I have recently discovered that my long distance hiking has given me a certain amount of stamina, which I have finally found a constructive use for, delivering leaflets, letters and canvassing for the forthcoming election. It is nice to be able to combine doing something I enjoy, with something I believe in, so I am discovering the people, the tenements and the colonies of Edinburgh one staircase at a time.
While doing this I have developed a huge respect for the postmen of the city, who climb the equivalent of a mountain in an average week. I have also discovered a secret side to the city I love in the many hidden gardens high up in the tenement blocks. I thought I’d share some of my urban explorations here to prove that you don’t need to be in the countryside to have an adventure, and that electioneering can be a unique way to get to know a place.
If you aren’t already registered to vote, it only takes 5 minutes on the UK government website to make sure your voice is heard.
In 2015 I had to compromise all my adventure plans and explore what was on my doorstep instead. This was due to family responsibilities, dreadful public transport and lack of resources. As a lover of wild places it was hard not to view this as a demotion. Following 5 long distance trails and 15 years of walking in some of Britain’s least populated hills in Northumberland and the Scottish Borders, it is easy to become a bit of a purist.
I suppose I was trying to expunge my urban roots and a long spell living in London, but some people on Twitter have reminded me that there is plenty to see and some valuable wild space in large cities if you know where to look.
The whole national park movement was intended to bring the countryside within reach of ordinary people. However, for purists there is a temptation to want the ordinary people out of the parks again, and this doesn’t sit well with me. All this has involved me in some navel gazing about my attitudes.
Inspired by some groups trying to create National City Parks in London and Glasgow, and by people like Alastair Humphreys promoting the idea of finding do-able adventures on your doorstep, I have been exploring my own back yard a bit.
Like many people, I thought I knew my local area so well that it had nothing to teach me. However I have gradually realised that familiarity had bred some contempt, and that necessity can indeed be the mother of invention.
I will continue to bring you posts from wild places, but I need to shape my interests around the possible for the moment. For those of us who live in cities for whatever reason, we either discount this kind of walking and sit at home reading other people’s wild adventures, or we get out there.
This microadventure could more aptly be described as a nanoadventure really. It involved my first, modest attempt at creating a short route, rather than following somebody elses route from a book or website. My short tick-list stipulated that it must be local, accessible by public transport and interesting, preferably involving some places I hadn’t been before. The final result is also on YouTube and ViewRanger now if you would like to give it a go.
For me a great walk should always involve a good beginning and a good finish, rather than just going from Place A to Place B. I opted for going from St Mary’s Lighthouse in Whitley Bay to North Shields Fish Quay, both notable landmarks on the north east coast which I had never been to before. The distance of my short but varied walk was roughly 5 miles, with plenty to see and do plus some decent cafes and bars – both worthwhile features to incorporate into my walk I decided.
Traces of history and heritage are everywhere along this stretch of the coast. Tynemouth Castle is located on a rocky promontory overlooking Tynemouth Pier. Apparently the moated towers, gatehouse and keep are combined with the ruins of the Benedictine priory where early kings of Northumbria were buried.
Whitley Bay and Tynemouth were formerly popular resorts in the age before international travel became available to ordinary people. Now the fascinating relics of that time have been left to dissolve slowly back into the landscape. There are old paddling pools and swimming pools gradually filling with sand and mud, rotting beach huts and corroded iron railing lining the empty esplanades. Whitley Bay would almost qualify as an English ghost town.
I tried to keep away from the roadside development and to stay on the beach and the esplanades, which give a much greater insight into the history of the area. Although the esplanades themselves have faded, I noticed that rock pooling has replaced donkey rides and candy floss sellers along the coastline since I was a child.
I carried on past Tynemouth Castle for the first time, and around the corner into the mouth of the River Tyne. This is the main artery of the city in which I was born, but I had actually never visited the mouth of the river.
Here the atmosphere imperceptibly changes from faded seaside resort, via a short wooded section, into the modern day hustle and bustle of a busy river, with ferries plying to and fro, a lifeboat station poised for action, fish processing plants, smokehouses and dock buildings gradually increasing in density towards North Shields Fish Quay a mile or so inland.
On this short walk through an area which I have taken completely for granted because it is local, I learned a lot about the economic and social past of the area in which I grew up. I also mixed happily with the distant ghosts of childhood trips to the seaside which littered parts of this route for me.
With acknowledgements to Alastair Humphreys; creator of the micro adventure.
Sometimes in life we have to make the most of where we are, and the time and the resources available to us, and these dictate our adventures more than our daydreams and long term plans. So a couple of days in Edinburgh is to me the equivalent of an expedition to the Matterhorn in terms of the escapism it affords at the moment. As I spent a good while living in London, I have learned to appreciate urban walking and green spaces, and how much they can add to the quality of life in a large city.
A recent trip to Edinburgh became a microadventure as I decided on the train to finally climb up the crags to Arthur’s Seat, and experience this familiar city from a new angle.
The views across Edinburgh and out onto the Firth of Forth just get better and better as you go, so don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.