Sunday, May 2, 2010

my dreams are bursting at the seams

I got up quite early in the morning, and had cereal and toast for breakfast, and then set off to walk to the edge of the world again. This was because I had read in a little booklet that told about different places to walk in the area about the Duncansby Stacks – if you don’t know what they are you’ll see in a minute – and it would be ridiculous to be as close to them as I was and not see them; they’re one of the main things about that place!

So yeah. I left at eight o’clock in the morning, and walked – down the road this time, as it’s both a shorter distance if you’re going from the bed and breakfast, and a good deal easier walking than the coastal path.

When I got to where the road starts going up the hill, I split off from it diagonally, estimating as best I could from the map to hit the coast at the place with the best view of the stacks.

This is what I saw when I reached the edge.

I am apparently a good estimator.

I stayed there for some time, and walked the coast to get different views, and looked out at the edge of the world.

And I really wanted to go past the edge of the fence. Not in a place where it was dangerous, but in a place where it stayed flat for a bit – not to go close to the edge, but just to be past the fence, and past the edge of the mortal world.

Then I found a gate.

And it wasn’t even locked.

So I sat at the edge of the world.

The feeling came and went. There were moments when it faded, and I was just sitting somewhere that could be anywhere near water. And then suddenly I’d look at the cliffs, and at the fence that marked the edge, and me past it, and at the horizon, and I could almost see the water falling off the edge, and I would get a sudden thrill in which I could not tell if ecstasy or terror predominated.

I had to tear myself away, or I wouldn’t have time to go to shell beach again and get back to Hamnavoe and get my stuff and get to the city centre in time to look at the shops a little before the bus came.

In some places the ground had sunk, making pits of water. Very edge-of-the-world-ish.

And in one place, there was a sort of crack in the ground full of water, and the water was so black that it seemed as though the crack was no mere puddle but went down to the depths of the earth.

The ground was interesting to travel over...

I went across to the beaches on the other side of the point.

And I searched. I wanted to find a Groatie Buckie so badly, but I also really wanted to see the shops before the bus came, and I had to take the 10:45 bus or I wouldn’t make the train in Wick.

I clambered over the rocks and sand, and looked for places with shells.

And found places with shells, and looked for groatie buckies and didn’t find one and didn’t find one. And then I found a place where the shells were very thick, and I paused to look some more, and pushed some aside –

And then I found one. A little pink one. And I put it in my camera case, and forced myself not to stay and look for more, and made my way up the steep bank to head for the road.

When I got back to the road, I was not nearly as far along as I wanted to be – but thankfully the distance along the road was shorter than I remembered.

I arrived at Hamnavoe at ten o’clock, and gathered my things as quickly as I could and paid Gordon and bid him farewell.

I didn’t have much time at the shops, but I did get to tell the lady at The Last House museum and gift shop that I was a Groat. She thought it was cool, but didn’t offer me any free stuff or tell me I was the long-lost heir of the estate or anything.

I went running when I saw the bus, but he said, “Ah, we don’t hurry here.” And said I could go back to the other gift shop and he’d wait for me. So that was pretty awesome, and I went to the other shop and bought a bookmark and a pencil and some shortbread that was on sale. I didn’t have any luck finding a perfect John O’Groats souvenir – I think that the Groatie Buckie was it.

I talked with the bus driver on the way – I don’t remember how it came up, but he asked what my dad did, and I told him “full time ministry,” and then I had to try to explain, so I just said that he does education for pastors, which is like one tiny portion of what he does, but oh well. It’s really hard to describe Papa’s job if you don’t know if the person’s a Christian, because saying, “he does his best to show everyone that certain religious groups are false” is a good way to either end a conversation or start an argument.

But then he asked me, “Are you a believer?”

“Yes!” I said, surprised and pleased. “Are you, then?”


“I thought you must be, because people who aren’t don’t normally ask it that way. They’d ask if I was a Christian, not if I was a believer.” So that began a nice conversation about Billy Graham and assorted other things, until other people got on the bus.

I arrived in Wick like an hour before the train was due, and my stuff was heavy and I was cold and the station doesn’t have anywhere to sit. So that not exactly pleasant. I was very relieved when the train arrived and I could find my spot and sit down.

I’m trying to remember where I sat and what the ride was like from Wick to Inverness, but I can’t. Oh yeah! I got it now. The seat I was assigned was facing backward – ugh – so I found a different seat, at a table, facing forward, and sat there. No one else joined me at the table the whole time, and I had a pleasant and comfortable ride, with a mix of reading and sleeping and a little writing and listening to the conversation of the people at the table across the aisle.

Oh! And I was wishing for some sort of analytical activity, something to organize because that makes me feel both more relaxed and less scattered – and I found Sudoku on Jack’s phone! I couldn’t do it on the phone – doing it in that sort of little space with the annoying controls wasn’t exactly relaxing. So I just copied the puzzles into my notebook, and did them there. It was very soothing and satisfying.

We arrived at Inverness less than ten minutes before my next train was supposed to leave, so I dashed to the display to see the platform and then dashed to the platform. Another girl who ended up sitting across from me had made the same dash, so that was good camaraderie.

It was a table of four of us. Facing backwards, in the window seat, a young man next to me who spent most of the trip reading or listening to his ipod or talking/texting on the phone. Next to him, me. Across from him – someone who I can’t remember. I know it was a female, older than thirty, and that she talked a medium sort of amount, but I can’t picture her for the life of me. Next to her, across from me, the girl who had come from the same train. She was redheaded, talkative, and pleasant. She had a thirteen-year-old daughter she mentioned frequently, but the first mention of her startled me greatly as I had perceived her to be somewhere in the vicinity of my age.

So we talked some, and read some, and had a very pleasant journey toward Edinburg. Except that they were out of sandwiches, and I was hungry, so I got a “snack box” which was four crackers and a tiny little thing of cheese and a tiny little thing of pate and a tiny little thing of pretzels and a mini candy bar. For £2.70. Yeah. Grr. Oh well.

Then the dude next to me was talking on the phone, and said, in answer to a question, “Cocoa Puffs.” Which somehow struck both me and the two across from me as hilarious – I suppose because he’d been so serious the whole rest of the time.

He smiled wryly when he hung up.

“My girlfriend. I’ve TOLD her not to ask me about breakfast cereals when I’m on the train….”

“Well, you have good taste in cereals,” I said.

“Yeah, they’re so good. Except they make you sore,” he replied, indicating the roof of his mouth.

“Yeah. Cap’n Crunch does that, too. Do you have Cap’n Crunch in the UK?”


I tried to explain Cap’n Crunch – with very little success. How do you describe it to someone who’s never had it?

From there we got to talking about Golden Grahams, which made him decide he wanted some so he called his girlfriend back. Much to our further amusement.

That broke the ice, and for the rest of the train ride we had a merry time, that the couple behind us soon joined in on. The man was from Edinburgh, and had lots of advice for me about what to see. I wrote down some of what he said, although I just smiled when he told me to skip going to the Pentland Hills, because “you can see hills anywhere!” He didn’t understand, but there was no point in arguing.

He was hilarious, though. He was telling me all about the castle, and about how I had to go there, and to see the Stone of Destiny.

“We’ve been crowning monarchs on it since the eleventh century! You guys don’t even HAVE an eleventh century!”

Well, when we finally got to Edinburgh, I got off the train and went to find some maps and information. My plan was to do as much planning and figuring out as I could that night, so that I could get up early in the morning and cram as much as possible into the day before getting the train back to Peterborough at 5pm.

The racks of brochures were rather disappointing, because what I most needed – a map of the greater Edinburgh area bus routes – was missing. So I found the travel information center, and asked them. But they didn’t have one either. I think that is incredibly stupid, actually… but at any rate, they did have some good advice – they sent me to a computer kiosk of bus times.

So I went to the kiosk, and I think I spent a total of about forty-five minutes going back and forth between the kiosk and writing down tons of bus routes and going back to the info desk to ask more questions.

At one point when I was at the info desk there was a rather tipsy, stocky Scotsman in a pink shirt, inquiring at the info desk about whether his pink shirt made him look effeminate. Since he had a grey beard and didn’t look at all sissy or overly fashion conscious I told him it didn’t. That was the beginning of a rather interesting encounter that included him (jokingly) inviting me to come to his place to make love (I told him thanks for offering but no thanks…) and saying that he knew I was an American because of my daft hat. I was more offended by the remark about my hat than by him propositioning me. I must be insane.

Anyway, after I escaped him, and had finally worked out all my bus routes and plans for the next day, I went to find food to eat for supper and for breakfast and while hiking in the morning.

I went to M&S, which is a sort of grocery-store-ish place that tends to be expensive (I think it must be kind of like D&W?) but it was there in the station so I decided to at least take a look.

I had good luck and did a good job finding things – a pack of ten little boxes of raisins for about a pound, a good-sized bag of peanuts for less than a pound, a pack of six “Scotch pancakes” for 55p, a granola bar for a little over a pound. And I had the little jar of jam to eat with the pancakes. And a sandwich - I can’t remember now what kind of sandwich it was – to have for supper that night.

Then I set out to go find my hotel.

Ugh. It was dark, and I didn’t know where it was, and the city felt busy and intimidating. But I knew what street it was on, so I figured out how to get there – it was quite close to the station – and decided to walk down the street until I came to it.

The “street” wasn’t a street cars were allowed to be on, which would have been pleasant in the daylight, but in the night it felt like a back alley and there were lots of tipsy people walking along. It was quite well lit, and no one was being unpleasant or angry, at least, they were all cheerfully drunk, and there were quite a few people walking along it who were fine and sober, but I still didn’t like it. If I had known exactly where the place was and how far I had to go to get there, I wouldn’t have minded it at all – it was the not knowing where the place was that made me uncomfortable. It was a great relief when saw the Travelodge sign and got inside.

My room was up on the third floor, a simple, pleasant, standard hotel room. I was quite tired and hungry, and it was so nice to have a shower and then curl up in the bed with my sandwich and a book. I also turned on the TV and succeeded in catching the weather, so I knew it would be chilly in the morning but quite warm the rest of the day.

I set my alarm for 5:30, telling myself that I must must must really get up then, because I would be really sorry if I didn’t make the bus to get to the Pentland Hills and had to wait an hour.

And I went to sleep.


lois said...

Ah. Much better. Someone had stolen my really good book that I was in the middle of. It is nice to have it back.

Anonymous said...

The pictures of the Duncansby Stacks were very interesting! However after you went beyond the fence it turned into "terror" for me and I had to remember I wouldn't be reading this if anything had happened to you! I am so happy that you found a Groatie Buckie. I will look forward to seeing you and your Buckie!!
Love Much, Grandma Sally

Joe said...

You seem to be getting really good at putting cliff hangers in your posts. You teased all you were going to do the next day and stopped writing!?! The stacks do look awesome, kind of like picture rocks though cooler cause you could walk to the edge of them.

Shan said...

YAY! You are back! So excited to read all about London!! :D

Amy said...

My favorite line from your post: "I am apparently a good estimator." That was so perfect! And what great photos of the coastline...glorious!

Anonymous said...

The "edge of the world" looks fantastic. Forlorn landscape behind and a never-ending horizon before; would have inspired me to set sail and see what happened when I got to the edge of the horizon, had I been a native once upon a time. The tipsy, pink-clad Scot was funny. You shouldn't be offended by the hat preferences of a man who wears pink & propositions young American women. ;-) Jen
PS - I'm glad you are back. Was withering in withdrawal...

ransomedhandmaiden said...

mommy - :)
grandma - the funny thing is, while i was going through the gate, i thought, 'my mother and grandmother are going to freak out when they read about this.'
joe - i find it very flattering that when i write four pages of post plus a ridiculous amount of pictures you still complain that i didn't write more.
shan - i'll be posting about london tomorrow. today the internet is not letting me upload pictures... grrr...
amy - :) glad you enjoyed.
jen - i'm glad that i managed to communicate the amazingness. and i suppose you're right about the hat...

Remy said...

Dear Jenny Ann,

Your photos impress me, as does your story-telling. I found myself wondering whether you were sharing all this for yourself or for us, but I suppose blogs are exactly both. In any case, thank you for inviting us into your adventures. I've been a spotty reader up till now, but the more of yours I read, the more I want to. Let us know when your book is ready for sharing.