The Modern Antiquarian. Stone Circles, Ancient Sites, Neolithic Monuments, Ancient Monuments, Prehistoric Sites, Megalithic MysteriesThe Modern Antiquarian

Arthur's Seat


Not so much 'how many times or when have I visited' this place as opposed to how many years have I lived in its shadow. This is the Mother Hill of Edinburgh- visible from almost every part of the city and beyond. I was born at the edge of Holyrood Park and one of my earliest memories is looking up to Arthur's Seat from the window of my nursery!
Arthur's Seat and Holyrood Park are littered with sites from the Neolithic to the present day- forts, cultivation terraces, crannogs and at least six sacred wells. To the south and southeast of Arthur's Seat are three remaining standing stones intervisible with the Hill. The distinctive shape of the Hill can be seen from sites to the east such at Traprain Law, Gullane Parallel Cairn Cemetery and to the west from such major sites as Cairnpapple Hill. The summit of Arthur's Seat is still used in a ceremonial manner to this day- every May Day morning folk climb up here to wash their faces in the dew- a strange collection of both Christians who hold a service here to watch the May Day sunrise and those who have been up all night at the Beltane Festival on the nearby Calton Hill! The Park is also a popular place to roll hard boiled eggs at the fertility festival of Easter.
Apparently the name of this hill doesn't have much to do with King Arthur, but is more likely derived from the Gaelic 'Arn-na-Said' meaning Height of the Arrows.
Posted by Martin
3rd June 2002ce
Edited 22nd May 2007ce

Comments (3)

Actually, "Ard-na-Said" is an urban myth for the origin of the name for this hill. One that spawned a dozen guest house names, I know! I don't know if it was a tour guide that first coined the phrase, Gods know we are an awful bunch for just making something up if we don't know the answer to a question. Maybe it was an older gaelophile, perhaps one of those Victorian types who always assume a place name in Scotland had to come from the Gaelic, or who hopes to drown out any heathen orgins.

There's a really good book on Edinbugh place names available now, by Stuart Harris. In it he says the oldest recorded name of the hill is in the foundation charter of Holyrood in 1128, and in other charters from David I's time. They refer to the hill between Holyrood and Treverlen (original name of Duddingston) as "Craggenmarf" which is a British name. The whole area was once part of the lands of the Brythonic speaking Votadini, later Goddodin, tribe. One account from the 12th century refers to it fancifully as the "Mount Dolorus" from Arthurian Myth. Probably because of the rise in popularity of such myths at that time. From the 12th century on the name Craggenmarf seems to have been shortened, the hill being referred to only as "The Crag" by the time St Antony's chapel begins to be referred to in 1426. By 1508, it is recorded in Walter Kennedy's Flyting of William Dunbar as Arthurissete.

Mount Dolorous might be considered a close enough match, meaning hill of sorrow, to Craggenmarf, meaning hill of the dead men, that it became incorporarted into Arthurian myth as Mount Dolorus. This doesn't explain the shift to Arthurissete, though. Arthur's Seat in British or Gaelic would have readily translated to Arthurissete, but there is no record of that between 1426, the last mention of the hill as Craggenmarf, and 1508, the mention of it as Arthurisette. He doesn't give us a date for the first mention of the English term Arthur's Seat at the end of it all either.
Posted by Branwen
9th September 2009ce
Probably the first of many dumb questions from this quarter. Is Craagenmarff not from the Gaelic? gjrk Posted by gjrk
10th September 2009ce
The book gives it as British. I've got the book from the library again and filled out my post more, to make it clearer. Thanks.

I've also posted a little postcard picture I made up to show people the shape of a sleeping bear beside the shape of the hill when telling stories. You'de have to be standing on the highest part of Salisbury Crags to see it that way though. That is where I tell the stories that pertain to this whole subject, and hand out the postcard.
Posted by Branwen
11th September 2009ce
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