I had some time to kill before the night train back south, so I went to Inverness. It wasn’t very nice weather so I had to spend a lot of the day indoors. Luckily I found one of the most awesome book shops I’ve ever been in, and spent a long time in there. They had a fantastic section of old guidebooks, and I found a Lonely Planet Indonesia guide from 1985. A cool hostel I’d stayed in in Berastagi had been there even 30 years ago, but back then the advice was to watch out for peepholes. It had been a lot less sleazy in 2016.
Articles tagged with "uk"
Thomas Wright was the first person to work out that the Milky Way was a flattened disc of stars. He studied the skies from this observatory in County Durham, which my mum and dad live next to.
I spent most of my time in London but also went to Edinburgh for a day. It was icy cold in the Royal Botanical Gardens.
I like booking trips at the last minute. Finding yourself on a plane going somewhere you didn’t expect to go when you woke up that morning is a great feeling. So I was extremely happy that when I asked ESO if I could go to a conference in Switzerland, they didn’t actually confirm my flights until the day of departure. I’d assumed that the flights had not been booked until I got an email at 10am telling me I was flying at 5pm. So I packed up and went to the airport in a fantastic mood.
The conference was in Switzerland but I went to London first to work at UCL for a week. It was pretty awesome to be back but after the epic feeling of arriving home after a year away that I’d had in September, arriving back again in October after three weeks away really wasn’t quite the same.
When I moved to Chile, I didn’t know when I would be back in London, but I didn’t expect to be away for a whole year. For most of the year, though, one of my spinal discs was slowly giving way, and I spent months in excruciating pain. Travelling home was a distant dream. Then came successful surgery to remove the disc, followed by physiotherapy and rehabilitation. And finally by September I was capable of crossing continents and returning to my homeland.
And so I found myself landing at Heathrow on a dark autumn evening. The strangeness of the familiarity was hard to grasp as I got on the underground and headed into my city. I’ve never seen London quite like I saw it that night, as I rumbled down the piccadilly line, disorientated, tired and happy to be back. I checked into a hostel, because I’d always wanted to see London as a tourist, called some dearly missed friends, went to a pub, and got back to the hostel at midday the next day. It was an epic return home.
The day after our hike we headed back to the mainland. I had a night train to catch back to London, and the last time I’d wanted to get the night train I’d missed it. I hate waiting around but this time I got to the station ridiculously early.
Last time I’d got the Caledonian Sleeper I was the only person in the carriage. This time it was very different. The volcano I’d seen erupting just a few days earlier had now gone crazy, spewing out such a vast ash cloud that huge swathes of European airspace were closed. The night train was full of volcano refugees. It was not a particularly relaxing journey, but at least I was on it this time. I got back to London at 6.45am, tired from an intense week of travel. I was supposed to be flying to Frankfurt later the same day for work, and I was pretty relieved when the epic eruption meant my flight was cancelled. I went home and slept.
We followed the river back towards Brodick. The walk in the valley was not as interesting as the hiking in the fells had been, but the scenery was still impressive. The interior of the island was impressively wild, with no significant signs of human habitation to be seen. It always surprises me, a world traveller but an insular London resident, that there are places like this in the UK. I should go to them more often.
After the meeting I went to the Isle of Arran to do a bit of hiking with another astronomer friend. We got the train to Ardrossan, and the ferry from there to Brodick. I didn’t know much about the island – we’d just picked it as somewhere easy to get to where we could do some hiking and climbing. As we pulled into the harbour at Brodick it looked like a good choice with rugged scenery.
Our target was Goat Fell. The weather had been beautiful when we arrived but was a little bit more overcast the next day. We hiked up to the 874m summit in a couple of hours, and got some fantastic views over the island. In the far distance, the ferry was pulling out of Brodick on its way to Ardrossan.
On the other side of the peak we took a route along a spectacular ridge, descended a bit and then scrambled up a very steep slope to a viewpoint on the other side of the valley. We could see some rock climbers tackling a sheer face on another nearby hill. Our aims were less extreme, and after a few hours of good hiking we descended back into the valley.
I flew from Iceland to Glasgow, slightly weirdly going via Manchester. Absurd security regulations meant that we had to leave the plane, go through security, and then reboard. The tub of skyr that I’d bought just before boarding my plane in Reykjavík could not be taken through security in Manchester, nor left on the plane, so it had to be chucked.
I was in Glasgow for the National Astronomy Meeting. I had bad memories of the city, having had a very stressful time here after NAM two years earlier when my ferry from Ireland was late. I had missed the night train to London, had to stay in an unpleasant hostel and then buy a new ticket in the morning at great expense. Apart from that I’d passed through a few times before, but never stopped. I now had a week to see if the city deserved the bad image I had of it.
I considered going to some talks on the first day of the conference, but I’d spent all night on an Icelandic volcano and in the end, tiredness won. Fortunately I got a bit more out of the subsequent days, presented some of my own work in Glasgow University’s Bute Hall, talked to a lot of astronomers, and generally enjoyed the Glasgow vibe. It was sunny and warm. By the time I came to leave, I’d almost forgotten just how unpleasant it had been to find myself on Central Station just after the last train had gone.
I cycled to Brighton. I left really early and it took me about six hours to get there from Highgate. It was further than I’d thought – nearly 80 miles by the time I got to the beach. It was by far the furthest I’d cycled in a day. I felt great when I arrived, but when I got back to London I was feeling the miles. I had another three miles to cycle from Kings Cross back up the hill to Highgate, and for once, I really did not enjoy the climb.
I headed back across the Irish Sea. The ferry journey went quickly at first, and we had great views of the islands up the Scottish Coast. After about an hour we turned into Loch Ryan, and I presumed that we’d dock at Stranraer within a few minutes. But instead we began an unexplained tour around the loch, rotating around and around in the evening sun, within sight of the port. Eventually an announcement was made that due to tidal conditions we couldn’t dock yet, and we’d be hanging around for about half an hour. An hour later we had still not docked, and Stena had not seen fit to make any more announcements. Finally, an hour and a half late, we docked.
The train to Glasgow had long since left, but Stena had organised a bus to Ayr. I had no idea where Ayr was but presumed this would be useful. At Ayr I got a train to Glasgow, and now it was looking pretty touch and go as to whether I would get to Glasgow in time for the sleeper train to London. We got to Glasgow Central with about a minute to spare, and I sprinted around the station looking for the right platform. When I got there, the train was still there, but the doors had just been locked. A conductor was standing by the back of the train, and I asked him if I couldn’t get on. He said the doors could not be unlocked now they were closed. I stood there in disbelief as the train began to pull away.
I was furious with Stena. Tidal conditions? You’d think they’d know these things in advance. And not keeping passengers informed is just incredibly stupid. No way am I travelling with Stena again. Angrily I walked to a nearby hostel and booked in for a night. Then I had to pay a hundred pounds the next morning to get a new train ticket back to London. Possibly the worst thing about this journey was that all my friends had told me that it was crazy not to fly. I knew I could expect no sympathy, only intense mockery, when I finally made it back.