England Grand Tour (2021): Day 1: First Border Crossing and Hotel Stay of the Year!

Edinburgh – Newcastle – Durham

I left my flat shortly before 1130, bound initially for Edinburgh’s West End tram stop. I had my rollaboard in tow, unbelievably out for its first travel duty of the year. As indeed was its owner, in a sense: I was about to spend nearly three weeks in England, after a period of five months when I hadn’t spent so much as a night away from home, thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic.

After getting off the tram at St Andrew Square, I arrived at Waverley Station via the well known Waverley Steps, now thankfully fitted with escalators. For anyone not familiar with the Scottish capital, Waverley separates the medieval Old Town from the Georgian New Town, occupying the eastern part of the basin of the old Nor Loch, which was drained in the 19th century. It is therefore one of the lowest-lying points in Edinburgh city centre. There was some initial confusion when I noticed that my train was listed twice on the departures boards, once showing as very late and again as on-time. The mystery was soon cleared up: my train was suffering significant delays coming down from Aberdeen, but LNER had arranged an on-time substitute for passengers departing from Edinburgh and points south thereof. It was actually 1241 before the substitute train got underway, but still: full marks to the train operating company!

On arrival at Newcastle’s Central Station around 2pm, I treated myself to my second ‘Nero’ coffee of the day. Bruce turned up remarkably quickly: he had been flying up from Bristol and on arrival at Newcastle Airport, he had managed to make an excellent connection onto the Tyne & Wear Metro. We had a beer at the station bar to celebrate the long-awaited start of the trip, then rode a CrossCountry train to Durham, a journey that took approximately ten minutes.

Instead of heading straight into town, we crossed over to the other side of the tracks to Durham’s attractive station bar, The Waiting Room. I had arranged to meet up with Durham-based friend Michael and his partner Steve, who were actually heading up to the Scottish capital for the weekend! We had a very pleasant hour or so of drinks and conversation under the canopy of the ‘northbound’ platform, with the added bonus of being able to observe the various comings and goings on the East Coast Main Line. We saw Michael and Steve off on the 1725 to Edinburgh and set off in wet conditions to walk to the Hotel Indigo.

Arrival at the Indigo

The hotel occupies the old Shire Hall. Built in 1898, it was originally Durham’s county hall, transferring to Durham University in 1963. After then standing vacant from 2012, it reopened as the Hotel Indigo in March 2018. Even in the poor weather conditions, we were struck by the building’s imposing red appearance, complete with copper dome.

And finally …

Following a brief period of settling in, we went out for a wander in order to find dinner. We enjoyed Singapore Noodles at Zen, which although we hadn’t approached it directly, turned out to be located right behind the hotel. We were lucky to get a table in the well ventilated porch, as the interior looked rather more crowded than either of us was comfortable with.

Singapore Noodles for dinner