Saturday, June 26, 2010

UK Travelogue, Day 9: Climb Every Mountain

Sunday, June 6

We’d come to the conclusion that Edinburgh was to be treated as a vacation from our London vacation. We would not push ourselves. We would sleep late. We would take our time at meals. In short, we would see some of the sights, but mostly we would loaf.

We’d been blessed with quiet bunk-mates that night at our hostel, and not only did we not hear the majority of them come in late (who knows how late, since I for one was asleep by 9:30 - go me!) but we barely heard them pack up their crinkle-bagged rucksacks and leave in the morning.

We did, however, hear a drunk American cursing and shouting loudly out in the street in the middle of the night, which just goes to show that no matter where we go, we can’t seem to get away from that sort of nonsense.

When we finally did answer the bell on Sunday, it was after 10:00am. Bethany spent the better part of an hour figuring out what route we would take to the geocache that she’d promised someone that she’d find, while I meanwhile lounged on my bunk considering the improbability of seeing the sun that day.

She predicted that it would take us under an hour to walk the approximate three miles out to the site, and she was about right. Now normally I walk about five miles per hour - a personal habit that annoys Bethany to no end - but by this point in the trip I had slowed down a quite bit. We’d taken our rain coats because all was overcast and misty, and right around lunchtime, after we’d done the geocache and were thinking about getting something to eat, a gentle rain began to fall.

No problem.

No matter. We nipped into a Subway (of which there seem to be an unexpected number in Edinburgh), split a 12-inch, and decided on our next destination: Holyrood Park. Of course we would choose the rainiest day of our trip thus far to explore the great outdoors, but as this was the ONE THING that Bethany insisted on doing, I couldn't very well demur.

Well, I could have. But she might have punched me in the face. Or something.

As we cut back through Old Town, the rain came down more quickly, almost like a Florida shower at one point. By the time we were nearly at the park, we were so cold and soaked that we almost couldn’t stand it, so we nipped into a pub and ordered two hot teas. Served in huge steaming mugs with sugar and milk, these went a long way toward reviving our spirits. Well, the tea and the fact that we both went and stood under the hot hand dryer in the Ladies’ for a while.

Either way, in under an hour the rain had let up. We paid our bill and stalked stiff-legged back out into the be-puddled streets, reaching the park within the next five minutes.

Yes!

Our plan was to walk all the way round the outer rim of the park, eventually taking one of the paths up to Arthur’s Seat, an extinct volcano.

Holyrood Park

I don’t know what I thought it would be like. For one, I didn’t picture the park as being so huge. For another, I never expected the trails to become as steep as they did. Bethany, always quick to spot lapses in my mental acuity, said, "We're climbing to the top of an extinct volcano, Ruth, what did you expect?" Who knows. But I know what I'd secretly hoped for, but if I mentioned anything about a beach chair and a book, I would have had my face rearranged free of charge.)

For the rest of the afternoon, Bethany went before me with the sort of unflagging zeal that becomes annoying after about five minutes. She marched upward at a good clip, a bounce in her step, for all the world as if she’d been promised a glimpse of the TARDIS at the top.

Only later did I discover that we’d taken the “wrong” way around, at least “wrong” according to how I’d studied the park map at the entrance. So instead of quickly passing the ruins of an old chapel, we found ourselves almost immediately scaling a rather steeply-graded rocky, muddy path. I stopped occasionally, ostensibly to take pictures, but in actuality to wheeze myself back into some semblance of breathing normalcy and to give me a chance to knead my knotted muscles.

Whenever Bethany looked back from on high to check on my progress, I would lean down quickly and look busy with the camera.

Holyrood Park

Eventually we came to what I thought was the “second path” that I’d seen on the map (not realizing I was still viewing the map upside-down in my head), and to my surprise instead of a regular path, we had stumbled upon a set of roughly-hewn zig-zag steps which cut sharply up the side of the cliff face, ascending up into a bank of fog.

Steeper than they look.

“Er,” I said.

“This looks great! Let’s see where it goes!” or some such enthusiastic nonsense was coming out of my sister’s face, when all I could think was: if I fall, I will break more than a toe this time. But not wanting to be mocked as a wimp and a coward (which, frankly, shouldn’t bother me any more) I gamely picked my way up after her.

In retrospect, perhaps the fog was a good thing. Eventually it saved me from being able to look down and realize how high we were. And without a hand rail to clutch, I was beginning to become concerned with the way my shoes would occasionally slip against the wet stones.

Eventually, Bethany decided to turn back, which was all very well and good, but this began what I now affectionately refer to as SlipFest 2010. But we made it back down safely in the end, and that’s all that matters.

By then it had started to rain again (naturally), so we continued on the broad outer road, eventually making a complete circuit of the park. The only other time we left the path was to work our way up a thin, muddy trail to the ruins of some old…. Thing. (I promise you that I did read the posted sign - actually, Bethany read it to me, as I'd come to rest five feet away from the Historical Marker, and could on no account convince my legs to move me one foot further, unless they happened to lurch in the general direction of the park exit - however, I'm sorry to say that I honestly don’t remember now what it was called.) At any rate, it was very high up. I know this because although the fog and rain were much thicker up there, occasionally the wind would helpfully whip a bit of it away, and we would get glimpses of what lay far, far below us.

Deep Thoughts

Now I will level with you: it really was beautiful. If I hadn’t been so cold (the rain having soaked through my canvas shoes and my not-quite-rain-proof jacket long before), and were I not just a bit afraid of heights as well as prone to more slipping and falling than your average person, I might happily stayed up there for hours.

Holyrood Park

Oh, wait. We did.

Photo by Bethany

Photo by Bethany

Holyrood Jump!

The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord.

Holyrood Ruins Jump

The good news is that since the park is a giant circle, we did eventually come out the other side. We walked out past Holyrood Palace and the Abbey, neither of which we stopped to see, and continued on through the grey drizzle back in the general direction of our hostel. Bethany had put for the edict of NO ITALIAN for dinner (hater!), and fortunately as a direct result of this edict, we stumbled upon a quaint little place called the Word of Mouth Café, which coupled excellent food with a truly unusual but enjoyable ambiance.

We liked it so much that we determined to come back later in the week. We refuse to confirm or deny whether or not the adorable waiter (who tripped over something, nearly fell on top of Beef and crushed her, the apologized - I kid you not - about 80,000 times) had anything to do with our decision to come back.

Upon returning to the hostel, we found that hot showers did much to revive us, and while Bethany caught up on her reading, I spent over an hour stuck in accidental conversation with one of our new bunk-mates: a dear little older lady who, having “done her knee” about a week ago, had decided to make an early night of it as well.

She’d been a classically-trained stage actress in Edinburgh in the 1950-60s. At first she regaled us with stories of the great Scottish and English stage actors with whom she rubbed shoulders in those days. Of course, being young as we are, and American, we had never heard of any of them. And for all I know, she was making the whole thing up. But I knew she was not. Her voice, her movements, her mannerisms, her diction: all of it bespoke the stage. Indeed, upon further leading questions on my part, she admitted that she’d returned to the stage about ten or eleven years ago, and had a few runs with touring companies and the National Theatre in London.

H O W E V E R, she then launched into a diatribe about her current hometown - Newcastle - and how wonderful everything is in Northumbira, waxing especially informative on the Northumbrian Pipes and one concert in particular which she’d once attended: who sang, what was sung, who played the pipes, what the Northumbrian tartan looks like... At that point, I began to envy Bethany, who had managed to break eye contact and curl up comfortably in her bed with her book, the covers practically over her head. Somehow, she knows how to abandon people completely and do things like this in the middle of conversations without seeming rude. I envied her over there, not needed to smile and nod, or politely maintain eye contact so as not to hurt the dear old girl’s feelings, and careful, your eyes are starting to glaze over.

She did eventually potter off to bed, at which point I snapped open my computer and began catching up with my travelogue, which I am determined to keep up with, so that it doesn’t take me two entire weeks after I get home to get it all written.

I also shot off a quick e-mail to a friend in Glasgow who had promised to meet up with us, introduce us to other local lunatics, and show us the sights. Armed with an Edinburgh-Glasgow bus timetable, we arranged to meet at the "bronze statue" in (I kid you not) Buchanan Bus Station the next morning.

2 comments:

  1. Reading this is so much fun. And it's taken you how long to get it all on your blog? ;)

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  2. Only this long because I know each section is long and if I overload everybody nobody will ever read it! It's all written, though.... the first draft, anyway. I just need to proof it all and add pics before posting (or get B. to proof it, as she is forever finding my typos for me...)

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