We’re catching our breath from a full on frantic fast paced mainland visit. Hours and hours on trains, exploring Edinburgh, a city we have previously only briefly passed through. Catching up with friends old and new and topping up on culture, education, retail and adventure.
The train was a revelation, Ady and I have always had cars and driven everywhere we couldn’t walk with the only exception our fairly regular trips to London to visit the museums, art galleries and lectures at the Royal Institute. So our default transport when heading off island to the mainland has always been to hire a car and drive. Edinburgh is fantastically well served by public transport though and is not actually very car friendly with expensive parking and complicated one way systems with trams and buses. A friend had very generously offered us use of her very well located city centre flat for our stay so we had no need of a vehicle while we were there so booked train tickets well in advance at discounted prices for all our journeys south, north and across Scotland. The scenery was stunning – indeed the trip between Fort William and Mallaig across the ‘Harry Potter bridge’ is well documented as one of the most scenic train journeys in the UK, if not the world. It was great to experience that at sunset and in full daylight, with the lochs frozen round the edges and heavy snow on the ground and then in sunshine and blue skies.
We also went on a bus, several taxis and did plenty of walking. And of course the ferry back and forth from Rum to the mainland.
While in Edinburgh we visited the National Museum of Scotland where Scarlett was in her element in the animal section, identifying birds and animals that I didn’t know all the names of, learning about them all and massively impressing me with her encyclopedic knowledge of the natural world.
Davies and Ady explored a bit more widely and found details about a Games exhibition which Davies was very keen on the sound of so they arranged to come back the following morning to visit that – Scarlett elected to come with me round the shops.
We had a great day at Edinburgh Zoo, arriving just after it opened and staying past closing time. I always have mixed feelings about zoos, loving the conservation work the do, the educating, informing and enthusing about our natural world that they promote to visitors but feeling uncomfortable and rather sad about watching creatures outside of their natural environment, some of whom always look caged, bored, unable to exhibit natural behaviours and as though they are there for our entertainment as humans. The big cats and the birds give me this feeling the most and Edinburgh Zoo was no exception – the tigers, always my favourite animal were prowling, pacing and knowing how fast and far they can run and how they are designed to hunt, chase and kill but will never do any of those things no matter how many wooden platforms are put in their enclosure was sad. The sea eagles, which we watch soaring, wild and free over our croft on a weekly basis brought tears to my eyes as the male flapped his wings ineffectually in their low roofed area while the female just sat hunched.
All that aside it was amazing to see the pandas and the koalas both of which are the only of their kind in the UK, the wallaby enclosure was fab and you could walk through among them, several had joeys in their pouches too. We loved the pygmy hippos but our favourite of all were the penguins who were just so entertaining and looked really happy in their large enclosure. Penguins have such comedy value and drew a huge crowd (well winter visitor number standards huge!) at feeding time when a group of them had a face off with a black backed gull who had the audacity to try and nick one of their fish.
The whole Edinburgh leg of our Mainland Land trip was at the suggestion and generosity of friends who gave us use of a city centre flat, ran us around, filled the fridge up with food, took us out for drinks and a meal and took Davies and Scarlett off the cinema while Ady and I had a takeaway Indian meal. It was all such a treat, a real break away from our real lives up here on Rum and had been something we’d been looking forward to throughout the winds, rain and challenges of life here in the winter. Thank you so much xxx
From Edinburgh we travelled back up north again, leaving the bright city lights and hustle and bustle behind for the relative calm and quiet of Fort William. FW feels like home to us, we are there at least twice a year for the dentist and have stayed in a variety of places from cheap budget options, to the big hostel chains to luxury holiday cottages. This time it was Premier Inn for a week, booked way back last year for their bargain price rooms and offering everything we needed from crappy daytime TV to proximity to the shops and McDonalds and of course an en suite bath!
Better than that though there were more friends! Two sets! First friends who are more family than friends – honorary parents and grandparents to the four of us and not seen in way too long. Davies and Scarlett were off for their Outward Bound weekend experience which had initially been the reason behind coming off Rum in the first place, so we despatched them there for 48 hours of camping, diving in a loch, carrying heavy stuff around, scrambling up and down rocks and mountains and generally getting hefty doses of fresh air, exercise and challenges. They both had a great time, came back exhausted and hungry but having made new friends and keen to go again next year. Ady and I enjoyed a couple of nights of a whole hotel room to ourselves and lots of catching up with our friends before waving them off and collecting Davies and Scarlett who we were starting to feel quite bereft without.
Then more friends! We met them from the train and spent a further four days and nights in their company, laughing, chatting, catching up and enjoying each others company. It was lovely and we were so grateful to all our visiting friends for making the trip up north to spend time with us. We felt thoroughly topped up on all the things we miss about the mainland.
As always though the loveliest thing about leaving Rum is the coming back home again. This time our welcome ‘home’ began at Fort William train station early in the morning as we arrived and found we were sharing the train back to Mallaig with four fellow islanders and joining up with another three in Mallaig, so a gang of 11 of us Rum folk all on the ferry together chatting, catching up on Rum gossip and each others’ news, cheering when the two people most likely to be seasick on the rough crossing both made it home without doing so and then pulling in to the pier to see a host of friendly faces, Bonnie the dog going mad with happiness to see us back, hugs and ‘welcome home’ greetings and our car starting too to get us back to the croft.
Since getting back we have all had a cold, friends have been to visit and we’ve been catching up on Rum life reality with emails, meetings, chopping firewood and generally just living. It’s great to be home, we feel refreshed, revitalised (once we’re over this cold we will do anyway!) and ready to start facing spring and the adventure ahead of volunteers joining us to get cracking on this cob build.