Special Places: Edinburgh's Holyrood Park

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Do you have a favourite place in your city or town – someplace that always bring you a sense of peace or joy when you visit it? Our Edinburgh guide Peter took some time to tell us about a special spot in his city that brings locals and visitors together in their admiration for Scottish nature and history: Holyrood Park.

My first adventure into the park and Arthur’s Seat was at just 18 months old. My mother took me to the top, and ever since it has been my favourite place in a city that offers many exciting, original and fascinating places. Originally a royal park for hunting, it has also been known as the King’s Park or Queen’s Park depending who was on the throne; today it is generally called Holyrood Park. As I child, teenager and adult I have explored, walked, run and played football in it and have never tired of the place as it changes with the seasons.

The name “Arthur’s Seat” is one of the mysteries of the park, not generally thought to be anything to do with the heroic king, but it has been suggested that it may derive from a Gaelic phrase Ard-na-Said or "Height of the Arrows." It sits majestically at a height of 800 feet on a dormant volcano, surrounded by a microcosm of the Scottish Highlands in the heart of a city! The park still has the evidence of early dwellers from the stone and bronze ages, and within its ground is the ruin of the 12th century Abbey of Holyrood and next to it the British monarch's B&B! (The Palace of Holyrood House, which is the official Scottish residence of the Monarch.)

Legend tells us that King David went hunting on a religious day and was charged by a stag; to save himself he held up a holy rood (a crucifix) between the stag’s antlers and it ran away. In a dream that night he was told to build a monastery in thanks for his life. The result of this was the Abbey of the Holy Rood, built in 1128, which was attended by St Augustine monks, also known as canons. They walked up the road to Edinburgh which subsequently became known as the Cannons Gait. (Gait is the old Scots word for “way” or “walk”.) A burgh was established and today it is known by the anglicised name of Cannongate.

To walk round the park it is 3.1 miles or 5 km. It has 3 lochs: two manmade (St Margaret's and Dunsapie) created by Queen Victoria's husband Albert, and the other, Duddingston, is a bird sanctuary and a place of scientific significance. Over the centuries the park has been a place of joy, sadness, murder, suicide, romance, freedom and yet another mystery: in 1836 five boys schoolboys discovered a cave on the high slopes of the summit. Inside were two rows of tiny coffins 3 or 4 inches in height, 17 in all, each containing a carefully carved wooden figure dressed in funeral clothes. There is no clear explanation as to what they were for, but some suggest it was to do with black magic: what do you think?

Today the park is enjoyed by locals and visitors alike. For me it will always be a joy: I believe that to have such natural beauty in the middle of the city is something truly special.

If you’d like to explore the wilds of Holyrood Park and other parts of Edinburgh with someone who can make the city's history come alive, consider getting in touch with Peter for a private Edinburgh tour.
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