Holyrood Park III : Around the Queen's Drive

DuddingstonThe road now called the Queen's Drive circumnavigates the 640 acres of Edinburgh's Holyrood Park; a massive National Park in the middle of the city. Due partly to its central location - as well as the awe-inspiring nature of the park itself - it is frequently home to people wishing to walk, run, cycle or drive around the park.

I usually join this road (formerly known as the King's Road / King's Drive) where it branches south at St Margaret's Loch. This loch is usually surrounded by gulls, ducks, swans and small children armed with pieces of bread. The scene is watched silently from high above the loch by the ruins of St Antony's Chapel - probably dating to the 14th century.

The Queen's Drive continues south around the park, climbing the side of Whinny Hill toward Dunsapie Loch. Here you can still see signs of Edinburgh's earliest settlements; as well as more swans and children with bread. This is the best starting point for a climb to the basalt plug known as Arthur's Seat - the highest point in Edinburgh and its best-known natural landmark. Once you see the view from there, you'll know why.

Just past Dunsapie Loch are the steps known as Jacob's Ladder, which make the steep descent to the village of Duddingston. This 12th century village is itself worthy of exploration - though there are easier ways to approach it. Another day.

The hill on the right (between the road and Arthur's Seat) is known variously as Crow Hill, the Nether Hill, or the Lion's Haunch. To understand the rationale behind the third name, take a look at the park from a distance (it's visible from many places within Edinburgh). Arthur's Seat is at the top of what looks like a lion's head.

On the south side is the Hangman's Crag - a rocky outcrop where a disillusioned hangman took his life (naturally by hanging himself). Further along on the same side is the wonder of Samson's Ribs, an excellent example of columnar jointing and a reminder of the area's former volcanic status.

On the right, near the end of the Radical Road, is an area known as the Hawse; the exit from the park for anyone daring to run through the Hunter's Bog. This is also the point at which the Queen's Drive finally begins descending.

The rocky areas above the Radical Road are the Salisbury Crags (which reportedly helped James Hutton form his early theories of the new science of geology); beneath the road lies the now vacant area of the South Quarry. The road continues around the former quarry, watched by the Cat Nick (at the sharp corner of the Radical Road).

From here it makes its way past the superbly designed building of Our Dynamic Earth, and skirts the edge of the New Scottish Parliament complex. After passing the Horse Wynd (only recently re-opened after a lengthy closure as the Parliament buildings were constructed) it heads east toward Meadowbank.

Before reaching the starting point, the road passes a large flat area which was once used as a film set for Chariots of Fire. It now seems to act as a home for amateur footballers than those attempting to sharpen up their running.

Opposite this area sits the displaced St Margaret's Well; originally at home in Restalrig and relocated once it was realised that the surrounding area was so built-up that the well could barely be seen. Rather than finding itself surrounded by the ever-growing signs of urban development, the well now sits in the side of a grassy bank. Finally a place in the sun.

Past the well is a small hill known as Haggis Knowe (also called 'the Cockleshell'), which is also a regular home to Edinburgh's runners. Steep, green and windy. Perfect.


In 1946 there was a short-lived proposal to turn the Queen's Drive into a circuit for motor racing. It'd be an interesting track, but unfortunately the cost to the environment would be far too high.

The Queen's Drive - and the park which it encircles - has featured several times in literature; notably in Scott's 'Heart of Midlothian' and Verne's 'Underground City'.

Also see :