With its characteristic hills and valleys, its city centre ploughed into a series of ridges and troughs, Edinburgh is very obviously shaped by geological influences - as I often say, it's created by fire and by ice: volcanoes and glaciers!
Although much of the ground beneath your feet in Edinburgh was shaped primarily by the effects of the last ice age, the most visible influences on the cityscape are the three extinct volcanoes whose outcrops still dominate the city today.
The rock on which Edinburgh Castle is built is the plug of a volcano, believed to be around 350 million years old. The summit of the rock is 130 metres above sea level, and it was on this exposed by defensively significant site that human occupation in the city began approximately 3,500 years ago.
This makes the setting of the castle the oldest continually occupied site in the city - and is also the feature which gives Edinburgh its name, translating as 'the fort/settlement on the rock/cliff'.
At the other end of Princes Street in the New Town, graced by the columns of William Playfair's unfinished National Monument, is Calton Hill.
A second volcanic site, the hill here is only 103 metres high but is easily climbed and affords a fantastic 360-degree panoramic outlook across the city and further afield to Fife, over the Firth of Forth (the estuary of the river Forth) to the north.
This is where my New Town fixed-route tour finishes, giving you incredible panoramic views across Edinburgh. From the top of Calton Hill it's possible to see the physical separation of the Old and New Towns, as well as giving a sense of the different styles and layouts of each side of the city.
The most dramatic of the volcanoes, however, is Arthur's Seat.
Situated at the centre of Holyrood Park behind the Palace of Holyroodhouse, it rises to a height of just over 250 metres, and is a worthy attraction for visitors wishing to stretch their legs and gain a new perspective on the city. The lower slopes of the hill are easily climbed, whilst the final stretch is a little more challenging, so solid footwear and a willingness to scramble as required are advised.
The name Arthur's Seat has no solid derivation. Some people attach it to the Arthurian legends of Camelot, but a more grounded explanation is likely to be a corruption of the Gaelic phrase 'Àrd-na-Said', meaning 'the height of the arrows', indicating the highest altitude that an archer could attain with an arrow fired from his bow.
Viewed from the city centre, in front of Arthur's Seat is a ridge of imposing cliffs, called Salisbury Crags. If scaling the full height of Arthur's Seat feels too much for you, there are paths which run along the base of the crags - called the Radical Road - and also along the top, both providing picturesque outlooks over the city. On the smoother side of the crags, between the ridge of clifftop and Arthur's Seat itself, is further evidence of prehistoric human occupation, dating back several thousand years.
The road which loops around the peak of Arthur's Seat is called the Queen's Drive, and was created by Prince Albert for Queen Victoria so that she could take a carriage through the park to imagine she was traversing the landscape of the Scottish Highlands. The road today is open for vehicles to follow the same route, with plenty of parking for visitors to get out to stretch their legs, see the ducks in the artificial lake that Albert created, or to climb to the summit.
It's also possible to walk down a steep flight of steps that will take you into the historic village of Duddingston, where you can find the oldest pub in Scotland.
It was whilst excavating sites around Holyrood Park and Arthur's Seat in the latter part of the eighteenth-century that James Hutton discovered what he considered to be evidence for dating the Earth.
Prior to this time it was widely accepted that Earth had been created according to the terms laid out in the Christian creation story - that is, within seven days, and probably only about 6,000 years previously. Hutton uncovered layers in the rock which seemed not to make sense, as the lower layers of rock - those which had been deepest underground - bore evidence of being younger than the rocks at the surface.
This observation gave rise to his theories about the way in which the Earth shifts and recreates itself, a process of ongoing change and difference, which in turn led to our current understanding of structures such as the tectonic plates which support Earth's massive landmasses. These insights coincided with the Scottish Enlightenment, and earned Hutton the moniker the Father of Modern Geology. You can still visit the site of Hutton's excavations in Holyrood Park, where the exposed layers of his work bear the name Hutton's Unconformity.
Within Holyrood Park are several of the original holy wells which attracted pilgrims to Edinburgh, along with the ruins of St Anthony's Chapel, dating to the fifteenth century. Along with a plethora of plants and wildlife - Historic Scotland run the ranger service responsible for maintaining the park itself - Arthur's Seat and Holyrood Park are an integral part of Edinburgh's scenery.
And, what is more, access to the park and to Arthur's Seat is completely free of charge, making it an economical choice for visitors too!
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