I arrived (some time ago now!) in London on a beautiful May day, the air was warm, the leaves were brilliant new season green and the air smelt familiarly English. A walk from Crouch End to Alexandra Palace gave my jet lagged legs a chance to stretch and provided a lovely glimpse of some wild life; squirrels and robin red breasts. I had to keep reminding myself ‘You’re in London!’
While in London I had only a couple of ‘exploring’ days, the London Swing Festival taking up most of my time, and what a good way to spend a long weekend! I danced for the first time on a proper sprung dance floor which was a brilliant experience. The floor was moving in time to music as hundreds danced; even standing on the edge of the floor the pulse was like a trampoline! Despite the remaining jet lag I had a wonderful time and quickly got over my initial shyness and was asking folks to dance with great enthusiasm. It is a strangely freeing sensation to dance with complete strangers and to have absolutely no preconceptions of their style, abilities or personality. The three days flew by in a series of late nights and sleep ins.
Even with all the dancing I did also do some proper exploring; one day was spent walking along the Thames towpath in Hammersmith. The river was framed by fresh oak leaves, cow parsley, stinging nettles (found out the ouchy way) and elderflowers, along with other unidentified blossoms.
Dragonflies with blue bottoms, squirrels, robins, river rats, herons, doves and geese rustled and darted through the Leg ‘O’ Mutton Reservoir Reserve.
Onwards to Chiswick House Gardens where turtles were basking in the midday sun!
One of the benefits of meandering through parks is the entertaining snippets of other people’s lives you become privy to:
Young Lady: “Can I ask you a question? If you are suffering dementia are you still able to vote?”
Very Elderly Man: “If you remember!”
The weather stayed lovely for the week, but on our last day London had a change of heart and spring turned back to a cold and drizzly reminder of winter, we packed our bags and dancing shoes, put on coats, hats and scarves, and ventured north.
Up here it was properly cold, it seemed York was oblivious to winters end. The wind bit through layers and the clouds threatened. It was quietly provincial and the average age seemed nearer retirement. We stayed with a curious old lady who told us off for being late to breakfast, clucked at my bare legs, talked incessantly and gave me her York Arts Card so I could get in free to museums, galleries and selected historical places – it was hard to tell where we stood with her.
In York we walked the city walls and ambled through the Shambles, ate piping hot Cornish pasties and generally tried to hide from the wind! There were fabulous bookshops, cosy pubs and NO free public bathrooms – so we visited many cafes and bars.
The morning we were to leave York dawned equally cold and the rain which had been threatening since we arrived had finally started. Arrived at York station only to find our train delayed and the previous one cancelled due to downed lines further south. We settled down to wait with a muffin and a hot drink, unhelpfully out of sight of the updates board. To our surprise the next time we checked the board our train was miraculously on time and waiting at a platform the opposite end of the station! York rail staff had given up on the train from London and found one in York as a replacement. As a result the train was virtually empty.
The overcast York skies quickly gave way to clear blue, and the patchwork of brightly coloured fields fell away to a rugged coastline as we traveled north towards the Scottish border.
Upon arrival in Edinburgh I changed from my coat, woolly bobble hat, scarf and jumper into a summer dress! Edinburgh was, in the words of a local, basking in Dubai’s weather. It was a sunny 25 degrees and the parks were full of shirtless Scots men!
I was dragged away from my favourite city – where we stopped just long enough for a long lunch in a pub in Grassmarket – then continued on to Glasgow for the Glasgow Get Down! This was another long weekend of swing dancing, sadly interrupted by a pesky head cold. By the final day I was sufficiently recovered to enjoy the Excursion – we were whisked away to Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. What a contrast that area is to the littered, grey streets of Glasgow. The sun was out again and here was our first glimpse of lochs and mountains.
And with this taster of the scenery to come Part 1 is over – the following day we hired a car and headed into the wild Highlands! Our time on public transport and in cities was temporarily over, the next few weeks were to be spent travelling one lane roads, staying in small towns no ones heard of and working on a highland farm! In other words, the best was yet to come…