Just Brisiting the UK

It’s 6am the morning after saying goodbye to the new friends I’ve made over the past 3 weeks, and I already miss them. Thankfully my European adventure is continuing and the next 48 hours involves catching up with a few friends in the UK before I hit Scandinavia.

Nostalgic-Dave had a great idea last night, to set his alarm tone to be the Topdeck trip song “Sandstorm”. This is the song which was played whenever the bus was about to arrive at our next destination and was always a cue to wake up and instantly switch on, ready for the next instruction of where we are and what we are doing. To say that this was effective as an alarm tone this morning would be an understatement. I was awake and sitting bolt upright at merely the synth sound which is the first second of this track and had stopped the alarm by about the third beat of the first bar. Don’t worry though, I didn’t miss out on hearing the rest of this fantastic song, as it continued to play in my head… on repeat… for the next 3 hours.

Once up and out of the hostel it was only a short walk to Kings Cross station and much to my surprise (disgust) I was actually ahead of my planned time of leaving. Enter good-guy-google-maps, who informed me that the famous book store shop front used for the TV series “Black Books” was only a 200m detour, so naturally what else would I do at 5:45am but visit.

Now as if that wasn’t enough, when I got to Kings Cross station I was so early that my train didn’t even have a platform allocated yet, so after getting a much needed coffee I sought out the real platform where Harry Potter and co faceplant their way to platform 9 ¾. None of that fake touristy version for me! Bonus sight-seeing achievement unlocked.

Once my train arrived in Oakham I was greeted by the beautiful English countryside, a crisp morning breeze and the smile of an old friend. After 20 days in some of Europe’s biggest (and dirtiest) cities, this was, both figuratively and literally, a breath of fresh air.

After breakfast at Captain Noel Newton’s we went for a drive down to Rutland Water, where the town of Rutland used to exist before it was flooded to create a water reservoir for the region in 1976. It was a beautifully miserable day (how very English), but that didn’t detract from the peaceful location and relaxing pace of the walk.

Next stop it was off to The Wheatsheaf, a traditional English pub, for a traditional pub lunch, a pie and chips washed down with a pint. The food was delicious, and call me crazy but I swear Guinness tastes better here than it does at home… or maybe they just know how to pour it properly.

Sarah & I spend the afternoon lazing on the couch catching up and watching a new series on Netflix which I’ve never heard of but instantly love. It is soon time for me to head back to the train station, Scotland bound, but it’s sad to say goodbye. Despite only having been here for 12 hours, it feels so normal hanging out again, just like old times. I guess that’s the definition of an old friend- it may have been months, or even years, since you last saw them, but when you do it feels like it was yesterday. Until next time!

I’m back at Oakham station, 3 trains later and I’ll be at Glasgow Central station, about 11pm tonight…. Or so I thought. *cue dramatic music*

The first train takes me as far as Nuneaton, where I catch a connecting train to Crewe. It was only a 5min stopover so I thought it would be prudent to try and check which platform I needed to jog to at Nuneaton, and THANK GOD I did. After failing to be able to find the train in the app, I asked one of the train attendants who informed me that the particular train I needed had been cancelled. Of course there is a next one, but that’s an hour later and I would miss my final train to Glasgow (which was already the last train of the evening).

The train attendant was incredibly helpful and came back to me a few minutes later with an alternate plan. I could still get to Glasgow tonight, but via an entirely different route which would take 4 trains and get me there nearly 2 hours later. I was just thankful that it would still be possible so I noted down all the times and stops, ready to go. We approach the first station where I need to change trains for the new plan and I set about packing up and meticulously putting on my various bags so as not to bash any other passengers in the face. Just as I reach the door, the train starts to slow down and I hear over the intercom (to the whole train) “Could the gentleman who is travelling to Glasgow please stay on this train. There is now a replacement connecting train running from Nuneaton”. I share a laugh between the attendants nearest, who watched my struggle with the bags, and sit back down.

So back now to the original plan, but of course the replacement connecting train is delayed, and very overcrowded, but it gets me there. Thankfully the train from Crewe is delayed, so I don’t miss it. As soon as I’m on that final train to Glasgow I breathe a sigh of relief. The last train is the longest and I make use of this time (and the on-board power points) to catch up on my blog. I arrive in Glasgow at 12:30am, nearly 1.5 hours later than planned, but feeling remarkably relaxed. Of course Uber decides not to work for no apparent reason, so I catch a cab instead and finally get to my friends’ place at 1am. Thankfully they are still awake so we have a much needed drink and go to bed.

After a well-deserved sleep in, Matt, Emma & I head for the Scottish highlands around Loch Lomond. On another day this would be a lovely place for an afternoon bush walk, but today has decided to bring out the true English weather of overcast and raining. Of course being scouts we were not about to let a little light rain get in our way… but then it turned out to not be so light. If that wasn’t enough, we decided to take a slightly alternate, not-exactly-on-the-path route back and may have gotten stuck in a bog. Let’s just say it’s a good thing we brought clean shoes or we probably wouldn’t have been let into the pub for lunch.

What else could be more Scottish than a pub lunch after a walk in the rain? We hit up The Oak Tree Inn for a traditional pub lunch and a warm fire. I was feeling like a burger and upon realising that they served a haggis burger, it was all but done. Now I’m not one to shy away from strange foods, or trying anything once, but I had prepared myself for the worst. Haggis has always been described by locals as great and foreigners as horrendous- so I’m assuming an acquired taste. Turns out, it was just like any other meat patty and I actually liked the flavour. Go figure?!

Once we were home and dry, next stop was a self-guided pub crawl in Glasgow starting at The Solid Rock Cafe, an authentic Scottish heavy metal bar. While I didn’t mind the music itself, we could only get a seat in the loudest part of the pub, so despite a very nice tasting Guinness it was just the one drink here then on to the next pub. Before we got there, I got a brief walking tour of Glasgow, including George Square, City Hall and of course the most important, the statue of the Duke of Wellington. For those of you who haven’t been to Glasgow, the reason which this statue is noteworthy is that in fact all Scottish people hate the Duke of Wellington, and have a running gag to put a traffic cone on the head of this particular statue. At one time there were up to 16 traffic cones placed on top of this statue, and despite the authorities attempts to remove them, or make the statue higher, a traffic cone is always replaced. They have now given in and accepted that it is part of the artwork.

The final pub we ended up at tonight was Waxy O’Connors, which has a beautiful interior designed to look like parts of trees, almost like a giant tree house. Everything is natural wood in colour and the pub has 6 offset levels. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t feel a little like the moving staircases from Hogwarts- you never know how to get from one level to another even if you can see where you want to get to!

After another great night catching up with friends, I slept briefly before catching a bus to a plane to another country. It’s times like these that I am reminded (and very thankful) that I have such great friends all around the world, who are a pleasure to catch up with. I’m also grateful for their hospitality, a real comfy bed, and their washing machine. I only hope that one day I can return the favour!