I finally realized the figment of a plan which began in my 1st year. Edinburgh; the beautiful capital of Scotland. Listening to the Skye Boat Song and imagining the rolling fields of the Scottish highlands had haunted me for many years and when the BUCS annual cross-country championship was planned to be in Edinburgh, I signed up with the UCL cross-country team to take part!
After 2 hours of geophysical fluid dynamics and a further 3 hours of cosmology lectures (back to back!), it is fair to say my brain had been fried to a crisp and the only will to live was a train that would whizz me across the border to the land of the Scots. A Friday night train with everyone commuting back home from London, the train was packed with many people standing through the whole journey – not the most glamorous travel experience… Switching trains at York, we finally reached Edinburgh past 11 at night. Exhausted in every sense of the word, I checked-in to the hotel and crash to sleep.
The city was aglow the next morning with a light sprinkling as we jogged to the start of the race at Holyrood Park. Although still technically in the same country, the differences struck me! Edinburgh reminded me of cities I’d visited in Europe, with the wide roads and the Gothic architecture of the buildings and gargoyles looking down in every direction. Ducking under arches and going up and down steep descents, It is safe to say that within the couple minutes of running, I was falling in love with the city.
Every turning of a corner failed to disappoint and getting into Holyrood park with the sun shining behind Arthur’s Seat and Salisbury Crags, I was lost for words.
Across the park, runners representing every university in Britain were huddled in their teams. Locating the UCL team, we were in time to catch the first woman’s team set off.
These races represented the very best athletes in the country and being part of it was more about the experience than the actual competition. The race was 3 laps around a course which looked deceptively doable. After the first couple 100m, it turned muddy and gently uphill for a while with a few jumps and even proper streams that you had to cross. The third lap though did need some external motivation and the crowds cheering us on brought me to the finish.
With the race done, I couldn’t resist the temptation of getting on top of the Salisbury Crags. Edinburgh lived true to its name of “the windy city” as I battled the gust on the ascent. At some points, my physical exertion was simply to stand upright! All worth it for the view from the top, my fellow racers now just little ants and the castle atop the hill gracing the landscape.
Enough dawdling! My recovery run back to the hotel was pretty painful but I made it in one piece and spent a long time in the shower washing the mud from everywhere.
Refreshed again, I walked up to Princes Street to reunite with a friend after years of estrangement. Having not had a hot meal since yesterday, I was famished and we had lunch in the most beautiful family-run Italian restaurant called Contini on George Street.
After some of the best spinach and ricotta ravioli I’ve had, we were sucked into the time warp of a Waterstone’s bookstore. An immeasurable time later of rediscovering old books and listing the ones to read next, we finally decided to buy and buddy read Luiselli’s Lost Children Archive.
Following coffee at Starbuck’s and exploring the city, the quest for dinner began. Initially, we planned to go to TGI Fridays but after being informed of a 45mins wait, we decided to try another place, then another… then another. No tables available anywhere! Did all of Edinburgh have dinner at the same time?
Rejected from 5 different places and wet from the rain, we were happy to sit anywhere. We finally found ourselves a less busy American diner-style restaurant tucked away in a side street where I had a Cajun-seasoned salmon. An especially long first day in Scotland came to an end as I finally reached the hotel and true to tradition, crashed asleep.