We were not an athletic group. But, we were ambitious. And we had left our rational minds on the four-hour train ride the night before. That’s how we came to find ourselves awake at 4:30am chasing the sunrise up Arthur’s Seat our first morning in Scotland. The walk to the base of the peak alone took its toll. That and the fact that we had opted to postpone breakfast until after the hike, a reward to motivate us. I was the only one who thought to pack snacks.
We also did not take into account the recent rainfall. A rainfall that left all the dirt paths reduced to muddy slides. Barely up the sloping perimeter, we came to a crossroads and surveyed our options. The seat itself seemed so close and yet still towering out of reach. We only had a half an hour until sunrise. Sensing our dilemma, the old man who was seated on a rock nearby watching his dog, offered his assistance. We had two options, a set of steep, quick, stone steps or a longer gradual slope. Not being risk takers, the debate as to which path to take was a short one.
On we continued, racing the sun up the sky, hoping clouds wouldn’t appear to obscure the eventual sunrise. The path was narrow and muddy and studded with slick rocks and weeds. Eventually, we began the final ascent up what could be called stone stairs, but I felt it was more like a stone death trap – waiting for us to slip and topple backward on each other like dominoes, our necks snapping one by one. But then, all of a sudden, we were at the top. Or what we thought was the top. We ended up on a plateau about three-fourths the way up Arthur’s seat and on the wrong side to watch the sunrise.
The view was still spectacular. We were this lone group perched atop this natural outcropping that thrived in the center of the ancient city. The sky paled around us and we drank in the early morning air and let the sweat and mud cool on our bodies.
Then we descended back down into the city, legs like jelly, ready for some much-earned breakfast and the whole day ahead of us. We walked up and down the high street and in and out of gift shops. Through cemeteries and back allies, we wandered keeping both eyes out for ghosts and witches. We saw the personal artifacts of writers we idolized from Walter Scott to Robert Louis Stevenson. Against all odds and battling my fear of heights, I made it to the tottering top of the Scott Monument. We even hiked up to the National Monument the next morning. None of us had ever climbed so many stairs in the course of a weekend. The exercise, we hoped, made up for the beer and cupcakes. The sun set against the castle on the hill. The night was spent drinking at a Frankenstein themed bar.
And, as much as I didn’t want to get on the plane two days later, I smiled at the sunrise that saw us off as we flew back to England.