Recently I visited Elcho Castle for the first time. It’s a fine place, just by the river Tay not far outside of Perth. Elcho had been on my list for many years but to be fair Elcho isn’t the easiest place to get to. I got there by car but I don’t drive. I don’t plan to either. There’s enough cars and enough motorists without me. Besides I’m a bit of a daydreamer so one wrong move and I would end up in the Clyde. That’s not an optimal scenario, to be honest, so I’ll keep to the buses and the trains. It’s only when places like Elcho are on the to-do list that I begin to reconsider it. Elcho is in a beautiful part of Perthshire, by a village called Rhynd. As far as I can see, Rhynd doesn’t have a bus service. Its nearest town, Bridge of Earn, is 4.6 miles away, a decent walk along a country lane. That’s 4.6 miles one way so if I wanted to get there by my own steam, a 9 mile round trip would be required on foot without considering the journey to get to Bridge of Earn and anything else I might actually want to do that day. Sometimes it’s worth going places with someone who drives.
I can off-road it and have done quite a few times. One of the earliest was in 2010 when I went to Crichton Castle, about 2 miles from Pathhead in Midlothian. I got the bus to Pathhead then walked from there, along another of those country lanes out of the village and towards the hamlet of Crichton. I turned right and walked further down by the church and soon the castle came into view. Crichton is one of my favourite castles, in a dramatic setting high above a valley with precious little urban sprawl to be seen. I’ve been quite a few times though mainly by car. That day I remember for having walked along farm tracks to and from the castle and then going to see In The Loop, the Armando Iannucci film featuring Malcolm Tucker, now of course only the second best-known character portrayed by Peter Capaldi.
Another one that still eludes me is Kellie Castle, not far from Pittenweem in Fife. It is a National Trust castle so a building with a roof and generally jolly volunteers, as befits an NTS property. I’ve wanted to go for a while, partly because it is in one of my favourite parts of the planet but also because of the castle itself, which appears in two of the nicest paintings in Kirkcaldy Art Gallery by John Henry Lorimer, whose family also owned the castle. The NTS website advises me that there is a Flexibus that can be booked from Anstruther but being a person who doesn’t always operate to a plan and indeed often works on the hoof, booking a bus in advance might not work for me. According to Google Maps, it is a 3-mile walk from Pittenweem, taking just over an hour but with an ascent of 180 feet. Not one for a hot day then.
The one I really want to see is Hermitage Castle. I’ve wanted to go for years. It looks amazing, in the middle of a moor with a history of Border reivers and, inevitably, once visited by Mary, Queen of Scots. If a queen and her court could make it there in the 1560s, surely I could in 2017 with all the trappings of modern life. I have just been looking at the bus timetables to try and get there, which involve getting a train to Carlisle then a bus to Newcastleton or Hawick then another bus from there, and it is giving me a sore head, full of caveats and conditions that buses only run Mondays to Fridays or on Fridays during the school holidays. It will happen, I’ll make sure of it, but I am scunnered if I can figure out exactly how.
One place that is far easier, despite being a mile from a bus stop, is Dryburgh Abbey in the Borders. I was there in July, having got the bus to St. Boswells and walked along the Tweed to the Abbey. I remember the first time I went. I was with my auntie and we asked the bus drivers at St Boswells for directions. Bad move. They didn’t have a clue, being people whose legs had four wheels on them. Luckily I now know better and the walk is part of the experience, a part of the day I look forward to rather than just being just a means to an end.
I am always excited to visit new places, particularly those which have involved the most effort to be there. I am writing this post in mid-August and at time of writing, I have a few ideas of places I want to get to this year but require a bit of a hoof. Two are in my native county of East Lothian and not so far from each other, the Hopetoun Monument in the Garleton Hills just above Haddington and Chesters Hill Fort near Drem. Drem is on a train line (but has very few buses) and is about a half-hour walk from Chesters. The Hopetoun Monument can be done from Drem but is easier from Haddington or better still the road end, which is infrequently served by buses. Amazingly I haven’t been to either of these places before, despite having grown up not far away. The OS maps have been consulted and I am pretty much waiting for the right day to go about it. I like to walk and it clears my head as well as being good exercise. 9 miles is pushing it, mind, and it’s why some places are just not possible by public transport, as much as I would like them to be.