Scotland Day 1-2: Edinburgh I

I now owe you all a post on Rothbury… Not exactly an exciting week aside from the Big One, and we’d only spent one out of seven days exploring the real Coquedale (the rest were spent in various towns of Northumberland), so I’m finding it a bit hard to work on at the moment… But it’ll come, eventually…

Fast-forward to this week. I booked myself a trip to Scotland a few weeks ago, and the first stop is Edinburgh. The train ride, according to North, was “little but farms and the coast”, and he was right. About 10 minutes outside Newcastle, I saw a mill farm – just like the ones in Cornwall – which got me quite interested. However, things started to get boring after a while… Especially after seeing the first bit of the sea around Longhoughton!

So I dozed off… I was debating about my decision as it is said that I could see the Holy Island on this ride, and I didn’t want to miss it. But then I thought, 10 minutes would be all right, so I set my alarm, confident that I’d wake up before reaching Bamburgh…

Except I didn’t. In those 9 minutes and 30 seconds, the train soared through Northumberland, passed Bamburgh, and was on its way straight to Berwick-upon-Tweed. Brilliant! Now I’d need to wish for another perfect day on my way back to see Lindisfarne!

Crossing River Tween while we were fast-tracking into Berwic… Forgot what that Bridge is called… The Royal Border Bridge?

The part of Scotland we passed was called “the Borders”, though I do not know what exactly it entailed to. Its Coast, at least, didn’t look much different from the Northumbrian Coast. But I suppose it should be if I go a bit further North!

I believed this was my first look at Edinburgh Castle, but I’m not too sure now… I know the train must have passed the Castle, I just don’t know if this building is it!

Since my host said he’d pick me up after work, and it was just after 1pm when I finished lunch, I thought I’d spend the afternoon on Arthur’s Seat. I’d only just known about the place about 2 days ago, and didn’t have the spare mind to do more research… Thinking it was just like the Cheviots where things would be consistent and quite flat, and since it was a tourist attraction it might even with those nice roads where cars can drive on, I went for it without second thought. But the sight that greeted me was not exactly promising…

That semispheric bump in the centre-right is the summit of Arthur’s Seat… But down here the roads were so nice (this pic was taken when I came down, my starting point looks a lot different)?! So, up I went, thinking I could always get back down…

Up until this point, things were okay. I hated the terrain as it was dry and full of gravels, but tolerably flat. The next part though, was much more difficult. It had steps, but not nice, wooden, railed steps like Mount Royal. They used stones, and uneven stones at that! Sometimes three stones that are supposed to form one step looked like someone’s unbraced teeth, and since lots of people walk on them every single day, they looked quite slippery, too… I don’t know what possessed me, as it was when I would normally turn back… But I kept going. The journey upwards was scary and tiring. I was basically carrying all of my luggage up the stairs, while freaking out because things were too steep and there was always a cliff on my right. And when it was just marginally mellower, they didn’t bother to do the steps and instead the path was one of those narrow, red, dry paths full of tiny gravels – one of the worst terrains in my eyes. It should have been a signal, but I started to push it away, thinking since I planned a different way down, the other route would be easier.

Except, when I was about 200 metres (distance) from the top, I had to take a break. I was already overwhelmed by fear, scrambling my way up and doubting whether there would be a better way downtown, and I thought I’d rest a bit and check the OS Map – that’d show me all the contours and paths, right?

Wrong! As I was only loading the maps with my data (aka I didn’t buy a map for the area), the app wouldn’t show me the paths. What’s more, the contours at the summit looked even worse than what I had just done. That was my final straw, and I decided it was safer to ask a fellow walker to either assure me there would be an easier route, or help me down to where I started. I waited for a few moments and a few families passed me – where were the lone walkers?

Then came a scurry of feet, and someone asked whether I was all right. I told them I was, but quite afraid. A woman heard the final bit and checked on me again, and embarassingly, I started crying, telling her that I just couldn’t do it anymore. She was very understanding and told me, firmly, that we’d find an easier way down. She helped me up, told her son to stay behind me, and lead the way.

The next bit was nice and flat, as shown on the OS Map, and I found a nice boggy saddle, one that I knew I’d be able to use for escape if things got too much again. It would still be the steepest bog I’d navigated, but knowing that I’d feel more comfortable going down there gave me some much needed reassurance. Then came the final leg…

I got this picture from the Internet as I was too overwhelmed to take one myself… But I was again struggling, and it was only on the path that’s in the lower half of the picture. I kept up my pace, though, as I didn’t want the woman and her son to wait for me too much. A few walkers had to squeeze past me while I was paralyzed, able to do nothing but apologizing. More rock-assisted scrambling as we went up, and I was started to take my time again, making sure I had good handholds with each step. Not the wisest decision, as the women kept telling me to focus on keeping my feet firm and my weight in the centre. But it felt so much better when I had my hands on something, even just a grip of grass! Glad that no accident happened, we made it to the platform before the final stretch, the one that goes straight down in the middle of the picture…

A woman made her way down right in front of us, and it looked like she was climbing down a narrow cleft… And then a man behind us, after ensuring us that easier routes do indeed exist, climbed up. Then the woman who helped me went up. I should have taken it all in and realized it wasn’t much different than bouldering, but I was too preoccupied to think, and only felt the similarity when I was almost up there. I don’t remember exactly what had happened, but eventually we made it to the summit, and saw the trig point…

I didn’t take a picture up there, as it required more climbing, but the pair who helped me went up so I took this picture for them. I told them to look around for the other trig points while up there, but they didn’t find any. Maybe they were removed, after years of disuse and urbanization?

The view on top was, undeniably, spectacular. While we were up there, the son said that this was once a volcano. A new piece of information that’s worth investigating…

The initial way down was again, quite difficult, and I’d needed to throw my bag down to the son in order to navigate a cliff. Good thing is, I made it, without outside help. It was still scary, but for some reason, I wasn’t as overwhelmed as I should have been. I didn’t cry helplessly while clinging on a pathetic piece of stone, insisting I couldn’t do it, which was a huge step considering it was exactly what I did when I was 12… Probably because I was no longer alone, or because I was feeling a lot more confident by making it to the top, or because the holds, like the final stretch on our way up, were solid, or all of the above combined. Tears were a constant company on my face for that hour, but I didn’t break down like I did before the pair came to rescue.

Then, things got better and better. We spotted a path that, although as bare, slippery-looking and gravel-filled as the others, was quite flat and fenced. Following it was a good stretch of a grassy path whose both sides were full of dry, heather-less bogs. We also saw a few new things, like the lakes… Feeling safe, I was finally able to enjoy myself, and indulge on a bit of photography…

We parted ways once we reached my starting point. The pair’s hotel was about 20 minutes’ walk away so they decided to walk back. Me, on the other hand, needed to get back to the bus stop. So we bid our farewells (and gratitudes), exchanged numbers, and went on separate ways. It was so very nice of them to reach out and help, and extremely fortunate on my part to have a mother-son pair getting me through. Lots were learnt yesterday, including the absolute need to double check a GoogleMap route on OS web map, and to know my limits. However, as much as I’d like to prevent a future occurrence of a similar incident, I’m also glad that it happened… I managed to successfully challenge myself, and make new friends. Now, I know that I am able to keep pushing even when it looks impossible with the right type of company, and have known just the right type of people I’d go for a walk with. These, too, are important lessons.

Last night was a bit restless, as I was still recovering from the incident (still am, but I’m surprisingly calm tonight so there shouldn’t be much trouble). I wrote an email to my host family briefing them on the day, and broke down in tears again. This time, it didn’t seem controllable. My mind always seemed to wander off and re-play the day’s event, and as much as I recognize the need for it, I know I need to be in control, and that means the ability to say “stop”. Exhausting myself failed, listening to Northumbrian lullabies failed, and my only option left was HMHB… I opened a playlist that consisted mainly of songs I know well, and forced myself to sing along in my head. It took some efforts, but eventually, I drifted off…

I spent the brand new day roaming around town, trying to find something interesting to do… In the end, the conclusion is that Edinburgh is the hilliest city I’ve ever seen!

I’d often complained about Montreal being on Mount Royal, and having visited Chong Qing, I’m accustomed to roads actually being stairs… But Edinburgh, on the other hand, is not built on a mountain. It seems to contain multiple hills, and connects them with bridges and tunnels and “underground” gardens/houses etc. Or maybe, when the city was first built, they chose here specifically for defence purposes (as seen later by the castle)?

Later it turned out that there had been settlements all over those hills since the pre-historic times. And Arthur’s Seat, as well as the hill the Castle was on, we’re perfect at the time as the hills acted as natural defences. Immediately I was reminded of Yeavering Bell…

My first stop was Writer’s Museum, converted from a Lady’s house. The house itself was very fascinating, but I’m not sure how much the museum appealed to me. Most of t was about Sir Walter Scott, to which I have no objection, but I failed to find much about Burns. The gift shop, on the other hand, had some interesting stuff…

More HP swag, and it was the first time I saw the colouring books made into postcards! Would be quite fun to actually colour things and send them to your friends… More motivation to do so, too! But me? I was just ecstatic to find the Shakespeare quotes magnets! Had to purchase them as the whole thing made me giggle much harder than I should!

Took pictures of these three just to remind myself that, yes, the stuff I need do exist. “Bairns” in border areas (both England and Scotland) means “children”, and as far as I know, it’s an Old English word that’s still in use, although rarely. I’m actually not sure whether the CDs are songs or poems… I’d always wanted to hear the actual songs Burns collected, as music gives the words more life!

After a rather disappointing Korean lunch (can’t really conplain… I should know that ethnic food here is no comparison to Canada but I went to try anyways) and some much needed walking, I made it to the second museum… People’s History. It’s much more fun than the writer’s museum, but only limited to the first floor… For some reason, the second floor was full of job descriptions of past occupations (which were interesting, but eventually wore off my patience), and the numerous movements I’d read carefully about in Cardiff and Manchester. Another left-leaning museum, but not as blatant as its counterpart in Manchester…

The Castle, and you can see how impossible the hill is. I didn’t go up there as it felt like throwing away £20 just to see… I don’t even know what is appealing there, really… My two goals of the day had been achieved, and I was not motivated on spending more money on tourism, especially as I spent my day walking up and down the Royal Mile… If only those museums are in the more hidden closes of the Old Town!

I walked past this, thinking it was about some dragon, thought of it weird, turned back, read it again, and laughed out loud. The bloke who was roaming beside me, of course, frowned as if he’d seen someone who’d just escaped a mental hospital. He, however, had no way to know that my mind was already imagining a village gathered together to mourn about a great brave dragon that used to guard their homes until, one day, it died in battle fire. I think my three months here has rubbed it in!

Walked past the elephant house, looked at its price, and thought I’d give it a try. Just as well, too, as my dinner consisted of the worst fish & chips in my life – oven baked cod with a layer of tomato sauce, onion, mushroom and green peppers, no mushy peas, no tartare sauce, and a Thai salad that looked like what you’d get from MacDonalds. Horrific! So I sat down, ordered a hot chocolate to wash away the vile taste, and started looking around. It was the elephant house, all right, as it was a house full of elephants! That got me excited, and what was more, they seemed quite earthly for a cafe this famous. The prices were honestly one of the best I’d seen so far in Edinburgh (I’ve seen places charge 9.95 or more for a full breakfast – you gotta be joking, right?), the atmosphere was quite friendly and relaxed (the no wifi sign was a big bonus), and there wasn’t the “we are the Harry Potter cafe” banner everywhere, as if the business depended on it. No… It was one of those low-key, cultural places where, if there is no line-up (aka queue), I’m fairly sure the locals would visit. Kuddos for being so earnest and community-centred after years of fame!

But of course, they were the HP cafe… The banner outside said “the birthplace of Harry Potter”, which I thought was not entirely accurate, but seeing a signed copy of Philosopher’s Stone surrounded by a shelf of elephants was a pleasant surprise!

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