Window seat, by a table, facing forward. That’s what I had booked. I got a seat without a table, travelling backwards, by the aisle. Oh well, at least I had a seat on a train from Edinburgh to York. Two students took their seats behind me. She was seated when he arrived. “Well, what are the chances?” They echoed this refrain over and over – both clearly delighted by the coincidence. I gathered they were friends who were not intentionally travelling together but whose seat numbers placed them alongside each other. Was it fate? She was traveling as far York, he was going further. This would give them two and a half hours together, long enough for romance to blossom, or so the cupid within me hoped. As soon as the train started to move I moved across to an empty seat by a table, one facing forward. I would forfeit the blossoming romance for comfort and a view. The couple now opposite me were starting their mini-break in Durham early with an on-board picnic: wine, cheese and cold meats. They offered me share. I declined – not this time, thank you. Across the aisle were a family of four: parents, a boy, and girl, both under 10, being quietly read to – something by Jacqueline Wilson.
The view snaking down the eastern spine of the Scottish borders into Northumberland, Durham and Yorkshire is, in some ways, unremarkable – it’s a simple landscape, but beautiful. Spare clipped hedges, leaves all gone. Crows, even as early as 2pm, were gathering to roost, high on the spindly sycamores. To my left the slate grey, expansive North Sea, to my right, the rolling scrub fields of the Borders. There were no crops, though I may have spotted a field of sprouts, but I couldn’t be sure with the speed of the train. Mostly I saw freshly ploughed fields: rich, dark, clay soil looking like a thick gloopy recipe for a chocolate torte that Nigella might serve up.
High bridges over the river Tweed marked my entrance into England at Berwick. The tide was in and the estuary high, a screech of gulls flying in formation over one of the far bridges. From there I could look down the coast and see waves breaking onto Cheswick Sands, north of Holy Island. It looked choppy out around the Farne Islands. Someone was keeping chickens in their garden, lots of them, enough eggs to keep Gregg the Baker going, I thought. Further south, fields were heavy with water, turning to ice where it wasn’t too deep. Looking west there was snow on the far hills – Northumberland National Park, I reckoned. There had been no snow when I left Edinburgh, but the further south I travelled the more there was. About ten miles south of Berwick, I saw the frozen outline of two deer in a field. I’d hoped I would see deer, but usually I see them much closer to York. Approaching Alnmouth wind farms began to march across the fields. I like their silhouette against the skyline. Something was flying high above them. I wish I was better able to identify birds, was it a Buzzard or maybe a Red Kite? Whatever it was, it was large, soaring, watchful for movements below.
Sunset began early, around 3pm. The clouds in the west turned the colour of Valentia Island slate, a deep blue grey. The breaks in the cloud were a pale orange. I tried to put a better name to the colour, but it kept changing, taking on more pink, firing up to red. Closer to Newcastle, drifts of snow lay on the fields, patches where the sun couldn’t reach. The land began to flatten out as I got close to York. A couple were tramping the fields with five large, lean, black and white dogs. Some sort of Pointer, maybe? Not long after, I saw some wild pheasants pecking by bushes at the edge of a field and I hoped the dogs were far enough away not to get wind of them. Two deer appeared in a stubbly field against the setting sun. My usual welcome party to York had made an appearance after all.