When making my preparations to go to Edinburgh, I knew that, given the diet of fried foods that defined my trip, I would need to spend all the time that I was not eating being active enough to turn my body into a big, albeit slightly flabby, calorie furnace. Fortunately, Edinburgh is a city hilly enough to rival San Francisco, with the added benefit of a royal park full of giant hills smack dab in the middle of town.
Hiking is not exactly my deal. It’s actually pretty far from my deal.
God bless the hikers of the world, but I’ve seen trees and rocks before. I enjoy trees and rocks, and I like seeing them.
However, I don’t feel the need to spend several hours clambering over uneven terrain in order to see more trees and rocks. I know it’s a matter of personal preference, but whenever I hear my friends raving about how much they love hiking, I can’t help but think that maybe I’m not enjoying it because I’m doing something wrong. It’s like I’m playing Modern Warfare 2 without knowing that you’re allowed to shoot people.
However, after two days in which I consumed a haggis burrito, a deep fried cheeseburger, and a deep fried pizza, I knew that the only way I could make it out of Scotland without heart failure as a souvenir was to hike my nuts off, and the place to do that was at Edinburgh’s Holyrood Park, home to Arthur’s Seat and the Salisbury Crags. The fact that I did this on a day so hot that a runner in the Edinburgh Marathon died of heat exhaustion should also be noted.
Right away, I realized that this hike probably couldn’t be classified as a hike – not because it wasn’t difficult, because it definitely was, but because I was actually enjoying it. You see, while I don’t like hiking, I do enjoy panoramic views of major cities, and the advantage to these hills being in the center of a major city is… Well, really, do I need to explain?
The hike where I first learned that I was not a hiking enthusiast was a muddy slog through dense forests, affording no real views of the surrounding landscape and, more importantly, no way to look back at how far you’d come and think, “Well, I’m covered in mud and sweat and there isn’t a bathroom for miles, but look what I’ve done!”
For all I knew, we could’ve been going in circles. Furthermore, there was no tangible goal to what we were doing, save for “Get to the end of the trail so we can hike the entire trail backwards and then go home.”
Climbing the steep, uneven path up to the top of Arthur’s Seat, 823 feet above the city, was an awe inspiring experience. No, like, literally.
I would stop and turn around and see the tiny brown path I’d taken snaking up the sheer edge of the hill with the entire city of Edinburgh laid out in the distance all the way to the North Sea, glimmering in the afternoon light, and awe was actually inspired within me. And along with that awe was ambition to keep climbing up to the top, which was also within sight, because the view only got better the higher I went. Refreshing cold winds off the North Sea also helped.
Maybe 50 feet from the summit, the hill leveled out into a wide, grassy plateau where several other hikers were sitting with books or lying on their backs for a high-altitude nap. From here, you could turn 360 degrees and see everything for miles in every direction.
I could see from the docks at one side of town all the way to where houses and deep fried pizza shops gave way to lush green fields and farmland. A city the size of Portland laid out underneath me, like I was some sort of sweaty alien riding on a floating grass disk.
Edinburgh is probably the second most beautiful city I’ve ever seen (after Portland, which, if it were a woman, would be Christina Hendricks). I don’t think I’d ever want to live outside the United States, for reasons I’ll elaborate on in a later update, but if I had to flee the country after pulling a massive casino heist, Edinburgh would be the place I’d go to start my new life.*
*Not that I’m planning a casino heist.
And what’s more, I’d use my newfound wealth to bribe city council members to let me build a modest house up on that grassy plateau, that little disk in the sky. Every morning, I’d be able to walk out my front door and see everything in the city I called my home, and at the same time, if the police tried to catch up with me, they’d be forced to run single file up a narrow path, which gives me a clear advantage, tactically speaking.
Truman Capps has all sorts of other interesting travel tidbits on his blog, Hair Guy.