Seattle Makes Me… walk the hill

photoJust over a week ago I planned and led a short walk here, and a few people suggested I should share the details with you all…

I have been having great fun learning about different neighbourhoods through tromping the streets. This has been really helped by following the advice of a hike leader I met through The Mountaineers (an organisation I will focus on another time) who introduced me to Sound Striders. Sound Striders is run through Seattle Parks & Recreation Department by volunteers. There are two groups one focussing on North Seattle the other on the South. They each select a neighbourhood to explore once a week for a number of weeks, meet for coffee at 8am by 8.30 they are out walking – usually around 6 miles – and then back to the same cafe for about 11am ready to get on with the rest of their day. Whilst I don’t match the criteria for taking part (over 55 years) everyone has been very happy to ignore that – and share their stories and top tips about Seattle as well as their routes. One of the group describes the walks as “a cocktail party on legs” there is no alcohol but lots of lovely non-stop mingling and chatting.

A glacial erratic - 19 ft tall with a circumference of 75ft - in the middle of a residential streets.

A glacial erratic – 19 ft tall with a circumference of 75ft – in the middle of  residential streets.

A small group from the Striders decided to extend all the March walks to 12 miles (and slip a few extras in too), as training for a 9 day walk they were going to be undertaking from New York to the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia to celebrate one of the group’s 75th birthday. I hope I am having that much fun at 75!

The Fremont Troll - Jersey Devils

The Fremont Troll – Jersey Devils

The extensions have been open to whoever wanted to walk another six mile circle from the coffee shop, and as I would always rather walk 12 miles than 6 it has been fantastic to be a part of many of them. Not least as they included some great lunch stops and introduced me to yet more hidden parks and unusual sights, such as the massive Wedgewood Erratic and The Fremont Troll.

They asked if I would come up with the final walk of the month – which I could hardly say no to. And it was actually very enjoyable to think about designing a route. The coffee shop we were starting in was a Tully’s in Capitol Hill – which was already the starting point for 3 Striders walks and 2 extensions before mine, so I had to try and head in some different directions. I decided to see if I could come up with a route which included as many elements that I love about Seattle walking as possible. We enjoyed the result, so why not print of the route and walk it yourself or follow us in your armchair through the notes and photos below.

Trees in the Interlaken ravine

Trees in the Interlaken ravine

From Tully’s on E Alohoa St and 19th Ave E we head along 20th to Interlaken Park. This is a wonderful urban park, and an important pedestrian and bike route since the setting up in 1890s of a boulevard system for Seattle (wow – bike routes are that old?). In 1913 the Olmstead brothers “approved” it – they were Massachusetts based landscape architects (their father having setting up the first Landscape Architecture firm in the US) contracted by the City in 1903 to develop a comprehensive plan for linked green spaces throughout the Seattle.

Emerging from Interlaken to look over Portage Bay

Emerging from Interlaken to look over Portage Bay

Within 10 years their plan was a reality – creating a city with hundreds of vistas in every direction and boulevards connecting parks throughout the area. Historian Roger Sale describes “in a city that was little more than fifty years old one could claim to find something older cities could not match.”  A remarkable story of development which today’s residents still benefit from, even it feels more squeezed daily by the high rise buildings and dense living that exists now. The steep steps down Interlaken (it isn’t called Capitol Hill for no reason) lead through tall tress into a ravine and to what is still a bicycle route. At the end we walk on a road which seems to see more foot passengers than cars, until we come out of the dense green growth to find ourselves looking over Portage Bay.

Looking east to The Cascades

Looking east to The Cascades

Water is central to Seattle’s beauty, as are the mountains further back in the wonderful views – more visible on sunny days than misty ones but always atmospheric. I love that water is often in every direction, and within a few streets you can be looking from one water mass and mountain range to another. The view from this point is beautiful – but the noise from the highway isn’t – so it is good to push on, via the tiny Astrid’s Park (which is supposed to be a view point but it took a tall man standing on a bench to be able to see over the hedges!) to our first stairs of the walk.

Seattle is littered with these stairs – many of them constructed more than a century ago to assist day to day progress around the city with its topographical challenges (you never forget that Seattle is hilly when you are walking!). Many of the staircases are kept well maintained by local residents, and there is even a guide book of stairway walks that has been published. Often they are incredibly well used, with some of the steeper ones being key to lots of people’s serious workout routines, as well as simply aiding access to bus routes from nearby homes and traversing neighbourhoods. I love them, and have found many local people do too. This flight of stairs takes us down close to the level of Portage Bay, joining it at the Queen’s Yacht club with views over the water to the University of Washington.

IMG_20140324_164101We walk NW around the southern edge of the bay, although mostly behind homes until we came to another of the Seattle delights. What seem like secret access points to the water. It has been great coming across lots of these over the short time we have been here – in one instance following a short path to find a nudist bathing spot!

A treat at the end of E Shelby St - public access

A treat at the end of E Shelby St – public access

In this part of the walk there were two lookouts. I got excited when exploring the route with the lovely one at the dead end of E Hamlin, until I moved on a block. There I came across a tiny park area with people launching off on stand up paddleboards by a number of houseboats – so it was the second that I built in to our group walk. Houseboats are really due a post all of their own – often known about because of Tom Hanks occupation of one in Sleepless in Seattle. They are sought after by many as both main and holiday properties – but for now we will move on.

Lake Union Crew

Lake Union Crew

The walk brings us up the bay and around to its meeting point with Lake Union. I am getting to know Lake Union well as I’m learning to sail there, and earlier in the month walked twice around its 6.2 mile circumference with these same Strider extenders. We come past the rowing club, which on the day I was scouting the route amused me no-end with the towels and shoes telling their own story of the fun that can be had on a sunny Seattle day. The rowers are out from 5.15am, although their well thought of Learn to Row 4 week/12 session course begins at the more leisurely 8am. I like the idea of rowing at some point, but sailing and kayaking are higher on my list – and gentler on the body for now.

IMG_0445Lake Union brings more views of boats, water, mountains and house boats until we reach Fairview Park where we head up from the Lake – an ideal moment to satisfy any lunch time hunger. There is a great restaurant here, Little Water Cantina – I’m looking forward to visiting it when it is warm enough to sit on their deck and watch the water world go by. For now we are inside, making use of their lunch time Torta Shop which offers Mexican inspired dishes. A number of the group hadn’t been there before, so it was nice to be able to offer something new to these people who have been so generous to me.

It is always lovely to continue along Lake Union, but that was well covered in our previous circumambulation and besides there is a coffee shop in Capitol Hill that needs to be our end point. So we head up Eastlake a little further, walking along Franklin Avenue past the beautiful Seward School building (its cafeteria is one of the oldest buildings in the city and the education use of the school is really interesting too – read more here) and by rather eye-wateringly expensive properties for their size, (in easy walking distance of downtown and even closer to the ever expanding Amazon empire around Westlake) until we come close to I-5, the freeway that was going above our heads.

IMG_20140326_142127The development under I-5, Colonnade Park, is home to a mountain biker’s skills area, sculpture trail, urban garden and picnic site. I am sure there are times of the day it is best not to be in this area – and it isn’t on my list of top picnic sites given the noise and pollution, but it is a skilful way to weave around the columns that hold the freeway up in the air and you do get some nice views too. The development regained connections between Eastlake and Capitol Hill that had been lost – utilising another set of those stairs, Howe Staircase.

IMG_20140326_142611We take these up from the park to Broadway Avenue E – 272 steps. But when you have had lunch, and can always take a moment to look back at the sunning vista, and you know you aren’t going all the way to the top – hey it is a breeze! (There are 388 in total – here is a video of someone running up them all in 1.44mins, we took longer!) And as usual in Seattle, climbing brings the gift of inspiring views.


IMG_0452Those views continue all along Broadway, as you peek between the gorgeous houses and at road junctions. From the end of the road, we cross the busy 10th Avenue and lose the views west over Lake Union and the Olympic Mountains to soon gain them east over Lake Washington and to the Cascades.

IMG_0410Capitol Hill was always a very affluent part of Seattle, and this is pretty obvious as we join Everett Avenue E. House envy is a disease that it is important to avoid in Seattle! Although many of these expensive investments seem to sit surprisingly precariously on the top of ravines and steep mud banks, and each year there are apparently areas of land collapse.

IMG_0457One of the fun bits of looking out east here is that we are high above the area that was earlier in the walk. Our view relates to the one we looked out at the end of Interlaken where we met the busy freeway and looked over Union Bay, before dropping down to Portage Bay.

From here, more uphill brings us to towards Lakeview Cemetery – which is the resting place of, among many others: Princess Angeline the daughter of Chief Seattle whom the city is named after; William Grose the second black resident of Seattle; and Bruce Lee and his son Brandon. The cemetery was included in a previous Striders walk, so instead our walk goes to the Grand Army of the Republic Cemetery  just in front of it.

IMG_0418Established in 1895, around a central obelisk lay 526 weathered graves in concentric arcs. Remarkably it is a Civil War cemetery, it seems so unlikely that so many men and their families with that experience made it this far west – at a time that the state was just being settled.

IMG_0464As we move on we come yet again to water and mountain views – our last of the walk, as we head along E Olin Place above the tree tops of Interlaken, the base of which we admired just a few hours earlier at the start of our adventure. The views along the street and from the mini-park and view point area, Louisa Boren Lookout, are gorgeous in the sunshine – on the day of the walk we were lucky enough to be in short sleeves by this point, although the mountains were still hiding a bit. At 8.30am that morning there had been lots of rain, things can change quickly here. Although even in much darker skies it still a glorious place.

IMG_0442From here it is a gentle stroll back through lovely turn of the 20th century wealthy homes to our staring point on E Aloha. I hope you have enjoyed walking with us. I am sure I will be doing this route again with friends as they visit – there are just so many delights in the 6.5 miles. And in the meantime there are many more Striders routes to have fun along.

Seattle has a landscape that is ideal for passing through slowly and enjoying looking out – something the Olmstead brothers realised so quickly, as did those with the sense to commission them and many others who have kept the green places and view points central to what it means to live here.  Development pressures are significant just now, there is a lot of money being made through building. We still have many beautiful spots to enjoy the location – long may that be the case, please…






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