THE hump of Arthur's Seat dominates the Edinburgh skyline. Depending on the angle, it can look like a recumbent lion or the rounded backside of an elephant, its trunk meandering out in front.

When viewed from the south of the city, this lump of grass and rock resembles a crocodile's snout with jagged teeth and a lone watchful eye surveying the Scottish capital from its lofty perch.

If you squint your eyes, you might see the outline of a mythical beast. According to folklore, a mighty dragon used to roam these parts, swooping down from the skies to pick off livestock. One day, after a particularly large feast, it lay down, fell asleep and never woke up again.

Almost everyone who has visited or been a resident of Edinburgh has an Arthur's Seat story. The extinct volcano in Holyrood Park – which rises to 823ft (251m) – is a beloved haunt among those looking to blow away the cobwebs and enjoy the spectacular views from the top.

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On a clear day, when the haar doesn't linger, the entire city lies spread before you, all the way to the trio of bridges that span the Firth of Forth.

While the geology is well documented (lava samples have been dated at 341 to 335 million years old), there are parts of its history that remain shrouded in mystery, not least speculation about the origins of its name, believed by some to be connected to the legend of King Arthur.

One of the most fascinating and chilling tales is that of 17 miniature coffins, each bearing a tiny carved wooden figure, discovered by children playing on Arthur's Seat in 1836.

There have been suggested links to the 19th-century serial killers Burke and Hare who sold corpses to Dr Robert Knox for dissection at his anatomy lectures. It has been posited that the effigies were left by a friend of pair who felt moved to make them as a memorial: 17 victims and 17 coffins.

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What to read

One of the earliest literary mentions of Arthur's Seat is in Robert Fergusson's 1773 poem Auld Reikie. It appears in the writings of Sir Walter Scott, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, The Underground City by Jules Verne, One Day by David Nicholls and Ian Rankin's Rebus crime novel series.

What to watch

Look out for cameos in T2 Trainspotting, Chariots of Fire, Ecstasy, The Adventures of Greyfriars Bobby and the BBC series Case Histories.