17 January 2009

Here are the links to the first pictures to emerge from Edinburgh:

Life in the Wild North:


After waking at the rather appalling time of noon (I haven't slept this late in ages!), I ate a hurried breakfast/lunch and started on the trek to the Royal Mile and then to Arthur's Seat. It was the first time that I have ventured onto the Royal Mile for any extended period time of since senior year of High School. Not much has changed. Jury's Inn is still down Chalmer's Close, as is the creepy tea shop.

As opposed to the freezing weather that had descended upon Washington D.C., Edinburgh was experiencing something of a warm front and I was quite comfortable in my light jacket. And so, armed with my camera and a pair of tennis shoes that barely maintain traction on the pavement, I set off for what I thought would be a leisurely stroll up to Arthur's Seat (the main peak of the seven hills in Holyrood Park). There are apparently two paths to the summit that one can take from the car park near Holyrood Palace. One is a shallow ascent on a paved path and is rather short. The other rises quite radically from the get-go and is the longer of the two pathes. Being the type who likes a bit of a challenge, I decided to choose the latter path. Incidentally, this is the path that my father and I attempted when we were in Edinburgh in 2005. Back then, however, I was not in as good as shape as I am now and had to stop quite frequently. In the end, we got about 1/5th of the way to Arthur's Seat, realized that the sun was setting, and turned back.

Luckily, my habit of running almost every day ovr the past year (that certain people have considered obsessive) meant that I only had to stop every once in a while, and only then to take pictures of the beautiful view. Still, it was not as easy as I thought it was going to be and, I'll admit, I was a bit put off by the signs warning of potential boulders falling from the cliffs looming above. Now, my father and I stopped once you round the first major bend of the Salisbury crags (the cliffs) where the path levels out. However, I proceeded further, down the path into the valley between the smaller hills and the very large hill that makes up Arthur's Seat. Here the path becomes almost vertical and you have to ascend a series of rocks that make up the stairs upwards. It was at this point, when I noticed that my fellow climbers were wearing hiking boots and backpacking sacks, that I realized this climb might be a bit more than I bargained for.

I pressed onwards with only one or two minor slips along the way(quite the achievement considering my lack of appropriate footwear). At the top of the ridge, the path disappeared and the winds picked up to a ferocious level. I followed a woman who was wearing boots with spikes (a serious climber) along a path that continued upwards to a hill where the grass had been so buffeted by the winds that it grew sideways along the ground and formed a matted, cushiony surface. Several couples (for climbing Arthur's Seat seems to be a popular past-time for those with a significant other. I suppose this serves as insurance that someone will attempt to rescue you should the winds push you off the side of the cliffs.) took the opportunity to rest by laying on the grass. I don't know how they could stand the winds!

Arriving at base of the final outcropping of rocks that make up Arthur's Seats, I realized that I could not see an immediate path up to the summit. And so I made the rather...not-so-wise decison to scale up a small crevasse to the top, a picture of which is posted immediately below. (Yup, I climbed up that in my street sneakers. I felt very much like Bear Grylls.)

Once on top of the summit, I realized that the superb view was very much worth the bruised hands and knees. I was able to snap a few pictures before the violent winds started to knock me over and my panic levels rose significantly.

And so it was time to make the descent, a process that I had thought would be considerably easier than the ascent. How wrong I was! As it turns out, I had to shimmy back down the crevasse (mostly by sitting on the rocks and praying to god that my foot did not slip at an inopportune time) and then began the task of slowly inching my way down the rocks of the hill. Now, these rocks had been quite climable on the way up. But the lack of suitable grip on the soles of my sneakers coupled with the mud that covered the rocks meant that each step could potentially result in my slipping and falling. Luckily, I did not have any significant spills during this part of the trip, although there were several frightening close-calls.

Deciding that I had had enough adventure for one day, I opted to choose the shorter route to the bottom (the other possible path that I could have taken at the very beginning). Unfortunately, this path proved to be much muddier and, therefore, more perilous than my previous path. I literally slid down the steeper parts of the descent. Frankly, I am still surprised that I managed to escape unscathed. It was a bit like skiing and an experience that I am not keen on repeating any time soon. However, it was a great experience and I am looking forward to climbing to Arthur's Seat again this weekend, albeit equipped with more appropriate footwear.

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