June 14, 2020

The 7 Hills of Edinburgh - A covid-considered adventure

I like using my birthday as an excuse for an adventure. Last year I completed the Bob Graham Round to kick start my 28th year; this year I had originally hoped to have a shot at another one of the UK’s now burgeoning list of long-distance running challenges.

But that was then, pre-covid, when driving long distances and meeting up with others to push yourselves in the mountains was a possibility, a desirable one even.

This is now, in a country where the daily death toll still often runs in double figures, and the thought of driving for hours to meet with others and run around in the mountains seems harebrained, irresponsible, unpatriotic.

A covid-considered adventure

Facing the minefield of covid guidelines and restrictions, it would be easy to rule out adventures altogether. After all, doesn’t adventure require pushing the comfort zone, undertaking something that you might not succeed in, challenging yourself to discover new things? That sort of language just doesn’t seem to fit with the current covid dialogue.

But we don’t have to travel far for an adventure; it doesn’t have to be risky; it doesn’t have to be social. With this in mind, I started thinking about the parameters of what a covid-considered adventure would look like (note that my birthday was on May 24th, so the considerations were based on the guidance and restrictions in place at that time):

  • Stay local. - The challenge would take place in Edinburgh, starting and finishing from my front door.
  • Be self-sufficient. - We would carry everything we needed with us, reducing the need to stop and thus minimise social interaction.
  • Keep within my limits. - Given the strain on hospitals and emergency services, it would be necessary to lower my risk tolerance and reduce the chances of injury or calling out emergency services.
  • Interact only with members of my own household. - This one was easy. Sofie would be my companion, motivator and mule.
Sofie hauling her bike up Braid Hill

The 7 Hills of Edinburgh

And so the idea of running the Edinburgh‘s very own Round came about, providing an enticing loop, ticking off the notorious 7 hills the city has to offer en route. (I should disclose at this point that I am a million miles away from being the first person to have run this route; there is in fact an annual race covering the route, complete with a website seemingly unchanged since the race’s inauguration in 1991, the true mark of any quality race)

The more I think about it, the more I wonder why I hadn’t thought of this route before. I suppose it’s because we neglect exploring what’s in our own backyard in favour of further flung adventures, and the ‘it’ll always be there/ another day’ mindset inevitably leads to it never getting done. But now there was no excuse.

The route starts and finishes at Calton Hill in the city centre of Edinburgh. Jogging up to the start, I embarrassingly realise that I have never actually been to the top before. It would be the first of many new discoveries on the day, the mark of a good adventure.

City of two halves

Running from Calton Hill takes us first up the Royal Mile; this time last year it would have been dog eat dog with swathes of tourists clambering over one another, but today it was tranquil, abandoned, serene.

Heading through the West End and out to Corstorphine takes us past grand Georgian townhouses and wide tree-lined avenues; were it not for the looming Arthur’s Seat behind it would be easy to think you’re in Mayfair.

Photo credit: https://www.trover.com/d/1o6Lu-atholl-crescent-edinburgh-scotland

The feeling of obsequious wealth is however short-lived. Descending from Corstorphine Hill takes us through Carrick Knowe, Stenhouse, Longstone, Craiglockhart. A house in Stenhouse will set you back an average of £151,298, compared to £514, 258 in Murrayfield. That’s over 3 times more in just over a mile. It’s an important reminder that not all of Edinburgh is the postcard perfect property, oozing historical wealth.

The privilege of living in Edinburgh

Reaching the top of Braid Hill provides a beautiful panoramic of the city, with the 6 other hills all visible, and the Firth of Forth looming beyond. Again it’s another hill I’ve shamefully never been to the top of until now, but it definitely won’t be the last time I’m here. Looking out over the city I’m reminded how privileged I am to live here,

how green it is,

the open space,

the sea so close,

the hills of the Pentlands on our doorstep,

and if we cross the Firth and drive north we can reach the Highlands in little over an hour.

Maybe the best adventures are those staring us right in the face.