As exclusively revealed in the last post (and a couple of postcards) I have been in bonny Scotland, staying with friends in Edinburgh. These friends, in respect of their response to the ambient temperature at least, are substantially closer to societal norms than am I. As a consequence, they were actually running their central heating and had supplied a duvet with a TOG rating well into double figures (unlike the 4.5 TOG summer version which I am using at my unheated home). Despite my hosts pandering to my more obscure temperature response curve by turning off the radiator in my room, for my first night I was kept from sleep by the oppressive heat. I gradually discarded sleep-wear and progressively uncovered more of my unsleeping form from neath the duvet until I was completely exposed. However, ultimately I was forced to open the windows in order to achieve the sort of temperature which my body has come to associate with sleep. Luckily, my body did adapt to the conditions and so by night two I was able to sleep with the windows closed and any frost confined to the world outside.
Whilst north of the border, I did indulge in some reasonably typical leisure activities: a little alcohol was consumed, I ate out several times and took in a spectrum of the Arts: cinema, chamber music and painting (as audience, rather than a more active participant). I also partook of some less widely enjoyed activities, including a couple of sessions analysing the functioning of a central heating system and a little freelance IT support. I find that I am oddly accomplished when it comes to understanding the functioning of central heating systems and their foibles, despite rarely using them myself and how totally useless I would be if I were required to implement the fruits of my analysis. I fear that I am very much an armchair plumber/electrician – but, if such you need, I am available at a very reasonable rate.
On Friday, I decided it was time to explore Scotland outside of the region served by Lothian Buses. My original thought was perhaps to sample the nearby delights of North Berwick, but somehow this plan morphed into a visit to the Cairngorms – perhaps, subconsciously, I was still seeking the cold? Aviemore is really quite accessible from Edinburgh by train with a roughly hourly service taking 3 hours (±15 mins). I can thoroughly recommend the journey, especially north of Perth where the scenery grows increasingly wild with first forest and the moorland and mountain to see as the train trundles along. Being mid-February there was also copious snow to be seen – often between the tracks, not just on the hills. The route rises for much of the journey to reach the highest spot on the UK’s mainline rail network, before dropping down into Aviemore itself. Despite taking such a “classic” rail journey, I eschewed the brightly coloured, stripy blazer and tried to minimise my condescension to the locals.
Once in Aviemore, we took the short trip to the funicular railway which takes one up the Cairngorm (to some 3600 feet). Even the foot of the railway is pretty high and offered some very fine views – the summit is even higher, but offered no views whatsoever as the clouds descended and stayed.
This was the first time I had been to a ski resort during the “season”. What a lot of gubbins you need to go skiing! So much special equipment and clothing, so little of it flattering. It quite put me off the whole idea – and I did (once) learn to ski, just outside Tunbridge Wells (justly famed for its mountains and powder) – and if that hadn’t, the lacerations and bruising which covered any exposed part of the snow sports folks bodies (as glimpsed by the author) would have convinced me. However, while skiing looks nothing special, snow-boarding does look quite cool – an aura which seems to attach to all board sports (with the possible exception of shuffleboard), though (oddly) not to board games. Perhaps I should try the skateboard, it seems to need less extreme clothing than its cousins and significantly less specificity on the geography where it is practised.
I was, of course, dressed for the “slopes” in exactly the same clothing I had used on the previous day to wander round art galleries in Edinburgh. Weather is like a wild animal, it can smell your fear so you must show no weakness in its presence. Wandering around at the base of the funicular railway to capture the views, I will admit that the air was both fresh (some of the freshest I have ever had the pleasure to inhale) and bracing: I even did up one button on my jacket, but there was no need to fish the (thin, summer) cardigan from my bag.
Despite my lack of interest in many of the traditional activities that take place there, I can thoroughly recommend the Cairngorms for a day trip (or longer). (Based on my experience, I’d definitely recommend reserving a seat on the train, as both were surprisingly (to me) busy for a winter, school day). I was able to post a very reasonably-priced postcard to my nephew from the UK’s highest post box – and enjoy a cheeky mulled wine (or two). The train journey back, as night fell, also offered a wild beauty: as the sun set, the colour was slowly leached from the countryside leaving a rather haunting monochrome landscape. All in all, I had a wonderful day out in what felt like a very different world from the one I’d left that morning – and all without leaving the country!