After a busy final day in London ping-ponging between various friends who all happened to be in the country at the same time as me, I arrived at Kings Cross reasonably early on Sunday and hung around checking out the tacky tourist trap that is the Platform 9 ¾ shop (I was totally a tacky tourist), ate the worst bacon sandwich ever, begrudgingly paid money to use a toilet, and then settled in for a four hour train ride that went by in a flash, due to the combination of lovely views and the fact that you can buy beer on English trains.
After meeting up with Molly on Sunday night, we spent yesterday walking around Edinburgh itself. Edinburgh Castle was fascinating; a labyrinthine, seemingly endless expanse of history that had something new to explore around every corner. We had lunch in a little nearby pub that served potentially the best soup I’ve ever had (I immediately ordered a second bowl) then explored the city from top to bottom. I’m not sure there’s much to be gained from writing about how beautiful a city famous for being beautiful is, but in the interests of clarifying my personal stance on the place, Edinburgh is beautiful.
Except, that is, for the charmer known as the ‘Museum of Childhood’. We were on our way back to the bus when we passed it and, somewhat curious and tempted by the ‘free entry’ sign, we went to check it out. A five-storey collection of old toys and games, it starts out quaint and charming enough then as you ascend the levels you descend into what feels like a bit of a nightmare. The exhibits get creepier and more sparsely occupied by tourists as you go, until the final level was empty except for many dead eyed, blank faced, oddly positioned mannequins and a looped recording of children singing. Beating a swift retreat was hardly comforting, as you still have to pass all the glassy eyed dolls and warped approximations of classic children’s characters, like a Puss in Boots that looked a) nothing like a cat and b) likely to sink its lopsided teeth into your jugular at any second. There was also a literal animal bone wearing a dress.
That night we headed into Glasgow to meet some Sanspants fans. After the fun I had doing the same thing in London I decided to throw out a last minute tweet seeing if anybody wanted to catch up for drinks and, to my enduring surprise, people did. It was another awesome night; we met some great people, had some fantastic chats, and I did not pay for a single beverage, although I was paying a little bit this morning. Hangovers aside, we left Edinburgh early and matched the passing landscape with listening to S-Town; I know I’m late to the party on this one, but it’s fascinating stuff, even if I can’t help but feel it’s somewhat exploitative in how it approaches the lives of the real people its storytelling is based around. But hey, I’m still hooked so I guess I can’t be that morally troubled by it.
Outside of Inverness we stopped at the Culloden Battlefield. I knew nothing about this particular part of Scottish history (I don’t know much about Scottish history that isn’t plesiosaur related) so learning about what happened in the visitor centre before heading to the site of the battle itself was an extremely interesting, if sobering experience. Coupled with grey and grim weather the desolate expanse of the battlefield felt especially bleak.
But, and I should probably have seen this coming, the best part of the last couple of days was catching the first sight of Loch Ness. I honestly didn’t think it would have an enormous effect on me; seeing places you’ve always wanted to go is rarely as amazing as you build it up to be in your head and I assumed the Loch would be the same. But seeing those waters for the first time, framed by sheer green hills and a light mist under a grey sky, got my heart racing and a lump in my throat. I’ve always been so in love with the mystery of the place, with the idea that there is something in this beautiful, remote part of the world that we can never fully comprehend or explain. I’ve loved the story of the monster since I was old enough to love anything, I’ve read books and watched documentaries on it, and being here for the first time is so, so exciting.
Because, maybe absurdly, part of me really believes that I just might see something out there. And I’ve got the next few days here to do it in.
Writing words about writing words.