Saturday, June 28, 2014

up north

Those words -- up north -- in Wisconsin are reserved for localities anywhere north of Madison. People head up north for the weekend. The mosquitoes are particularly dense up north. But my orbit is different here. "Up north" is up beyond the North Sea, up into Scotland.

Even though I'm not staying in Scotland just yet. Follow along, wont you?

I wake up early and my hosts are so kind that they insist that I indulge in a full breakfast, even though their breakfast service doesn't really start until an hour after I will have taken off.

Amsterdam & Edinburgh-3.jpg

I'm trying to travel without stress and so I check where the local bus stop is ahead of time, I clock the distance I have to walk to it, I look up the schedule and make sure the buses run at regular intervals even on Saturdays. The best laid plans...

My hosts are at the front door to bid a fond farewell. Nearly all inn keepers are exceptionally friendly to the single traveler; they become your substitute companions -- they care where you go, what you eat. And when you leave, they seem genuinely saddened. It's just a different dynamic than when you are passing through with someone else.

Alright, I set out toward the bus stop, past the usual scenes of a morning in Amsterdam.

Amsterdam & Edinburgh-5.jpg

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The bus comes on time, I get on -- all so smooth, so predictable. (We pass such pretty countryside -- I am reminded that Holland has her gentle charm, beyond the cities.)

Amsterdam & Edinburgh-8.jpg

And I arrive at the airport in plenty of time. Ninety minutes until departure. No problem, right?

Wrong. I'd forgotten the discount airline rituals. Easy Jet ushers everyone, from every morning flight, into one line.

It is a long line.

Forty-five minutes later I'm done. But what's this? Another long line for passport control. I wait. Then I see a shorter line for those who hold passports with chips. My passport has a chip. I wait there, the passport is denied (if I had looked carefully, I would have seen the telltale EU flag indicating EU passports only). I'm at the back of the big line again.

By the time I'm through it, I'm down to 31 minutes til take off and one minute til my gate closes. And I still have security to go through.

I nudge and budge. Excuse me, my gate closes in less than a minute, can I get in front of you? People are kind. And when I'm throwing my pack down and sweating as the conveyor belt moves with it ever so slowly, a fellow passenger tells me -- relax. Easy Jet passengers are notoriously late. They wont shut you out. (You get a quite different story if you ask anyone who, in fact, has been shut out by a closed gate.)

I'm lucky. They're just starting to board. I'm safe. I exhale.

My seat is next to a superbly friendly Scotswoman. I think all Scottish people are superbly friendly (she confirms that!), but she is exceptionally so and as we talk, her accent comes through more and more. She tells me that as the jet comes closer to home, her Scottish ways become more pronounced. And since I am a chameleon in my speaking patterns (I pick up fragments of local speech when I travel -- it comes from being an immigrant: you're always imitating the ways of those around you in your desperate attempt to blend in), by the flight's end I'm rolling my "r's" and lengthening my "o's."

We come in for the beautiful landing that could only be the Edinburgh of patterned skies and dappled hills.

Amsterdam & Edinburgh-11.jpg

Travel should now be fairly straightforward for me. A bus into downtown Edinburgh...

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...and I don't pause here at all. I go straight to the train station to buy my ticket lightly south. I had thought about overnighting in the city either on my way in or on my way out -- I have about a one day's affection in me for Edinburgh -- but I gave up when I scouted around for a place to stay. No one, absolutely no one who had any decent markings on Trip Advisor was willing to give me a room for just one night. Most didn't even bother responding to a reservation request. Edinburgh gets mighty puffy about itself in the summer.

No matter. I'm taking a train to Penrith - which is the closest I can get by train to my real destination: Pooley Bridge.

You don't know where Pooley Bridge is? It's in the Lake District of northeastern England. Up north.

Why here, why now? Well, when I booked my stay in Scotland (that will come later), I asked the very friendly innkeeper where he would go if he were to add a few days to the trip on the front end. I expected some listing of Scottish destinations, but he surprised me by suggesting two places in northern England and, in fact, I'll be visiting both.

So first comes Pooley Bridge.

Not so fast, you traveler, you! Want a bit of confusion? Just a wee bit? Alright then!

Waverly train station in Edinburgh is in chaos. I need a ticket. The agent tells me: you'll want the 12:12, but the 12:12 is cancelled. A problem with a train on the tracks near Lockerbie. (What American doesn't have terrible associations with that sad little place?)
What about the train after? 
That's a "maybe."

You know, it really doesn't matter for me today. But it matters to others. Three trains have been cancelled so far on this first vacation weekend and people are exasperated. (On the upside, the rail company has a policy: if the train is late more than an hour, then the travel is on them.) I buy a sandwich and wait.

And it's a go! And as I get on, the manager makes the announcement that the train has been declassified to accommodate everyone. (No first class, second class.) Fairness to all trumps your right to privilege. Me, I have the cheapest of the cheap tickets and since I am standing close to the first class car, on I go.

Most people on the train are London bound. I get off fairly early, at Penrith. I do have just a bit of trepidation. On the continent, I can count on inter-city trains to get me to airports on time. If Great Britain isn't quite at that level of performance, I may run into trouble later on when I hurry to catch my flights.

Travel is never without adventure.

Alright. Pooley Bridge. It's easily reached by bus from Penrith and though the buses aren't frequent, there's one just after I arrive. Half hour later I am where I need to be.

The village of Pooley Bridge isn't really much of a village, though it does have three pubs and two somewhat basic convenience/souvenir stores. The type where you buy soda and chips and something plastic for your kid. Let me show you a view up the road:


And another as you enter from the road coming from the hills.


That's pretty much it.

But the location! Oh, it's a beautiful spot alright! It rests at the northernmost tip of Ullswater Lake. This photos, as taken from my brief exploratory walk there, shows it off just a little bit.


Ullswater is one of a handful of ribbon lakes here in northeastern England. It's the second largest and some say it is by far the most beautiful. I can't judge as I've not seen the others, but honestly, it is stunning.

Even when you can't quite see the lake, it's stunning.


I'll get back to it tomorrow I'm sure. I know I'm just tipping the camera toe into a lovely terrain.

My B&B -- the Ullswater Guest House isn't much on the outside and it is quite centrally located so that I can have a very pleasant look out my window at the souvenir shop that's across the street. But the bedroom is absolutely fresh and lovely...


...and I hear they serve award winning breakfasts. And the price is unbeatable for an English inn at high season. I finally unpack. It always feels good not to be living out of a suitcase.

Now what? I feel I can still do a longer hike. It's after 3, but I am so north that I doubt I'll see darkness before I fall asleep tonight.

I decide to hike up the hill behind the village. It should offer views to the lake. And it looks like my favorite kind of climb: gradual, not at all stressful and very quiet (visitor activity is very much concentrated around the pubs and, too, the path leading to the lake).

I suppose you'd say the weather is cool. Mid sixties. But I don't mind a bit. Great climbing weather! And a gift, because England's Lake District is notoriously wet during the summer. Not so today. There are clouds, but they merely add to the panorama.


And of course it's a heavenly hike. As I take in the smell of Queen Ann's Lace and look out at fields of fern, I truly get a surge of such joy that I know all the inconveniences and adventures of travel will have been worth it. To see something so beautiful for the first time is unbelievably humbling. Yes, there are many glorious hikes in my own back yard, in my state, my country, my neck of the woods. But then, there is also this and having it spread before me seems like a stunningly generous gift.


And then I turn back, ambling down quickly as is my habit, but keeping in my soul that thin sliver of lake with the mountains behind it, not wanting to put it aside just yet.

Later, much later, to beat the crowds, I go for supper to the Sun Pub next door. I had asked -- when should I arrive to stand a chance of getting a table? Late, they tell me. After 7:30.
Well now, I am far too hungry to wait until then. I show up at 7:10.

I look around. No tables. (I mean, there are only a handful to begin with and most patrons are just beginning to eat.)

A lovely English couple invites me to sit down at their table. I hate to intrude, but I gratefully accept. Right away I take out my computer to show them that I will not be in the way of their intimate meal together. They are amused. And perhaps predictably, I never get on the computer. We have a superb dinner together and I walk away thinking -- does everyone on this planet have a beautiful side to them? (The answer is -- most likely, with very few exceptions, yes.)

P.S. Your comments have been stupendously generous and exquisite to read! I always form in my head an answer to each and every one. That I so rarely get a chance to put it in print when I travel means nothing except that I am not as nimble in my time management and in my writing as I would want to be. Thank you. I take in everything that you say and it stays with me, just like the post-its on the museum wall.