Among the many things I am enjoying about this big adventure is the chance to reconnect with people I haven’t seen for a very long time. If you go to enough parts of the country, there is a good chance you will cross paths. That is what happened today with members of my extended family I have not seen in many years, and it was a true pleasure to see them again.
After two long days of cycling, I had only a few miles left to reach the east coast for the tenth time. On this occasion, I reached the sea – along with the River Aln – at the very pretty Northumbrian village of Alnmouth, which, usefully, also has a station on the main east coast railway line. I managed to get a rare bike space on a train to Edinburgh at 4pm, and that gave me most of the day to use in other ways. The town of Alnwick is about 4 miles inland from Alnmouth, and about 10 miles from where I spent last night, and it is a delight. I could have happily entertained myself there for most of the day, visiting the impressively large and intact castle, the adjacent water gardens, the bookshops, cafes, pubs, and so on. I have been fortunate to do some of those things before, however, so when the chance arose instead to reconnect with long lost relatives, I was happy to take it.
I should say that I have no family connections with this area, and until very recently, I would not have expected to be visiting anyone as I passed by. But through a series of coincidences, somewhat precipitated by the pandemic, that is no longer the case. I knew I had received a change of address note from my dad’s eldest cousin some weeks ago and been surprised to see Alnwick on the address. But I thought no more of it. My dad’s cousins and their offspring were people I only ever really saw at weddings and funerals, and the last one of those must have been 14 years ago. Otherwise it was basically Christmas card contact at best. Which, I must say, I regret, especially in more recent years after both of my parents died; but that is all water under the bridge. So, when I found myself heading close to Alnwick on my bike, I decided I really needed to make the effort. After all, none of us are getting any younger. (For the record, cousin Sheila is 88, it turns out, and has moved to be close to her daughter, who only recently moved here herself from as far away as Cornwall. She was also there today: a bonus extra relative!). And all it took was a simple phone call.
The other thing I have come to realise is that you can’t beat a good bout of reminiscing about times gone by and people from your earlier life. That becomes harder to do when you start to run out of relatives to do it with. So to suddenly find myself looking at very old pictures of my great grandparents, who I never met, with a fellow great grandchild, was an unexpected pleasure indeed. Not to mention the taking of selfies, exchanging of recent family news, and the sharing of sandwiches and cake. We all had a bit of a giggle. I have a feeling it will happen again and I will try to learn from today. Families do matter.
Alnmouth also deserved more time than I gave it; but today’s weather was distinctly inferior to my previous two days of cycling, and the glorious beach will be better enjoyed without the thin sea mist that was affecting the east coast today. At least the light rain had stopped and the sun was making a belated effort to join in the fun. When I reached Edinburgh after 5 o’clock, however, the streets were not only damp; but also festooned with overflowing rubbish, thanks to an unfortunate combination of the world’s biggest arts festival and a refuse collectors’ strike. I have to say though, some people do not help the situation. When a bin is full, it is full. I don’t get why people keep trying to force their rubbish in, on and around it. Take it home.
I’m taking a day off now to plan the next two coast to coasts, get a quick bike service, and go out for a curry with my two brothers. I won’t be returning to Scotland’s capital again on this trip. In a few more days I will be leaving Scotland for good. So it seems right, perhaps even necessary, to invest an extra day before that time is upon me.