This morning I arrived into Edinburgh on the Caledonian Sleeper train. I came out of the station, in search of breakfast, and the the first thing I noticed was imposing rocks of Arthurs Seat, silhouetted in the morning sunshine, visible from my vantage point in the centre of town.
There’s something about cities that you can stand in the middle of and see mountains. They’re my favorite kind of city. Maybe it’s because I’ve mostly always lived in London. Stand on a high point in London and you can mostly just see, well, London. It’s sprawling, big, and mostly flat. Don’t get me wrong – there’s lots I love about London too. The galleries, museums, clubs, bars, and yes, also the shopping, and I’ve had a blast there. There’s something wonderful about wandering down a side street and discovering a building seemingly left behind in time as taller blocks rise about it, or sitting on the roof gardens at Southbank in the summer sun, sipping Pimms. But still, it’s hard to beat standing on the Royal Mile and seeing Arthurs Seat in Edinburgh, or in downtown Anchorage and looking out at Mount McKinley. Maybe it’s because such a view shows you the way out of the city. Yes, you may be standing there surrounded by tall buildings and noise and traffic, but just over there there’s wildness and adventure. I like being in the middle of nowhere. I like being in spaces so big that you feel tiny. In cities I feel my senses contract, almost like a defense mechanism to protect me from the onslaught of sights and sounds and smells and danger signals and conversations and crowds. Whenever I head to the mountains, it seems to take a few days for them to sort themselves out, to stop only processing things that are near and close. Out in the mountains, or countryside, it’s almost like they relax, spread out again, and allow me to process things further away. They stop blocking out the background din, and allow me to hear. Anchorage in Alaska, US, is a city I’d love to go back to. I visited there while my friend was on fieldwork there researching volcanic hazard warning systems. The people were lovely, the city is small but beautiful, and it’s in an incredible location. When I visited, large lumps of ice floated down Knik Arm, and the mountains of the Denali National Park were covered in snow. Everywhere you went, whatever direction you looks, you could see mountains. Accompanying my friend on her travels around Alaska, we did get the chance to drive through Denali National Park, and better yet catch a tiny little plan up onto the glacier itself. I’d never been in such a wild place. There were people camping out on the glacier, on climbing expeditions. Proper adventurous stuff, and the kind of adventure I’d love to go on. I’ve such clear and vivid memories from that trip. Edinburgh feels the same. For a start it’s a magical city in itself, with towers and spires and streets under streets. Arthurs Seat I think for me is a reminder of the landscape of the highlands just beyond, where I’ve spent many happy hours on geology field trips and hiking trips and mountain bike trips. It brings back happy memories, and entices me to go on and make more. I think it’s time for a new adventure, don’t you?