How Arthur’s Seat has influenced literature for over 200 years

How Arthur’s Seat has influenced literature for over 200 years

The view from Arthur’s Seat is enough to inspire anyone, so it’s no surprise that some of the world’s most celebrated writers have included it in their works 

Arthur’s Seat offers one of the most stunning views of Edinburgh, which is why thousands climb to its summit each year.

Such an imposing geological feature does much more than offer a nice viewing platform, however. Its constant presence undoubtedly plays on the subconscious of the city’s inhabitants as they go about their business from day to day. Indeed, we need only look at how Scottish literature has incorporated the Seat into its pages over the last 200 pages for proof of this.

Some of Scotland’s most beloved authors — both historical and modern — have used the site in their tales of romance, crime, horror and adventure. Let’s take a look at just some of the works which have been inspired by Arthur’s Seat.


Auld Reekie, Robert Fergusson — 1773

One of the best known early mentions of Arthur’s Seat in literature is in Robert Fergusson’s poem Auld Reekie. In it, Fergusson describes young girls coming to the hill on May Day to bathe their faces in dew. This was a result of the old legend about the slopes facing Holyrood, which said that washing your face in the dew on May Day would make you more beautiful.

Frankenstein, Mary Shelley — 1818

Shelley’s novel is one of the most iconic works of literature ever written, and of course Arthur’s Seat gets a mention. As Dr Frankenstein travels north, he passes through Edinburgh and describes it’s “beauty and regularity” before listing off some of the sites he sees, including the Seat.

The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, James Hogg — 1824

The Seat plays a big role in Hogg’s famous nineteenth century novel. In it, two brothers stand atop the Seat in dense fog and one of them thinks he sees a ghost. Needless to say, it’s an atmospheric tale that you won’t forget in a hurry.

The Underground City, Jules Verne — 1877

The Underground City, otherwise known as The Child of the Cavern, follows the story of a young girl called Nell who has never been above ground. She’s taken to Arthur’s Seat to view her first ever sunrise, and who could think of a better setting for such a scene?

Rebus novels, Ian Rankin — 1987 – present

Ian Rankin is one of Britain’s most famous crime writers, and his Rebus novels have sold millions of copies since the character’s debut in the ‘80s. The famous detective has talked about Arthur’s Seat enough times to warrant its own list!

One Day, David Nicholls — 2009

Back in 2009, Nicholls’s romantic novel took the world by storm, even being made into a film starring Anne Hathaway in 2011. The book tells the story of two lovers, Emma and Dexter, beginning and ending with them climbing Arthur’s Seat together after graduating from university.

Seventeen Coffins, Phillip Caveney — 2014

The story of the miniature coffins found in Arthur’s Seat in 1836 continues to mystify everyone who hears it even to this day, so it’s no surprise that it’s been the subject of several creative works over the years. This includes Phillip Caveney’s recent teen fiction novel.

Camelot — fact or fiction?

Here’s a little bonus one for you to round off our list. For many years, Arthur’s Seat has been rumoured to have been the site of the legendary city of Camelot — home King Arthur. In fact, some people believe that’s how the site got its name. Whether you believe the tales or not is up to you, but it just goes to show how many fantastic stories and rumours there are surrounding this breath-taking landmark.

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