Shadows of a Snowshoer: Exploring Edinburgh’s Arctic Hinterland

It’s November 2010 and Britain is getting buried.

News reports are saying it’s the “worst winter since 1981.” In the UK, snow of this volume is rare, and this early in the year it’s unknown. For so many people here, snow is just another form of weather to grumble about. When it comes to the white stuff, we don’t cope well. Airports and schools are shut, trains have stopped running and the road network is paralysed. People have been stranded in their cars overnight, pipes are frozen and councils have run out of grit.

But for me it’s the best winter since 1981. Perhaps if more people owned snowshoes they might see it my way. Whist Britain has been complaining about lost man hours and the “cost to the economy,” I’ve been watching the snow fall with increasing excitement. Now the storm has passed, the sun is out, and I’m all set to explore Edinburgh’s arctic hinterland.

From my apartment I can see my target: Arthur’s Seat. A long-extinct volcano, it forms part of Holyrood Park, and is a piece of wild Highland landscape sitting in the centre of the Scottish capital. Keeping watch over the city, it normally offers Edinburghers a large green space to play in. Today it is a large whitespace instead. I sling my snowshoes over my back, wander out into the street and head for the hills.

The roads are quiet, and few people are about. Under the railway bridge I walk, up a snow-covered cobbled lane and alongside Holyrood Palace. It’s where the queen stays when she’s in town, but the flags are not flying today. Her Majesty must be enjoying the snow elsewhere.

The ground opens out onto flat parkland, edged by large trees. The snow here has been compacted by walkers and is too shallow for snowshoes, so I keep going, on past St Margret’s Loch. It’s covered in a layer of icy slush; swans huddle together looking cold. I head off the main path, and start climbing a now-closed road. The snow is getting deeper, but I keep going until I reach a stretch of virgin powder. Here, I shall begin my mini-adventure.

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Sam Baldwin,

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