“In the hour before sunset, when the rays of the sun lie across the English fields, the old patterns of the earth rise up and the land seems to return to its origins.”
Peter Ackroyd, Foundation
Travelling is always exciting. Whether you’re going a town over or halfway across the world; for a weekend or a month; for work or for play…there’s nothing quite like it. A chance to leave your day-to-day existence and see what else is out there. Spoiler Alert: What’s out there is usually even more incredible than you think it’s going to be, if you know where to look.
Adding to that base level of excitement is the possibility of visiting somewhere you’ve never been before. While I loved re-visiting Ireland for the fifth time on this trip, a sentiment you will hopefully understand quickly in my yet-to-be-written posts on the Emerald Isle, the knowledge that the still-undiscovered beauty of Scotland was ahead made set my heart a-pounding the moment we climbed back onto the train in Durham.
As the train pulled out of Durham, however, I did feel a bit of regret at not spending more time in that beautiful, sloping town. Do yourself a favour – put it on your list, if it isn’t there already. I still dream about it.
Though we were exhausted from the wind and the driving, sheer curtain of English rain, Kristen and I couldn’t stop chatting as the train pulsed towards the border and on to Edinburgh. Speaking of knowing where to look for something incredible – there’s no need to look further than this beautiful medieval city.
Our one mistake? In our excitement, we didn’t look ahead to where we would need to go once we got off the train. Walking out of the station we were COMPLETELY discombobulated.
I suppose I figured that the famous Edinburgh castle would be visible from anywhere in the city, you know, like the Emerald City’s palace in the Wizard of Oz. That palace, however, was in the middle of a field conveniently split by a rather leading yellow-brick road. Edinburgh Castle, on the other hand, is surrounded by layer-upon-layer of an overgrown cross-century city.
Instead of a field of sleep-inducing poppies, upon leaving the train we were greeted by an imposing wall of brick Georgian buildings, incomprehensible short stone walls seemingly enclosing nothing (begging the question: what were they FOR?!) and an odd 5-way intersection complete with trolleys, speeding cars and traffic lights we didn’t know how to use properly.
After turning around a few times aimlessly in a pole-less May dance fashion we chose the most likely direction according to our limited knowledge of the Medieval City – to the left. Beyoncé would be proud.
Heading down the road, I think I can speak for both of us when I say we were glad to be looking for a pretty distinctive building – an old 19th century red brick church which would serve as a place to rest our heads for two nights.
No, we weren’t asking for sanctuary… There was no Durham Cathedral-style door knocker in sight – instead we rang a doorbell. It’s actually a rather impressive establishment called the Belford Hostel, one of the city’s original hostels, which we found after much research and exploration…OK. We googled it. Why is every story less impressive in the 21st century?
Before entering our new home-away-from-home I couldn’t help but take a minute to take it in with all its rare sun-drenched glory. As Ackroyd so poetically wrote in the quote above, there is a magical quality to the late afternoon sun, no matter where you are. It truly does bathe the world in a golden film that is almost timeless. Otherworldly in fact. Now add a soaring red church adorned with spectacular stained glass windows and you’ve got the perfect recipe for a loss of breath.
Inside was another story entirely. I’d love to meet the designer who renovated this place. Sure, the rather flimsy walls didn’t reach right to the ceiling, we could hear everything around us from our rooms, and the showers were typically hostel-like (If I have to explain that to you… count yourself lucky) but it was mind-blowing nonetheless. Despite the requisite temporary nature of the inner construction at Belford, the sheer fact that they were able to divide such a sacredly solid edifice into so many different rooms of all different sizes was incomprehensible. It was like a discount Hogwarts.
To be completely honest, Kristen and I didn’t do much that night. We were exhausted and still a wee bit chilled from the buckets of Durham rain which had been thrown at us all afternoon. So, instead of regaling the internet with our bedtime habits, instead I’ll end with a brief description of the conversation I fell asleep to, courtesy of the Italian gentleman in the ‘bedroom’ next door to ours:
It was…absolute nonsense. I don’t speak Italian.
That glimpse of the sun-drenched potential of Edinburgh, however, was my very last thought as I finally dozed off to my Italian soundtrack… A new day was coming and that meant entirely new adventures.