New Year 2021: Solo Hike Up the Salisbury Crags

Assalamualaikum wbt.

For the past two years I joined the exciting countdown with the crowds by the Newcastle Quayside before watching blazing, colourful fireworks soar up into the air to celebrate fresh beginnings. For 2021, I just video called Nini from my bed (hi if you are reading this!).

I had plans with friends for the next morning but unfortunately they got cancelled due to unavoidable circumstances. But the sky was blue and I wasn’t going to waste a blue sky day. So I spontaneously decided to venture alone to the Salisbury Crags, a series of cliffs next to Arthur’s Seat (an extinct volcano) – the general area is called Holyrood Park. I had never been to the Holyrood Park – surprisingly it was less than 30 minutes away from my flat. What I didn’t know is that is was SO. MAGNIFICENTLY. BEAUTIFUL. Subhanallah indeed. I mean, I’ve seen pictures of people climbing Arthur’s Seat and stuff but they mostly showed pictures at the top of the hill looking down below (and views never look that nice in pictures). I did a solo hike up the Crags and enjoyed it immensely. I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

I watched the sun go down behind the hills while deeply reflecting upon life and listening to carefully-curated music that I deemed suitable for this moment. What a wonderful start to the New Year, spent with a person I must deeply love and invest in – myself. After all, I’d just watched Pixar’s Soul the day before and was feeling quite deep and philosophical. The golden glow of the sun shone most impressively upon the hills and crags, complementing the brilliant blue sky. Allah is truly the greatest artist and we have only seen a small fraction of His creation. I don’t know how to explain it, but every Malaysian I know agrees that the skies and sunsets just look different in four-season countries. There is a spectacular blend of colours that doesn’t happen in Malaysia.

Also, for the entire day I’d been thinking about how fortunate I am to be in Edinburgh. I had this absolute GEM nearby my house the whole time and I didn’t even know it! No need for a trip to the Scottish Highlands or even Switzerland (okay this is a joke, of course I want to visit Switzerland someday – but Holyrood Park will do for now). But Edinburgh is honestly THE best city to be in during a pandemic, because it’s fairly big and has a lot of vast, open spaces you can visit even if only essential businesses are open.

When strolling about in Edinburgh, you feel like you’ve been transported into a fairytale dream, or like you’re a character in a Scottish period piece, or feel like you’re a Hogwarts student. The first day I was here (as a resident), walking past Old College and Surgeons’ Hall Museums, and exploring the Royal Mile, I said, “I can’t believe people actually live here. I can’t believe I live here”.

And within less than a month of living here, I decided that Edinburgh is officially my favourite city in the UK. I could imagine living here in the long term, for years and years. It’s a magnificent combination of a capital city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, AND fantastic nature spots. Also, there’s a big beautiful mosque and multiple halal meat shops within walking distance of my university building! In other cities you’d have to walk to a distant area of town that most people don’t even know exists. If I were to give someone a tour of Edinburgh, I would insist that they stay for at least a week to cover all the wajib (must-see) areas.

I feel like living in Edinburgh has ruined living in all other cities for me. How can I live in another city now that I know how amazing Edinburgh is? People use the Malay word “sekufu” to describe being compatible with a person. I feel like I am very sekufu with this city – and I know this because I’ve lived in 11 different cities in 3 different countries. Some I loved, some I didn’t, and some I took time to learn to love.

But with Edinburgh, there was no wait. I fell in love at first sight when I first came for holiday at the end of November 2019. In the K-drama Itaewon Class, the main character Park Saeroyi is from a small town and has lived a quiet life. When he arrived in Itaewon for the first time, he is dazzled and mesmerized by its vibrant colours and liveliness. That’s how I felt when I went to Edinburgh’s Christmas markets for the first time – it was as big as a medium-sized theme park! My exact words caught on video, “Christmas market Newcastle macam celah gigi dia je” (“Newcastle’s Christmas market is the size of Edinburgh’s Christmas market’s tooth gap” – a popular Malay saying to compare two things). That same night Saeroyi arrived in Itaewon, he made up his mind to open a business there. And I too, told the friends that I was traveling with that I’d love to live in Edinburgh.

Only that time I thought it was too cold, and far from London / other English cities. But the cold never bothered me anyway (it’s been SNOWING quite a bit and I’m making not only people in tropical countries envious, but also people in other UK cities…). And the distance from other cities isn’t that huge of an issue, especially during the pandemic. I also found that the Malaysian community for postgrads and families here is so warm and welcoming. You can always get help when you need it – from getting assistance in terms of viewing houses to rent, to finding out which stores sell kaya spread. The locals are also extremely welcoming (I mean, I’m a member of a FB group of 60,000 members where people give away and ask for free stuff!) and the community is incredibly diverse.

On January the 2nd I decided to make a start on the Kalsom Run (20km) that I committed to. I was shocked to see fresh snow outside, but I ran for 3km anyway in -1 degrees celcius (I actually took the route to the bottom of the Salisbury Crags). I was VERY WELL REWARDED because it was SUCH a beautiful day. I just can’t get over how photogenic and aesthetically pleasing this city is. If Edinburgh was a person, you bet I would be madly in love with him. And the hilarious thing is, my first choice to do a Master’s was actually at a university in a different city. But Allah works in the best of ways.

Right, enough with my love letter to Edinburgh. I wish everyone a very Happy New Year 2021!

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