I forgot to put this in the last entry, so I’ll add a few more stories and observations here. So, after my business ended on Wednesday evening, I decided that it was time to go and check out those brooding mountains around Edinburgh and, perhaps, climb a few.
I saw in my 2001 edition Lonely Planet Britain guidebook that Holyrood Park has climbing trails. I also read that it was an easy 30 minute hike to the peak of the highest one in Holyrood Park, called Arthur’s Seat. It was getting about dusk, but the sun didn’t seem to be setting anytime soon, so I began my adventure.
After making my way to the foot of the Royal Mile, I quickly made my way into the foot of the park and found the trail that would leadme to Arthur’s Seat and spectacular views of the Firth of Forth. I entered a bit of a valley and began to spy those lovely yellow bushes that ring the largely treeless hills of Holyrood Park. I was totally alone, and suddenly I felt my survival mechanism kick in, perhaps informed by too many Hollywood films. I began to suspect that the Sand People from Star Wars might be tracking me and my droids, or, even worse, that Mel Gibson, his face painted blue, might swoop down in a kilt and carry off with me head.
Instead I saw fellow Americans on their way down from the summit and was glad to think that if they made it up to the top, I could too. So I kept going up higher and higher. I began to regret that I had eaten all those cookies for breakfast. And then there was the chicken curry for lunch. I could feel it all sitting like a pile of rubbish in my intestines. The sweat began to pour off my forehead as I trudged upwards. A sweaty jogger passed me by, even as the path towards the top became rocky and steep.
Finally I made the mistake of looking down. This was truly a “Holy shit” moment. The whole of the Firth of Forth was below along with the miniature city of Edinburgh. And even worse, the peak I was heading for was up higher. I was out of breath and then when my eyes refocused I looked down and saw that below my path was a steep angle of bushy grass heading down meter after meter into the valley, where a chummy miniature Scotsman was walking his miniature dog. I began to feel lightheaded and disoriented at this moment, and suddenly remembered something about myself: my great fear of heights.
I tried to move my body up the path towards the peak, but a hard wind began to blow specks of humid rain on my face and I knew that if I ever got to that top, I was going to cling to the Earth crying until some butch Scottish jogger found me and ordered a helicopter to rescue me. I decided it was time to take an alternative route down. I followed an open stretch of land below the peak and found a nice even path that I presumed would take me down to the bottom so I could go home and treat myself to a beer and reflect on my cowardice.
Unfortunately, the path turned into a steep, slick rocky staircase that took me along a path that ringed the peak on one side. I decided to throw my pack on one side of my body, the side closer to the mountain, so that if the wind did knock me over, I would fall against the mountain and not down it. All the while I watched Scottish female joggers on paths below me, blissfully unaware of the chicken that was about to fall on them to his death.
I made the mistake of accidentally leaning into those fine yellow bushes which I found were prickly and hurt my hands. A perfect metaphor for nature, and especially Scottish nature I thought. Inviting from a distance, threatening up front. I went step by step along that path, as the wind picked up and the rain began to fall a bit harder. It was still just drizzling but I wanted to get down before any real storm developed, leaving me cold and wet on the side of a mountain in Scotland.
Finally the path gave way to a slope that ran through a natural corridor of vegetation, and beyond that a path that led down the sloping lower portions of the hill to the base of Hollyrood Park. I was safe. I would live. And then, below me, a Scottish lady jogger went jogging right up the path I had just crawled down from without any outward signs of fear of heights or a lonely death in the park. I thought about my wife, who would have probably ambled up to the summit with no problem, and wondered what happened to the courage gene, and how come I didn’t get it?
I concluded that I was a coward, but that that was ok with me. I have other skills to live on, and he who fights and runs away lives to run away another day. Besides, I’ve almost been killed a few times by the bloody British traffic here which drives on the wrong side of the street. So what’s a little mountain adventure in the context of the every day perils one must face in this country?
At the base I tried crossing the street, again fearful of getting mowed over by an impatient Briton in their car. Do you know that I have crossed the street three times so far here to get on the correct side to catch a bus, only to see the bus go whizzing past me on the opposite side of the street where I just was, because of English traffic law?
Anyway, I was glad to get down at that moment because the skies began to open up and it got dark. I found myself an African food establishment to take refuge in, and returned to my hotel. It was 10:30 pm.