From Arthur's Seat

After nearly a half century, I returned to Scotland. My wife and I spent about a month traveling all over Scotland to places that I had been or that I hadn't gone years before. We spent a handful of days in Edinburgh where I went to the University of Edinburgh at New College. We had several meals at each of these local pubs: Greyfriars Bobby, Deacon Brodies, and World's End.

Greyfriars Bobby

Deacon Brodies

 World's End

In addition to eating haggis at each of those places, we visited the castle, Ramsey Garden where I had lived, John Knox's home, St. Giles, underground Edinburgh, and the new parliament building located at the foot of the Royal Mile. However, we were sightseeing one day when the sun finally came out. We seized that opportunity to climb Arthur's Seat, which is a large outcropping of an extinct volcano from the Carboniferous Age some 350 million years ago. It rises south of the new parliament building.

 Arthur's Seat

Arthur's Seat is where King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table are said to being living under the stone outcropping. Now, as I said, I had been to Arthur's Seat many times prior to this latest trip to Scotland. However, I never really thought that there was any truth to the legend that Arthur and his knights were living under Arthur's Seat. The story is that he is waiting for a time of great need for the people of the British Isles. When that need occurred, King Arthur and his knights would rescue the people. I'm not a person who is into miracles or superstitions.

Nonetheless, I wanted to revisit this Edinburgh landmark and chose to climb the Radical Road, which is a misnomer for a path...and a path without hiking shoes that can be dangerous halfway to the top. The Radical Road isn't the safest nor is the easiest. It starts off easy...

Radical Road

However, the climb to the top gets more and more difficult. It is a long, very long and exhausting trek up the steepest part of Arthur's Seat.

Holyrod Rock

Arthur's Seat is located in what the Scots call Holyrood Park.

We reached about two-thirds to the summit and paused to get our wind. Ann, who is in good cardiovascular shape, told me to go ahead. She would wait until I returned.

Ann resting

So off I trekked up the rest of the mountain. The last third was far worse than the first part and more exhausting than I recalled a half century prior.

The summit

I decided to reach the summit via a path that no one was attempting that day. It was a convoluted and indirect path. I have no reason for my surely wasn't an easier means of getting to the summit. I was a hundred yards from the summit when I slipped and slid down a short distance to the bottom of a ridge. There I was on my backside and realized that I wasn't thinking when I put on a pair of regular shoes that morning rather than at least gym shoes. However, at that time, I wasn't sure where we would be going that day. Additionally, so many people have climbed Arthur's Seat over many centuries that many of the rocks have been worn as smooth as polished marble making it quite dangerous to climb.

As I sat there bemoaning not planning ahead, I thought that I had slipped off a ladder and fallen about the same distance and nearly killed myself while painting my deck 5-years ago. Indeed, my slipping off the ridge was within a week of the exact day 5-years prior. Now, I had danced with death again on Arthur's Seat. While I pondered both my near death encounters, I heard someone call my name. It wasn't Ann who was far below, and I couldn't have heard or even seen her. It was a man's soft, almost a muffled voice.

"Allen, Allen," said the asking person. That rattled me. Only my family calls me, Allen. It startled me that some man was calling me especially by that name. I didn't know anyone in Edinburgh, but I looked around. No one was there. Again, I heard my name, "Allen, Allen." I climbed back to the top of the ridge from which I had slipped hoping to find the origin of the voice. And there he was...a very old man standing there. He addressed me by saying that he was glad that I had listened to his urgings. I must have looked confused especially when he said that he wanted to talk to me. I asked him who he was and how he would benefit from talking to me?

The view

You can tell just how high we were. Those little dots are cars and the littler dots are climbers.

He said that he was King Arthur, and he had selected me to speak to Scotland prior to the devolution vote in September of 2014. I know this sounds incredulous. However, I knew that it was King Arthur though he wasn't wearing regal clothing. He had on what best could be described as what we would think monks would have worn a millennium ago. We sat there on the ridge for nearly an hour. He told me precisely what he wanted from me and why.

As we sat there and talked, I had some question, which I don't recall, but I addressed him as King Arthur. What I do recall was that he dismissed the use of the term, king. He said that his name was Arthur...just Arthur. And then he added, "I'll call you, Allen. You call me, Arthur." And we bonded like a small band of brothers.

Arthur wanted me to write to the people of Scotland about our encounter atop Arthur's Seat. I asked him why of all the people that he could have selected he chose me for that task. Almost no one in Scotland knew me. I asked him why a total stranger from across the ocean would be listened to as opposed to any person living in Scotland.

His retort was polite but quite firm and to the point. Arthur said that an outsider would be more readily accepted due to being from a different country; the Scots would heed me precisely due to me being an outsider. Then he hesitated for a moment, and then added what seemed like a royal jab, "You are more into the referendum than many of the Scots who live here are." My face must have telegraphed disbelief. He didn't say anything...he just pointed at my blue and white wristband which reads "1314 Independence 2014".

John Knox
He reached down and picked up a stone and gave it to me. I again looked me an ordinary stone from a top a large mountain didn't make sense. He put the stone into the palm of my hand and then closed my fingers around it almost like a blessing. "Do you understand me, Allen?"
Then waving his hand in front of me, which reminded me of the statue of John Knox that I passed each day I went to class a half century ago, he said sternly, "Don't return to Scotland until the Scots vote 'yes' for independence. You love this land as do I. Tell the Scots the meaning of the devolution that some of them even miss, but you haven't."

It was silent for several minutes, and it seemed like all of nature was still. I knew full well not to interrupt the moment. Then Arthur said, "The Scots are a brave people. They deserve to be free, but many are afraid to demand to be free." Then with a wry sense of humor, he added a question, "Do you know Steve Biko?" And before I could say that I admired one of the great leaders for the independence movement of South Africa, Arthur didn't allow me to say the obvious but quoted him, "Biko said, 'The most potent weapon of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.' All Scots need to be free from Westminster and some Scots even from themselves."

Then it was Arthur's turn to look questioning at me, "What is it, son?" I replied, "Back home in America, I have two young grandchildren." Arthur nodded...a most knowing nod. "I know. I know that you love them as you love Scotland."

Arthur then reached down to the ground again and picked up two additional stones and said. "These are for Jack and Owen. Tell them about our talk and what Scotland's independence means to you and what it means to the Scottish people."

I promised Arthur that I would tell Jack and Owen about Scotland and how many of my family came from Scotland generations ago. I will tell them about living there years ago while going to school and about my return to this great land. I promised Arthur that I would share with them the great quest of some in Scotland to be a free and independent people.

Finally, Arthur shook my hand and added, "Sometimes it takes an outsider to see what is right in front of some people and isn't seen by them. Your people went to America from Scotland. You love this nation and that is why you are here...I read your articles as you planned your return trip. Write about what you saw this time and let the people of Scotland know. Perhaps, you will help some to see what freedom means."

I shook his hand, and we embraced. The last thing that he said was a quote from William Wallace, a great Scot who got freedom for Scotland from the English at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. Wallace once said, "Every man dies. Not every man really lives." Then Arthur added this regal postscript: "This is a time for all Scots to live."


The transfer of Arthur's stones to Jack and Owen...

Al giving Arthur's Stone to Jack

Owen playing with Arthur's Stone

Al, Owen and Jack smile for the camera

Scottish independence: Yes campaign

Scottish independence flag

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