Arthur’s Seat – Edinburgh

Arthur’s seat in the background

Arthur’s Seat is the main peak of group of hills in Holyrood Park in Edinburgh, a mile east of Edinburgh Castle.  The hill rises to 822 ft (251m) and can be climbed from different directions.  From the East is the easiest route, by Dunsapie Loch, I personally walked from St Anthony’s Chapel Ruin end (near the Palace of Holyrood), which seem to be a long route compared to Dunsapie Loch route.

 Arthur’s seat began 350 million years ago, a volcanic eruption sprayed ash and molten rock across the area now known as Holyrood Park.  Back then the summit would  have been double the height, with millions of years of erosion, experiencing extreme heat and extreme cold with Ice Ages changing the surface.  The Stone Age man followed when the ice began to melt, over 10,000 years ago and it has been suggested it was used as a hunting ground with camping over night.  Tools and weapons were found from the Iron Age during the 18th Century in Duddingston Loch.  The fortifications dating from 2,000 years ago which suggest the arrival of the Romans and tribal fighting.

In the 12th century (1128) King David signed the land over to the church in gratitude,  after a stag attacked him while hunting.  At the time he thought he was going to die, he saw a sign of a cross between the stags antlers and it was then named after Holy Rood (cross).

Hollyrood place in the background

The Abbey of Holyrood supported a brewery and farms and industry bloomed.  St Anthony’s Chapel was built during the 13th Century (in ruins  today) and became a pilgrimage site.  The park became a sanctuary, safety for criminals and giving debtors protection, while running their business and paying of their debts.  It is thought that tenement houses sat at the bottom of the park, surrounded by a ditch. In 1666 the Earl ordered quarrying of the crags, to provide stone for paving in London and elsewhere. Between 1815-19 almost 50,000 tons of rock were removed but in 1831 people protested and the Earl was appointed to protect the crags.

 At the Wells O’ Wearie, women came to do their washing until 1845.  Samson’s Ribs was made by coarse-grained basalt (dolerites) during the eruption.  The Pipers Walk is named from a band of Seaforth Highlanders when they mutinied in 1778 for not wanting to be sent for overseas duty.  Dunsapie takes its name from Gaelic, the hill of the wispy grass.  Guttit Haddie is named because a rock is shaped like a fish.  Around the park is Radical Road, which was built because Sir Walter Scott felt sorry for the unemployed weavers.

Many people claim that Arthur’s Seat is named from King Arthur, some people support this but not by all.  There is no Gaelic name for Arthur’s seat but it is proposed that the name is a corruption of Ard-na-Said and means Height of Arrows/Hill of the Archers or another proposal is Ard-thir Suidhe meaning place on high ground.  But Edinburgh is identified with several Arthurian tales with the Castle of Maidens, where female prisoners were kept and another tale suggests the castle had seductive women who tempted knights as they passed by.  In another tale, Arthur’s half-sister, Morgan le Fay is its mistress.

Grisly history is recorded in some place names.   Beside Duddingston Loch is Murder Acre, trade apprentices had a riot in 1677 and during the riots, injuries and deaths occurred.  Above the same  Loch is Hangman’s Crag, this is named after an incident in 1769.  Mungo Campbell killed an excise officer and then Mungo committed suicide.  He was buried below Salisbury Crags by the towns people but they had a change of heard and dug him up, throwing him from the top.  During Friday 13th October, 1972 Ernst Dumoulin married his young bride but then pushed her from the crags for life insurance.

summit of Arthur’s seat looking at Dunsapie Loch

There is a hill fort on the summit of Arthur’s Seat and Crow Hill.  Hill fort defences can be seen around at Dunsapie Hill and above Samson’s Ribs and are likely to have been centres of power to the Votadini, who were mentioned in a poem called Y Gododdin, dated about 600 AD, in their hill fort on Edinburgh Castle Crag.  It also includes a warrior similar to King Arthur and could be why the hill was named Arthur’s Seat.  On the east side of the hill are two stony banks that indicates the remains of an Iron Age hill fort and some cultivation terraces above the road.

Dunsapie Loch

 Arthur’s seat is significant to the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  This is where the nation of Scotland was dedicated in 1840.  The apostle Orson Pratt arrived early in 1840 and found only 80 church members when he travelled to Edinburgh on the 18th May.  The following day he climbed Arthur’s Seat and he pleaded with the Lord to give him two hundred souls to convert and his prayers were answered.  Arthur’s Seat became known by the saints as Pratt’s Hill but it is now only used in American writing.  He climbed the hill a few more times, kneeling and praying.

 During 1835,  while hunting for rabbits five boys discovered 17 miniature coffins, in a cave on the crags of Arthur’s Seat.  They were arranged under slates, with 3 tiers, 2 tiers of 8 and one on the top.  The coffins were 4 inches in length, containing a carved wooden figure, with different clothes for each figure and painted boots.  The bottom coffins were deteriorating and suggests the ones on top were more recent.

A woman said a man visited her fathers office after they had been discovered, he was daft, deaf and dumb, he was upset and had a drawing of 3 coffins dated 1837, 1839 and 1840.

There have been many suggestions as to why and what these coffins are associated with, such as, witches, voodoo dolls, good luck charms carried by sailors.  Some suggest they represent the victims of Burke and Hare.  Burke and Hare were Body Snatchers, Burke was hung in 1829.  On display in the police museum is a business card case, which is made from the skin of his left hand and other objects were made.  His Skeleton is on display at the medical school.

Hare and Burke

The Business card holder

They were held by a private collector until 1901 and are now displayed in Edinburgh Royal Museum, but only 8 have survived as the others have turned to dust.  Most people believe that witchcraft is responsible for the coffins and The Scotsman on Saturday July 16th, 1836 printed:

“…that there are still some of the weird sisters hovering about Mushat’s Cairn or the Windy Gowl, who retain the ancient power to work their spells of death by entombing the likenesses of those they wish to destroy. Should this really be the case, we congratulate the public, but more especially our superstitious friends, on the discovery and destruction of this satanic spell-manufactory, the last, we should hope, which the ‘infernal hags’ will ever be permitted to erect in Scotland!”

In recent years, there have been some accidents and tragic deaths.

In 1999, three people died after four people threw themselves off Arthur’s seat.  During 2001, Michael Tracy fell to his death but Edward Emerson fell 95 feet but survived.  During 2005, a climber aged 21, fell of Red Rocks ledge, falling 80 feet but he survived.  A 12-year-old fell 70 feet but sadly died.

There is a former railway line at the foot of Holyrood park and called the Innocent Railway Tunnel, the name is thought to come about because no one was killed during the construction of the tunnel but others suggest it is because it was used for horse-drawn carriages but this was the first public railway tunnel in Scotland and maybe Britain. It was built-in the 1830’s and connect to Dalkeith.  It is now a walkway and cycle path after being disused for a few years.


paranormal/ghost stories are rare but I did find that Arthur’s seat was used for a passing giant.  Some research suggest that some people think that they have captured a spirit at St Anthony’s Chapel on camera.  Maybe activity has not been reported as it would be very dangerous to go climbing in the dark.

Copyrighted Tracy Monger 2012.

St Margarets Loch


7 responses to “Arthur’s Seat – Edinburgh

  1. I have a photo that was taken on Sat the 27th April 2013 with a ghostly looking figure in it at St Anthony’s Chapel Atrthurs Seat Edinburgh

  2. Actually something bit weird happened to me when I was at St Anthony’s Chapel two weeks ago. I was there with my friend and there was no one else around. When she tried to take a picture of the ruins both of her phones independently and suddenly died out (mine was perfectly fine). Back at home it turned out that they were fully charged and operative again. Later on that day, during our night ghost tour, we learned that it happens quite frequently in the city and no one knows why. Actually during the same tour somebody’s watch stopped.
    After I got back from Scotland I was showing the pics to my Japanese teacher and I Just got to the photo of the ruins trying the explain how the phones went ‘all black as the lights at home sometimes do’ when suddenly all the lights at home really went down. We checked the plags and they were ok but still it was pitch black. I walked outside and it looked like it was only her apartment. I can tell my teacher got really scared by that point. Then, exactly at the same moment when we heard her husband opening the front door, the lights got back. Honestly the timing really scared me 😨

    • Thank you for sharing your experience, something you wont forget. I love Edinburgh, full of history and mystery. It is thought that spirits do drain batteries, i have had similar happen elsewhere.

  3. When I was a teenager I used to walk through the innocent railway late at night with my friend in the way home from town. On a couple of occasions we saw a pale light that was always the same distance in front of us, no matter the twist and turns in the path or how fast or slow we walked. Don’t think it was a person with a torch as it wasn’t that sort of light and you couldn’t see the road from the path.

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