I was going to tell you about volcanic plugs and St Anthony’s well, about James Hogg’s Confessions and the brocken-spectre, but as soon as I got here this morning I knew it was just about the hill and me. Arthur’s Seat lies at the heart of Edinburgh, and since I’ve lived here, it’s been at the heart of my life as well. I can see it from the back window of my home, and I’ve walked here with countless friends, with my dad and with my sister. It is a place of happiness and exuberance: Tom and I like to run around the hill in all conditions in our trusty fell shoes; we bury our home brewed mead in a secret place , and merrily drink it here each Christmas morning. Spectacular from all angles, and visible almost everywhere in the city, the hill has also provided a dramatic backdrop for many a crafty photo.

But Arthur’s Seat is a place with sad associations, too: a few years ago, a fine young man who was my childhood friend threw himself to his death from the nearby crags. And shortly after Belle died, Tom brought his own grieving brother to the summit.

In comparison with Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh’s other hills really do not feel like hills at all. At 823 feet it is not high, but the ground is steep, and very rough in places. For someone with a wonky leg and limited energy reserves, it is quite a serious proposition.

I found the going very tough indeed, and all I could think of was: I used to just run up here

How complacent and ungrateful was the able-bodied me, how little she valued her nimble, speedy limbs. Weak and unsteady as they are, I value my limbs now, by God.

It was early morning, and the summit took on a spooky aspect against the rising sun.

I wanted to follow our usual route, which is quite steep and rocky near the top. I abandoned the poles, and resorted to lopsided scrambling on my hands and knees.

Made it, Ma.

The last of the seven hills. The highest point in Edinburgh. I felt deeply emotional, but not in the least triumphant. It had been a difficult climb, and, precisely because the hill is so familiar, the comparison with the me of just a few months ago felt quite raw and painful.
At the summit, a nice young, American couple, who had risen with the dawn like us, asked Tom to take their photo.
“Do you know how high we are?”
“251 metres”
“Are you local to Edinburgh? Do you often come up here?”
“Well we did, but Kate has had a stroke. We’re just getting back into the swing of things again.”

I managed to hold it together for a photo at the trig point.

then it was time to inch my way back down.

As I descended I realised that, though my weak leg was very shaky, it was really much better than it had been when we climbed Blackford Hill, only a few weeks ago. I had to regard this as a walk of new beginnings, rather than old memories.

Bruce frolicked in the grass . . .

. . . and lost his ball.

The tourists were starting to come up as we were coming down. Kids on a geography field trip clutched clipboards and pencils. An Italian asked her tour guide about Edinburgh’s seven hills. Everyone stopped us to remark on the lovely morning. . .

. . . and, in the end, it really was.

87 thoughts on “Arthur’s Seat

  1. Kate, I’ve been reading your blog for quite a while and for some unknown reason, today I decided to go back in time and follow your recovery from your stroke. You are truly amazing.
    In 2013, we left America and went to Newcastle and Edinburgh for the first time. My Dear Husband insisted that we climb Arthur’s Seat… I hadn’t done much background work, so I didn’t realize what a strenuous walk it would be. Like you, I had to climb up the last bit on my hands, scrabbling. Unlike you, when I got up to the top, I looked at my husband and asked him how the devil was he going to get me back down to the trail!
    Thank you for bringing a memory to me. Best wishes in all you do.

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    1. Dear Kate, I know this is an old post but I’ve just read that you play fiddle. Seeing this post, a thought sprang to mind: Venus in Tweeds :)

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  2. The story goes that my mother was, in her words, “dragged” up Arthur’s Seat on the Christmas Day that was my due date.

    I waited another 2 weeks to be born.

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  3. sounds like a glorious climb. i’m so glad you made it and are getting stronger. i hope to climb Arthur’s Seat with my family when we visit next year. perhaps if you, tom and bruce are up for it, we could do it together. :)

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  4. Arthur’s Seat is one of my favourite places in Edinburgh; I grew up being able to see it out of my bedroom window. Many a teenage weekend were spent gazing out at it when I was supposed to be doing my homework! I make a point of taking my kids there most visits “home” and they too love the fantastic rush of running down off the top.

    I am convinced that your determination and strength of character will see you running off the top again.

    Thank you for writing so beautifully and sharing so much with us!

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  5. Because of your blog I will some day visit Edinburgh. Congratulations on your great accomplishment of the seven hills. You have a lovely and fortunate life. All the best from West County Sonoma.

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  6. Goodness look at how big Bruce is all of a sudden! I shouldn’t be surprised, as our puppy is also morphing into a giant, but I keep picturing Bruce as the little pup the size of a flour sack that he was when you introduced him to us. Congratulations on the puppy and the climb!

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  7. Dear Kate,
    This “blog” again brought tears to my eyes; love what you did in making the quilt- beautiful, beautiful memories of a beautiful MIL obviously. All the things that you are thinking about when you are climbing, and the strength you are showing both psychological and physical. OMG you are achieving so much, and climbing in such a trendy outfit too.
    Love, Lindy ox

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  8. Congratulations! A friend and I climbed Arthur’s Seat when we were visiting Edinburgh a few months ago. We took the steep route too, and it is *steep*. I am full of pride at how far you’ve come in your recovery, and it sounds like you’re still charging on. Yay!

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  9. I’ve been reading your blog for ages now, as a lurker, and this post made me burst out with a grin. I’m so proud of you! I’ve been reading your vignettes about your recovery, and I’ve been cheering you the whole way, and now – you’ve gotten up *the hill*. Again, I’m ever so proud :-) You’re truly an inspiration, Ms. Davies.

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  10. That is one terrific jacket, and you certainly don’t look hindered in any way—pretty fabulous, I’d say. Good for you! I love to read your blog and check in daily. Miss you when you are away.

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  11. Like AM I thought of you when I heard ‘Start the Week’ this morning. The World Service series they were talking about sounds right up your street. As does a project you may already know about – the ‘Knit a Neuron’ project operating out of Bristol. Just incase you haven’t come across it there is more info at:

    http://knitaneuron.blogspot.com/

    Congrats on your seven hills.

    Joan

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  12. Congratulations! You did them all. :) Arthur’s Seat really isn’t that easy. It’s steep ascent definitely did got us panting in June when I went there with two friends. And we were always able to walk. You are so determined on your journey to recovery – I deeply admire you.

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  13. A beautiful post and a fine achievement. I feel pretty emotional just reading about it, so can only imagine how you felt. On a more frivolous note, you are quite the best-dressed hiker I’ve ever seen – and nary a hint of House of Bruar!

    Congratulations, and here’s to happy beginnings.

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  14. Well done you. I love Arthur’s Seat too, although I have never run up it, and I haven’t climbed up it nearly often enough. Your photos might inspire us into action – with two small children to amuse, the days of taking myself out for a walk are long gone, and now it’s a full scale expedition with pack horses and sherpas. But there is always next weekend to look forward to. On Saturday, while I was nobly (even if I say so myself) donating an arm full of blood, my husband took the littles up Blackford Hill which we do manage to climb up regularly. I’ve even done it whilst in labour, but that’s another story…. I hope I’ll bump into you on one of your/our walks one day – although I’m not sure I’d have the nerve to say hello. Good to see you enjoying the sunshine! Isn’t it fabulous?

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  15. Goodness me, congratulations. If you’ve not already done so, you might want to listen to the discussion on Andrew Marr’s programme on R 4 this morning about the links between neuroscience and philosophy.

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  16. Well done! I am extremely proud of you! Such a journey you’re on, one you didn’t ask for, and yet with good grace and stamina, you are beginning again. Someday, when we make our way back to Edinburgh, my husband and I will climb a hill or two.

    I hadn’t read until today about the quilts you made with Belle’s things. I did that for a friend whose grown daughter passed suddenly and it was a moving task for me and one that brought some comfort to my friend.

    Thank you for all you share. God Bless.

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  17. I read your blog with such admiration. Your courage and determination are inspirational. What a lovely dog Bruce is and I suspect already a great friend. Very best wishes for continued recovery from your stroke

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  18. Like Wendy, I’m crying.

    Congratulations. A new morning, a new beginning. 7 hills mounted. Now the second round for each begins – and each will be easier, I expect, and sweeter as well.

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  19. What a joy to read this post and see your triumph. Such beautiful pictures of the hill – and of you! You don’t see walking kit that stylish on Arthur’s Seat every day.

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  20. Well – you really did it this time……..(gulp! wipes eyes and blows nose).

    I know exactly what you mean about it being about you and the hill – when I lived in Edinburgh my kitchen window gave me a perfect view of the hill and I was up and down Arthur’s Seat ‘more times than a sweep’s brush’. I, too, felt it was my space and it was my sanctuary on many occasions when I was seeking some sort of refuge at a bad time in my life.

    But I get a sense of acceptance from your post – a turning point that i can’t quite put into words. It was a good morning for you and I wish you many more – there will be bad days again but I feel that you have cracked it, kid – it’s going to be okay.

    It may be wrong for me to say all this – i have never met you and we don’t know each other – but I say it with sincerity and the best of intentions and send you kind thoughts and my best wishes.

    (By the way, nice tweeds – good to see that you are creating standards of sartorial elegance that one should expect from such a hill!!)

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  21. Kate, you look and seem absolutely courageous, and though you are well aware of your hundreds of readers (and fans) perhaps you aren’t aware how for some far-reaching people, you may be closer to a real inspiration, in several dimensions. I am skittish to say, because I know you get very depressed and rather resent shallow compliments from those who don’t know you… really know you… (and I don’t), however, I feel compelled all the same to say ‘had I not read and familiarized myself with your blogged life before your stroke, I certainly wouldn’t have the depth of admiration and inspiration I do now.

    I live on a mountain such as Arthur’s Seat, not near as famous, but certainly as steep and to hike to the peak is likely *almost* as difficult as hiking to where you stash your mead each Christmas. Do I hike it? Only when I’m feeling up the upswing… and do I feel like hiking it after I read such posts as your Climbing/Hillwalking posts? Yes, yes, yes ! For that I must show gratitude, though I am a little guilt conscienced about showing gratitude, in that I am a perfectly able-bodied woman (a few years older than you) but not near the feist as your heart has. I struggle with depression too (difficult to admit openly here) and know wholeheartedly that climbing the mountains and walking the miles (and riding them, I use to be an avid cyclist ) is the only cure for the blues. The. Only. And, furthermore, how do you pull off such activities in your lovely woolen waistcoats and jacket? You are just an amazing girl Kate.

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  22. I loved reading this and your tweedy walking ensemble is a triumph of fashion.
    I was very moved to read about the feelings and memories you associate with Arthur’s seat, the recollection of times past, and the prospect of times to come.

    To echo Colleen’s comments: what a journey.

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  23. Congratulations. You were starting to bring tears to my eyes. Such a beautiful sequence of images and words.

    As you know, the next part of the Made it, Ma quote, is top of the world! You don’t sound quite that ecstatic, but you do sound more a bit more accepting, or “at terms” with the stroke, at least on the day you wrote this. That has to be good (don’t go climbing any gasometers, though).

    I do hope you’ll document other walks you take. It’s been wonderful to watch you conquer the seven hills.

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  24. The last picture looks like something from a Toast catalogue. Love that jacket. And the scarf.

    Well done for making it. What’s the next challenge? I think it’s fantastic that you’re seeing some noticeable improvement.

    You do make me really want to come to Edinburgh and climb the hills (I come from a flat place, and though I like walking I’m not usually a fan of hills!)

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  25. I was quite unprepared for your touching post about Belle. You’re a very strong woman, Kate. I hope you don’t lose sight of that.

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  26. – what so strikes me as a listener and watcher of your blog , is your love of your country , of EDINBURGH ,and of its history and scenic beauty—–you may have lost some of your physical abilities , but not the ability to express yourself and to appreciate , this place you call home

    a pleasure to see TOM’S pictures and read your words

    pat j

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  27. You are such an inspiration. Congratulations of reaching your goal of the seven hills. Thank you for sharing so honestly with all of us.

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  28. Jeanette says it succintly….you wrote such a beautiful tribute to Belle…Arthur’s seat has many memories for me…..lots of photos of me and my Gran and Mum and Dad taken there when I was a wee bairn……it is a spectacular place….and you are one incredible gal :)

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  29. Hello Kate
    What you have written today is really beautiful. I am very moved. A very big thank you from me for allowing us all to share your prose and pictures. All so very special……
    Lydia

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  30. So Lovely, Kate. I felt we climbed it with you, in a way, as you described your ascent in pictures and words. I am glad you are continuing to progress. I felt thankful with you, as I have offered up prayers for you too.

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  31. I’ve had cause to think about synchronicity a lot of late, and I’ve got to wonder if your 7 hills project, taken on pre-stroke and completed post-stroke, was meant to be something more than just climbing 7 hills from the beginning. Perhaps it was something meant to motivate you in a troubling time and give you a more positive perspective when you felt dark.

    Or maybe I’m just superstitious and am falling into my tendency to give things more meaning than they deserve.

    Either way, congratulations. Though I don’t know you and have never even commented on your blog before, I’d like to tell you that you are an inspiration and a total badass. And what a wicked walking outfit you put together! I love it.

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  32. Beautiful photos. And thank you for reminding me to value my abilities, no matter how limited they may seem at times. So glad you are improving every day.

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  33. Congratulations Kate! I’m sure you already realize this, but you have climbed all seven hills in the eight months since February (starting counting in March.) It looks like you had a beautiful morning to do it in, too!

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  34. Kate, I really love your style. That jacket is gorgeous, and I also like your suit. As well as everything you make. I’m sure I’ll bump into you around Edinburgh someday. P x x x

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  35. Oh Kate, many congratulations for completing the hill challenge. It is such a beautiful post – really moving. It is brilliant that you can add this memory to the others of this special place. I’m so glad that it turned into a lovely morning, the light looks beautiful and I love your very stylish walking outfit. (I spy tweed!)

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  36. You bring tears to my eyes. I am so happy for you. That hill to me is really a mountain (being originally from flat, flat Florida, anything above sea level feels mountainous). I (supposedly being a fit person) still have to tackle that mountain with breaks sprinkled in. I am so inspired by your determination and accomplishments.

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  37. Congratulations Kate…thank you for sharing the joys and sorrows of your Seven Hills journey. I’m looking forward to hearing of your new beginnings. So glad I found your blog…and next time I go up Arthur’s Seat I’ll be wearing my Neep Heid !

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  38. Wonderful post – full of love and emotion…especially loved the note about Belle and the quilts. Thank you. Envious of you being in Edinburgh, surrounded by centuries of life and living.

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  39. Oh, Kate! I’ve only been with you since my beloved daughter, Chesley, introduced you to me shortly before the stroke so there was so much catching up in this beautiful post with all the links to so much of your life. I’m mighty weepy now, but so happy for your climb and for the gift of your blog.
    WELL DONE!

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  40. Congratulations Kate! I’m thrilled that you accomplished your goal of the Seven Hills and know you will go on to enjoy many more splendid walks.

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  41. Arthur’s Seat is such a beautiful spot! I was one of those American tourists taking pictures a few years ago, and I think it might be the part of Edinburgh that I remember most clearly.

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