09.17.2012 - 09.17.2012 55 °F
Both of our phone alarms wake us up at 6:45 a.m. sharp, and Matt gets ready to go to work while I get ready for my day trip to Pitlochry. We are both out the door at 7:50 and go our separate ways, Matt toward the Royal Mile and me toward Waverley Station.
I can't deny that I am a little nervous about traveling solo via a complicated train system in a country I'm not familiar with. I make my way into the station and stand in the crowd of other travelers waiting for the Inverness train information and platform to come up on the main screens (only about 10 of the departures are up on the screens at once, so you can't check where your platform is until about 15 minutes before departure). I chat with a Chinese lady standing next to me who is also waiting for the Inverness train; she asks if I am English and I tell her that I am a half-Chinese American, explaining that my mom is from Hong Kong. We bond immediately.
Waverley Station is big, loud, dark, complex, and intimidating. There are at least 20 platforms separated into groups of about five spread out in various areas, and people rushing about speaking emphatically in their native tongues. I feel like a fish in a much bigger, scarier pond than I'm used to. When the platform number is finally posted, I have only five minutes to find my train, which is a bit of a hike from the main area.
The train departs promptly at 8:34 a.m. and I settle into my window seat, watching the landscape pass by. We first cross the Firth of Forth, where there are fishing boats anchored and small marinas dotting the shore. Once across the water in Fife, we follow the coast to Kirkcaldy . It's low tide this morning, so there are exposed rocks, drying seaweed and sand extending out from shore. We then cut north, where farmland dominates the landscape just as it does in Ohio. There are sheep, horses and cows grazing and small stone houses with smoke spiraling from their chimneys, and beyond the farms are endless rolling hills. Once the train passes through Perth, the landscape becomes more rugged and wild. Hills covered in thick dark trees push up close to the tracks, and there are dramatic cliffs that look like they are on the verge of dropping boulders onto the land below.
After two hours of travel, the train pulls into the Pitlochry station before it continues up to Inverness in the Highlands. Immediately, I track down the local tourism office to find out if there are any good nature walks nearby, and it turns out that Pitlochry is famous for its beautiful nature walks and their accessibility by foot. The gentleman at the tourism office shows me a map of all the different walks and suggests a 3-mile loop south of town. The Edrodour Path, he says, is an hour and a half walk and is well-marked with color-coded signs. Sounds good to me.
I walk south to the path and enter a bright, airy forest with narrow dirt paths that wind through the hills. No one else is in sight; there is complete silence except for bird songs and the sound of a nearby stream. It's rare for me to find a nature path with such stillness that I literally feel like the only one in the woods. We've become used to always hearing the chatter of children in our metroparks or walking through crowds of people in Hocking Hills. This solitude is refreshing. It's what a true nature walk is supposed to be.
I continue climbing the path, which then takes me along a high bluff next to the 90-foot Black Spout Waterfall—an unexpected surprise. I climb down to the stream that feeds the top of the waterfall and watch the cold water cascade in smaller waterfalls before spilling over the falls. The weather is bipolar again today. After brief periods of rain, the sun comes out and warms the air before giving way to more rain. Thankfully, the trees overhead block most of the droplets and form a nice rain canopy.
My stomach starts rumbling when I make it back into town so I stop at Victoria's coffeehouse and restaurant for a tomato, pesto and mozzarella panini with salad and chips. I also order a foamy cappuccino for a little warmth and energy.
I take some time to walk through the town and explore the many quaint shops lining the main drag. Pitlochry has every type of shop, from tartan weavers and souvenirs to pottery, baked goods and antiques. I finish my souvenir-buying within about an hour; really, the town is so compact that, as a fast shopper and an even faster walker, I could make it through the whole town before most women make it through one or two shops. I make another round through the town and go into the stores that I missed, and then head back to the train station to wait for my 2:30 p.m. train.
All and all, Pitlochry was beautiful, with the sweet little shops and the surrounding hills covered in dark trees. Even the train station is charming; the waiting area looks like something out of a movie or a postcard, much different than the cold beams, sheet metal and concrete of Waverley.
When I get on the train to Edinburgh it is nearly full, but luckily I have a seat reservation and sit next to an overweight middle-aged man in a brown fishing sweater. He tells me he lives is Glasgow but was visiting a friend up in the Highlands, near Inverness. He talks to me about weather in Scotland (the rainy southern belt versus the drier Highlands) and I talk to him about weather back in Ohio, how it has been so hot this summer that the grass is shriveled and dry, and how we don't have nearly the amount of lush green that Scotland does.
It's raining when the train pulls into Waverley, and the sidewalks are full of colorful umbrellas hurrying over the puddles on the pavement. When I get back to the apartment I relax for about an hour until Matt comes home from work, and we go to the Royal Mile Tavern for dinner. I order a steak and Guinness pie, which is tender steak pieces cooked in a Guinness gravy over fries and topped with a puff pastry roll. Matt orders a salmon filet with mash, vegetables and dill sauce, with a Magners Golden cider.
After dinner we walk to the Albanach (where we had dinner last night) to try another whisky. Matt chooses a 15-year-old Highland malt called Springbank, and its flavors are described as sherry, toffee, dark chocolate, mandarin and smoke. You can smell the rich toffee notes and really taste the smoke, but we can't pick out the other flavors. I take a few sips and compare its taste to “sucking on a piece of campfire ash,” but Matt says that he likes it.
It's Monday night, and the streets are quiet and wet with rainwater. We are comfortably settling into life in Edinburgh—the rain, the pubs, the omnipresent bagpipe music.
Until tomorrow, Edinburgh.