Wednesday 12 October 2011

London In A Day

The Autumn issue of TGO has a feature entitled Scotland in a Weekend, with suggestions of routes that can be done in the Highlands utilising the sleeper service from down south. For those of us who live in Highlands the trip can be done in reverse of course and even in fact in a day, as I have just done. I caught the day train to London from Aviemore, which takes seven and a half hours, spent five hours in the city and then caught the sleeper back north, alighting from the train back in Strathspey twenty-three hours after setting out. The reason for this rather crazy flying visit to London? My youngest brother's fiftieth birthday, and he lives in London and my other brother, who does something with IT and education in Liverpool, happened to be in London for a conference the same day. So celebrating the birthday with a drink and a meal seemed a good idea. I just had to go to London to do so. And cope with it. I walked from King's Cross to the pub where we were meeting, a fifteen minute walk through crowds, traffic and what seemed confusion. I saw more people in that short walk than I'd seen in total for a couple of months. I felt detached, an observer from another planet, unconnected with any of these hurrying people. Then, watching them, I realised they were all floating along in their own little bubbles too, each regarding the other people as just human shaped objects to be avoided. The only people I saw commincating animatedly were those with phones clamped to their heads. Crowds of people but everyone seemed very isolated. I arrived at the pub. Closed for refurbishment. I stared in disbelief. How had we managed to pick a closed pub in all of London? Eventually my brothers turned up and, it being London, we walked the two minutes to the next pub, The Fitzrovia, which had a good selection of real ale, including strange southern brews I'd never seen before. Then it was an excellent Mexican meal in the Mestizo restaurant before heading for Euston, another pint in a station pub, and the train home. I was leaving before I'd felt I'd really arrived.

Looking out of the train window in the dawn light the swelling hills of the Cairngorms and the sweep of autumn woods and fields welcomed me home. There's nothing like going somewhere that feels alien - and London really did feel like that to me - to really appreciate home and the feelings of security and comfort it engenders. Aviemore, which sometimes seems crowded and noisy, felt positively genteel and sedate after London. I had a meeting later that morning in the town so I had a lengthy breakfast in Cafe Bleu then moved to the Mountain Cafe for coffee and cake and an exciting and interesting meeting with a publisher, of which more anon. Then I drove slowly home, admiring the birches glowing in the sunlight. To fully shake the city away a walk was needed so I spent a few hours in the quiet of the woods and fields, which is when I took the image above, looking across Strathspey to the Cromdale Hills. I was back.


  1. Ha ha, great post Chris. I felt exactly the same - having grown up in a wee valley in Snowdonia, going to London was a massive shock to the system. I lasted nearly a year down there, before I really, really missed the mountains.

    Do you travel down to Wales much?

  2. Iestyn, I went to Wales for the first time in years last July for a reunion at Lampeter, where I was a student for three years a very long time ago. I did much walking in mid Wales back then and later on when I lived in northern England I visited Snowdonia regularly. But I'm much further away now so don't get there that often.

  3. its all relative, if you'll pardon the pun. But, glad you made it back safe - we're all driven to distraction down here, its not even funny.

  4. I haven't done any walks that compare to some of your treks, Chris, but even after a week or two in the hills, i've found the likes of Fort Bill, or even Braemar to be tooooo busy. It takes a little while to get used to people again.
    I had one spell in London in my youth. Never again! :)

    Mike fae Dundee

  5. I used to pass through London regularly on Monday mornings: first train down from Birmingham International at just before 5:30 am. The southbound sleeper would often arrive while I was waiting and pause briefly before moving on.

    I never got used to the sight of people in business suits sprinting along the platforms at Euston and down those steep escalators leading to the Northern Line - at seven in the morning! A kind of madness, and I don't miss it.

    By the way Chris: "I had a lengthy breakfast in Cafe Bleu then moved to the Mountain Cafe for coffee and cake". It's a tough old life.

  6. "I walked from King's Cross to the pub where we were meeting, a fifteen minute walk through crowds, traffic and what seemed confusion"

    Never mind that. What we want to know is what Goretex you were wearing, and how many grams were your shoes.


    Yes its an interesting comparison. We live on an overcrowded island with millions of people intent on their lives, their pursuits, their worlds, for which London is a pre eminent example.

    And then in the hills - life is existentially different.

  7. I live in Essex, and spent three years living all over London while at university. I was also born there but I hate going to London. There is a permanent air of aggression coupled (apologies for the pun) with pervading foul smells of fast food and BO. Give me Scotland or Wales anytime.

  8. I always feel very disorientated when I arrive in Kings Cross off the train from Inverness. I feel there is no gentle introduction - one minute I'm lost in which ever world of whatever book I'm reading, then it's full on 'mass of humanity' I feel a little like an alien just observing the chaos, until I actually start thinking about my movements.

    Returning home is delightful though!

  9. Even travelling north to Bristol to spend a night I'm struck by exactly the same thing as you Chris... there are so many people but they appear more isolated than those of us in less populated rural areas. It never fails to catch me by surprise and I always end up leaving feeling a little saddened by it.

    I lived in Swansea for a few years and funnily enough never experienced the above feeling. Perhaps because I was a part of a student community. I then lived briefly in Peterborough where I most definitely did experience it! So much so I felt I had to move back home to the apparently more 'isolated' Cornwall where the connections between people are stronger.