The bus stopped right outside the ferry terminal. The queue to check in stopped open the door, letting a cold wind in. I was the only person bothered by it and got a strange look when I moved round a corner to hide from it. Border control to leave the EU – never mind that the signs say EU/UK passport holders to one side and everyone else to the other, anyone anywhere will do. Up the escalators and straight on to another cruise ship disguised as a car ferry. I knew I had a room to myself because this company didn’t do the sharing thing, maybe it’s something about the British that we inherited. What I had forgotten was that I’d decided that since I was already paying so much, the few extra pounds for a window was worth it, which made that a nice surprise. I particularly liked the idea of hiding away and making the most of this room of my own, the first in a good while.
Something out the window drew me out. There was a faint sun dog in the cloud to the left of the sun. I wanted to see if there was one to the right, or if it would get any clearer. Neither happened. The air was crisp and the weather calm. The boat still rolled a little. I was slightly disconcerted by the sensation in such a large vessel, and wondered how I’d cope in rougher weather. It’s not that I felt unwell, more a desire to check the evacuation plan on the back of the door in my cabin.
During the night squished Christmas tree oil rigs twinkled in the blackness. England was visible from first thing in the morning as the boat tracked up the coast. We were in sight of it for a few hours before the abstract shape on the map leapt to life and I said to myself hey, that’s England. This was the first place since leaving Australia that I really had connections to. It felt different and it wasn’t only because it was (almost) my destination.
The boat turned in between the break waters and rumbled up the River Tyne past docks and the remains of dry docks. Brown brick apartment blocks crowded the water and brown brick houses the hills of Newcastle. Small fishing boats moored in rows put a splash of colour into the grey and brown day. One thing that made me want to get off the boat was all the announcements. They’d gone on for hours the evening before, trying to get people to upgrade to fancier cabins, and advertising the restaurants, casino and shops. This morning they were annoyingly telling everyone to wait in their rooms until told we could disembark so we didn’t crowd the exits. I joined everyone else ignoring this, it hadn’t been an issue on the ferry to Stockholm and I couldn’t see any difference. At immigration I got to skip the queue of locals. The immigration officer was good at making her questioning conversational to check I qualified for the visa on arrival. I thought it was getting very conversational for that purpose, when she said she’d studied the same as me. Where were all these people coming from?! She also reminded me I wasn’t in Scotland yet.
I found a dual currency ATM, wonder of wonders, and got myself some pounds. Yay, my last currency change for the trip! An oldish fellow came into the ferry terminal to hurry along anyone who wanted the bus to town, which meant me. I climbed upstairs on the bus for the novelty and got chatting to the other backpacker who’d been waiting for the bus in Amsterdam. He wanted to know about my backpack and how heavy it was. He was planning a 6 week hiking holiday in Scotland and had realised in Amsterdam that all his gear in his bag was way too heavy. When he told me it was 27 kilos I wasn’t surprised. He didn’t have any firm plans for his 6 weeks, had never done anything like this before and was doing it on his own because he couldn’t talk any friends into joining him. I was jealous but ready to stop. I wondered how he’d be going at the end of it, if he’d be as glad to get home as I was about nearing my destination.
In town and off the bus I turned towards the front of the train station looking for my brother who’d come to meet me. Someone coming in my direction, right size and shape. Waves, hugs and coffee and cake before our train to Edinburgh. In Helsinki there was Robert’s coffee, in Stockholm there was George’s and Wayne’s, I was wondering what names would be left for the UK. Of course, we were in the Di Marco Caffe.
One last train ride to Edinburgh. The strange things about these trains is that you can either have a reserved seat, or not. Which ends up meaning that everyone sits where ever they like. We nattered away as the train took us through rolling hills of green and gold scattered with white and black faced sheep and splashes of sea. At Berwick-upon-Tweed we crossed the river and craned our necks to try to see the heads. And then Scotland and Edinburgh.
This was a place that was keen to make sure I knew where I was. The sign from the old Scotsman newspaper offices stands out over the station. A Scottish terrier stood with its owner outside. A lass played the pipes on the corner and at lunch there were thistle flowers in the vases. There were still remnants of the festivals. Letters on top of an old school said “WheredoIendandyoubegin”. The accompanying sign suggested it could be thought of as a dialogue between the building and the city, or us and each other, religion and politics. Then we were home. I’d made it to the end of my remarkably smooth and tiring trip, but my journey continues. My trip was only what it was because of the people along the way. I only had the idea to do it overland because of our relationship with the earth. I think knowing I would be posting along the way made me think more about what I was experiencing and will help me remember the details. In writing this I’ve also brought you along with me. I hope you’ve enjoyed the ride.
I will try to keep posting while I’m here. There’s a little road trip I’d like to write up, a few other little trips so far, and more planned.