Notes from the Abyss

The musings of geographer, journalist, and author David M. Lawrence

Ascension Island Expedition — London to Edinburgh

A glimpse of Durham

A glimpse of Durham. (Copyright © 2007 David M. Lawrence)

BLAIR ATHOLL, Scotland (Sunday, March 4, 1007) – Yesterday (Saturday) I wrote off-and-on until we reached Newcastle, England. The train turned around, and I switched sides to have a seaside view as we continued north. The plugs on that side of the train weren’t working, so I had to stop writing when the battery got too low.

The cost (in terms of lost writing time) proved worth it, however. But I digress…

Newcastle's waterfront is a gateway to the North Sea and beyond

Newcastle's waterfront is a gateway to the North Sea and beyond. (Copyright © 2007 David M. Lawrence)

On the way to Newcastle we passed through Durham. Durham has a famous cathedral, and I noticed a castle as well as some other large, spectacular, Gothic-style building (well, I think it was Gothic) nearby. Newcastle itself had some spectacular views. The Tyne runs right through Newcastle’s downtown, and the waterfront area is amazing.

When I switched sides of the train, another man was doing the same. He was helpful, confirming that I would have a seaside view, and he added that it was worth the trip. He had a Scottish accent – but not Edinburghian or Dundonian. We did not talk much at first, but that changed when I noticed a huge expanse of water to the east – the North Sea. In the distance, I noticed a large rock – and island – an on it an old castle-looking structure. It proved to be one of the things I really wanted to get a glimpse of on this trip, Holy Island, the site of Lindisfarne Cathedral.

The historical and mystical Holy Island lies just out of my reach

The historical and mystical Holy Island lies just out of my reach. (Copyright © 2007 David M. Lawrence)

Our conversation proved unstoppable after he confirmed that I was indeed seeing Lindisfarne. He pointed out the locations of old watchtowers built during World War II, houses built into the cliffs overlooking the North Sea, important islands and landmarks. We talked about the often hostile relationship between the English and Scottish – a topic begun as we passed through Berwick-upon-Tweed, a city that changed hands many times until it finally ended up in English hands. In the process, we discussed the Jacobite Rebellions; the leadership, or lack thereof, of Bonnie Prince Charlie; the role of Scotland as a proxy battleground between English and France; and the Scots’ unfortunate habit of fighting among themselves as much or more than they fought against the English.

ALNESS, Scotland (Sunday, March 4, 1007) – I arrived in Edinburgh on time at about 4:19 p.m. GMT. My friend, Rob Wilson, was waiting for me as I walked out of Edinburgh’s Waverly Station. Our first stop was to look for some kind of dolly-like apparatus to put my heaviest bag – containing my tree-ring, diving, and camping gear – on to make it easier for me to tow it around airports and train stations. We found a suitable candidate, but I waited to make sure I had enough money to pay for it.

Then we went to Rob’s house to drop my gear off and to meet his family. I had heard about his wife for years (actually they have only been married for the last couple of years). I think she was pregnant with their son David when I first met Rob. The baby-in-waiting is now an energetic and entertaining teen (as was his friend Alex who was going to spend the night). Andrea was rather hobbled, however. She had broken her right collarbone and her left thumb in a bicycle accident a few days earlier.

Rob cooked us all an excellent meal, and then he and I departed to experience some of Edinburgh’s night life with another friend of his, a Canadian spending part of his sabbatical at the University of Edinburgh. We hit several pubs downhill from Edinburgh Castle. The castle is a stunning sight in itself, but even more amazing when viewed at night, with its walls lit up from its base high above the rest of the city. We strolled down part of the Royal Mile, viewed a total eclipse of the moon, heard some good music and witnessed dozens of Edinburghians and Edinburgh visitors in various states of disrepair.

We started back a little after midnight. Rob and I talked shop (tree-ring stuff) until he could stand it no longer and went to bed. I worked a bit, but gave in to exhaustion a little after 2 a.m.

Rosslyn Castle looms over the adjacent glen

Rosslyn Castle looms over the adjacent glen. (Copyright © 2007 David M. Lawrence)

Despite setting two alarms for myself, I woke up late (about 9:15 a.m. for Edinburgh, but still 4:15 for Virginia). My ambitious plans for seeing Rosslyn Chapel, the Royal Mile (again), and Arthur’s Seat in one morning had to be given up.

We had a leisurely breakfast (well, Rob and I did; Andrea was trying to get David and Alex ready for church). Rob and I left around 11 a.m. GMT, I bought the dolly thing, and we did a quick tour of Rosslyn Chapel, Rosslyn Castle, and parts of Rosslyn Glen.

Rosslyn Chapel left me speechless

Rosslyn Chapel left me speechless. (Copyright © 2007 David M. Lawrence)

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