Edinburgh is undoubtedly my favourite city in the world. When I first went there for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2014, having previously only been as far north as Liverpool, it was not an instant love. There are lots of cities I have been to (Singapore, Chicago, Hanoi, Wellington) where I just knew how much I was going to enjoy spending time there, and that this was a place I wanted to explore endlessly. Edinburgh was a grower.
First off – unless you love comedy & theatre, and don’t mind insufferable millennials assaulting you with flyers for their brilliantly subversive and emotional production (aka people like me) – then do not go to Edinburgh during the Fringe Festival. In fact, just avoid all of August to be sure. However for lots of us, myself included, the Fringe is our first introduction to Edinburgh (and Scotland, in my case) – and for that I will always be grateful.
Despite being a die-hard arts-lover, I find the Fringe exhausting, emotionally draining, and just unpleasant a lot of the time. That’s not to say I haven’t had some amazing times, seen and staged some fantastic shows, and met brilliant people – I absolutely have, I just find the whole Fringe experience (as a participant) a bit much sometimes. I’ve taken this year off the Fringe entirely, and am now actively looking forward to going next year.
Anyway, Fringe pros & cons lists aside, whilst living in Edinburgh as a thespian, I felt the uncontrollable urge to get as far away from anything and everything artistic on a fair few occasions. I achieved this by actually exploring the city. By this, I don’t mean climbing Arthur’s Seat on my last day there, half-pissed (though, of course, I did do that as well) – I mean running until I was lost, finding little gems tucked away, and trying desperately not to be flyered.
One of my favourite routes starts in Holyrood Park, which was just behind my flat, goes out towards the beach, and loops back.
Starting at the Arthur’s Seat side of Holyrood Park, go clockwise around the park. From here you get a stunning view of Arthur’s Seat and the Salisbury Crags to the left. In my opinion, the crags are far more attractive, and if you fancy a bit of height on your run, instead of going around the outside of the park, go along Sir Walter Scott’s Radical Road – which is the track that hugs the cliffs under the crags.
My favourite thing about the Radical Road is how as you turn around the corner, you get the most phenomenal view of Carlton Hill, the Houses of Parliament, and the city itself – then, as you go a little further around the corner, the sea appears. The views from here are wide and far-reaching, and I love the fact that you get such a medley of sights: city-centre, political buildings, medieval ruins, bizarre follies on Carlton Hill, the ocean, the remains of a volcano, and the rolling countryside. This path is where I fell in love with Edinburgh, and is a place I return to as often as I can when I am back.
Whether you run along the track, or the perimeter of the park, you will go past the Palace of Holyroodhouse and the Scottish Parliament Building – both beautiful in their own ways. Keep going towards the back of the park, and you pop out by the very top of the A1.
Quick, unbelievably dull note about the A1, but it amuses me that I have run along the top and bottom of the A1. It starts down by St Paul’s Cathedral, around which I used to work, and then heads through Islington, with Islington Upper Street actually being the A1. I used to live on Upper Street, and loved running to/from work – so I’ve run the first mile of the A1, and the last. Terribly boring aside, but my bizarre love for the A1 knows no bounds (that’s not true, the bounds are Islington and Edinburgh).
This bit of the A1 isn’t too pretty, but it’s classic Edinburgh architecture everywhere, and very quickly you end up on Portobello Road. This becomes Moira Terrace, and then eventually if you keep going hits the beach. I love Portobello Beach – it’s wide, expansive, unbelievably windy, but often pretty quiet. If you go during the golden hour, the light is extraordinary, and the reflections in the sand and sea only enhance the romance of the place. I wouldn’t recommend dipping in the sea, but if you are really really hot and really really brave, be my guest.
Continue along the beach until you get to the slip road on the left. Head up there, and run parallel with the beach until you get to Fillyside Road. Turn left, run along Fillyside Road which becomes Craigentinny Avenue, and then eventually it hits Portabello Road, where you have already run. Turn right along Portabello Road, until you can either wiggle to Holyrood Park via Abercorn Road, or just continue the way you went before. Continue running clockwise along the other side of the park – you’ll go past some of the beautiful lakes in the park, and loop back around to the start.
It’s a figure of 8 route, about 12km, and takes you through some of the best bits of Edinburgh away from the city itself.
If you fancy some hill work, definitely head up Arthur’s Seat for an extra burn at the end. The first time I climbed it I was with my friends, celebrating the end of our show’s run. We took a good couple of hours to get to the top, and roughly the same to descend. I had it in my head that Arthur’s Seat was this unbelievably difficult climb, which would take me a whole afternoon to run. When I ran up and down the following year in about 45 minutes, I realised quite how slowly we had gone the year before…
In May 2018, I’m going to be doing Edinburgh Marathon, which starts in Holyrood Park, loops into the city, and then along the coast and back. For such a hilly city, it’s a remarkably flat marathon, so I am looking forward to running in my favourite city, without the plight of the mad steepness of Edinburgh.
I’ll put up another route through Edinburgh, which hits some of my favourite spots in the city, but this is probably my favourite way to see Holyrood Park and the coast.