Words and images from 24/11/2015
The sun returned this morning and we kicked off the day with yet more quality birding along the Firth of Forth. First stop was Prestonpans where singles of Red-throated Diver, Goldeneye and Long-tailed Duck were all picked up in quick succession. Also present were at least two Velvet Scoters relatively close in allowing great views once again. If anyone knows of a better place to see this species I’d be very surprised indeed. Another mile towards Edinburgh brought us to Musselburgh where a Surf Scoter has been regularly reported for much of the previous week. Despite scanning the choppy water thoroughly however we drew a blank, although there was a relatively large mixed flock of Velvet and Common Scoter way off in the distance so it could very easily have been hiding amongst them. Much easier to spot were forty or so Eider plus four Black-tailed Godwits, our first of the trip and a nice change from endless Curlews and Oystercatchers (not that I’d ever tire of seeing either you understand). We also got our first proper look across to Arthur’s Seat, our main goal for today and somewhere that I’ve always wanted to visit and climb. Today was going to be that day.
Standing at 822 foot this extinct, glacially weathered volcano might not necessarily be quite what you’d expect to find sitting slap bang in the middle of a city. Yet sit there it does, dominating views from both inside and outside Edinburgh alike and allowing the hill-walkers amongst us a rare opportunity to summit within sight of shoppers, tourists and even the Scottish parliament. Now part of a sight of scientific interest it helped to revolutionise our understanding of geology back in 1785 when James Hutton first observed that deposits of sedimentary and formation of igneous rocks must have occurred at different times. This was completely contrary to contemporary thinking and was exhibited no more succinctly than on an area of Salisbury Crags (adjoining Arthur’s Seat) where magma can be seen to have forced its way through layers of sedimentary rocks. Even if geology isn’t your thing then the views afforded from this unlikely and lofty vantage point are sure to impress, as they did us, so I think it’s time to let the photos do the talking. Warning, this one may be a little image heavy.
As can be seen above, we couldn’t have been luckier with the weather even though it was still bitingly cold up on top. An uneven surface worn smooth by the passing of thousands of visitors was the only real challenge despite my choosing probably the steepest ascent route possible. It just wouldn’t have seemed right arriving at a trig point if the approach had been too easy after all.
Human activity on Arthur’s Seat can be traced as far back as prehistoric times when a hill fort graced its upper reaches, but today the most visible remnants of a bygone era are the mysterious ruins of St Anthony’s Chapel. Built no later than 1426 it’s known history is surprisingly scant but provides another vantage point from which to soak in those expansive views across Edinburgh.
With two small lochs on its lower flanks there were plenty of common waterfowl species present including Mute Swan, Little Grebe, Tufted Duck and Canada Goose. We also got great views of a Sparrowhawk circling overhead plus a trio of Common Gulls, another first for the trip. There were also at least two Kestrels doing the rounds including this one which was just too good an opportunity to miss.
Having viewed Edinburgh from afar it would have been rude not to go and walk its streets and I must say, I liked what I found. Interesting architecture, history, narrow alleys and, best of all, a castle which more than lived up to expectations. On our next trip up, because there will be one that’s for sure, we shall explore this city even deeper but for now this cursory look was more than adequate to whet our collective appetites.
One final point of note is that if you do visit Edinburgh, don’t try and cross it on foot with the final minutes on your parking ticket ticking quickly away. Firstly it’s a lot further than you may think and secondly, a lot hillier. Still, at least we used every last second of the parking we’d paid for. Silver linings and all that.