My friend Iain said he was heading to Edinburgh on Lockdown 2021 Day of Freedom. He told me he planned to run the route of the Seven Hills of Edinburgh (an annual race) – and it would be around 13 or 14 miles. I decided to join him.
We boarded a train (a novelty in itself) at Croy and alighted at Edinburgh Waverley station. Running anti-clockwise, we ticked off Castle Hill, Corstophine Hill, Craiglockhart (east) and Craiglockhart (west), Braid Hill, Blackford Hill, Arthur’s Seat and Calton Hill. The eagle eyed among you will see this is in fact eight hills. Apparently the was once a high summit on Craiglockhart, between east and west, although that has now been eroded yet it is still counted as one hill.
The route: Totals almost 19 miles (30km) and has an elevation gain of 978m. See route details at the end of the blog.
Highlights of the 7 hills of Edinburgh run
It was a beautifully sunny day and the views from each hill were superb. We visited many compass points around the Scottish capital city and enjoyed a different vista over the historic city, as well as further afield.
A lack of the usual tourists – it was only the first day of Lockdown Freedom – and with many shops and restaurants etc still shut, the city was much quieter than it would normally be. We enjoyed this sense of calm and emptiness.
Together the hills form a circle around the city and while there were some longer stretches of pavement and tarmac running, there was also the promise of more tracks and off-road paths to run in between.
It’s a brilliant way to see many Edinburgh attractions, including the castle, Princes Street Gardens, art galleries, the City Observatory, the Palace of Holyrood House, the Scottish parliament building, the unfinished National Monument on Calton Hill, among others.
Did you know?: Edinburgh’s Acropolis Calton Hill is famous for its collection of historic monuments, which form some of the most important landmarks of the city. One of the most famous is The National Monument, inspired by the Parthenon in Athens.
The circuit takes you through many different areas of Edinburgh, through quiet back streets, along riversides, through parks and woodland, past ponds and tennis courts and over railway and tramlines.
The geology of Edinburgh is interesting, too, with contrasting soft and hard rock formations. The sedimentary rock is derived from the slow accumulation of sediment in river systems and shallow seas, mostly formed during the Carboniferous period, from 360 to 300 million years ago, while the hard igneous rock was created by episodes of volcanic activity.
The igneous rocks form the hills, including the Pentlands and the Seven Hills of Edinburgh.
The Pentland Hills are made of tough igneous rock more than 400 million years old. Meanwhile Edinburgh city centre is dominated by hills made from different parts of volcanoes of this age, including the volcanic plug of Castle rock, as well as surface material at Calton Hill, Arthur’s Seat and Craiglockhart Hill. (Read more/reference Edinburgh Geological Society.)
Craiglockhart has two summits but it is counted as one. Easter Craiglockhart, with a summit of 158m, is separated from Wester Craiglockhart (175m) by the dry valley of
Glenlockhart. The valley took its present form over 17000 years ago when a vast ice sheet covered the area. Meltwater from the Water of Leith, then dammed by ice, cut the channel eastwards.
There is easy access to snacks and drinks en route because it is a run that is close to urban areas. We enjoyed a much-needed ice cream (it was a hit day) and sports drinks after hill six
We also saw zebras, an elephant and half a man. The route goers close to the edge of Edinburgh Zoo, where we spotted zebra through the fence; a large seated elephant made of metal was positioned in Prince Street Gardens; and there is one of Anthony Gormley’s 6 Times series of naked statues situated outside the Gallery of Modern Art.
Iain created a video of the run:
Seven (eight) hills of Edinburgh run
Photos in chronological order:
Hill 1: Castle Hill
Hill 2: Corstorphine Hill
Hill 3a: Craiglockhart Hill east
Hill 3b: Craiglockhart Hill west
Hill 4: Braid Hill