A Random Walk in Edinburgh

Diffusion is a simple yet fascinating physical phenomenon.  By merely observing how an object moves around in a medium as a function of time, there is a lot of stuff one can learn about the environment, about the diffuser and about the interaction between diffuser and its environment.  Over the last few days, I have been studying some papers related to trajectory of individual nanostructures in liquid environment, and have learnt some interesting aspects such as sub-diffusion and super-diffusion.

Concomitantly, I came across one of the better poems I have read in recent times on travelling: Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage by Lord Byron George. This is a long poem, but a couple of stanzas are worth a read:

There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society where none intrudes,
By the deep Sea, and music in its roar:
I love not Man the less, but Nature more,
From these our interviews, in which I steal
From all I may be, or have been before,
To mingle with the Universe, and feel
What I can ne’er express, yet cannot all conceal.

Roll on, thou deep and dark blue Ocean—roll!
Ten thousand fleets sweep over thee in vain;
Man marks the earth with ruin—his control
Stops with the shore;—upon the watery plain
The wrecks are all thy deed, nor doth remain
A shadow of man’s ravage, save his own,
When for a moment, like a drop of rain,
He sinks into thy depths with bubbling groan,
Without a grave, unknelled, uncoffined, and unknown

       These two readings (of the paper and the poem) were on the same day, and I felt a connection between diffusion and travelling. It kept lingering on my mind for the next few days, and I felt going deeper and exploring it further. So, I went back to my archived files on my laptop and started exploring some photographs I have taken over the years of travel. During this exploration, I found some of my travelogue related to Scotland when I visited that beautiful country in June 2013. During that trip, I and some of my colleagues were mainly visiting Glasgow University. During the last leg of the trip, we visited the University of Edinburgh and Edinburgh city for a day.

      It was a bright, sunny day on 21 June 2013 (generally 21 June is the longest day of the year). We took an early morning train from Glasgow to Edinburgh. Around 9am in the morning, we were at University of Edinburgh, and we visited the departments of physics and chemistry. This was followed by talks by us and a few researchers at the university. After our interaction and lunch, we had about 5 to 6 hours to spend in the city of Edinburgh before we could take our train back to Glasgow. So, we went to the city centre, and I decided to visit the travel information desk. I wanted to know if I could see around the city within 5 hours or so, and what places could I visit on feet. One of my favourite activities, especially when I am travelling alone, is to take a random walk around the city (of course with a map), and explore the places on feet. I have found these “on-feet” explorations can closely connect you to the place, and importantly slows one down so that one can pause, observe and grasp the local environment in its details. In an essence, this “confined Brownian motion” can lead to some interesting insight and thoughts.

        Coming back to Edinburgh, I gathered all the information of possible sites I could visit on feet within 4 to 5 hours, and here are a few things I explored during the walk:

  1. Statue of Sherlock Holmes:

Although a fiction-character, Sherlock Holmes has a real statue in Edinburgh! Anybody who has read Sherlock Holmes also knows its author Aurthur Conan Doyle cannot miss this place. Close by to the Holmes’ statue is a pub named The Conan Doyle (see below)

Conan doyle

  1. Bronze statue of Adam Smith:

Adam Smith

A 10 feet long monument of Adam Smith cannot be ignored. The celebrated economist, philosopher and author of “The Wealth of Nation”, is one of jewels in the crown of Scotland.

  1. Statue of James Clerk Maxwell:

Interestingly, this was the hardest thing to find in the city. It was at a remote corner of the town, and very few people knew that there is indeed a statue of Maxwell in Edinburgh city. It took me almost 45 to 60 minutes to explore the statue. I was almost about to give up, but somehow I did not want to….so I went ahead, and found this statue of the celebrated physicist. It was a happy moment!

  1. The famous Scotch Wishky trail:

Whisky trail

How could one miss this! This was one of the easiest things to find on my path, and what I found inside this trail was nothing short of breath-taking variety of Scotch.

  1. The cliff edge:

Sky and green

This was strictly-speaking not during the walk in the city, but just before that, and is perhaps the picture that has stuck in my mind all the while when I think about Scotland. Unconsciously, when I think of diffusion in space and time, this is the same picture that comes back to my mind. There is something unique about a person at cliff edge, all by himself exploring his universe…I find it kind of philosophical and fascinating…..and also goes well with abovementioned poem.

Brain is a strange thing. It forces us to connect the unconnected, and the above content is just an example. Towards the end of the trip, I sat on the train back to Glasgow. I started listening to the music on my headphone, and the song on my playlist was Hotel California. As I relaxed back in the seat, I was struck by these lyrics :

Last thing I remember, I was
Running for the door
I had to find the passage back to the place I was before
‘Relax’ said the night man,
‘We are programmed to receive.
You can check out any time you like,
But you can never leave!’

I had checked out of Edinburgh, but my mind has never left that random walk…..


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