Thursday, 10 July 2008

An unexpected guest

If your thinking I should have been at the bridge yesterday you'd be correct, but in order to meet up with the B.F's yesterday, I needed to swap the days over. And, just to complicate matters further, I also decided not to walk back to Balerno, because for the equivalent mileage I could walk right into the city. And what a brilliant decision that turned out to be ( I certainly don't make many of them) On a beautiful sunny day I followed the cycle track all the way to the Haymarket, practically to the front door of the flat.
Why was it so great? Well, after the excitement of striding over the bridge I was walking back into the countryside again heading towards Barnton, one of Edinburgh's most affluent suburbs. As I tried to guess the price of a huge detached house in this area I came across one of those really modern architectural splendours of the type you see on "Grand Designs" juxtapositioned between the 1930's mansions, and it somehow didn't seem out of place.
On this bright Saturday morning everyone and his dog was out cycling on the path. As every northerner knows (me included) a warm sunny Saturday is a rarity to be made the very most of.
A perfect day for a visit to the "Royal Yacht Brittania" Permanently docked at Leith, it is now a museum for the viewing public to get a feel of what life on board the Royal Yacht was like-from both sides of the "green baize door"
It was fascinating, and I came away feeling really quite sorry for the Queen, and the rest of the Royal Family, in that they were probably bowing to public opinion (influenced by the media) into relinquishing what had been a damn good P.R. exercise. My goodness, she worked tirelessly. OK, between state visits, life on board was a relaxing interlude, and why not? I didn't feel quite so sorry for those "below stairs" The hierarchy of life aboard ship was all apparent as we descended to the bowels of the ship. Anyway, I'm sure a compromise could have been made. As it is, it's being preserved in pristine condition, hired out for corporate events no doubt at some mind boggling cost.
On the bus to Peebles, I was slightly concerned. All attempts at contacting Ruth and Roy (my hosts) failed. There was nothing for it but to ring the bell and hope for the best...No response. The car was in the drive, it was a beautiful sunny evening, they must be in the garden, watering the plants. "Hello, how nice to see you!" exclaimed Ruth, hose in hand, in a way that indicated she was surprised to see me. However, this wasn't a problem. As we got stuck into a quick change of sheets, I was, I think, flattered that I was an "ok" sort of unexpected guest.

Chapter 3. The Balerno Footsteps

In a flash of last minute inspiration I decided to fly up to Edinburgh very early on in the morning I was due to meet my first "Walking for Health" group. It made more sense to use airmiles, than use up hours getting there by train or bus. And so, just over 3 hours after leaving home, I was sitting in the office of the Balerno High School Community Office waiting to meet Chris the "Balerno Footsteps" Co-ordinator.
When I was introduced to the group, it all felt so familiar to me. They were such a nice friendly group of people, and talk about coincidence, one of the walkers had a sister who had just joined one of our walking groups in Surrey!
We set off with a melee of school children looking like they were joining us on the walk, but they were actually on some sponsored walk and soon headed off in a different direction.
Balerno was vaguely familiar, as I'd walked through it last year to make my way to the start of the canal. As we walked through the suburbs I chatted to George. In his 80's he had lots of interesting stories to tell.
Eventually I had to say goodbye him, Chris, and the other male walkers as I walked on with the three ladies to the Harlaw Reservoir for another few miles. It was a beautiful spot, if only it hadn't been spitting with rain. Another fond farewell as in such a short space of time they already felt like old friends.
And then there were two, as Carol and I walked on towards the Pentland Hills where she was going to set me off on the right track. Incredibly fit for her age, she'd already walked about 12 miles the day before!
Finally, it was just me, the wind and the rain. As I climbed higher the fog came to join us. It wasn't anything like the same hike we'd made last year in the warm sunshine.
I was beginning to get tired. Perhaps getting up at 4.30 am hadn't been such a good idea after all, and so, after a few miles of road walking, I called it a day and got the bus back to Edinburgh from West Linton.

A Bridge too Far

On a brighter Monday morning I viewed Perth from it's best side. As we drove alongside green parks and fine Victorian houses it crossed my mind that in any city or town the west or south sides is nearly always the more affluent. Must be something to do with the sun.
Today was a challenge, a revised one at that.
I'd planned to reach Edinburgh on this leg of the journey, but underestimating how long it would take the wiggly cycle route to get from A to B, I was now faced with a 30 mile stretch just to get to the Forth Road Bridge the gateway to the city.
However, I had a master plan. The way to tackle a hefty mileage day was to break it up into stages, and take breaks.
Stage One: To reach Milnathort for "Elevenses" and find a really nice bohemian cafe for a latte and a toasted teacake.
Stage Two: Dunfermline by mid afternoon. Spend an hour in the Library and another looking round the town followed by afternoon tea. The road to Dunfermline was still following a Cycle Route, but through the urban Town Hill Park, it made a refreshing change.
Now bearing in mind Dunfermline is a pretty big place, it had to have a library, or did it? This was the question I put to two teenagers. "Er, don't fink there is one, is there?" they looked doubtfully at each other for conformation "Nah, we haven't seen it, have we?" then they thought about it a bit longer and decided there just might be one "somewhere down there" waving vaguely behind the High Street.
Dunfermline's most famous son Andrew Carnegie the millionaire philanthropist must surely, right now, be turning in his grave. Contributing £8,000 to building and stocking what was to be the first of over 2,500 Carnegie funded libraries in the world. It was so popular with the lending public, that "heavies" had to be employed to control the crowds crushing round the desk.
By 1904 it had to be enlarged and virtually rebuilt to this glorious building I saw before me. With a wide sweeping staircase, wood panelled walls and a very pleasant library assistant at the information desk, who issued me with my very own plastic card (even though I was but a mere visitor) it was everything a library should be. So it was a shame that the only crowds today were round the computers. A sign of the times.
I spent so long in there I only had time for a whistle stop tour around the town, pausing for afternoon tea, before trekking out of town in pursuit of "Carphone Warehouse"
Why? Well I couldn't remember if it was the 10th or the 12th when my new monthly minutes and texts were issued. Now usually the young assistants talk to you in that outwardly friendly, but somewhat condescending way they have with old fogies like me who only have a phone with a contract because they've been told (by their children) they should. The phone the offspring have chosen on your behalf is all singing, dancing and performs all sorts of tricks you are totally oblivious to. Why, only today, in the Town Hill Park, I discovered how to send a picture message!
Anyway, back to the plot. This assistant was so patient and kind, he didn't make me feel inferior at all. I think I should nominate him for employee of the year.
Stage Three: The homeward stretch, a mere hop, skip and a jump to the Forth Road Bridge.
I walked up and up the hill, and then there it was in the distance, shimmering in the sunlight, and beyond it I could see Edinburgh stretching on for miles into the haze. Wow!
My destination however was the less stunning "Forth Road Bridge Park n' Ride" as it was from here I'd get the bus back to town.
Before I left for the overnight bus I took Mari-Ann out for a thank you meal. She'd even given up her bed for me, bless her, and so we went to the appropriately named "Mercat Bar" and celebrated the completion of the "Second Leg"

The "Perfect" Centre -not on Sunday's

Why was there a Beatrix Potter museum in Birnam? This was Scotland, not the Lake District. Because Beatrix spent her childhood summer holidays nearby at Dalguise House. I'd actually walked passed it yesterday. It was the Victorians who first put Scotland on the tourist map, when affluent Londoners realised the air was much cleaner and fresher up here. (Did they not have midges 100 years ago?)
While the men engaged themseves in the manly sporting pursuits of hunting, shooting and fishing, the ladies drank tea and played Croquet on the manicured lawns. Their offspring, normally confined to sedate walks with Nanny in Kensington Gardens, got a taste of the freedom of the great outdoors. Spending long days splashing around in the rivers, climbing trees, and generally getting their white smocks dirty, Beatrix was one such child and her fascination with wildlife, plants and animals began right here.
The museum was small and very child friendly. I was itching to sit down at the activity table and start crayoning a picture of Peter Rabbit, but I didn't think the other children would like it, and so I went on my way.
Just beyond Birnam I bid farewell to the River Tay, as the cycle route headed towards Bankfoot. The cycle route is deceiving, in that it wiggles here and there, making your original mileage calculations way, way, off the mark. For instance: Today should have been about 14 miles but was probably more like 20. Whatever it was, it was a long way from Bankfoot into Perth. The sign told me I was entering the "Perfect Centre" Well, obviously everyone, and everything has it's best side. Clearly this wasn't Perth's. To match the ambiance of the grey suburbs it started to drizzle with rain. I plodded on to the bus station ready to go "home" to Edinburgh.
"You can't get on this bus, it's booked" the driver informed me. "But, I have a City Link Pass" I cried in dismay. Clearly relishing his moment of "jobsworthness" he jabbed his fat finger at the back of my pass "Read the small print darling" and he actually smiled. "You'll just have to wait for the next one and hope that's not full. Should be along in, ooh let me see now (running aforementioned fat finger down the timetable), in an hour and a half"
Well, I could understand why people wanted to leave Perth en masse on a drizzly grey Sunday evening, but as I wandered through the deserted shopping precinct, I wondered what I was going to do for the next 90 minutes.
Make one cup of coffee in a dreary pub last for an hour by doing the crossword in a discarded newspaper, that's what.