A Hill For Magnitude, a Mountain in Virtue of its Bold Design

A Hill For Magnitude, a Mountain in Virtue of its Bold Design

H.S. Alexander

It is the words of Sir Robert Louis Stevenson that give this entry its title.  Such was a part of Stevenson’s description of the city of Edinburgh found in Edinburgh Picturesque Notes.

Roughly two miles from my flat stood the mountain, and the mountain was tall and rugged, and was it a mountain at all?  I did not know and made note to find out later.  There were about two dozen of us, students from all walks of life, from small towns and sprawling cities across the Earth, and we had found ourselves all pilgrimaging to this thing in the distance on a Sunday in Scotland.  The sharp contrast of dark earth and the Gainsboro sky was a canvas, the dips and crags and grasses brushstrokes on the masterpiece that is this city named Edinburgh.  Off in the distance, anywhere I look is divine art of a rare kind.  Muses reside in the brownstone, sleep upon the many rooftops, and hind behind the ancient castle ramparts, waiting for the inquisitive passerby to happen upon them so they can exhibit all that the city has to lay forward into this eager undergraduate’s lap.  The precious gift that is this city waits like a present under an ornate pine, and, I, the giddy boy at the top of the stairs, my legs pistons in an engine moving up and down on the black steps in rapid anxious succession, yearn to feel the stone and ancient earth with trembling fingers.

The bulk of the building was headed towards Arthur’s Seat, and we are men and women who ooze out a certain magnetism: the desire for discovery. It had been a driving force of the old world that had been cheapened and commercialized in the States.  Content with their own hastily formed microcosms, the American students of this generation lack the type of faith in true discovery that guided us that morning.  The Americans in our throng displayed reverence for the sidewalks, for the sprawling Meadows that is our backyard, and for the sleeping behemoth off in the distance.  Quite easily could we have spent the morning sleeping off the previous night’s festivities (a story I will keep for my own mind’s picture show).  Nonetheless, here we were at half ten on a Sunday, geared up for discovery.  Through the streets we wandered like ants towards the sweet and salty promise of what mystery the summit held for us.  

Due to a fast pace I inherited waitering this summer, I suddenly found myself ahead of the pack of the residents of Warrender Park Crescent, and Edinburgh was now my city.  The mountain, mine to climb alone.  I shook off these thoughts because this brashness, this sense of entitled mastery is a trait that is quintessentially American; an unshakable desire to conquer and to be the conquerer has been engrained into every man, woman, and child who ever heard the two words Manifest Destiny.  My inner compass however had directed me eastward, far across a slumbering blue ocean, and it now took me further east, out of Bruntfield, down Melville Drive, and up to Holyrood Park where the ascent was to begin.

The climb was extremely pleasant for a Sunday hike.  Steep sections mixed in with grassy slopes gave the conquest a quality that I knew could only be experienced here at Arthur’s Seat.  My fellow Warrender wanderers and I rose deliberately through the air, our feet on ground that to me was so fresh and new it seemed to be rolling out in front of us like an unfurling carpet.    The path cut through wildflowers and tall wind-whipped grass.  Greenery and tough shrubs danced around us, along with this handsome, furry chap:

The climb continued to be rocky, the surface of the mountain (I checked, and technically, it is a mountain) is a mass of small rocks and boulders seemingly glued together by time, brown and russet Lego pieces joined together haphazardly.  Ahead the view was always mutating, and the path a child’s scribble, zig-zagging chaotically, unwound ever upwards.  Brown crayon on green construction paper.

After a short uptick in altitude, we descended into the bowl on top of the summit, a bright green pool of grass whose decks were coated in the rocky stuff.  Blazing through the land, I broke into a swift jog, and pranced like an ibex up the stony tip to where the view was to be seen.  It was then that she lay upon the bed of the Earth, under a blanket of friendly clouds.  Never before has such a panorama of human metropolitan  life been so excruciatingly beautiful.  Below, cars, trucks, and buses bustled by through the tiny streets between peaked rooftops and steel and glass.  The castle stood stoic in the distance, watching over all that thrived below.  Families and couples on a Sunday stroll dotted the slopes of the mountain and I could see that we were fairly high up for a mountain with a city in its lap.  This city…

 She reached out with steady fingers, stretching from the hills of the north to the Firth on the eastern side of the mountain in a manner that seemed to perfectly compliment this weather beaten patch of the Kingdom.  Edinburgh is a city grown into its surroundings like a boy into a too-big pair of jeans.   All of a sudden, a crow flew down from the grey and perched for a moment to drink in the same view I was slowly sipping on.  I hopped around the peak with a playground-like enthusiasm, never for a moment caring how odd I must have looked jumping down from ledges and scampering up again.  Joy thundered in my skull, shunning away any vicious whisperings of the self-conscious. I never wanted to leave that mountaintop, but we did.  A few of us traveled down the back of the crags, through fields of waist-high grass to a small pub, The Sheep Heid Inn, which had opened its doors all the way back to  1460.  There I had a sublime fish pie and a pint of local beer, spicy and aromatic.  As I ate, I jingled the pound coins in my pocket, rejoicing in their presence and listening to their song.

I’d tell you more, but it’s time for more adventuring, back into the city tonight, and regardless, I have been penned up too long in my flat in the basement of 22 Warrender Park Crescent.  I fervently believe that it is in this building and it is in this city where the workings of great things churn with the persistently ticking clocks of determination and discovery. Adieu.

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One Comment

  1. ggennarose says:

    I am thoroughly enjoying your eloquence, sir. Revel in letting the city tangle itself into you like some kind of sailor’s knot– it tends to do that, I found. I gladly pass my blog-writing mantel off to you. Throw a stone off Arthur’s Seat for me, and tell the ruddy 3am sky that I miss the way it blushes when complimented.
    -Genna

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