So regular readers of this column (if this world hath such creatures) may recall that I resolved, a few months back, to walk up all of Edinburgh’s fabled 7 hills before a certain Big Birthday rolled in. Previous blogs have told you about Blackford, Calton and Corstorphine Hills.
Well, dear reader, even this modest ambition has had the best of me. The Big Birthday has duly washed past and I’m still a few hills short of a full set, although, as I shall relate below, I – sort of – did two more recently.
First up, Braid Hill. This is is part of a range of peaks called, with little imagination, the Braid Hills; a moderately low set of ancient volcanic lumps and bumps in the landscape’s bedclothes just to the south of the main Edinburgh conurbation, serving as the foothills to the much bigger Pentlands. Housing clings to the side of the Braid Hills, and roads criss cross the lower reaches, often leading to a range of golf courses.
One of these, the municipal one, is called – you’ve guessed it – Braid Hills. And I played it recently, so I’m claiming that as my Braid Hill walk. Indeed, so tortuous was the terrain and numerous the occasions you were shooting blind, we probably covered the distance of three walks up the actual, nominal, Braid Hill with a capital B.
I mean, I wasn’t even playing that badly – parred a couple of par 3s even – but I’ve never lost so many golf balls in a single round in my life. One shot I swear was headed down the left side of the fairway when it hit a bump, changed direction, and actually accelarated towards the all-consuming gorse like a rabbit pursued by a ferret.
If I tell you the 18th hole is called ‘Graves,’ and involves a near-vertical scramble up to the green after an impossible tee shot over a canyon towards a vast, lowering redoubt, you’ll get the idea. Did I mention I loved every minute and plan to go back? Just in case you think I’m complaining. I like a challenge.
So, Braid Hill ticked off on the eve of my Big Birthday Weekend, I agreed with my nearest and dearest to tackle another of the seven on the Sunday: Castle Hill.
For those of you who don’t know, Castle Rock is a huge plug of extinct volcano right in the centre of the city, Edinburgh’s High Street, or Royal Mile, leading down to the Palace of Holyrood by means of a precipitous spine which was all that was left once the glaciers had done their thing. The Rock itself has had some sort of settlement on it for a thousand years, and in all likelihood was castellated at an early stage as an eminently defensible position.
It was certainly a castle by the time of the Wars of Independence in the early 14th century. Thomas Randolph, Robert Bruce’s nephew, aided by a local guide, led 30 men up a path on the Rock’s north side, scaled the Castle walls, and retook it for the Scots. There was a path still on the north side until relatively recently, but it’s now closed off, which meant our best hope of recreating some sort of ascent was from the Grassmarket to the south, up a set of stairs that almost definitely weren’t there when Randolph made his attempt. Although some of the Grassmarket pubs would claim to have been, and served him his last pint before he headed on up.
So stairs it was, up to the Esplanade. The truth is the actual Castle up close isn’t really of the fairy tale kind: ruggedly brooding when viewed from Princes Street or one of the other six Hills, close up it’s a dour, grey working fortress – still a British Army outpost.
So. Five of the seven down – Blackford, Corstorphine, Braid, Castle and Calton – and just Craiglockhart and Arthur’s Seat to go. Why am I doing it? Partly I think it’s something to do with walking the bounds of our new home town. It was also, though, I suspect, to do with the onset of my impending old age.
I’ve not been looking forward to reaching 60. It feels like an awfully big number, and things like increasing entitlements to discounted rates – the bus pass, most notably – make it seem like you’re expected to be old. Who was in criminology that posited labelling theory? Google tells me it was Becker, and it was about the sociology of deviance, which is a punk album title if ever I heard one.
Probably it also had to do with my original plan when I left Fife Council’s swaddling embrace, which was to scrap around for work till this month, and then grab the local authority pension and stop work altogether, picking up the pipe and slippers as I exited the ranks of the economically useful.
However, given I’m enjoying myself way too much working part time and engaging my brain in things people want to pay me for, two and a half years on, I’m postponing that event till at least next year. Which kind of makes turning 60 and passing that big looming milestone a lot less daunting. Plus I’ve got my health, a world-beating set of family and friends, and one of my pressies was a lap steel guitar to give a whole new colour to my music making (listen to early results below).
Anyway. I plan to live to 120, so this is only half way.