Blackford Hill

If you've visited Edinburgh you will have quickly realised it's a city built on hills, seven to be precise, Arthur's Seat, Castle Rock, Calton hill, Corstorphine hill, Craiglockhart hill, the Braid hills and Blackford hill. Some a little less obvious but nonetheless definitely there, like Castle Rock, there when you look up and see the castle looming down at you from so many parts of the city centre. Just as any walk around the Old Town, with the climb up to the Royal Mile at its heart and the many narrow closes fanning downwards from that spine will also confirm. Others, like Arthur's Seat, have that far more traditional look of what you may think of as a hill in Scotland, one that stands out overlooking the surrounding area, ready to be climbed and explored. Blackford hill is one in that category, great for walking and exploring its wide open space.

The hill was bought by the Edinburgh Corporation in 1884 for the sum of £8000 from Lieutenant Colonel Henry Trotter of Mortonhall to make it available as a public park. The Hermitage of Braid estate (which we need to return to and visit) next door was later gifted to the city in 1938 by its final owner. 

One of the most obvious things about any visit to Blackford hill are the fabulous views, despite its relatively low height, from the top you can see across Edinburgh, towards the castle, to Arthur's Seat and out over the Firth of Forth and beyond. It's worth noting too that the ascent on this hill is not anywhere as steep as on Arthur's Seat so it makes for a much gentler walk and climb. Just like the other hills of Edinburgh it too was formed millions of years ago by volcanic rocks, geologically though it is different from the other hills excluding its near neighbour, the Braid hills.

Once you reach the summit it's definitely one you'll want to linger on simply to enjoy the previously mentioned unimpeded views. At the top are also the remains of a prehistoric hillfort, most likely dating from the Iron Age. On the day that we visited the hill was pretty deserted, I'm not sure if it's always like this or if we were just very lucky but maybe given it's not as well known to visitors as Arthur's Seat or Calton hill that's the reason why. I should say here that we went to Blackford hill well before the Covid-19 pandemic hit (yes I've got lots to catch up on blog wise) so there were no travel or other restrictions in place at that time to explain the emptiness of it.

Alongside these views the hill is also home to the Royal Observatory. Before the observatory found a home on Blackford hill astronomy had its home in Edinburgh on Calton hill at the Playfair Observatory or City Observatory as it's also known. This original one later took its Royal Observatory name following the visit of George IV to Scotland in 1822. Although it saw some major research advances in the years that followed this it eventually fell on hard times leading to the Government reaching the decision for it to be closed.

Luckily though it was saved by the astronomer the Earl of Crawford. In return for his gift of the contents of his observatory and library in Aberdeenshire to the nation, the government agreed to build and maintain a new Royal Observatory on Blackford hill. The new one opened in 1896 and since then has continued to play a significant role in this area of science. Whilst you can't enter the building unless you are a part of an organised event it's still well worth making a stop there to see the landmark from the outside.

Blackford hill is a must if you want to enjoy some open space and get away from the more well known, and typically busier, Arthur's Seat and Calton hill. Despite enjoying a lengthy walk on our visit we definitely do need to return again, this time to see more of the Hermitage of Braid area and beyond and to get some more of those fantastic views.


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