One way or another, again

In the lead-up to the 200th post on this blog (this is post number 198, incidentally), I would like to revisit one of the earliest posts, ‘One way or another‘, written pretty much a year ago, a discursive essay that took in maps and went through a walk I took along the Fife Coastal Path between Anstruther and Crail. I’m quite proud of it so I am posting it again. Sometimes when you spend a lot of your life writing, you can begin to forget what you’ve written before in the pursuit of new words and ideas. It’s nice, though, to revisit and reflect. Enjoy.

“I like maps. Always have done. I’m autistic and we tend to have special interests so maps was one of mine for a while. It still is, in a way – on my bedroom wall I have schematic maps of the New York subway, London Underground and Edinburgh’s bus network as well as a stylised rendering of the island of Arran, plus this year I’ve bought a pile of Ordnance Survey maps covering great swathes of Scotland. (This was meant to be the summer of exploring, of going out into the country rather than just being in cities – it hasn’t quite panned out that way, unfortunately.) I have Google Maps on my phone and it is, with Traveline Scotland, incredibly helpful in planning day trips or routes on the hoof.

My OS maps have come in handy, though. I went to Logan Botanic Garden near Stranraer the other day and number 82 (Stranraer and Glenluce – The Rhins) came with me and was helpful not only in getting our way from the bus to the Garden but in orientating ourselves in Stranraer. For those who haven’t been there – and I wouldn’t especially encourage it – Stranraer is situated at the bottom of Loch Ryan with land on either side leading up to the mouth of the loch. My dad and I weren’t sure what land we were seeing ahead of us in the distance though we gathered that it was possibly the Ailsa Craig, granite quarry and Bass Rock lookalike.

I was more sure of myself on my last great Scottish adventure, back in May. Every year I take the last Saturday off in May to mark the anniversary of my going on day trips on my own. This year I had hoped to be going to the Scottish Cup Final that day but Hibs got themselves knocked out in the semi final. So, instead, I spent weeks trying to decide where I would go. I rarely get Saturdays off so it was a big decision to be made. For a while it was to be Culzean Castle with a walk from there along to Maidens but I felt like going somewhere more familiar, on the right side of the country. I ended up in Anstruther, on the East Neuk of Fife. Definitely the right move.

Anstruther is justly famed for the Fish Bar, a rather fine chippy where you are guaranteed to spend at least 40 minutes in the queue for a fish supper on a summer’s night. (I also saw Santa there in a surreal incident just before Christmas last year but that’s another story.) It is also the birthplace of Thomas Chalmers, who led the Disruption to split the Church of Scotland in 1843, and the place to get a boat to the Isle of May. I like it for the view. As an East Lothian native, I like seeing my native county from across the Forth, with an amazing panorama starting from St. Abbs Head past Torness, Portlands, Dunbar, the Bass, North Berwick Law, Traprain, the Garleton Hills, the soon-to-be-demolished Cockenzie Power Station all the way to Edinburgh and the Pentlands. I have a photo on my wall, beside all the maps, that I took from the other side of the harbour in Anstruther about five years ago, showing a little sailing boat, a coble, I think, with the Bass, the Lammermuirs ad North Berwick Law in the background, a strand of cirrostratus clouds the only shading on an otherwise bright blue sky. The only view I like more is from the other side of the Forth, overlooking Belhaven Bay, but this one was where I wanted to be that day and so I went on the bus to St. Andrews and then on another down to Anstruther, ready to set out on a wander.

I have an unerring trend on summer days of turning up somewhere when there is a gala day, fete or wedding in full flow. Anstruther’s gala day was, naturally, in progress as I stepped off the 95 so I took a turn around the harbour then set off for Crail, as I planned but a little earlier. The walk, of about four miles, is along the Fife Coastal Path, hugging the coast most of the way with that view, right the way over to East Lothian, in full prominence. It was all the better that day becauae the sun was out, as so rarely this summer. I had never done it before but at least knew the way to Cellardyke and had an OS map for the rest.

Cellardyke Harbour was the busiest I’ve ever seen it with two sea anglers on the harbour wall, some walkers and folks at the pub. The drying green on the harbour was even full of clothes. It was still blissfully quiet with a big sky and usual dramatic setting, with the feeling of great distance from anywhere only augmented by the old buildings along the way on James Street harking back to an earlier time, sure, but were still very much homes for folk. Every time I’m in the area, I take a few minutes to stop in Cellardyke and sit with my thoughts, gazing into the distance over the Forth.

As it turned out, OS Landranger 59 (St. Andrews, Kirkcaldy and Glenrothes) wasn’t really needed except to give me an inkling of what came ahead. Hermit’s Well was one example, a geologically interesting cave that probably housed and otherwise aided smugglers over time, I imagined. I just walked with my thoughts and the view, stopping every so often to take a photo or just to take the load off. I hadn’t done a walk like that for a while and I felt enriched from the experience, even while walking through cows and sheep grazing on the shoreline was a new one on me. (I just walked round them. I didn’t fancy doing the matador bit or worse having the livestock think I was a shepherd and leading them all the way back to Glasgow.)

Looking back at the OS map tonight and thinking about that day in May leads me to think about another favourite walk in the Kingdom, from Kirkcaldy to Dysart. That was a random discovery one day a few years back and one I try to return to at least once a year. Dysart has a whole row of fine 16th century houses and is also blessed with that view across the Forth though Edinburgh with its seven hills is much more prominent, with Leith, Newhaven, Granton and Cramond particularly emphasised on the capital’s waterfront. I have a great love of art and Dysart has a cracking set of sculptures on the shoreline, six or seven posts all painted different shades of blue and grey according to the colours of the sea at particular times of the year.

I looked out my maps tonight and ideas are playing about my head, possibly for travels tomorrow or Monday. I’m thinking Fife or Blackness Castle or the western end of East Lothian. I’ll let the maps sway my decision, one way or another.”


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