Tuesday, June 30, 2015

and I will come again, my Luve...

The street names read like a book of pastoral poems: Lilyhill Terrace, Willowbrae Avenue, Meadowfield Drive. It should, therefore, be a lovely walk.

It's not. The Internet is a funny thing -- at once a wealth of information, but, too, it's a mix of good and bad ideas. When travel books were more in fashion, things were less hit or miss. Most authors weren't published if they lacked credentials, so that when you read their list of, say, good gardens or best museums, you could assume that things would be as they appeared in print. (Slightly more iffy were hotel and restaurant descriptions; these have mostly benefited from the Internet's wide sweep.)

When I googled "places to walk in Edinburgh," hoping for some interesting, more remote destinations, I came to a listing of 15 musts. And since I'm inclined to like park settings, I picked number six on their list: Dr. Neil's Garden. Google tells me it's an hour's walk from where I am. So perhaps an hour to get there, an hour once there, and an hour on the return? Perfect.

Right after breakfast, where I actually fortify myself with Scottish salmon one last time...


... I set out. In my neighborhood, all is quiet on this working Monday. I pass an interesting doorway or two...


... and then pick up the long and busy London Road to the side of Arthur's Seat (Edinburgh's big peak jutting out to the east). As I walk, the road proceeds through possibly the saddest neighborhoods of the city. I am reminded that when you google the fastest way to a place, it's not necessarily the prettiest way. Eventually I veer toward a residential area of modest but well tended homes and here at last I am rewarded with well tended gardens and smart entryways.




And now I'm in the last stretch. I turn into Church Lane, which weaves along the base of Aurthur's Peak. This is where I am to find Dr. Neil's Secret Garden. The website reads: "Dr Neil’s Garden is one of Edinburgh’s most secret gardens, but is one of beauty and a place for inspiration,  meditation and contemplation.  A wonderful collection of  plants and flowers fills this peaceful space."

But where is the darn thing? I pass a church and then immediately enter Holyrood Park. Did I miss Dr. Neil's gate? I backtrack. I ask. I get some vague directions. I walk along the length of the street. Nothing.

Finally I ask the right question at a local pub: does the garden have a name plate by the entrance?
Oh no, it doesn't. It's just a gate. Just go inside it. Right by the kirk (aka church).

I showed you the gate in my last post. It does open and it does lead to a garden that is small. Very small. And, I'll be blunt: not especially interesting. You'll tell me I'm spoiled by the Botanic Gardens and by Hornel's garden in Kirkcudbright. But I think I am open to new and modest arrangements. I like many groupings of plants, honestly I do. But here, my camera dangles around my neck, uninspired, barely used. Here -- this is the classic shot that appears in most discussions of the garden. It's of a bridge over a pond.


There is one small compensatory moment -- it's right toward the end, as I'm leaving the garden. Toward the side, there is a lovely blooming rhododendron (you can faintly see the kirk in the background).


Instantly, the whole Scottish adventure dances before me -- from the first day in Dumfries and Galloway, through the hills of Islay, to the Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh: rhododendrons that blazed my walks up and down the hills and dells of this beautiful country. Scotland has four National Botanic Gardens and collectively, they grow 700 of the 1000 species of this flower. And so it is fitting that on this last day here, I should come across a splendid display once more.

I do not retrace my steps afterwards. I take the longer road, this time to the west of the mountain...


... and though I don't get to my destination 'afore ye, I have a quite pretty walk at the base of St. Arthur's and so long as I am nearing all those scaling paths, I may as well scale one and, from the top, take in the views of the city.


Rather harsh beginning of a hike has a pleasant resolution, even if I added another hour to my ramble.

Having done the high road, I'm now back at the low roads. First a look at the Holyrood Palace, where the Queen resides when she is in town.


...Then at the very modern Scottish Parliament Buildings right across the road.


From there -- up up along the Royal Mile again. Severe in these blocks, isn't it?


And then I am back in the New Town again, pausing at John Lewis department store to pick up a sweater with sheep on it for Snowdrop. You'll see it when the cold days of autumn and winter roll forward.

And of course, I stop for tea. On my funky Broughton Street of "Bohemian" cafes and eateries.


At my b&b I settle my accounts and chat with a visitor -- a friend of my hosts here. She has a most unusual profession -- she ships your pets abroad. I find her working on a transfer of a a couple of dogs to Iceland, a cat to Miami and a horse to L.A..
By boat? I ask. I can't imagine there being a horse on one of my flights across the Atlantic.
Oh, no -- plane.
You put them to sleep?
Not at all. We don't even drug them.
And they survive unscathed?
Haven't lost one yet!

You might wonder what it would cost you to ship that favorite horse you've spotted perhaps at the Royal Highland Show: 10,000 pounds. A steal, no?

And speaking of luxury and excess, I break down and do something I never ever do: I reserve a cab to the airport. It's three times the price of a bus ride, but the thought of scaling all those hills toward the distant bus stop with my whisky bottles, blankets and Snowdrop gifts in the middle of the night (my flight leaves at the unfortunate hour of 6 a.m.) leaves me cold. There was a time where I would have done the walk (for example, carrying Turkish carpets and bottles of wine up and down the steps of the Paris metro), but I feel that after you reach the age of maturity (which in the UK is set at 60), you deserve an occasional break.

Dinner? I go back to a place Ed and I ate in. Twice in fact. It's called Fishers and it has... fish. With one pause for Andrew's spicy meatballs, it's been nearly two weeks of fish. I order a mixed Scottish fish appetizer...


... and a fish main course and as I plunge into my meal (it's so excellent!), I listen to the conversations around me. A party of twelve to my left, a party of three to my right. The threesome are complaining amongst themselves about the bread. They want "czarnyj." Black, in Russian. The woman has gold everything dangling everywhere. She looks very dazzling in a severe sort of way, but there is no laughter in her face or voice. Perhaps she is happy, just not on on this night. I listen more closely, wanting to get comfortable with a language I rarely hear these days. I must brush up. I'll be traveling to Russia later this summer.

The waiter is solicitous. Maybe he thinks I'm lonely. He asks me why I am in Scotland. I tell him I'm becoming a frequent visitor. He's delighted. When he finds out I'll likely return next year, he throws out some places I really must see. He's missed his calling -- he knew very little about the food he served me (it's true that I often ask ridiculous questions of the poor wait staff). But he surely knows his beloved Scotland!

As I get up to leave -- oh! in six hours I'll be leaving my room already! -- I thank him for his suggestions. He smiles broadly and says -- I like to think I've changed people's directions!


And so it ends. From Robert Burns:

And fare-thee-weel, my only Luve!
And fare-thee-weel, a while!
And I will come again, my Luve,
Tho’ ’twere ten thousand mile! 

Six hours later, a cab comes up to 25 East London Street. A very kind and polite driver helps me with my bags. Such luxury! I revel in the comfortable ride! Then I put myself in mind for the flights -- to Amsterdam (the airport there is all torn up! that's okay -- here's where I grab a breakfast anyway...),

 Scotland trip-1.jpg

... then onto Minneapolis (hello younger daughter!), and finally to Madison, and with Ed -- home. To the farmhouse, where flowers are blooming and cheepers run for bread and the sun shines faintly but surely over the land around us.