My oldest daughter, then aged 17, and I had rented an apartment in Edinburgh. This was two and a half years ago. The apartment was at Learmonth Gardens, which is a 30 to 40-minute walk from Edinburgh town center, and another 25 minutes from the Castle. I had considered the use of a rental car to get us around during our stay. But, people in Scotland driving on the left side of the road, I thought better of it. In the country of my exile we drive in the middle of the road, and I no longer felt confident at navigating traffic rules based on the principle that motor cars shall press to a particular side of the road, be that left or right. My daughter and I, we share a disgust of cabs and public transport (the latter mostly too complex for our lazy and feeble minds), and so we ended up walking long distances every day.
We made an exception for the train to North Queensferry across the spectacular cantilever Forth Bridge. That is a trip we did twice, both times losing more than an hour over matching the slew of ticket, payment and platform options, offered at Edinburgh Waverley railway station (1.5 mi. from Learmonth Gardens), with our humble objective to get to North Queensferry Railway Station. The train takes one across and away from the touristic hassle of Edinburgh town. My daughter and I have a penchant for the quiet and the indigenous in foreign nations that we visit, notwithstanding our equally strong penchant for flagstore shopping, non-alcoholic drinks on terraces of bars, and diners at upscale restaurants or other eating places that are interesting enough to separate us from the crowd.
During our second visit to North Queensferry, as we sat recovering at the charming tiny (“wee”) Rankin’s Café from a half-hearted attempt to walk out as far as we dared over a footpath along the Firth of Forth (at a certain point asking ourselves at every next 10 yards or so whether we had progressed as far as humanly possible if we were to make it back to North Queensferry Train Station without being at the risk of starvation or fatal exhaustion), we decided that a next time we would hike the trail all the way to a far-away town that we could see from a certain vantage point near the Forth Bridge’s base and seemed to consist of very light-colored, almost white buildings, which struck us as irresistibly romantic and fairytale-like.
But we never did. Back in our apartment at Learmonth Gardens we consulted various maps on the internet and decided that the town that we had seen from afar, as we were standing near Forth Bridge’s base at North Queensferry, must be Inverkeithing. In view of what follows and to protect my daughter and me from the wrath of the Inverkeithingers, I should stress that both my daughter and I are extremely poor map readers, and that I have a bad memory for names of places and people alike, as well as train stations. So even though, as I checked just now, there’s little to be found on the map between North Queensferry and Inverkeithing, and even if Inverkeithing isn’t the kind of name that is likely to come to one’s mind by coincidence, in the recount that follows I may be confusing names, dates and places.
A few days after our second visit to North Queensferry we took the train across the Firth of Forth a third time, but to Inverkeithing this time, which was just one stop up from North Queensferry. We found the area around the train station, located well outside of the town’s borders, singularly drab and depressing. The overcast skies and temperatures struggling not to drop to the low 50s did little to improve our sentiment. But we thought this would change when we would be sallying into the town itself. We had left our apartment early to walk to Edinburgh Waverley and by the time we had arrived at Inverkeithing Train Station our first thoughts were very much with finding a place to have hot chocolate over some pastry.
We started out crossing empty roads and roundabouts towards what looked like Inverkeithing’s outskirts. We arrived at a residential area consisting of featureless sludge-colored homes on gray asphalt streets. We explored this neighborhood for about two hours for food and drinks. But whichever direction we took there wasn’t a café, bar, supermarket, convenience or grocery store or shop of any other kind to be seen. Having spent all this time out in the cold weather looking just for a place to sit down, use the bathroom and get our bearings – one of my many issues being that I’m incapable of timing the moment when to cut off a hopeless campaign – our lust for romance and adventure had deflated to a point where we no longer felt a desire even to find our way out of this suburban hell towards an “old town” with cobbled streets, pubs, diners and, well, just any kind of life. Instead, we made our way back to the train station. We did not stoop so low as to head back to Waverley by train straight from Inverkeithing though. Following directions on my daughter’s smartphone we descended to Inverkeithing’s end of the footpath along Firth of Forth that we had explored some of the way from North Queensferry and that should take us to that charming old hamlet at the foot of Forth Bridge with its restored “light tower” (i.e. lighthouse), where we would have our hot cocoa after all, at the wee Rankin’s Café, and take the train back to Edinburgh. This we accomplished.
We had found that the descent from Inverkeithing Train Station to the beginning of the trail back to North Queensbury and the hike along the Firth of Forth over that trail were beautiful and gratifying to our non-linear minds. Those beautiful, romantic minds, that could be so easily duped at any time by the lure of a thing shimmering in the distance, arguably named “Inverkeithing”.