Roger Cox: Off Arthur’s Seat on four wheels

Arthur's Seat a challenge for a mountain board. Picture: Hamish Campbell
Arthur's Seat a challenge for a mountain board. Picture: Hamish Campbell
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With the North Sea failing to cough up anything more inspiring than dribbly, waist-high waves for the past few weeks, my shiny new mountain board* is proving quite the lifesaver.

True, a turn on grass is only about half as much fun as a turn on water, but hey – I’m getting in about twice as much sideways sliding as I would in a normal summer, so that’s OK.

Plus, my hill of choice is 100 per cent dependable: sometimes it’s dry, dusty and fast, sometimes it’s wet, soggy and slow, but (unlike the waves) it’s always there waiting for me when I’m in the mood for a play. Much as I’ve come to love it, though, my little hillock isn’t exactly challenging, so the other morning I kicked myself out of bed an hour earlier than usual and schlepped up Arthur’s Seat, looking for something with a bit more tilt.

It’s funny how your skill level at a given sport can have such a huge impact on the way you look at a landscape. When I went wandering around Edinburgh’s wannabe mountain with my snowboard a couple of winters ago, pretty much every slope in sight seemed like fair game, and big, open faces like the sharp end of Salisbury Crags had me giggling with anticipation.

With a mountain board strapped to my back, however, parts of the hill that had previously looked like fun suddenly made my palms sweat and my mouth turn dry. Still, there was one line I thought I might be able to manage. On a snowboard, it was little more than an eas-osy warm-up run, but I figured it would probably be at the limit of what I could manage on my tea-tray-on-wheels, so I made it my first port of call.

As I’d last encountered it – buried under a couple of feet of snow – the route I had in mind looked like a benign, beginner-friendly bowl with plenty of space to put in wide, speed-shedding turns.

With the snow gone, though, I was disappointed to discover a narrow, rutted path, perhaps seven or eight feet across, with long, scrubby, unrideable grass on either side. The only way down was in a more-or-less straight line; not quite the gentle step-up in difficulty I’d had in mind.

I was just about to call it a day when a chirpy voice from behind me called out “Hello!”

“Hi,” I said, squinting into the sun, not really able to see who I was talking to.

“Beautiful morning, isn’t it?” said the mystery voice, which had traces of both Scots and Indian woven into it.

“Certainly is.”

“This city is a paradise,” the voice went on. “And days like today are a blessing.”

I wasn’t really sure what to say to that, so I just nodded and smiled.

Turns out I had run into the world’s biggest Arthur’s Seat fan. Kamal told me he was 71-years-old and that he still climbed Arthur’s Seat most mornings so he could drink in the view and check up on the local flora. “Look over there,” he said, pointing to a distant patch of heather. “In two, maybe three weeks, that will all be in full bloom. It will be spectacular.”

After a while, the conversation got around to the oversized skateboard dangling from my backpack. “Are you going to take that down there?” Kamal asked, pointing to the slope below. I hesitated for a moment. I was about to say “Naa, too steep and narrow for me” but somehow, when I turned to look at it again, it didn’t seem quite so bad.

“Yeah,” I said, “I thought I might give it a go.”

I said goodbye to Kamal, wriggled my feet into the board’s footstraps and hopped around carefully until I was facing into the fall-line. Even with the rear brakes on full, I soon found myself slip-sliding downhill. Already, I was beginning to regret my decision. I let go of the brakes, felt a sudden rush of acceleration, then slammed them back on again, causing an ugly, juddering skid to the left. Another burst of acceleration, another hasty braking manoeuvre and I was more-or-less back in control again. It can’t have looked very pretty, but eventually my stop-start strategy saw me safely to the bottom of the hill. Doable, then, but not exactly fun. Next time I go up Arthur’s Seat it will be to enjoy the view, and to see how the heather’s doing.

*Like a skateboard, only with fat, off-road tyres.