09.20.2012 - 09.20.2012 52 °F
After a pretty good streak of weather, the luck runs out today. The forecast calls for rain pretty much all day, with temperatures at about 52 degrees. I pack up my rain gear, Gor-Tex boots and base layers, and walk to Waverley for my second solo train trip. I'm heading northeast up the coast to the seaside town of North Berwick, just half an hour away. A much easier commute than the two-hour ride to Pitlochry.
This time I easily navigate Waverley, merely glancing at the departure screens for a few seconds to get my platform number, then walking through the maze of corridors to get to Platform 4. This train seems to be filled mostly with locals; they aren't dressed like travelers (they wear skirts, ballet flats, and suits—no hiking boots or waterproof packs) and are only carrying small purses or briefcases.
About 80 percent of the train empties as the very first stop, Musselburgh. I'm not sure what is in Musselburgh, but maybe they are just on their morning commute to work. That seems common here, people taking the trains in the morning with their coffees and laptop bags as they come in from the surrounding areas or vice versa.
When I arrive a short time later at the North Berwick station, I walk a few blocks toward the harbor and immediately am taken aback by the stunning beauty of the beach and the sea in front of me. I walk out into the sand, all the way to where the sand gets soggy and wet when you step on it, to admire the algae-covered rocks and the handful of boats anchored just offshore. Dogs run through the wet sand with their owners; gulls and terns sit on the exposed rocks cleaning their feathers. Just to the east, the quaint buildings of downtown North Berwick huddle next to the cove with just a stone seawall separating them from the sand. At that moment, I don't even notice the mist or the cold; I feel taken over by the beauty of this seaside community, with its moored boats and waves tapping the sand.
Instead of walking back to the street, I follow the beach toward town. The air is heavy with the comforting smell of salt and kelp, and the rain makes everything seem cleaner and fresher somehow.
I eventually reach a short peninsula where the Scottish Seabird Centre is located. The center is an educational conservation project, with a gift shop, cafe, a learning area for kids, and daily boat trips around Bass Rock, an island about a mile offshore where puffins and gannets nest. Bass Rock is the largest single colony of gannets in the world. I had seriously considered taking the 1-hour boat ride around the island, but with the rain and cold, I'm not sure it would have been a good idea. It was one of those large zodiac type of boats with a bunch of seats up in the front, completely exposed to the elements. Not great for a rainy day, so I decide to explore the beaches and town instead.
After meandering through the Seabird Centre's gift shop, I sit down in the cafe near the windows that face out to the Firth of Forth. I sip a cappuccino and munch on a roast beef and horseradish baguette with salad and chips.
When I go back outside, it is raining harder than it was earlier. I walk farther out onto the peninsula and find a small harbor locked in by a thick pier, and all the boats (mostly sailboats) sit on the exposed mud on their hulls, still tethered to one another. I'm confused by this harbor. I'm assuming that the tide rises enough that the boats will be able to float and move during high tide, but they are so packed in that it seems like it would be rather tricky to get out if you are the farthest from the narrow entrance. It's probably a pretty exact science to maneuver them around each other.
Farther out in the peninsula I find a rough, rocky footpath along a spit of land jutting out into the sea. Since it is low tide, you can see the waterline where the seaweed and barnacles form a clear boundary, and there is even an old pier off the side of the footpath that clearly would be underwater during high tide. I descend the steps to the pier and it gets very slippery about halfway down. I do my 'slippery rocks shuffle' that I've perfected after years of walking around slick, algae-covered rocks.
I walk into town and check out the shops in an effort to have a little break from the rain. The downtown is really not very big, mostly just one main drag of pubs and shops, so I don't spend too much time in town before heading back to the outskirts for more exploring.
At one point, when my pants and base layer bottoms have soaked through with rain water, I walk out onto the beach behind a large mass of rocks and pull out my rain pants as well as set the rain cover for my pack. I instantly feel warmer and more prepared to face the weather.
I walk east along the coastal road and ascend a bluff with paths and benches overlooking the sea and the beach. Because I am waterproof from head to toe, I sit on one of the benches and just listen to the sound of the rain on the grass around me and the waves on the beach. I don't notice or care about the rain. I'm all alone on this solitary bluff, just me, the waves and the big sky.
The sea and the sky are both a foggy gray, mixing into each other to form one big wall of colorless nothing. If it weren't for the couple of islands in the distance, I wouldn't even know where the horizon is.
On my way back down the bluff and toward town, I take a detour onto the Glen Walkway, a nature walk just past a golf course that takes you into a thick, dark forest. The path follows a rushing creek and curls past ruins of old stone buildings, one of them a mill from the 1300s. Today the mill is just two walls covered with ivy vines. With the sun hidden behind the clouds, the forest is very, very dark—beautiful, but at times a little ominous. My eyes start to play tricks on me; I keep thinking that I see something out of the corner of my eye and I turn with a start, then realizing that it must just be the wet leaves of the trees moving in the breeze.
The walkway spits me out somewhere near a sports field that I hadn't see before, and I have no idea where I am. I cut through a residential neighborhood at the base of North Berwick Law (an enormous and steep hill similar to Arthur's Seat, except it is just one strangely isolated hill instead of a series of them), where locals are hauling bags of groceries into their homes or walking their dogs. Pretty much every dog I see is wearing some sort of rain jacket—this must be the norm here in Scotland with all the cold rainy weather they have.
It is also interesting that every local that I talk to comments on the miserable weather. Here are people who live in a notoriously wet and chilly country, and they say that this weather is even too much for them! I guess everyone has their limits. While I don't think too much of the rain at first, the longer I am outside the more anxious and tired I get. The cold just zaps your energy, and my wet hands are starting to hurt. I decide it is time to warm up somewhere and get out of the rain.
I stop at a place called Tiffany's Tearoom and order a cappuccino and a tomato basil soup—warm comfort food. I've had more cappuccino in Scotland than I think I've ever had; almost every establishment has coffee drinks on their menus and people seem to drink them at all hours of the day.
By the time I finish warming up and eating, it is almost time to catch my 4:30 train back to Edinburgh. I hike back to the station and fall asleep on the train. When I wake up, the train has stopped at Waverley and people are already climbing off. It's a good thing I didn't sleep through my stop!
Matt comes home from work after grabbing drinks with some of his coworkers, and we walk to the Royal Mile for dinner. The Royal McGregor Bar is basically right across the street from the Cockburn intersection; I order a bacon cheddar burger with chips and a Kopparberg pear cider, and Matt orders a Thistly Cross cider and New York strip steak topped with two fried eggs. After we eat we stop at a whisky shop and taste some samples before buying a bottle—a 15-year-old Dalmore, which is a Highland single malt described as citrusy and spiced with cloves, cinnamon and ginger.
Tomorrow's forecast is much better than today's, so I'll have to find a good outdoor activity to take advantage of the weather. Matt will be at a software conference tomorrow and Saturday at Our Dynamic Earth, a science center with interactive exhibits about planet Earth. Starting on Sunday he will be finished with work and we will be able to start sightseeing together again.
Before bed I watch a TV show about Great Britain ghosts. Probably not the best thing to watch while staying in a medieval neighborhood...Just a thought.