Arthur's Seat

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Arthur's Seat is the main peak of the group of hills in Scotland which form most of Holyrood Park, described by Robert Louis Stevenson as "a hill for magnitude, a mountain in virtue of its bold design".<ref> Stevenson, Robert Louis (1879). Edinburgh: Picturesque Notes. 21</ref>

It is situated in the centre of the city of Edinburgh, about a mile to the east of Edinburgh Castle. The hill itself rises above the city to a height of 250.5 m (822 ft), provides excellent panoramic views of the city, is relatively easy to climb, and is popular for hillwalking. Though it can be climbed from almost any direction, the easiest and simplest ascent is from the east, where a grassy slope rises above Dunsapie Loch. At a spur of the hill, Salisbury Crags has historically been a rock climbing venue with routes of various degrees of difficulty, due to hazards rock climbing is now restricted to the South Quarry and a free permit is required.


Many claim that its name is derived from the myriad legends pertaining to King Arthur, such as the reference in Y Gododdin. Some support for this theory may be provided by the fact that several other hilltop and mountaintop features in Britain bear the same or similar names, such as the peak of Ben Arthur (The Cobbler) in the western highlands, sometimes known as Arthur's Seat. <ref>Hill Names and the John Smith Question". April 2011. Retrieved 2013-12-25.</ref>and Arthur's Chair on the ridge called Stone Arthur in the Cumbrian lake district.

There is no traditional Scottish Gaelic name for Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh but William Maitland proposed that the name was a corruption of Àrd-na-Said, implying the "Height of Arrows", which over the years became Arthur's Seat (perhaps via "Archer's Seat"). <ref> (accessed 25th June 2014)</ref>Alternatively, John Milne's proposed etymology of Àrd-thir Suidhe meaning "place on high ground" uncomfortably requires the transposition of the name elements.<ref></ref>


Arthur's Seat

Arthur's Seat is the largest of the three parts of the Arthur's Seat Volcano site of special scientific interest which is designated to protect its important geology (see below), grassland habitats and uncommon plant and animal species.

Like the castle rock on which Edinburgh Castle is built, it was formed by an extinct volcano system of Carboniferous age (approximately 350 million years old), which was eroded by a glacier moving from west to east during the Quaternary (approximately the last two million years), exposing rocky crags to the west and leaving a tail of material swept to the east. This is how the Salisbury Crags formed and became basalt cliffs between Arthur's Seat and the city centre. According to Sir Walter Scott, Arthur's Seat resembles a lion couchant- from some angles.<ref> Scott, Walter. The Heart of Midlothian. p. 279. Retrieved 2011-09-11. "Arthur's Seat, like a couchant lion of immense size"</ref> Two of the several extinct vents make up the 'Lion's Head' and the 'Lion's Haunch'.

Arthur's Seat and the Salisbury Crags adjoining it helped form the ideas of modern geology as it is currently understood. It was in these areas that James Hutton observed that the deposition of the sedimentary and formation of the igneous rocks must have occurred at different ages and in different ways than the thinking of that time said they did. It is possible to see a particular area known as Hutton’s Section in the Salisbury Crags where the magma forced its way through the sedimentary rocks above it to form the dolerite sills that can be seen in the Section.

The hill bears a strong resemblance to the Cavehill in Belfast in terms of its geology and proximity to a major urban site.


The Arthur's Seat Coffins

A hill fort occupies the summit of Arthur's Seat and the subsidiary hill, Crow Hill. <ref> (accessed 25th June 2014)</ref> Timber framed or stone built houses may have once been sited within the enclosures, but no traces of these now remain<ref> (accessed 25th June 2014)</ref>

Hill fort defences are visible round the main massif of Arthur's Seat at Dunsapie Hill and above Samson's Ribs, in the latter cases certainly of prehistoric date. These forts are likely to have been centres of power of the Votadini, who were the subject of the poem Y Gododdin which is thought to have been written about 600 AD in their hillfort on Edinburgh castle crag. Two stony banks on the east side of the hill represent the remains of an Iron Age hill-fort and a series of cultivation terraces are obvious above the road just beyond and best viewed from Duddingston.

A track rising along the top of the slope immediately under Salisbury Crags has long been a popular walk, giving a view over the city. It became known as the Radical Road after it was paved in the aftermath of the Radical War of 1820, using the labour of unemployed weavers from the west of Scotland at the suggestion of Walter Scott as a form of work relief.<ref> (accessed 24th June 2014)</ref>

In 1836 five boys hunting for rabbits found a set of 17 miniature coffins containing small wooden figures in a cave on the crags of Arthur's Seat. The purpose has remained a mystery ever since the discovery. A strong contemporary belief was that they were made for witchcraft, though more recently it has been suggested that they might be connected with the murders committed by Burke and Hare in 1828.<ref>S P Menefee, A D C Simpson, The West Port Murders And The Miniature Coffins From Arthur's Seat in The Book Of The Old Edinburgh Club, New Series vol.3, Edinburgh 1994, pp.63-81 (accessed 24th June 2014)</ref>

There were 16 known victims of the serial-killers plus the first person sold "to the doctors", namely a man who had died of natural causes. However, the murder victims were primarily female, while the eight surviving figures are male. Alternatively, the coffins may have represented the 16 bodies sold to the doctors, plus that of the final victim who remained unburied at the time of the duo's arrest, but was, as a destitute beggar, very likely dissected in any case. The surviving coffins are now displayed in Edinburgh's Royal Museum.<ref> (accessed 24th June 2014)</ref>


Tradition has it that it was at the foot of Arthur's Seat, covered by the forest of Drumselch, that Scotland's 12th-century king David I encountered a stag while out hunting. Having fallen from his horse and about to be gored, he had a vision of a cross appearing between the animal's antlers, before it inexplicably turned away, leaving him unharmed. David, believing his life had been spared through divine intervention, founded Holyrood Abbey on the spot. The burgh arms of the Canongate display the head of the stag with the cross framed by its antlers.


Arthur's Seat plays a prominent role in Scottish writer James Hogg's novel The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824). Robert and George Colwan, two feuding brothers, are caught in a fog atop Arthur's Seat and witness what could be interpreted as a Brocken spectre, a strange phenomenon of the light, which causes George to believe that he is seeing a ghost. In the confusion, Robert nearly kills George, but they both escape to the bottom of the hill as the fog begins to clear.

Arthur's Seat has a passing mention as one of the sights of Edinburgh in the novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.

In One Day (novel) by David Nicholls the novel begins and ends with the main characters Emma and Dexter climbing Arthur's Seat after their graduation. It is also shown in the 2011 film - One Day (2011 film).

In Jules Verne's novel, The Underground City (or, The Child of the Cavern), Nell, a young girl who is an inhabitant of Verne's Underground City, is taken to Arthur's Seat to view her first sunrise. She has never before been above ground and is being acclimated to life above ground.

In Catherine Sinclair's "Holiday House," the children climb Arthur's Seat during a rare day away from their nurse. On the way down the children misbehave, almost causing Laura to fall over a cliff. She catches herself, and her brother comes to her rescue.

Arthur's Seat also featured in several of Ian Rankin's novels. In Stephen Baxter's "disaster novel" Moonseed, the volcano reactivates and obliterates most of Edinburgh, during the first act of Earth's eventual destruction.

The 17 Coffins found on Arthur's Seat are the subject of a teen fiction novel called "Seventeen Coffins" written by Philip Caveney.