April 27th, 2008
The forecast was for rain (it usually is), but sun and heat have dominated the weekend, leading to bikes, hikes, picnics and climbing.
Yesterday was Emma’s birthday. We met Emma, masseuse and one-time Buddhist nun (whom I suspect, but cannot prove, fights crime by night with her Shaolin superpowers) while she and I were purchasing our rides at the Bike Station. We have since gone hiking in the Pentland Hills, but had yet to meet up for any actual cycling. That changed yesterday, as she invited us to join her friends for a birthday ride.
Another friend, Janet, is visiting from Ireland, so after renting her a bike, we met the intrepid crew on Leith Walk and took off for adventure. Despite the rainy forecast, and indeed it was blustery all morning, the wind died as soon as we departed and the clouds faded away. What followed was a gorgeous freewheel down the Water of Leith, a small winding river that runs through the city, emptying into the Firth of Forth at Leith (thus the name).
It’s hard to do justice to the ride in the short space of a blog entry, winding as it did past modern and ancient buildings, old stone bridges, the remains of an old flour mill, winding weirs, sculptures, herons, farming allotments (a British institution conceptually similar to the SLUG community gardens), a cemetery, a rugby stadium and countless dogs and owners. After several miles of easy riding, we found a meadow nestled in a bend of the river. Fruit trees were in full blossom, yet another heron swept up and down the river in search of his lunch, and we spread ourselves and our bikes out in a wide circle, unpacking the goodies that were to make up our picnic. Of course I had gone to the Farmer’s Market that morning, and had loaded up on cheese, chocolate and other tasty comestibles. Orla had picked up olives, pakoras, chips and dips. Our new friends had brought other assorted victuals and cider, and we munched happily in the very picture of a British spring picnic. At the end of the meal, Emma’s boyfriend produced a couple of bottles of champagne, and one of her friends revealed a homemade birthday cake (miraculously concealed within her rucksack).
Today, after serious recovery from the Saturday evening birthday festivities (more on this..never), we stumbled out of bed, ate a late breakfast (lion’s mane omelet…this place is getter better!), then took off for a hike up Arthur’s Seat, remarkably dressed in shorts, t-shirts and Teva’s. This almost-mountain in the middle of Edinburgh is actually an ancient extinct volcano (feels just like Hawai’i) which overlooks the buildings of the Scottish Parliament and commands a view of pretty much the whole of Lothian. It sits within the urban garden space called Holyrood Park, something like a mash-up between Golden Gate Park and the Marin Headlands. One can walk or cycle past swan-filled pools and ancient ruins, play ball or fly a kite on huge swathes of open grassland, or ascend the Seat from any of numerous directions. And importantly â€” if you happen to be me â€” there are hundreds of small and large outcroppings of volcanic rock suitable for bouldering and climbing. So as we summited the peak, while Orla and Janet took in the view, I slipped on my helmet and climbing shoes, chalked up my hands and scrambled over the tiny exposed formation 800 feet above the city. It wasn’t aggressive climbing, or even particularly challenging, but a bit of a scramble over real rock on this glorious day was just the business!
On our return home we ate a late lunch at an outdoor cafe in sunshine so warm we actually considered just ordering salads. We resisted this urge and were rewarded with a delicious squid-ink pasta (mine), fish cakes (Orla’s) and aubergine and basil pizza (Janet’s).
Practical upshot of all this? I live in Scotland, and I may have sunburn.