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Arthur’s Seat

After leaving Loch Lomond and the Glasgow area, our next stop was Edinburgh. We spent the afternoon and evening familiarizing ourselves with the area and doing some touristy things like a Literary Pub Tour. Before retiring for the night, we decided that we would visit Holyrood Park and attempt to hike Arthur’s Seat the next morning.

We started our outing at the Holyrood Palace entrance, near the Royal Mile. The park itself consisted of four hills formed many years ago by volcanic activity. The highest one of these was Arthur’s Seat. Still down about my failure to summit Conic Hill, I was a bit uneasy about the many reviews that described this climb as hard, difficult and steep. But that didn’t stop me from struggling my way to the top. After all, at 800 feet it certainly was not as high as Conic Hill!

Our walk began on a wide dirt path of coarse dirt and stones. As the road curved around the hill we spotted the remains of some stone structure in the distance. Naturally, we took a detour to investigate it. A nearby sign informed us that this was the remains of St. Anthony’s chapel. Historians were not sure when it was built but they do know that it was repaired around 1426.

Returning to the main road, we continued on our journey towards Arthur’s Seat. At this point, we were walking on a path that was situated between our destination and Whinny Hill. As we climbed higher, we could see that there were trails going off in various directions all over the park.

Half way to our destination, we had not found anything that was seriously challenging. There was no scrambling or tough climbing spots but I was already stopping numerous times to catch my breath. Did I mention that I had a hard time during our hikes in the United Kingdom? Of course, I had to listen to my husband once again about how an inhaler might just get me over the edge and would make hiking easier, but I guess you could say I have been a bit stubborn on this point. Especially, since a doctor informed me that I was just “deconditioned” (sort of a discounting of my complaint). In any case, I did have to hear this sermon a few times during our trip. Despite all this, I continued on our upwards climb to the summit.

It wasn’t until the last bit that we really had a bit of a challenge. The gravelly make-up of the dirt and the decisions as to where to place your foot to step up to the next rock was a bit tough. After watching a man assist a blind man on the way down this slope, I was certainly not going to give up now. Finally, with a helping hand or two, I was able to stand at the spot marking the summit. Success, at last!

The city of Edinburg stretched out below us. Across from the summit, I observed visitors climbing one of the nearby Crow and Nether Hills. A fog drifted across these hills, giving an eerie appearance to the hikers on these summits. After a time, we made our way towards the top of one of these before heading back towards town.

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Conic Hill

Once we had fortified ourselves with lunch we were ready to tackle Conic Hill. While the rest of our party was attacking the over 3000 footer Ben Lomond, we had decided that the almost 1200 foot Conic Hill was more do-able. After all, it was no taller than most of the mountains we had successfully summited back home.

Our hike started with a pleasant stroll through the woods. This allowed us some time to enjoy the various ferns and flowers of the area as we meandered towards the junction that would take us up the hill. Shortly after turning on to the path towards Conic Hill, we found our first set of stairs. These quickly led to another series of steps which ended at what is known as a kissing gate. The gate allowed only one person to pass through at a time since there is a V-shaped stop that prevents the gate from opening fully. Essentially you opened the gate, squeezed yourself towards the V-shaped stop so you could swing the gate back in order to pass through to the other side. Now we were out of the forest and could easily view our destination. And that was when I discovered that there were even more steps! I must have climbed hundreds of these during our adventure.

After numerous steps and working my way up some steeper sections, I was beginning to experience some difficulty with the climb. The views were certainly hazy, so maybe the humidity was a factor, or perhaps the gradient was steeper than back home. It did seem that every time we got past a level area, we found yet more steps. At least, when we paused on the level areas the views of the lake below us and the mountains beyond were spectacular.  There was lots of cloud cover on the mountains and we later discovered that the other half of our party did have to hike a bit in the rain.

When we finally completed our last set of stairs and rounded a curve I could see our final destination. Rather than level out, the trail still headed steadily in an upward direction. That part didn’t bother me. It was the sight of the bump rising above the trail that caused my dismay. I stared at this mound for a minute and wondered how I was going to summit this “do-able” mountain. My lungs and my legs had already been complaining for some time so I really wasn’t sure that I would be able to reach my goal.

We continued on but my rest stops were much more frequent now.  And then we reached the turn-off to continue to the summit. It looked just as steep as when I was further down the hill. At that point I knew I was done. I could not go any further. Disappointed, I sat on a rock while the other 2 in my party continued on to the summit. I consoled myself with the views and looked down the trail we had just ascended with views of the lakes and islands just were the path curved. In 20 minutes the rest of our party reached the summit. On their return they did indicate that I would not have made the last few yards since it got very steep and was a bit of a scramble. I suppose that was supposed to make me feel better but I was still disappointed that I had not been able to summit our first mountain in Scotland.

 

Balloch Castle Country Park

In mid-July, we took the family to Scotland for almost 2 weeks. After spending a day in the city of Glasgow, we were all anxious to get away from the noise, the crowds, construction and closed streets. Prior to the trip, we had reviewed various hiking options, so on our second day in Scotland we split into 2 groups with one heading to hike Ben Lomond in Loch Lomond Park and the other went off to Conic Hill, also near Loch Lomond.

Since research indicated that Ben Lomond was a 5 to 7 hour hike which was way beyond my capabilities, I went with the Conic Hill group. Deciding not to rent a car, we knew we needed to get a train to Balloch and then a bus to our destination in Balmaha. Once in Balloch, we discovered that we had over an hour before the bus would arrive, but as we walked to the bus station we discovered Balloch Castle Country Park. What a delightful find.

Once we entered the park, we walked along a broad avenue, admiring the various vegetation along the way. We paused to study a small fairy house carved into the remains of a stump. Alongside, this house was another carving of a large acorn. We had to admire the intricate details, right down to the steps, the paneled door and the side window of this little house.

Aware that we had limited time, we decided to head towards the Walled Garden before heading back to the bus station. Along the way, we found a beautiful red and purple Fuchsia. Nearby was another interesting flower that I thought I identified later but my research pulled up a similar flower with a red stalk and this one was clearly green. (Oh well, perhaps additional research will bring up the correct name but not today.)

Soon, we arrived at the Walled Garden. Unfortunately time was short, so we only paused a brief moment before heading back towards the bus station. After 20 minutes or so, we arrived near the park information center in Balmaha. Since it was just about noon, we decided that perhaps we should have lunch at the nearby inn before beginning our journey up Conic Hill.