If you’ve never taken the train up the east coast of the UK then you’ve never really travelled.
That’s just my opinion, of course.Read more
North of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, it’s the most delightful journey. The track wends its way through Northumberland, cutting through the countryside and hugging the coastline, affording stunning views of the North Sea. Above Edinburgh, the line crosses the Firth of Forth via one of its iconic bridges. The journey may not have the romance of the Orient Express, nor the Trans-Siberian Railway, but the views from the train are very special indeed.
That said, it’s not a cheap journey to make and trying to find a cut-price fare can be tricky. On this occasion I managed to buy a single from Leeds to Stonehaven for the bargain price of £34.60.
Important note: I wasn’t going to Stonehaven.
That was another five stops and an hour and a half bit further north. But it was the cheapest ticket I could find. Don’t ask me why. That’s the anomaly of British rail travel. Anyway – there’s a budget travel tip for you – check out the prices of all the stations ahead of the one you’re alighting at.
Hopping off at Kirkcaldy (to where the same ticket would have cost me almost double the price – I kid you not), I stretch my legs. It has been a long but super-lovely journey.
My hotel is a few minutes’ walk from the station. When I arrive, Reception is closed and there is a sign telling me to report to the bar. I manage to keep my cool but queuing among a thirsty wedding party six deep at the bar to check in and get my room key isn’t the best start.
My room is small but clearly recently refurbished and spotlessly clean. However, very disappointingly, the window does not open and there is no form of ventilation. Given the C-word, this makes me feel a little nervous. Almost as bad, any hint of movement in the corridor outside and the door to my room – precisely two feet from where my head will rest on my pillow – rattles like the train I’ve just taken north.
Oh well, I tell myself, it’s only one night.
I unpack my rucksack then head out for a wander. As I leave the hotel, the bride is arriving by horse and carriage for her wedding. She looks beautiful. I smile at her and inwardly wish her well.
Kirkcaldy is situated on the East Fife Coastal Path so my loose plan had been to walk one way on the Saturday afternoon and then the other way the following morning. I head to the waterfront and decide to go south.
The promenade is pleasant, if rather unremarkable. But I am happy to be by the sea and the Scottish sky which looks unlike any other sky I have ever seen. No editing, no filter.
Eventually I reach Seafield Beach.
I take off my sandals, which are starting to hurt slightly, to walk by the sea. Then I sit for a while and and take it all in: the sound of the waves, and the air on my face, and my toes burying into the sand. It feels calming. The coast is where I am happiest these days.
I want to walk further but it’s time to head back to the hotel to get changed for dinner. Besides, my feet are hurting quite a bit.
I amble back along the waterfront and loop back through the town centre which is bigger than I had imagined, but, like the promenade, a tiny bit underwhelming.
Showered, frock on, a welcome change of shoes, and clutch bag at the ready, it’s time for dinner. I’m starving!
I’d booked the table ahead and, unable to find anywhere in town which offered something approaching ‘classic fayre’, had plumped for an Italian restaurant, La Gondola, on the waterfront.
Solo dining is often a minefield. I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve been seated by the bins or the bathrooms, facing a wall. Or worse still, ignored completely because it’s been assumed I’ve been waiting for someone. That’s why I sometimes book ahead, particularly if it’s a special occasion or a Saturday night. I always make a point of saying, “I’ll be dining alone, so a table by the window and a warm welcome would be appreciated”.
On this occasion, I had forgotten to put in my request. But I shouldn’t have worried for I actually got both without even having to ask!
Well, I say window. There weren’t really any windows. So they give me a bird’s-eye view of ice cream instead.
After ordering a drink and studying the menu, the waiter arrives to take my order. He asks if I’ve seen the specials board but I explain that I don’t eat meat. I order a baked pasta dish and a salad. He replies that although the baked pasta dish on the menu contains peppers, there is another version available with spinach. I’m glad he steers me in the direction of something green and that gets my thumbs up.
I feel jolly comfortable in the restaurant. It’s only 7:30pm but the atmosphere is buzzing. A table of 12 across from me are already downing copious amounts of Birra Moretti and Prosecco, and the couples to my right are getting stuck into spaghetti and steak. Everyone is happy. I am too.
My dinner arrives. The pasta is delicious, though, truth be told, a little on the small side. I could eat it twice over. I’m a greedy girl.
I take my time and eke it out as much as I can. But eventually it is all gone and I feel sad. So when I’m asked if I would like dessert or coffee, I enquire about the possibility of some of the ice cream that I’ve spent the last hour-and-a-bit lusting after. Can I have it in a cone to take with me?
Alas, the best they can do is put it in a box. No spoon.
I genuinely can’t grumble as everything else has been spot on. I pay my bill, leave a generous tip, and head a few doors down to a garishly-decorated dessert shop called Chocstop.
Cone in hand, I walk across to the waterfront and eat it while staring out at the sea.
It’s still early but I’m tired and ready to put my feet up so I wander back to the hotel, deciding to order a nightcap to take up to my room. The wedding party is apparently having dinner so the bar is empty.
Upstairs, I go head-to-head with my nemesis, the rattling door. I take the bath mat from over the shower cubicle and post it between the door and its fame, then double-wrap it around the clanging soft-closer cover. Amazingly, it works a treat. I am nothing if not resourceful.
Feet up, drink in hand, sleepy smile on my face. It’s been a brilliant day.
Thankfully, the wedding party is surprisingly quiet and I am absolutely knackered so, all in all, I manage a reasonable sleep, despite there being no air in the room.
I’m up and at ‘em on Sunday morning. My very reasonable room rate includes breakfast so after a lovely hot shower and chucking on some clothes, I tootle downstairs to the dining room. Juice, fruit, tea, one toast, one egg, one tomato and sliced mushrooms later (the cooked items all made to order), I am replete and ready for my day.
The plan for my morning is to walk north up the coast.
I am super-fucking angry with myself and my judgement. Thinking that I wasn’t going to be here long enough to warrant bringing them with me, I have left my trusty hiking boots at home, instead opting for what I thought were comfy sandals. They turn out to be not-very-comfy-and-in-fact-rather-shit sandals. I limped nine miles in them yesterday and now have a nasty blister on the bottom of my foot. I’ve patched it up with a Compeed plaster as best I can and I’m just going to have to get on with it.
Heading out of Kirkcaldy towards Dysart, the walk is delightful with a wonderfully-varied terrain – road, beach, coastline, woodland, park, harbour, village.
Without exception, every single person I meet along the way says good morning to me. It’s a simple thing which makes me feel such joy. I recall with fondness my time in Aberdeen when, en route to Balmedie, other solo women said said hello to me. They won’t remember it. But I always will because it struck me as so unusual and heart-warming.
I can see all the way up the coast and I want to carry on walking forever, but really this is only an amble to fill my morning before heading off to the real reason I’m in Kirkcaldy.
I’d booked the ticket nine months previously. But I’ve wanted to make this dream a reality for an awfully long time. I don’t have bucket list, but if I did, what I was about to do next would definitely have been on it.
I make my way to Kirkcaldy Galleries.
I’m a little early for my booked slot so I decide to stop by the café and have some tea.
Full of pasta, ice cream and egg on toast, I am very good indeed and skip an array of delicious-looking cakes, opting for a modest pot of Earl Grey.
It arrives in a cute enamel teapot, to be drunk out of a mis-matched cup and saucer.
It a delicious drink of tea that seems to go on forever – cup after cup of golden goodness.
I decide that when I get home I will find a teapot just like it so that I can recreate this happy memory whenever I like.
And so to the main event: an exhibition of Jack Vettriano paintings.
You might not have heard of him but you’ll almost certainly have seen one of his creations. A self-taught painter who has become a king of poster art, his work comes in for much criticism. I can’t claim to know anything at all about art but I personally love his work.
So I am incredibly excited, after all these years, to finally be able to see his paintings in the flesh, as it were.
The exhibition is laid out over three rooms.
It includes some of his early works, painted as Jack Hoggan; copies of others’ pieces while he was learning.
And, of course, there are also plenty of his better-known paintings.
Because the exhibition is ticketed, numbers are capped which makes for a very pleasant experience. I am able to take my time and get really close to the paintings to see the tiny details, even though I need my mahoosive magnifying specs to help me.
I’m not sure whether it’s allowed but I surreptitiously I take a photograph of one of the ones I like best. I didn’t think he’d mind.
I love the intimacy of the exhibition and the revel in the fact that I’m finally seeing his paintings face-to-face after being a fan for more than 20 years,
I reach the end of the display then double-back to view again some of my favourites before visiting the surprisingly-disappointing gift shop to buy a couple of mementoes.
A wander through the gallery’s memorial gardens precedes a hobble back to the hotel to collect my rucksack. Then, with 40 minutes to spare before my train, I decide to explore the nearby Beveridge Park. It’s beautifully laid out and I am disappointed to be out of time and feet so I can’t explore it as far as I’d like. But I still managed to loop around the lake and see some of the gardens.
On board the train, the scenic trip back to Yorkshire goes by in a flash.
During the journey, I take some time to reflect on the previous 24 hours. It was a hefty way to go for such a short visit but, just like the old days which I thought were long gone, I’d had an absolute blast.
My solo travel time is beginning once again and I couldn’t be happier about it.
Stepping off the train at my local station, I limp home. I’ve walked 22 miles this weekend in those stupid fucking sandals.
Will I ever learn?!