Country diary: An iconic location, with a blaze of yellow to match

Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh: I dodge the crowded summit and am rewarded by perhaps the most abundant patch of blooming gorse I’ve seen

I could never live in a city, but if I had to it would probably be Edinburgh. Not for any cosmopolitan character to the street life or the claustrophobia-allaying breadth of those Georgian streets, but because it’s a city you can escape at any moment. In your head, at least.

Looming over almost every part is Arthur’s Seat, which Robert Louis Stevenson judged a hill in size, but “a mountain in virtue of its bold design”. It’s this eternally reassuring presence in Edinburgh’s civic space that puts me at ease. The volcanic plug creates a sense of a natural landscape and near-tranquillity, despite the encircling thrum from over 540,000 people.

It may be enmeshed in human ideas – such as the Camelot connotations of the name – but physically it carries deeper, rich links to the wild. There are the seismic trauma of its birth and the underlying fact of its 340m-year endurance. From many angles it’s thought to resemble a resting lion (I’d suggest a magnificent old lioness), with her raised forehead as the hill’s 250-metre summit.

A closeup of the gorse blooms on Arthur’s Seat
A closeup of the gorse blooms on Arthur’s Seat. Photograph: Mark Cocker

At any season there is a constant traffic of people to that spot; in effect, to be a flea in a big cat’s ear. I usually forgo the crowded summit for something more wonderful: her coat of sun-simmering yellow. Right now the whole hill is a blaze of gorse blossom. It is odd that a such an essentially militant plant should cloak itself in the densest, most delicate flowers. I don’t think I have ever encountered gorse with more profuse blooms.

It’s as if the plant knows the iconic status of its location. Should the Scots ever choose independence (and why on earth wouldn’t they?) I propose Arthur’s Seat as the symbol for the nation. From its summit you can see the whole Firth of Forth and beyond. True, there are the old castle and the new national parliament complex, but in 10,000 years’ time, which of these will still stand? I’m putting my money on solid Carboniferous magma. Besides, which of those three has a self-renewing ability to make Edinburgh’s spring air heavenly with the thick scent of vanilla and coconut?

• Country Diary is on Twitter at @gdncountrydiary


Mark Cocker

The GuardianTramp

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