for a day’s shopping in George’s Street, but the kitten heels didn’t seem to dampen their enthusiasm! That was the sound of summer. I miss it.
I suppose that is the thing about walking the same route time and time again. Everything changes, and nothing changes. The man with the cabers may, or may not, be back next summer, but the ruins will still be there. I walk up Queen’s Drive, the hill gets steeper, and I look eastwards. Even with reasonable visibility I can pick out Berwick Law and Traprain Law, two hills in the distance of East Lothian. The former, a very traditional stand-castle, conical shape; the latter, more of a gentle sloping carbuncle. They too will be there well after my walking days are done.
I’ll finish my walk tomorrow. See you then.