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Edinburgh and Shetland Festivals (4)

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This trip combined two festivals: the Edinburgh Fringe and Shetland's film and book festivals ScreenPlay and WordPlay.

Getting to Edinburgh from here is always a pleasure: local train to Ely, another to Peterborough, then onto the east coast main line and a pleasant journey in first class to Edinburgh Waverley.

From there I walked to the university to meet up with a very old friend of mine who's now a professor at Edinburgh and who kindly lets me kip at her flat for the Fringe and keeps me entertained between shows. I've been going up to the Fringe for a while now but I normally go for the second weekend, the one where they used to hold Fringe Sunday in The Meadows before the funding ran out.

This year was different as I was catching the last few days of the festival over the bank holiday weekend and for several of the performers we saw their last show. After a shaky start (the first show I saw was dire and the second was a bit flaky, plus I had the mother of a migraine that morning) things improved and we saw some excellent shows culminating in Chris Addison. I don't normally go to such a mainstream show but it was well worth it: he really is very good.

Come Tuesday morning I headed back to Waverley to catch the train to Aberdeen. In theory I had exactly the same seat as on the previous train ... except when I got on board it was clearly rather different stock and where my seat should have been was a luggage rack! No problem though as the train wasn't too full. Bit odd though.

I'd not done this line before and there were a couple of special treats from a train nerd point of view. First it crosses the Forth Rail Bridge. This is a bit odd as of course you can't really see the bridge but you do get this great feeling of flying across the Forth with the road bridge to your left and over to the right there was a cruise liner with its tenders buzzing around it ferrying passengers ashore.

Continuing north we crossed the Tay on the "new" bridge. This really is scary as for a while you are on top of the bridge with no visible means of support. Looking out and down to your right you can also see the remains of the pillars of the original Tay Bridge, the one which fell in the Tay Bridge Disaster and one of whose girders I'd been admiring, again, at the Museum of Scotland only the day before.

When we got to Aberdeen having a heavy pack meant I wasn't inclined to explore so I walked down to the ferry terminal and settled in to wait until we could board.

I've become very used to hanging around in waiting rooms this year. In fact I do some of my best thinking there. And I had a book, and my laptop, and my phone. So I could keep myself amused.

The ferry up to Lerwick was pretty uneventful other than spotting a minke whale (no photo sadly). I shared a cabin with two other blokes: a locum vet going to Shetland to work and a bloke delivering a digger.

I've already written elsewhere about my time on Shetland so I won't say any more here other than to say I had five very magical days there.

Getting back was fun. First I took a bus down to Sumburgh at the extreme south of the main island and got a little Saab 340B turboprop plane to Orkney. Incidentally this is the first time I'd flown since 2001 i.e. before my stroke and before 9/11. It was quite fun actually: I'd pre-booked an emergency exit seat so I had enough leg room and it's a 1+2 across and I was sitting on my own. We saw Fair Isle very clearly from the plane before being subjected to a rather "exciting" landing at Kirkwall on Orkney. When we got off it was clear why: it was very windy. This didn't bode well.

After a night at the Royal Oak Guest House I got the bus over to Stromness to catch the ferry. It was still very windy and at the bus station they announced that the John O'Groats ferry had been cancelled and I'd already heard stories about the Stromness to Scrabster ferry sometimes failing to dock at Scrabster and having to come back but at Stromness they seemed confident.

Having watched it struggle to moor at Stromness and I wasn't so sure but we all got on board and it set off. It wasn't too bad on the crossing. A bit lumpy at times but nothing to get exciting about and we all trooped out on deck to look at the Old Man of Hoy as we passed it.

We arrived in Scrabster and after some dithering they got the ferry moored. I thought I had lots of time here but somehow I'd managed to book on a train which departed from Thurso (on the other side of the bay) fifteen minutes after the ferry arrived. So I sprinted for the exit along with a woman with a rucksack. So I asked if she was taking a taxi to the station? She was. Did she want to share a cab? She did. Kewl. We made it with about five minutes to spare.

I should mention in passing that Thurso is the most northern railway station in the UK so that's two of the four that I've done now, east and south still to do.

The train down to Inverness takes the best part of four hours but that's because it goes via a very windy route wandering up and down various firths and going inland as far as Lairg. Parts of it are really rather pretty although it wasn't the greatest day to be doing it as the weather was a bit crap.

I got to Inverness horribly early so I had a leisurely supper at The Corner Grill. Excellent food, well presented and prepared and very reasonably priced.

Then back to the railway station to catch the sleeper home.

Written 09/09/10

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