Seven facts you may not know about Arthur’s Seat

Situated in the south-east of Edinburgh, Arthur’s Seat has been a popular hike for many a local and tourist alike, in all types of weather. The extinct volcano, at the bottom of the Royal Mile, is hard to miss and offers impressive panoramic views of the city. But beyond that, the rock has featured prominently in the culture of what makes the capital weird and wonderful and comes with a host of its own fascinating facts.

Students watch the sunrise from the summit of Arthurs Seat. 
Picture: Neil Hanna
Students watch the sunrise from the summit of Arthurs Seat. Picture: Neil Hanna

1. No one knows where it got its name

There are many rumours as to how the hill got its name but no one knows for certain the origin of it. Some say that it was the site for the legendary Camelot, the home of King Arthur and his noble Knights. Another comes from William Maitland, who suggested that the name was from the Scots Gallic, Àrd-na-Said, meaning height of arrows.

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2. The rock is a sleeping dragon


Or legend has it anyway. An old Celtic story says that a dragon used to fly around the sky, terrorising the region and eating all the livestock. Eventually it ate so much, that one day it lay down and went to sleep, and never woke up again.

3. Mini coffins were found in the cliff

In what was one of the stranger moments in Edinburgh’s history, in 1836 seventeen miniature coffins were found in the cliff-side.

In these coffins lay wooden figures. They all had different clothes and were buried in three layers; the first two having eight coffins and the third having just one. Charles Fort claimed in his “Book of the Dammed” that the coffins were all buried at separate times.

The snowed over hills provide many people with hours of fun

“In the first tier the coffins were quite decayed, and the wrappings had mouldered away. In the second tier, the effects of age had not advanced so far. The top coffin was quite recent looking.”

The reason behind the coffins being there is yet to be discovered.

4. Young women wash their face in the dew of Arthur’s seat

Traditionally on May Day, young women would climb the hillside and wash their face in the dew. Legend has is that this would keep them looking youthful and beautiful. The 1773 poem Auld Reekie, written by Robert Fergusson references this:

Students watch the sunrise from the summit of Arthurs Seat. Picture: Neil Hanna

On May-day, in a fairy ring,

We’ve seen them round St Anthon’s spring,

Frae grass the cauler dew draps wring

To weet their een,

And water clear as crystal spring

To synd them clean

5. Arthur’s Seat is in many works of fiction

The famous hill has featured in many novels over the years. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, One Day by David Nicholls, The Underground City by Jules Verne and in countless Ian Rankin novels.

6. It was used as a sanctuary for those in debt

At the foot of Arthur’s Seat stands Holyrood Abbey. The Abbey used its surrounding grounds as a sanctuary for people who could not pay their debts. These so called “Abbey Lairds” could live in peace from their creditors within the boundaries of the Abbey’s ground, which included Holyrood Park. They lived in modest housing, free only to leave on a Sunday.

7. Prince Albert changed the way the hillside looked

It was no great secret that Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert were in love with Scotland. Albert was relatively liberal for the time and had growing concerns about the bog that sat at the foot of the hill, next to the Abbey. The land was badly polluted with the waste of the Old Town. He created a program which would see the bog drained, constructed Queen’s Drive so the untamed Arthur’s Seat could be viewed from a carriage and created St Margaret’s Loch and Dunsapie Loch.