Cambridge to Edinburgh

We had a quick breakfast of ginger yogurt, Icelandic cereal and 2 bites of Melton Mowbray pork pie, which we would do well to forget.  

Left-hand driving, round 2.  This time en route from London to Sheffield via Cambridge.  I had expected keeping to the proper side of the street would be most challenging but this was actually quite easy. Lane positioning and navigating proved difficult, however.  My driving was successful in that I remained collision-free throughout our time in the UK, but it was admittedly stressful. 

All highways in England seem to be lined with thick green trees with the occasional view of farmland, so the scenery wasn’t anything to write home about. But we did stay entertained with BBC radio’s coverage of the Brexit aftermath.  High profile resignations, double-talking politicians, speculation and opinion pieces filled the airwaves. Finally!   

We arrived in Cambridge, which has a very different look and feel to that of London. Much more regal and prestigious.  A town that embodies academia, perhaps precipitated from its reputation.  Parking proved to be a challenge and we resigned ourselves to a car lot that was certain to gouge us later.  


(Beautiful Cambridge, England)


(One of many magnificent churches – Cambridge, England)


(Emmanuel College – Cambridge, England)

In the centre of town, amidst stores and cafes, the university campus was all around us.  There were winding narrow streets and beautiful old buildings at every turn.  We came to an open air market and decided a picnic was in order.  Stocked with stilton and aged white cheddar from ‘the guy on the corner’, a convenient charcuterie tray, crackers and 2 little bottles of wine from Marks and Spencer and we were ready. A short walk and we were on a cricket pitch laying out Rachel’s yoga mat to set up our feast. 


(Discovering the market – Cambridge, England)


(Browsing the market stalls – Cambridge, England)


(Spontaneous feast on the cricket pitch – Cambridge, England)


(England, meet Rachel and Adam)

The tray from Marks and Spencer’s included air dried beer brined ham, Cumberland style salami, and mild Lancashire cheese.  The Stilton we got at the market was our favourite, but it was all so tasty. So nice to relax in the park, eating and watching the cricket match, totally oblivious to what they were doing. 





We pondered how many great minds had frequented that very spot?  Did a young Stephen Hawking lay on that grass dreaming of stars collapsing to infinite density?  Did Oppenheimer imagine he would become a destroyer of worlds?  Did Charles Darwin ponder the origins of life?  Did an apple deliver a mild concussion to Isaac Newton?  Did John Cleese perfect funny walking? Even if they and so many others had been at that park, perhaps they were simply as bewildered by the cricket as Rachel and I. 


(Bewildered by cricket – Cambridge, England)

Before leaving, Newton’s theory of gravity, lesson 1…

(Any two bodies in the universe attract each other with a force that is directly proportional to the product of their masses, and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them.)

We stopped for a coffee and hot chocolate  before lining up for our car lot gouging. Yup, 24£. Ouch!

The drive to Sheffield felt quick and we arrived to a very warm welcome at Chris and Qiu Jiang’s house. They are friends of my brother who was nice enough to put us in touch.  Although we had just met, they treated us like family.  Qiu Jiang prepared a delicious Chinese dinner of hongshao rou (red braised pork belly – Chairman Mao’s favourite dish), stir fried lamb and peppers, stir fried vegetables, and perfectly steamed rice.  It was all so tasty. 

We sat at the table and talked for hours, getting to know each other over wine, brandy, and Niol.  Chris explained that Niol is an apple liqueur native to the French country side – near Brittany, I think.  It’s a dying tradition so that bottle may have been among only a few left. It was a little harsh for my liking but so generous of him to share. 


(Calvados – apple brandy from France)


(A good time was had by all – Sheffield, England)

We woke up the next morning to the smell of bacon. Qiu Jiang was preparing an English breakfast of fried eggs, bacon, baked beans, roasted tomatoes, sautéed mushrooms and toast.  What a feast!  We continued right where we left the night before, talking around the table.  

 Realizing the day could easily slip away, Chris offered a tour of Sheffield. He drove us through the city and we walked around the downtown core for a couple hours before stopping for coffee by the Millennium Art Gallery and Museum.  The city had been a manufacturing and mining hub for some time, and is especially recognized for its cutlery and silver work. 


(City center – Sheffield, England)

We returned home to have a bbq. Qiu Jiang had prepared a variety of marinated meats, cous cous, salad and snacks to enjoy in the yard.  Chris fired up the coals and the meats went on the grill.  Chicken, sausages, burgers, squid and prawns.  It was all excellent but the squid was terrific. Fresh, flavourful and cooked perfectly.  For desert, Chris barbecued bananas and served the melted flesh with fresh cream and some vanilla ice cream. Amazing!  


(BBQ with Chris and Qiu Jiang – Sheffield, England)

(BBQ’ed bananas, fresh cream and ice cream – Delicious!)

We sat and talked as the sun was slowly overtaken by dark clouds. We moved inside as the first drops fell and we sat comfortably around the fireplace with full bellies and a snifter of brandy.  The entire evening snuck by us as we sat in that cozy little den while the rain poured outside. We touched on everything from politics, to religion, education, etc..  Qiu Jiang shared her story of growing up in China and being groomed and trained as an opera singer.  After some convincing, she sang to us.  Puccini’s Ma Mia Babbino Caro to start. Her heavy Chinese accent somehow vanished and we were left speechless by the power and range of her beautiful voice.  That was the piece we had selected for Rachel’s entrance during our wedding procession so it held a special meaning for us.  Qiu Jiang continued with a variety of pieces by Mozart, and others. We melted into our seats, totally mesmerized.  We were in awe of her ability to create such magnificent sound sitting so casually on the couch. We hadn’t expected that at all but were so thankful for the experience.  

After a restful sleep and another delicious English breakfast, we packed up and said goodbye to our new friends.  Qiu Jiang had prepared a cranberry, bacon, brie sandwich, a cheese and Branston pickle sandwich, and some fruit and snacks for our journey. (The brie and bacon sandwich was sooo good!)  We were thankful for Chris and Qiu Jiang’s overwhelming hospitality. It was a relaxing couple days and so enjoyable to share that time together. 

We had a 4 hour drive ahead of us to Edinburgh with a couple stops planned along the way. First we came to Newcastle for a quick stop at the Gateshead Millennium Bridge.  We wanted to see Hadrian’s Wall so we didn’t stay long in Newcastle.  A quick picture at the bridge and we were back on the highway.  


(Gateshead Millennium Bridge – Newcastle, England)

Google Maps was being difficult again but we eventually found a stretch of Hadrian’s wall at Walltown Crags. There were actually several popular sites within a few miles of each other, but we focused on one where we could hike a short length of the wall.  There, the wall snaked along dramatic cliffs, which offered far-reaching views of the countryside.   The wall was built at the command of Emperor Hadrian to establish the northern limit of the Roman Empire and keep the barbarians out.  Construction started in 122CE and it eventually stretched across the country from east to west coast.  You could easily spend a day or even days here, visiting the various Roman ruins and forts and hiking along the wall.  But it was lightly raining and we were still several hours from Edinburgh. Satisfied with our brief walk, we got back on the road. 


(Hadrian’s Wall – Walltown Crags, England)

Once we entered Scotland, the scenery became gorgeous. Rolling hills and valleys dotted with giant windmills and old towns. After the turn east toward Edinburgh, the highway became only two lanes and narrowly twisted through scenic villages woven into the landscape.  

We arrived at Rachel’s friend, Su Ying’s apartment shortly after 7pm. Su Ying greeted us and introduced us to her partner Adri, and her little dog, Keller. They were both very nice and Keller was so cute, jumping and barking with excitement.  He reminded us how much we miss Sophie.  Rachel caught up with Su Ying in the kitchen as she prepared dinner while Adri and I talked in the living room. Adri was from Columbia doing her masters in education in Edinburgh.  Su Ying called us to dinner and we all sat down to a delicious home cooked meal of fried rice and chicken soup.  

Rachel and Su Ying were friends in elementary school.  Su Ying had moved to Edinburgh to complete her training as an Anesthesiologist.  Sitting, eating, and listening to the two of them catch up, I was getting another glimpse into Rachel’s childhood.  Su Ying had just gotten off work that morning so she was tired in a very relatable way.  We all agreed it would be nice to stay in and have an early, quiet night. 

As we talked, we learned that Adri was a big Game of Thrones fan and, like us, was eager to see the final two episodes of the season, the finale for which had just aired the night before.  We moved to the living room and Adri set up the TV.  Rachel and I had resigned ourselves to waiting a year for this so we were thrilled!  Both episodes were epic and perhaps the best so far, even among all seasons. 

We retired to bed and I stayed up finishing my Iceland entries to the sound of Rachel’s snoring. 

The next morning, Su Ying made us a quick breakfast of soft boiled eggs before we drove to St. Andrew’s. It was a scenic hour long drive.  First stop, the famous Anstruther Fish Bar.


(Anstruther Fish Bar – St. Andrew’s, Scotland)

With Keller in tow, we picked up several orders to go and ate by the dock, overlooking the harbour.  The fish was quite nice.


(On the harbour at St. Andrew’s, Scotland)


(Fresh fish from Anstruther’s – St. Andrew’s, Scotland)

Next stop, Janetta’s Gelateria for the freshest ice cream I’ve ever had. I had a waffle cone with one scoop of coffee and one scoop of vanilla, fresh from the machine.  Rachel had the butter pecan.


(Fresh ice cream from Janetta’s Gelateria – St. Andrew’s, Scotland)


(Fresh ice cream from Janetta’s Gelateria – St. Andrew’s, Scotland)

Keller led us down the street to the ruins of St. Andrew’s Cathedral.  Built in 1158CE, it was the largest church and the centre of Catholicism in Scotland until the Scottish Reformation in the sixteenth century when Scotland largely broke from the Papacy. 


(Ruins of St. Andrew’s Cathedral – St. Andrew’s, Scotland)

Keller then took us to St. Andrew’s Castle.  Although rebuilt many times over, the castle was first built around 1200CE and was home to powerful church leaders, Kings, and even as a prison with a notorious dungeon cut out of the rock foundation. 


(St. Andrew’s Castle – St. Andrew’s, Scotland)


(St. Andrew’s Castle – St. Andrew’s, Scotland)

We walked around the streets of St. Andrew’s University and got a coffee at the cafe where Prince William met Kate.  How romantic…


(The likeness is uncanny)

We headed back toward Edinburgh, passing the Mecca of golf, St. Andrew’s Links.  Golfers have been playing here since the 15th century, making it one of the oldest courses in the world.  Although it appeared very prestigious, the grounds themselves were not altogether impressive, at least not from the road. 

Back in Edinburgh, we parked at the base of Castle Rock under Edinburgh castle. We climbed up the steep stairs where we met Adri. She had been busy working on her thesis throughout the day.  Su Ying decided to bring Keller home so we could later go for dinner.  We wandered around the entrance of the old castle before strolling down the royal mile with Adri. We meandered in and out of shops selling kilts, scarves and tweed, and buttressed churches with intricate stained glass windows and stone walls blackened by time.   A piper filled the air with the shrill sound of bagpipes.


(Edinburgh Castle – Edinburgh, Scotland)


(Edinburgh Castle – Edinburgh, Scotland)


(Edinburgh Castle – Edinburgh, Scotland)


(The Royal Mile – Edinburgh, Scotland)


(St. Giles Cathedral on the Royal Mile – Edinburgh, Scotland)


(Stained glass window in St. Giles Cathedral – Edinburgh, Scotland)

We carried on toward Calton Hill and climbed up for an open view of the city and Arthur’s Seat in Holyrood National Park.  It would have been nice to hike Arthur’s Seat, but that will have to wait for a future trip.  At the top of Calton Hill stood the Scotland National Monument among several other monuments as well as the City Observatory.  We could see Holyrood Palace, the vacation palace for the British royalty…not bad. 


(Walking up Calton Hill – Edinburgh, Scotland)


(Scotland National Monument on Calton Hill – Edinburgh, Scotland)


(View from Calton Hill – Edinburgh, Scotland)


(Impressive cannon!)

We rejoined Su Ying and drove around the fairly new Scotland Parliament building, very unique and not particularly attractive. We were just killing time, waiting for a table at the famous World’s End pub.  Our table still wasn’t ready when we arrived so we had a drink at the bar. Another pint of creamy ale!  We talked for a while and just as we started to consider ordering food to our tiny bar table, a proper one opened up.  The menu was full of traditional pub food and, of course, haggis.  I had the haggis pie and Rachel had the steak and ale pie. Mine was like a shepherd’s pie, but with haggis. It was quite good, especially with the gravy. The salad and boiled peas were dull but not bad with a heavy dash of salt. Rachel’s pie was tasty as well with tender meat and crispy chips.  Overall good food, and even better company!  


(Scotland Parliament Building – Edinburgh, Scotland)


(World’s End Pub – Edinburgh, Scotland)


(The Last Supper – Edinburgh, Scotland)

(Rachel’s Steak and Ale Pie at the World’s End Pub – Edinburgh, Scotland)


(My Haggis Pie at the World’s End Pub – Edinburgh, Scotland)

We returned home to a very excited Keller. He was such a nice dog. So energetic and playful.  We packed up and went to bed, tired and satisfied from another day of exploration. 


(Keller getting frisky)

Su Ying woke up the next morning with a terrible head ache that made it impossible for her to go to work, as had been predicted the night before.  😉  We decided the only cure was a nice breakfast at Blue Bear.  I had an english breakfast with haggis and black pudding. I wanted to try the black pudding but was somewhat dreading it at the same time. I had imagined a gelatinous, irony goo, but was pleasantly surprised by what came. The texture was similar to haggis (ground meat), but was more grainy with a meaty flavour. It was not nearly as irony as I expected.  I would gladly have it again but in small portions.  We enjoyed a slow breakfast and made our way back to our car at Su Ying’s.  We had such a great time with Su Ying and Adri, but, sadly, we had to say goodbye before heading south to England’s Lake District.


(English Breakfast with Haggis and Black Pudding – Blue Bear Restaurant, Edinburgh, Scotland)


(The Last Breakfast – Blue Bear Restaurant, Edinburgh, Scotland)

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