Stranded at Birmingham station, Lakshmi Sharath reminisces about the sights — and sounds — of Scotland
It was almost 11 pm when the husband gave me a gentle poke in the ribs, asking me to wake up. I rubbed my eyes wondering why there was a bit of a commotion around me. And then the announcements came. The Edinburgh-London Euston train had come to a grinding halt following the death of a young man on the railway tracks. “No train would proceed further tonight,” said the booming voice on the loudspeaker as we slowly comprehended the situation. We were at Birmingham station and would probably have to spend the entire night there, until services resumed the following morning. While we waited and watched, argued and asked for transport to take us to London, I just leaned against the wall with my bags around me, wondering how the trip to Scotland had begun and ended.
It was barely three days ago when I had landed in Edinburgh. The clichéd, fairy-tale setting took on a real meaning the moment I entered this town. Within minutes, the rains melted away and the sun came out shining through the dark clouds. The bagpipers were all around the Royal Mile, their lilting melody pouring in from the towering castle atop Castle Rock down the cobbled streets, reaching up to the ruins of the Holyrood Abbey and the Palace of Holyrood.
Walking down the Royal Mile, I took in an overdose of history, tales of tortures in dungeons and the tragic stories of Mary, the Queen of Scots, but I gulped them all down through shots of whiskey, sitting in the 16th century old The White Hart Inn. “There are ghosts, come for a tour of the Underground city,” suggested a poster, as I tucked in greedily into boiled potatoes and cream. And then the literary world beckoned, not in a library, but in another pub — the bar of Deacon Brodie, the man who was the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel, The Curious Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
Edinburgh did give me a high, but we were not satisfied with just the charm of the quaint old town. So we boarded a train and went on to explore quainter villages and landed in Loch Lomond, a fresh water loch that took us almost close to the Highlands. Sailing along the vast expanse of waters and gazing at the white fluffy clouds on a clear sky, we passed castles and towers. We hiked along the loch, taking in the scenic beauty and comprehending why Scotland is often a synonym for natural beauty. Our trip was given in to idyllic pleasure.
And then before we knew it, it was our last twelve hours in Scotland. Our spirits were rather high as we planned to visit the Glenkinchie distillery and have our fill of single malts. But then we had not read the writing on the wall, although the day had belonged to Murphy (of the laws fame) almost right from the very beginning. The lady at the Visit Scotland office in Edinburgh had shook her head with disapproval when we told her that we wanted to visit the distillery ourselves. “It is a Sunday, you will not find buses to bring you back,” she said. But when we mentioned that we had a train to London in the evening, she was helpful enough to give us a printout of the schedule.
And then we walked all around Andrew Square in Edinburgh, looking for the bus stop, only to be misdirected by a kind-hearted gentleman, who apologised profusely saying that he was confused as all the bus routes had changed because of the tramway coming up on the main Princess Street. We barely managed to catch the bus to Haddington, only to wait for the connecting bus that never arrived. It was almost eleven in the morning and there was not a soul on the street. Opposite the bus stand were a couple of taverns and one of them was closed. We gingerly knocked on the other, to find a lady at the bar and a couple of men drinking beer. “It’s a Sunday — no bus services and its too far to walk, we will call you a cab,” she said and lo, within a moment, a cab landed at our doorstep.
“Oh Glenkinchie! Ah, no whiskey for me, I love my lager,” said the cabbie by way of introduction, asking us to sit in the front seat with him and complained about how the boss had “emotionally blackmailed” and made him work on a Sunday. He chatted dime a dozen by the minute as we went on a beautiful journey through grasslands and fields, as we drove down some of nature’s most beautiful territories. There was not a soul around until we reached the distillery. After a rather long spirited tour, a different cab driver, not as friendly as the other, took us to another quiet village and dropped us to a bus stand, assuring us that there would be buses to Edinburgh every fifteen minutes. We did find one after almost an hour, but arrived just in time to land in the station to catch the train. Just when we had thought that we managed to hoodwink Murphy, he eventually managed to have the last laugh.
Back in the railway station at Birmingham, the reverie ended as an official smiled and announced that we would soon be able to return to London by cabs. And finally at the gong of midnight, groups of unknown travellers who had never met each other until a few minutes ago, headed together from Birmingham to London Euston in a convoy of cabs, discussing the events of the day, until sleep took over.