A couple of days of bed rest is enough for me. Now that the incision wound in my thigh is feeling less tender, it is time to crack on with my seven hills of Edinburgh project! You will recall that I’ve only managed one of these so far, but now the hole in my heart is closed, there will definitely be no stopping me. I’ve recently been fitted out with some new orthotics to correct my over-pronating ankle – the effect of the stroke on my left foot has been made worse by my naturally flat and weirdly large plates o’ meat – but these new orthotics really help. In fact, I have found that I can now walk about a little without using the leg brace, which is very pleasing. My brace may well be a miracle of carbon-fibre engineering, but I really hate clumping along with a big, black, cumbersome object strapped to my shin, so I decided to attempt Calton Hill without it. I’m still very unsteady on my feet, though, so I used one of the walking poles that Tom gave me for my birthday for added support.

Calton Hill is not high, but because of its position in the city it has a distinctive sort of prominence. Once the site of a gibbet and a jail, over the course of the Nineteenth Century, the hilltop became home to a crazy jumble of unrelated structures, the most notorious of which is the unfinished national monument (seen above), which was originally meant to commemorate Scotland’s dead in the Napoleonic Wars. Other men have other monuments here too, including Nelson, whose memorial was apparently designed to resemble the admiral’s telescope. This architectural conceit, according to Robert Louis Stevenson, makes the Nelson monument “rank among the vilest of men’s handiworks.”* You can make up your own mind.

Today, folk come up here to explore the buildings, or to celebrate Beltane, but mostly for the views, which are tremendous in all seasons, weathers, and directions.

To the North, sunshine on Leith. . .

. . .and to the South, brooding skies over the old town, the Braids in the distance.

But my favourite monument on Calton Hill is not really part of the hill itself: it is the obelisk that you can see just right-of-centre in the photograph above, and it lies over the road in Old Calton Burial Ground. David Hume is buried here, but that’s not who we came to see. . .

In Scotland, as elsewhere in Britain, one effect of the French Revolution was to unleash the forces of conservative reaction among supporters of the Government. In 1793 and 4, political repression came to a head in a series of Edinburgh show trials, whose purpose was to undercut and demoralise the burgeoning movement for parliamentary reform. With the assistance of a reactionary and corrupt judiciary, the Unitarian printer, Thomas Palmer, William Skirving, (the secretary of the Edinburgh Society of the Friends of the People) Maurice Margarot (member of the London Corresponding Society), Philadelphia lawyer, Joseph Gerrald, and, perhaps most famously, eloquent Scottish radical and advocate, Thomas Muir, were all convicted on spurious charges of sedition, and transported to Australia.**

When the foundation stone of Hamilton’s monument to Scotland’s political martyrs was finally laid in 1844, a massive Edinburgh crowd gathered to watch the ceremony on Calton Hill’s south side.

The Political Martyrs monument is often overlooked, but I reckon it deserves a much more prominent place on the tourist map of Edinburgh.

After a highly successful walk up, down, and around Calton Hill, it was time for a reward, and not before time, as the sky was threatening rain. . .

There was a beer festival on at one of our favourite pubs, so we headed North . . .

The festival featured some fine Scottish ales, but we didn’t hang around for the evening’s entertainment (pictured left). I like to imagine them as the ultimate caucasian soul outfit, but they are probably just two blokes from Falkirk who look slightly alike.

It was a good afternoon.

And for those who are wondering, yes, that is the cycling jersey. It is a fun and perfectly wearable garment, but, to be honest, all is not quite well with it . . . after writing that terribly smug post about the importance of neat finishing &c &c, I found myself having a steeking disaster. I promise to explain all another time. . .

* RL Stevenson, Edinburgh: Picturesque Notes (1879).
**if you are interested in the British parlimentary reform movement and the sedition trials of the 1790s, check out the brilliant book by my friend John.

36 thoughts on “Calton Hill

  1. So brilliant to see you’re climbing hills again already – are you some kind of superwoman?! Our thoughts are with you x


  2. KATE – you are a sight to behold on the hill , — walking woman is sure who you are

    – do love the sweater — despite your mystery steek problem—- oh my the visual history of that city makes me pine to be there—-pat j


  3. so great to see you up & around (may you get all seven of those hills!), and to see that sweater in action (steeking disaster or no. I have had one recently myself… and am only now ceasing to be in denial about it). And the monuments & their history color the whole thing rather nicely, as well.

    your photography is gorgeous (in particular: ‘brooding skies’), and that beer looks like a rather excellent (and weather-apt) stout.


  4. I was feel like I’ve learned something by the time I get to the end of one of your posts… :-) The sweater looks great but I’ll definitely not be trying steeking anytime soon. It fills me with dread.


  5. So great that you made the hill walk…I didn’t even try it when I was there is March; left it to my fit sons while I enjoyed a cuppa with my granddaughter down below. My excuse was that I had been walking all day and was too tired for another hill. Glad you were able to score another one on the list.


  6. Look at you walking up hills in your knitwear! I’ll be intrigued to find out how you rescued your sweater from steeking disaster. Hope you enjoyed your reward pint muchly.

    Liz x


  7. Hey, I see a big smile while you stand beneath the monument, not like any I’ve seen before ! You seem suddenly transformed, as though jolting through some kind of metaphorical tortoise & hair starting gate for the race of your lifetime ! I can feel it clearly way over here in California. I sure wish I could share an ale with ye at that lively and lovely tavern in stunning Old Edinburgh !

    I am listening to my favorite radio program called Thistle & Shamrock, and there’s a lovely program dedicated to the Hebrides. Here’s the link, for those who would like to listen.



  8. Kate, your photo captioned “Sunshine on Leith” made me think of The Proclaimers (argh, showing my age) and “I would walk 500 miles”, which, cheesy though it is, sounds like a grand anthem for you :)

    Your determination and gumption are truly inspiring. And the cycling jersey looks fab – I’ve been thinking of making one myself.


  9. Steeking disaster or not, that sweater is an absolute triumph of the needles!

    I wonder if Calton Hill is the one Lara and I espied (and then singularly failed to climb) from our wee hostel when we visited?

    It certainly looks as though it could be, but I get v disoriented in Edinburgh!

    Glad the new tools/orthotics are working well for you, it’s very exciting to see the hills project recommencing. XxX


  10. Great to see you back on the hills again. And thank you for the pics of Edinburgh. It made me, too, feel a little homesick. I love NZ, but my heart will always be in Edinburgh.


  11. I am trying to wangle a trip to Edinburgh at the moment to see the Impressionist Gardens exhibition! You post has made me want a trip even more now! Glad you are up and about again.


  12. Oh! Are you allowed to drink again? I hope so – there are wonderful complex flavours in alcoholic beverages that you just don’t find anywhere else, and I love ’em (and try to to appreciate them in too-great a quantity…)

    (PS Your post yesterday made me all choked up. I really do admire you and look up to you, just about as much as it’s healthy to when I only know you through your blog!)


  13. Dear Kate,
    What an incredible week you have had. You deserve each and every pleasure and reward that comes your way. Did YOU get to drink that beer?

    I am all smiles from my little row home in the Italian Market in Philly. Warmth and love for you from here to there. You’re kicking arse!

    Can’t wait to hear more! GO GO GO!


  14. Awww…congratulations on getting to the top of that hill; it’s small, but it’s steep going for a bit. This post makes me homesick, especially the picture of the pint. I’ve moved away from Edinburgh, now, and it’s mostly light beer where I live now.


  15. I had my umbrella done eight weeks ago. Done in London but I’m resident in Stirling Your post but one is me to a tee. I have found a substantial gap between my reality and others’ perceptions. I only started reading your blog a couple of days ago. As I haven’t read the whole, I wondered if you had looked at the Stroke Support Groups in your local area. Part of me was desperate to go along just to see people gawp at one so young. I also (within days of my stroke back in December) contacted researchers at Edinburgh University who were investigating the positive effects of exercise post-stroke, knowing they were probably talking about walking sedately in a garden when I just wanted to ask about sprinting on a hockey pitch, desperate to prove that one day I would. One thing to warn you of is looking like a victim of domestic violence. I have spontaneous bruising due to the anti-clotting drugs post-PFO closure…so start knitting in blue and purple to match…very much luck on your recovery and best wishes. Perhaps a Forth Under 40s stroke competitive macaroon eating team is in the making…


  16. I’m so glad you’re already up and about! I have a walking-stick kind of like that one (mine has a cane-style handle), which helps me immensely with stability when I hike (I have nerve damage in my left leg that makes me rather wobbly, especially when I’m tired).

    Thanks for the history lesson…I didn’t know much at all about the Political Martyrs! That new sweater looks fabulous, too!


  17. Oh, I am glad you have got to do some walking and that everything is going well post-op. :)

    Oddly enough, one of my favourite things is the other monument to the Scottish Political martyrs! It’s in Nunhead, which is one of the Magnificent Seven cemeteries in London and one of my favourite places to go tromping. Erected in 1852 by Hume, it stands at 33 feet.


  18. This may sound strange, but I am so incredibly proud of you and I’m sitting here with tears in my eyes. You rock. One of my long-term goals is to walk up Carlton Hill again and reading about you making it has me realising that maybe, just maybe, it is time for me to give it a go. I need to give Glasgow’s Necropolis a go too instead of just shaking my head and say “Oh, I’ll just wait down here”.


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