Kelpies in the Helix

The following morning we allowed ourselves a much-needed lie-in after the last few crazy days. We decided to visit Spoon for breakfast but by the time we left the flat and got there I wasn’t sure if it was more brunch or lunch. Spoon, you may recall, is the café where J.K. Rowling wrote sections of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. It has since changed name and ownership but it is still the same building Rowling went to day after day to write.

Before we even made it to the café, however, we were sidetracked by, you guessed it, a bookstore. It was a bookstore that was right next to another bookstore we had stopped in when Peter was still with us, but on that day we had decided to move on without stopping in Blackwell’s. Today, however, we had all the time in the world to ignore our rumbling bellies and look at books instead. I would say it was a very successful shopping trip. We each walked away with two books: Mom with two new mystery novels, one of which she had been searching for, and me with two new Tolkien novels to add to my extensive collection. After that we went to Spoon.

It’s a sizable café filled with mismatched tables and chairs and vaguely sectioned off by segments of thin white curtains with spindly flowers embroidered on them near the bottom hem. We were seated near a window overlooking Nicolson Street. No, it wasn’t the table J.K. Rowling sat at. I mean, obviously, it’s a completely new café! But what I know from specials about Rowling’s life and the pictures I looked up on Google, Rowling sat in the corner of the café that faced the intersection of Nicolson and Drummond.

I waited to geek out until after we’d eaten. All the food was delicious but what I really want to rave about is the homemade ginger lemon tea I got. It is possibly the most luscious blend of flavors I have ever had the pleasure of putting in my mouth. It was sweet without being over bearing. The lemon helped cut the impact of the sugar and the ginger was present without being overwhelming. It was warm and delicious and so nice to sip. I didn’t want it to end! It was just an added bonus that it was served to me in an adorable orange teapot and white cup and saucer with a delicate floral design. I’ve since tried to recreate the concoction at home but have yet to perfect my own recipe.


When our plates were empty, and the tea most regrettably gone, I somewhat reluctantly went over with Mom to the corner of the room. I’m sure most everyone there was either unaware of the café’s history or just didn’t care, so it felt rather silly to sit at some seemingly nondescript table next to the window and take poorly lit pictures. But I quickly got over it by telling myself what I always do when I find myself in a situation like this: I’ll never see these people again, so who the hell cares?

After doing our best to get a decent picture, which still wasn’t really that decent, we descended the stairs back to the street and headed up Nicolson towards a shop called Scayles. It’s an interesting spelling, but it’s referring to scales like musical scales not reptile scales. My brother, David, is a prolific musician and he had asked us to try and bring him back an instrument representative of the Scottish musical culture. We decided a pennywhistle would be just the thing. It was small, easy to pack, and a very prominent figure in traditional Scottish music, or so all of us Americans have been led to believe (but it is actually true).

We walked into the shop having a vague idea of what we wanted, which we relayed to the man behind the counter. He walked us over to a glass display case and began showing us several different variations of whistle. We took four different kinds, one in a different key, a couple made of different metals, and one made of wood into a small room at the back of the shop to try them out. I should say I got to try them out since of the two of us I was the musician.

They each had more or less the same tonal qualities. The change in timbre was subtle between materials with the wood whistle having the biggest difference. The small flat mouthpiece felt odd between my lips and the whistle’s lack of a thumbhole was unnerving. In the end we chose a nickel bodied whistle in the key of D with an adjustable head joint. We took all the contaminated whistles to the front counter and presented our selected whistle to the young man at the register.

I went over to a display of music books and picked out a beginner level book for the tin whistle and added that to our purchase. We had a bit of pleasant conversation with the clerks before thanking them and leaving the store. Back on the street, Mom commented that the total seemed lower than expected. I pulled the receipt out of the bag and inspected it. They had given us a 10% discount. Now I don’t mean to sound like I’m bashing the States, even though I kind of am, but what are the chances that something like that would’ve happened in the States? I mean, maaaybe. Of course I don’t know why they gave us a discount. Because we were friendly, because they were friendly (which they were) or because we were newbies to penny whistles and they were taking pity on us, who knows. But I thought it was very sweet. So if you are ever in need of a musical instrument in Edinburgh, go to Scayles because they are awesome there.

With musical needs filled we went on to fill book needs. We found our way back to the Writer’s Museum after crossing through the University of Edinburgh’s campus. The walk made me realize that a college campus is pretty much the same anywhere you go. The plaza is always covered in chalk, the buildings are big and imposing, and the students are undoubtedly students; you can just tell by looking at them. We were going back to the Writer’s Museum so I could pick up a copy of Allan’s book. You know, because I hadn’t bought enough books already. I think at this point in the trip I was up to four. I resisted buying any other books while I was there, successfully capping the day’s book purchases at three.

We hurried back to the flat before we passed another bookstore and bought even more books! It was early afternoon when we got home. There were still some hours before we had to catch the train out to Falkirk. And this time we would make the train. You wouldn’t have thought it would be that hard with the station just a couple of miles away from the flat, but regardless we left with plenty of time to spare. In the meantime, we cooked a late lunch of pasta and lounged around reading and watching YouTube videos (or I did anyway).

We had decided to take the 5:15 bus down to Haymarket, feeling it would get us there early but not so early that it would find us sitting around pulling our hair out with boredom. Thinking back on it now, I can’t remember if we took such a late train because it was the only one available or because we thought we would have more to do that day. It must have been the former, as we really had no other plans except to go see the Kelpies. Either way, this time we got on the train no problem.

Falkirk is roughly halfway between Edinburgh and Glasgow, so about a 30-minute train ride. I passed most of it leaning against the window like I always do. Energy levels were low. Neither of us perked up much until we were stepping onto the platform in Falkirk and realizing we now had to find a way to get to The Helix. I checked bus times and routes on my phone and began to lead us in what I thought was the direction to the stop. I didn’t quite get us there; it was taking me a bit to get my bearings in a new place. But fate seemed to be on our side that afternoon.

Our search for the bus stop took us past a car park where a gentleman was getting into his car after what looked like a yoga session. Mom went over to him to ask directions to a bus that would take us to The Helix. He said he wasn’t familiar with the bus system then offered us a lift, explaining that he was going that direction. I think Mom and I both had the same thought cross our minds for a second. That thought was something like, “Are we really about to get in a car with a strange man who may or may not be a serial killer?”

We threw caution to the wind though and graciously accepted the man’s kind offer. We’ve since talked about that decision and decided that we had felt a bit more confident about the situation since we were together and not flying solo. Together our odds were a little better at taking him out if things got hairy. But really, he was a very nice guy. I don’t want to give anyone the wrong idea. He took us right to the entrance of the park and gave us directions to a stop where we could get a bus back to the train station. He was very helpful. Once we were in the park it was a simple matter of following the posted signs to the Kelpies.

The sun was hovering just above the horizon as we moved deeper into the park. We passed a large group of kids on these bizarre tricycle contraptions and behind them trailed the several adults that were watching them all. Soon we spotted the Kelpies in the distance. They looked miniscule from that distance. As we moved closer, they grew and grew in size, great silver steeds against the backdrop of smoky sky.

The true vastness of the beasts didn’t strike until we stood across from them. One of the horse heads was bent in a graceful arc, its ears were pitched back and to the side slightly and it looked down on us with blank gray eyes. The other had its head thrown back, its ears up and alert, and mouth open in a silent scream. I imagined the rest of the body up in a panicked rear, hooves flailing madly. Its companion, in comparison, looked timid or ashamed.

Mom and I moved around them, taking pictures from nearly every possible angle as the world around us grew darker and darker. When we were satisfied with our extensive collection, we sat on a cement step and had a snack of cookies and lemonade that we had bought at Haymarket Station. It was a very peaceful evening. Nearly everyone else in the park had gone home so it was just us and the giant glowing horses. I was glad we hadn’t missed the train a second time or we might not have had the time to see them at all.

We drank the last of the lemonade but saved a few cookies for the train ride home. It was now fully night and we still had to find our way back out of the park and to the bus stop. Most of the path out was well lit. There was only one dicey part where we had to scale a steep dirt slope up to the paved path (we had decided to mix it up and go back a different way). Had my balance been the tiniest bit off, we would have slipped backwards down the hill and then we would’ve been in a world of hurt.

Back on the street, we followed the man’s direction to the bus stop. It couldn’t have been any easier. A straight walk down to the roundabout and take a right. It was a bit longer of a walk than we had anticipated but we made it in time to grab the bus back to the station. We were the only ones on the bus as we drove through the empty streets of Falkirk. Our driver was rocking out to some pop music, which made me smile, and when we reached our stop he was nice enough to check that we knew the way to the station from there. Our timing was impeccable. The next train to Edinburgh was arriving in five minutes. We waited patiently in the waiting area with one other girl. Tiredness was starting to make my eyes itch and I was enjoying the waiting area seat a little too much for how stiff it was.

The train arrived and whisked us away back to Edinburgh. We had another quiet bus ride back to the flat and actually managed to stop at the right stop! Almost every other time that week we had gotten the bus to stop at the stand before ours so we had to walk the rest of the way. By the end of our trip we were pros though. Go figure. We crawled into bed as soon as we had walked through the door and I ended the night by finishing my book.



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