Clockwise, that’s how I always walk around the Seat, following Queen’s Drive the whole way round. It climbs sharply for about a mile until I reach Dunsapie Loch. I saw a rat there once; just about ten feet from where a young mum was holding tight to her toddler, trying to keep the little one from falling in as they fed the swans. They were happily oblivious to it. What’s the old adage? That you’re never more than 6 feet away from a rat. It’s one of those thoughts best not lingered upon.
Coming up the hill towards Dunsapie Loch the cyclists and runners don’t speak, time enough for that further on when the terrain flattens out. Even the fittest appear to labour up the steep gradient, panting heavily. I do too at this point, walking fast, or at least, trying to. For a couple of weeks I passed people with blackberries in plastic bags or containers. The brambles are past their best now. The plumpest were to be had over the precipitous edges around the bend looking down onto Duddingston Village. I peer down and try to pick out the roof of the Sheep’s Heid Inn – the venue for a first date I had a few months back, but that’s a story for a rainy-day blog. Often, I can hear the musical drones of bagpipes rising up from Prestonfield House down below. It delights me to hear the pipes from up here, a near perfect soundtrack to the point of clichéd. ‘Atholl Higlander’ seems to be a favourite. From this vantage point I look across to Blackford Hill, Morningside, the dry ski slop in the distance. Slowly, I’m learning.
I must look like a local, as one day a bedraggled family – two teenage kids and their beleaguered looking parents – stop me and ask, desperately, if they are nearly there yet. “Depends where you are going”, I offer, cheerfully. The girl, maybe 17, smiles back. The boy, about 14, blows air through his lips like a horse. He’s fed up. “We’re going the whole way round,” she explains, “we started at the Castle”. American accent. I assume she means the Palace. I figure they are about halfway there, maybe another 25 minutes, if they walk fast. I look at the parents. They look exhausted, more emotional than physical, I’m imagining. “You’re nearly there,” I lie brightly, “10 minutes.”
I’m now walking due north-west now, an elevated part of the walk, looking down onto Pollock Halls and the Commonwealth Pool. This is the stunning part, when you come round the west side of the Seat and the Old Town opens up in front of you: the Castle, spires, clock towers, tips of monuments, and – if I time it right – the evening sun dipping down into the Firth of Forth. Airplanes fly in low over Leith and those lucky enough to be seated by the window on the left have magnificent views of the city. Here I can choose to take the high path and go back along the top of the Crags. Up there I can see the tips of three bridges across to Fife: the rail bridge, the old road bridge, and now, since the start of September, the new road bridge. I can see the new town, Leith, ships sheltering in the Firth, industrial plants across in Fife. More often than not, though, I stay low and walk down the steep, grassy bank below the Crags. Down here I see rabbits and pheasants and jackdaws and seagulls, and, sometimes, a kestrel. The yellow ragwort is all going to seed. I pull at the heads and separate the fluffy seed parcels by blowing between my thumb and forefinger. I’m nearly at the Parliament now. I like how they’ve kept the grounds here, wild with untamed grasses and flowers. Occasionally, I’ll go across and sit by the sculptural pools and phone someone to break my solitude for a bit. Otherwise, I’ll just walk on home.