Arthur's Seat is the main peak of the group of hills which form most of Holyrood Park, a wild piece of highland landscape in the centre of the city of Edinburgh, Midlothian. The hill stands about a mile to the east of Edinburgh Castle. It rises above the city to a height of 823 feet, provides excellent panoramic views of the city, is quite easy to climb, and is a popular walk. Though it can be climbed from almost any direction, the easiest and simplest ascent is from the East, where a grassy slope rises above Dunsapie Loch.
The origin of the hill's name is unknown and subject to several theories and legends. Many claim that its name is from King Arthur, and look to references to Arthur in the Early Mediaeval Old Welsh poem Y Gododdin, which tells the story of the former Gododdin tribe of Edinburgh and the Lothians.
Although Gaelic has not been spoken in this area, and there is no traditional Scottish Gaelic name for the mountain, some have proposed that language as an origin, such as William Maitland's proposed Àrd-na-Said ("height of arrows") or John Milne's Àrd-thir Suidhe, but there is no evidence of any such name.
Like the Castle Rock on which Edinburgh Castle is built, Arthur's Seat was formed of an extinct volcano system of the Carboniferous age (some 350 million years ago) eroded by a glacier moving from west to east during the Quaternary (in the last two million years), exposing rocky crags to the west and leaving a tail of material swept to the east. This is how the Salisbury Crags formed and became basalt cliffs between Arthur's Seat and the city centre.
From some angles, Arthur's Seat resembles a lion couchant. Two of the several extinct vents make up the 'Lion's Head' and the 'Lion's Haunch'.
Arthur's Seat and the Salisbury Crags adjoining it helped form the ideas of modern geology as it is currently understood. It was in these areas that James Hutton observed that the deposition of the sedimentary and formation of the igneous rocks must have occurred at different ages and in different ways than the thinking of that time said they did. It is possible to see a particular area known as Hutton's Section in the Salisbury Crags where the magma forced its way through the sedimentary rocks above it to form the dolerite sills that can be seen in the Section.
Hill fort defences are visible round the main massif of Arthur's Seat at Dunsapie Hill and above Samson's Ribs, in the latter cases certainly of prehistoric date. These forts are likely to have been centres of power of the Votadini (Gododdin), who were the subject of the poem Y Gododdin which is thought to have been written about 600 AD, concerning the fall of the warriors of Gododdin from their hillfort of Din Eidyn, possibly Edinburgh's castle rock. The poem includes a simile comparing a warrior to King Arthur which (if not a later addition) may be one of the earliest references to Arthur, and hints at a possibility that his fame might have led to one of the hillforts and hence the hill's being named after him.
In the sixth century the Gododdin were destroyed and the area thereafter fell to the English kingdom of the Bernicians and thereafter the Northumbrians.
Two stony banks on the east side of the hill represent the remains of an Iron Age hill-fort and a series of cultivation terraces are obvious above the road just beyond. In 1836, just below the summit, seventeen small wooden coffins, each containing a carved figure, were found in a small cave. Their existence has never been satisfactorily explained. Associations with witchcraft have been suggested. Alternatively, they may be a memorial to the seventeen victims of the infamous Burke and Hare.
- Grant, James. Old and New Edinburgh. http://www.oldandnewedinburgh.co.uk/volume4/page125.html. Retrieved 2010-10-30.
- Stuart Piggott (1982). Scotland before History. Edinburgh University Press. ISBN 0-85224-470-3.
- Computer generated summit panoramas Arthur's Seat index
- University of Edinburgh Undergraduate Geology Notes, explains the Formation of Arthur's Seat very well
- Arthur's Seat Coffins at the National Museum of Scotland
- The miniature coffins found in 1836
- British Geological Survey report on the Arthur's Seat rockfall, Edinburgh, February 2007
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