Five of us, three women and two men, are in our running gear on the grass below Arthur's Seat. Nothing unusual about that – Lycra is practically compulsory in Holyrood Park – but right now, we're not running, we're peering up at Europe's only inner-city mountain, bathed in golden sunlight, and listening to a commentary about it by one of our number, Tom Roebuck.
There are many legends about how it got its name, says Tom, but perhaps the most likely explanation is that in the medieval period, archers would come and test their bows' ranges here. Tom, who's from Yorkshire, gives us his best impression of what "height of the arrow" sounds like in Gaelic and it comes out something like "acha say-at" (Arthur's Seat, get it?) Everyone laughs. Not being a Gaelic speaker, I'm in no position to verify this theory, but it's a nice tale and a new one on me in spite of having lived in this city for nearly 20 years.
Challenging assumptions about Edinburgh, not just for tourists but for locals too, is one of the aims of Staying Alive tours, thought to be the first running sightseeing tours to operate in Scotland. Mike Cooper, a children's rights officer and keen amateur runner, came up with the idea last year after watching the Olympic torch relay in Edinburgh and being struck by how many historic sites it passed through. He and running buddies Tom, Lynne Williamson and Liane Cumming worked together to devise the tours, calling themselves Staying Alive after Tom's favourite motivational running track. The group, who did the Berlin half-marathon together last year, launched the Staying Alive tours during the Edinburgh Festival and immediately had enough interest to put on two a week in August. The outings have proven particularly popular so far with women.
The tour accommodates runners of all abilities as the four guides naturally run at different paces anyway. It takes in the Grassmarket, the Cowgate, the Scottish Parliament (where I learn that the shape of the MSPs' thinking pods were inspired by Henry Raeburn's minister skating on Duddingston Loch), Holyrood Park (where Liane explains how the Radical Road got its name), the Innocent Railway and the Commonwealth Pool. When we stop below Salisbury Crags, Liane tells us that Edinburgh-born natural philosopher James Hutton, who studied the rocks in Holyrood Park in the mid eighteenth century, concluded that rocks of different geology were of different ages – a controversial viewpoint that challenged creationist assumptions.
It's a sociable event, with lots of chat and banter, and typically finishes with a post-tour wind-down at The Abbey pub on South Clerk Street where they serve a special Staying Alive cocktail. I reach the end feeling as if I've pushed myself a bit, but haven't noticed it too much thanks to the distraction of the chat.
The tour is free of charge. The guides work full-time and do this for fun, so there is no insurance policy and no forms to sign. It's a way for Edinburgh runners and visitors alike to enjoy their city and keep fit to boot.
The next tours will be on Sunday January 20 and Sunday February 24. To book, email email@example.com or go to Staying Alive's Facebook page at www.facebook.com/pages/Staying-Alive-Running-Club/213590498766685. Read the blog at http://stayingaliverc.wordpress.com