Hills of Edinburgh: Calton Hill and Blackford Hill

I visited friends in beautiful Edinburgh for a few days last week and took the opportunity to head up a couple of the city’s hills. 

I’d been up them before on previous visits but’s it’s such a stunning city, both architecturally and setting-wise, that I was happy to fit in some exercise and take in the city’s famous sandstone skyline.

Top image: Edinburgh Castle from Blackford Hill

Calton Hill

This hill isn’t much of a hike, being easily reached via steps close to the main shopping thoroughfare of Princes Street. It’s a prominent sight in the city centre though with its assortment of historic buildings and structures, including an unfinished replica of Athens’ Parthenon, two observatories and a cross-topped monument to Admiral Horatio Nelson.

Because of its easy access, it’s very popular with tourists and you’re likely to feel the sting of glaring eyes if you dare to stand in the way of someone’s tripod-mounted shot. The busyness put me off a bit so I didn’t bother taking any photos of the structures on the hill itself but instead focused on the farther off views.

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A zoomed in view northwards to the district of Leith, with Fife visible across the Firth of Forth

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The distinctive conical profile of North Berwick Law, 30kms along the coast to the northeast, which overlooks the town of North Berwick. I climbed it several years ago and there’s a replica of a whale’s jawbone on top.

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Walkers on top of Salisbury Crags, one of the more challenging hills close to the city centre

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A much photographed view looking westwards down Princes Street. The Clock Tower of the Balmoral Hotel dominates on the left. Note the tram; the delays in building the line were a source of controversy on my earlier visits to the city.

Blackford Hill

This 164m hill lies just under two miles south of the city centre but feels a world away from Calton Hill and its selfie stick-wielding hordes. It is part of an extensive public park which includes the former Hermitage of Braid estate and houses Edinburgh’s Royal Observatory.  The hill and its surrounds are popular with locals, and its foot was just a 20 minute walk from my friends’ apartment. Various trails ascend to the summit.

Of all the city’s hills I think this is my favourite, owing to its (relative) quietness and the unique perspective it gives over the city’s skyline and surrounding terrain. It offers an excellent view of the popular hills close to the centre as well as the higher Pentland Hills a little further to the south.

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Approaching Blackford Hill from the north via Oswald Road

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A striking view of Salisbury Crags (left) and Arthur’s Seat (right) on the ascent. The colourful gorse (also known as ‘whin bush’ in my part of the world) provided a pleasing foreground. 

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The same view from higher up; the Firth of Forth is now visible to the left and right of the twin hills

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A handy bench at the summit, from where you can take in the city’s various landmarks; Edinburgh Castle, sitting atop a volcanic rock, dominates the skyline

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A direction marker close to the summit, pointing to various man-made and natural landmarks; the Pentland Hills are in the distance here

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The stately looking Royal Edinburgh Hospital dominates this view to the northwest; I’m always struck by the uniformity of colour in much of Edinburgh’s architecture

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A view to the east, with the Royal Observatory visible to the right of the trig pillar

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A view of Inchkeith in the middle of the Firth of Forth; it’s had a colourful history including uses as a quarantine island and as a defensive fortification up until the end of the Second World War

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Calton Hill dominates the centre of this view, with Kircaldy visible in the distance across the Firth of Forth

Also on this trip, I visited Berwick-upon-Tweed just across the border in England and walked part of the Berwickshire Coastal Path. See Bastions and Border-Hopping in Berwick: Part 1.

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6 thoughts on “Hills of Edinburgh: Calton Hill and Blackford Hill

  1. Really excellent shots Martin. I couldn’t pick a favourite there are so many I could choose. Love the header image of the castle, the ones with Arthur’s Seat, and the one with the direction marker in particular (you got great depth of field with that direction marker one!), but they’re all brilliant. You made the best of that trip!

    Liked by 1 person

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