Notes from the Abyss

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

Ascension Island Expedition — Mechanicsville to London

DARLINGTON, England (Saturday, March 3, 2007) – I’m finally settling down to the point where I can think about writing a bit. The time is now 2:12 p.m. GMT, and I am on a train that just pulled into the Darlington Station, about two-thirds of the way between London and Edinburgh, my destination for today.

Yesterday (Friday), the day I departed from the United States, began surprisingly organized for me. I had most of my packing in order, but got held up deciding what books and magazines to take with me. I needed some books for references while I finish some writing projects here. Other books, and the magazines, I wanted for reading because I figured I would have a lot of time to read while riding planes, trains, and such.

I struggled so much with the decision I failed to make it to Virginia Commonwealth University for my 9 a.m. class. I was not planning to lecture, but I wanted to make myself available for students who may have had questions for me before my departure. (My apologies to anyone who did show up.) I forgot a few things I needed, but they way I typically pack, all went quite well.

The Maine coast at night

The Maine coast at night. (Copy­right © 2007 David M. Lawrence)

I drove down to Lexington, N.C., to my parents’ house, got a little better organized, and they drove me to Charlotte-Douglas International Airport. USAir packed a hell of a lot of people on an Airbus A330 – I barely had enough room to bend over and pick things up from the floor in front of me – but my rowmate, an English businessman, and the several college students surrounding us made pleasant company.

The flight was an overnight flight, and parts of it were spectacular. We headed up the East Coast, then turned east over the Atlantic somewhere over Maine. The highlight of the flight for me came about two and one-half hours into the flight, where we passed over Newfoundland. The island was snow covered. Ice filled the fjords and bays. The lights of the cities and towns added a spectacular effect. Unfortunately, the bright moonlight made it all but impossible for me to get good photographs of the scene.

Sunrise over Ireland

Sunrise over Ireland. (Copy­right © 2007 David M. Lawrence)

Shortly after sunrise (for us at 37,000 feet) Saturday I spotted the coast of Ireland. The landscape was still hidden in the shadows of dawn, but what I could make out of the landscape was spectacular. I’ll need to find my way over there someday. Then we passed over the Irish Sea to England. Its southern coast is likewise spectacular.

We arrived at London-Gatwick International Airport on time. While heading to the immigration area, I met a student from Randolph-Macon Women’s College in Lynchburg, Va. We later ran into one of her professors. I guess this could lead to a discussion of globalization, but I’ll pass for now.

London, the railway view

London, the railway view. (Copy­right © 2007 David M. Lawrence)

From Gatwick, I took the Gatwick Express to London’s Victoria Station. On the short ride, I shared a table with a medical student on break from Emory University and an Italian woman (and Indian cinema fan) returning from a vacation in Berlin to her job in London. The three of us had a nice conversation on the way, although my attention occasionally drifted while I took in glimpses of the English countryside. It changed from suburban/rural around Gatwick to urban/industrial in London. While some of the neighborhoods looked quintessentially English – others looked like typical scenes of urban decline, with rubble and gang-style graffiti enhancing the effect.

I have a history of overpacking for almost any trip, and when we arrived at Victoria Station I had reason to consider whether or not I was about to pay the wages of my sins in that regard. While I actually doubt I packed too much given my itinerary and goals, I had to carry a lot of weight, which was not a good thing in the madhouse that passes for a train station. From Victoria, I took the Underground to London’s Kings Cross station. The crowds there were not so bad, but the long walk from the Underground to the rail station damn near did me in. I walked to the nearest practicable car, dropped my gear off and collapsed in a seat.

We roll by the English countryside

We roll by the English countryside. (Copy­right © 2007 David M. Lawrence)

The train to Edinburgh departed Kings Cross on time at 11:30 a.m. GMT, and shortly afterward I tested the cell phone I bought for the trip. (It worked.) Exhaustion was starting to catch up with me (I had been traveling for about 21 straight hours by then. We did not have to travel far out of London, thought, before we hit vast swaths of rural areas. The beauty revived my enthusiasm (even though I snoozed a bit, too.)

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