Sunday, April 25, 2010

taste the sky and feel alive again

Well, I woke up early and packed up all nearly all my stuff in case I needed to do something crazy like take a bus somewhere else and stay in a different B&B that night. And happily, Gordon was up, and breakfast was on the table, and he made me toast and tea, and also let me use his computer.

Some quick internet searching revealed that there was a beautiful place, the Pentland Hills Regional Park, just outside of Edinburgh, where I was going the next day. There were my hills. It was a great relief.

Then I decided that I really wanted to go to the Islands, because there they were, so close! So I found information about a ferry, and figured out how to take the bus the three miles to where the ferry was, and which ferries to take there and back.

Between figuring everything out, and getting to check Facebook and my e-mail, while also watching a bit of cheerful children’s television, and eating toast and marmalade (I almost like it now. The pleasure of it being marmalade sometimes outweighs the part of the taste I don’t like) I was feeling much more happy and settled by 9:30 that morning.

I figured out which few things to stick in my purse and take with me, and at 10am I walked into the city centre. I stopped at the travel information place to ask how far of a walk it was to Duncansby Head (the actual farthest place) and whether, if I left right then, I could make it back in time for the 12:25 bus. She said that she thought so, but that I should keep an eye on the time just in case I needed to turn back.

So I walked along the coastal path, as quick as I could, toward the edge of the world.

I passed a couple who were walking and said hello.

And I got to Shell Beach, and I looked for Groatie Buckies but I didn’t find any. (They are a kind of cowrie shell that was used for currency long, long ago.)

(You can't really tell in the picture, but that beach is absolutely covered in shells.)

The walk up the hill to Duncansby head, after going through a gate onto the road, was the longest part. But there were sheep. And I could see the lighthouse. And I was excited because I was almost there.

And then I was at the top of the hill, with a fence around the lighthouse. And then there was the sea, on the other side, all around me three quarters of the way, except right in front where the ground sloped up a bit, so I backwards up a little slope so that I was high enough to see the sea all the way around. Wow.

There was fence ahead, so that I couldn’t go down to the water, but then the wind was blowing me toward it as though it was trying to sweep me right off the edge of the world. So I went down. And when I got to the fence, I saw that they were very smart to put a fence, because there was a cliff!

“Oh, it really is the edge of the world!” I gasped.

The sun was shining far off on the water.

The wind was blowing and everything was cold and pale and bright. I was sitting at the edge of the cliffs, and truly, it felt like the end of the world.

That feeling that is evoked toward the end of the Voyage of the Dawn Treader, when they’re at the Last Sea, and the feeling in Pirates: At World’s End – that was the feeling of this place. It really seemed like just beyond the horizon, the waters were spilling off the edge of the earth. It was so eerie and unearthly and exciting. The wire fence along the edge increased rather than detracted from the effect, because it seemed as though it marked the border between the human lands and the unknown, the place the map ends, the place where mortals don’t go.

I put Wyvner through, though, since dragons are surely allowed beyond the end of the world.

And I saw a white feather just on the other side, so I took it, so that I would have something from there.

I was sitting there, looking out, when I heard a small tick-tick-tick kind of noise, the noise that tiny drops of rain make. I looked down at my waterproof, which I had set down next to me, but couldn’t see or feel the rain at first. Then I looked behind me.

Oh help.

And then I could feel it. And then I could REALLY feel it, because it started hailing!

After I took the picture I quickly put on my waterproof. By the time I had my waterproof on and had stood up, the wind was blowing so hard that I could barely breathe and it was hailing so hard that I could barely see. There was no way I was going to be able to walk two miles in this in time to make it on the bus.

There had been a few people who had driven to the top – I had seen them when I first arrived. Maybe I could get a ride back, if they hadn’t already run to their cars and left.

I saw a man, and I hurried up to him.

“Did you drive?” I shouted over the wind.


“Can I have a ride to John O’Groats?”

“I’m working!”

“Oh. Okay!” And I started toward the other cars.

“Where are you going?”

“John O’Groats!”

“Oh, okay! Come on!” So I followd him.

“You have to get used to this!” he said. “Are you visiting?”

Sigh. How embarrassing. I wanted to defend myself that I wouldn’t have objected to the exciting weather, and would have walked back in it with determination, if I hadn’t had a time limit, but I knew it would be useless, so I didn’t.

So I came and hopped in his Jeepish thing, but then almost as soon as we started driving, the storm stopped as quickly as it had started, and the sun came out. So I had him let me out so he could get back to work. He advised me to stay on the road.

Me after the storm, with it in the background:

I stayed on the road for most of the way, until it was going to take me way out of the way and then I cut back to the coastal path.

I hurried back along the path to get back to the bus stop, and made it in time. I was hungry, so I went into the Journey’s End café and was going to get something to eat there, but then I realized that I only had five minutes and changed my mind and went to the bus stop. I was glad I did because the bus was there. So I got on it.

I didn’t take long to get there – the bus took me, and about five other people who were getting off there also, right to the ferry dock. I waited in line and registered myself, and then went to wait in the waiting room. To my disappointment, the vending machine was empty and non-functional.

I looked at some brochures that were on the table, trying to figure out what to do in the two to three hours I would have on the island, but there was nothing especially helpful.

While we were waiting, it hailed a little bit again. But nothing like while I was at Duncansby Head.

I was glad when it was time to get on the ferry because I was really hungry. I was so excited to board it! I love boats and I love the water so much!

I went up on the top deck first, because how cool is that? But then I was starving so I went around and down below. One half of down below has just plain purple seats. And the other half has lots of brightly colored seats. That’s the cafeteria half.

But the cafeteria wasn’t open yet, so I just sat and waited. It opened just after we got underway, so I went and waited in line and got a roll with egg and bacon in it. And it was seriously good, especially with brown sauce. Brown sauce is an English peculiarty, I guess, since I’ve never seen it in the States but it’s quite common. It is in the bins of sauce packets like ketchup and mustard and mayonnaise. It’s more like barbecue sauce than anything else, but it isn’t really like barbecue sauce. It’s less sweet and less spicy and has more of a savoury kind of flavor, I guess. It’s mostly molasses and vinegar, except that sounds gross and it’s really good.

Anyhow, I ate my sandwich up on the top deck, wrapped in my hat and scarf and gloves. The wind was blowing wildly, and there I was, taking a boat beyond the edge of the world.

They called for people to come buy their tickets, so I went down and found the purser’s office. The young man doing the ticket selling was very cute but I was quite tongue-tied and couldn’t think of anything to say.

When we got off the ferry, there was a bus there, so I went and asked the driver how far I should go to have time there and get back in time for the five o’clock ferry.

“What kind of place are you looking for?”

“Just a good place to hike or walk.”

“Hmm. If you get off at the Italian church, then you can walk back, and pick up the 4:15 bus whenever it gets to you.”

“Okay, that sounds good.”

The part of the islands that we were at was slightly disappointing because it was rather low-lying. It was still cool, though, because it still had that edge-of-the-world feeling.

Causeway between two of the islands:

However, my time actually on the islands turned out to be a bit disappointing. I shall explain what happened.

I was rather hungry, having only eaten one not-very-large sandwich for lunch. And when we got to the Italian church, there was nothing around it – no place to buy food. So when the driver asked whether I wanted to get off there, or continue into town, and motioned ahead towards where there were some buildings, I decided to continue.

When we got to where the buildings were, and stopped, I started to get off, but hesitated because it seemed fairly outskirt-y and if there was a café or something farther in I should continue.

“Are you getting off here?”

“Is it too soon?”

“Well, Kirkwall [the main town] is about ten minutes up the road.” So then I felt silly, and sat back down.

But I wasn’t really thinking, because if it was ten minutes by bus, then I wouldn’t have time to walk to the next stop before the next bus got there. And I should have gotten off there, at that stop. Because I don’t feel like I’m really in a place if I’m in a bus and not walking, so I didn’t get to be in the wide empty wildness of the islands, because the bus stop at Kirkwall was in the middle of the town and surrounded by buildings and you couldn’t see the water.

On a positive note, I went to the cathedral in Kirkwall and it was AMAZING.

I had been to the Norwich and Peterborough and Christchurch cathedrals, which are much bigger, but this was the first one that filled me with awe.

I suppose it was that the architecture and color were of a style that resonates with me, as well as the fact that I was in the mood to be awed because of being at the end of the world. (I have noticed that it is not only true of fear, but of any other emotion I have – once I get started on an emotion, I tend to perceive everything in that light and therefore go more and more continuing with it. I just now realized this. I bet I do it with depressedness, too! And if I’m conscious of it, and can make myself look for happy things instead of letting myself keep finding sad things, I bet it would help me be less depressed.)

I liked this form of memorial better than the ones where the person is lying in state. He looks like he's sprawled out happily in a field somewhere:

Here, Thad, it's you:

Hey look! Our clan!

After I left the cathedral, I walked around Kirkwall a little and stopped in a couple shops, but soon I had to go back to the bus stop.

On the way back to the ferry on the bus I was feeling very annoyed at myself for not getting off at the Italian church and having a nice walk. But I felt better when I realized that, if the bus stop had happened to be at the part of Kirkwall that’s on the coast, and if there had been a little restaurant there with a place to sit and look out at the water, then I would have been very pleased with my choice to stay on, and how could I know what it would be like? I feel better about things when I don’t feel stupid.

rats. that would be a super gorgeous picture if it weren't for the no smoking sign.

I got back just in time to register and get on the ferry.

Trucks in the ferry:

Sitting on the top deck of the ferry, eating soup and a roll, and after that standing at the edge with the wind in my face (my face still windburned, even now…), looking out at the wild islands and at the edge of the world, I was happy, and thought it very much worth the ferry fare even if the actual time on the islands was a little disappointing.

I didn’t do much better talking to the ticket-selling boy on the way back than on the way there, though. Ah well.

I was exhausted and freezing and starving when I got back to John O’Groats, and again, everything was closed except the seaview hotel. And I didn’t want to go eat there right then because I didn’t have a book. And I didn’t want to walk all the way up to Hamnavoe and then all the way back down to the hotel, either. So I came up with a brilliant idea.

I arrived at Hamnavoe. Oh please oh please let Gordon be there. Hurrah! He is!

“Hello!” I called.

“Hello!” he said. “Did you enjoy Orkney?”

“Yes, very much! – hey! How did you know I went to Orkney?”

“It was on the computer,” he said with a smile.

“Yes, riding the ferry was great fun! I rode on the top deck pretty much the whole time. I’m sunburnt or windburnt, though – my face is all red.”

“Windburnt, I’m sure.”

“So, I have a kind of crazy request.”

“Fire ahead.”

“Is there any chance I could have the cooked breakfast now, for tea, instead of in the morning?”

“Have it now? And then have continental in the morning?”

“Yes, exactly.”

“Oh, sure, why not? Just give me twenty minutes, and I’ll have it ready for you.”

“Hurrah! Thank you! I’m so hungry and I didn’t want to walk all the way down, and then back afterward…”

So I went back to my room and set down my stuff, and got my book. The time went by really fast between then and supper being ready.

It was toast and ham and fried eggs and sausages and chips and it was delicious.

And then I took a shower – John O’Groats has really, really good water pressure – and curled up in bed and watched a very funny show in which four people have a friendly competition to see who can make fun of the news the best. It was great – there were only a couple inappropriate comments made in the whole show and they were very brief, and it was mostly completely hilarious.

And watched the sunset out my window.

And I ate a yummy candy bar that was left in the dish of tea-making things in my room.

And I had a cup of tea. And I read a bit, and went to sleep, and imagined I was the princess of the edge of the world.