My 18-year-old nephew William was staying with us in Edinburgh - and needed some exercise.
I took him on what will henceforth be known as: “Uncle Billy’s Special Fun Run”. It lasts just over an hour - depending on whether you want to take in a pint at the Sheep Heid in Duddingston - and I would contend that it is … THE TOUGHEST RUN IN EDINBURGH.
Of course there are longer runs - The Seven Hills, just for a kicker. But pound for pound, Uncle Billy’s Special Fun Run packs one hell of a punch. If you’re not going up a hill, you’re going down one.
So here’s the route - and I don’t doubt that within a few short years, it will be up there in the halls of running fame alongside the Marathon des Sables and the Boston Marathon.
You start at the Holyrood House car park. Have a good stretch. You’re going to need it. Banter with your nephew. Tell him that if he feels the urge to run on ahead, not to bother hanging round for old dotards like his uncle.
Then: Head Directissimo up the Radical Road. And no matter how much you tell ‘em, the young pups they always go haring off. They never ever learn to pace themselves. The Radical Road is a tough one - about as steep as I can do without actually having to walk. Do be sure to take in Hutton’s Section, where James Hutton made his breakthrough to become the founding father of modern geology.
At the end of the Radical Road, take a left - and now you’re heading up onto the Salisbury Crags. How long will it be before First Minister Alex Salmond has turned these rocks into Scotland’s own Mount Rushmore. Whose faces will be up there? Robbie Burns? Robert the Bruce? Sean Connery? J.K.Rowing?
At the top of the Crags - take in the view. I reckon it’s one of the finest city views in the world. Check out Arthur’s Seat as well. You’re going up that next.
Race off down the Crags - nephews tend to like this bit. Much prefer going downhill, they do, to going up.
At the bottom get onto the path that takes you to Arthur’s Seat. There’s only one way to run up this hill - at least for middle-aged uncles like me - and that’s up, I think, Long Row. You go past St Anthony’s Chapel, and then up a smoothly rising path. Course you can go up the more direct route on the other side of the Dasses, but the steps there are too severe for the likes of me to run up.
By now, nephews should be beginning to flag. How I love the sound of a teenage runner panting like a dog. It gives me wings. And meanwhile, I am grinding out these dainty little steps - probably no faster than a walk, but as relentless as a metronome. And the young pups, they know that if necessary you could keep going all night. Saps their morale, you know.
You can have a short breather before you attempt the final summit - but if the nephew’s hard on your heels, just keep on grinding it out. Above all, don’t give the blighter a chance to regroup.
At the top of Arthur’s Seat, take in the view, point out anything of interest, admire Berwick Law 20 miles off in the distance. I’ll be doing that coastal run next year, by the way. Looks a bit flat - but still has to be done.
Then: head off south towards Prestonfield. You might be going over the Lion’s Haunch now - though I’m not quite sure. There’s a path that skirts round the far side of Arthur’s Seat, followed by a steepish lot of stairs. Mountain goats do well down this; so do nephews.
At the bottom, get out onto the road that takes you down to Duddingston. Nice gentle run this bit. Admire Samson’s Ribs on your left. And do be sure to take in “Maguire’s Leap”. My mate Tim Maguire was driving along here with his car stuck in third gear. An unfortunate choice. On the severest bend, he went clean up the bank, rolled the car, and damn near killed himself.
In Duddingston - and this is what’s really going to do for the nephews - go up the little alleyway just past the carpark and stop off for a pint of Deuchars at the Sheep Heid. This pub, without a shadow of a doubt, is the best in the whole of Edinburgh and its environs. Mary Queen of Scots stayed there; as did Bonnie Prince Charlie when he was on the run.
Admire the stuffed animals; ask the wee nephew how he’s getting on. You may even be able to dupe him into having another pint.
Et finalement - we have a particularly good sting in the tail: Retrace your steps down the alleyway, and turn right at the car park. You’ve then got a path going up about 130 steps - and with a pint swilling around inside you, this one really sorts out the men from the goats. Boy do you have to take it slowly if you don’t want to stutter to a stop. Reminds me of another Fun Run in New York City - the Empire State Building Run-Up, comprising 1,576 steps over the 86 floors of the Empire State. The winners do it in around ten minutes! Though they do get a terrific build-up of lactic acid in their knees. There’s a lot of shrieking and vomiting on the observation deck.
At the top of the steps, you’re now heading for what I think is Dunsapie Fort. Not a big hill this one, but it’s a tester after all those steps. I quite like this hill actually - had a lot of great picnics here with my two boys, Dexter and Geordie.
Then you’re coming down off the hill, skirting round Dunsapie Loch, and - of course - you have one last hill to climb. Otherwise you won’t have the full Arthur’s Seat boxed set.
This time you’re going up Whinny Hill - there’s a sort of mown piece that’s pretty well worn. It’s as if you’re heading back up Arthur’s Seat, however this time you’re heading off to the right to Whinny Hill. Lovely little run this bit - oh yes, and amidst all this majestic scenery, I’ve clean forgotten about the nephew. He’ll probably be trailing along, farting like a wizard and doubtless deeply regretting that second pint.
Lots of grass and heather, as well as hidden nooks and bushes up here. A perfect place to take your lover for some Al Fresco nookie, I’d hazard (Full of interesting little gems, I am.)
At the top of Whinny Hill, just keep on going and there are a number of paths which will take you down to Queen’s Drive and St Margaret’s Loch. Breathe a sigh of relief that you haven’t had a heart attack - and pat yourself on the back at having proved, once again, that old age and guile wins out out over teenage pluck every time.