I grew up not far from the A1. For those unfamiliar with that particular highway, it goes from Edinburgh to London with a few points in between when it becomes a motorway. At Dunbar, north was signposted as Edinburgh, south Berwick, both about 30 miles away. South of Berwick was Alnwick then Newcastle then Durham, if memory serves. Journeys were always bigger when the signs changed and far-off places not only appeared on signs and mile markers but were reached and passed by en route. To this day, I still get excited by the inklings of long journeys on road signs and train departure boards. They are a tantalising glimpse of what lies over the next horizon, even if the reality is much more prosaic than first imagined.
I am writing this on the way back from watching Hibs play Ross County in Dingwall. I’ve been to Inverness before but great swathes of the country north and west of Inverness are unknown territory. My sole trip north of the Kessock Bridge before today was about five or six years ago, a bus trip to Orkney (post here and Islands) which left Inverness at an agriculturally early hour and returned well after dark. The bus hugged the coast road until John o’Groats where we got the ferry to Orkney. Apart from that, it’s unknown, which was why I was childishly excited that my train to Dingwall was going on to Kyle of Lochalsh, a line which becomes a lot more rugged with lots of little stations with long, complex Gaelic names. Recently I’ve been into a YouTube series called All The Stations, where a London couple, Geoff Marshall and Vicki Pipe, filmed their endeavours to reach all 2,563 stations on the rail network. Some of their videos took in the Far North Line I found myself on earlier, including one filmed at Beauly, which has one of the shortest platforms in Britain. Watch it, if you can. There’s a fair few adventures percolating around my head as a result. The football was worth not going further to Kyle and Skye, even while I was tempted.
On the bus back, the road from Dingwall soon reached the A9. There was a road sign pointing left to Thurso and Wick, a good 100 miles up the road. Serious temptation and I may need to yield to it sometime. Even better was a sign I spied in Inverness city centre pointing towards Ullapool, Wick, Aberdeen and Perth, much of the country encapsulated and dismissed by a single road sign pointing left. Such a sign suggests possibilities. I know Aberdeen and Perth well enough that I’ve never been to Ullapool and there can be found ferries to the islands and palm trees. Wick I’ve been through so I can comfortably say I’m not overly fussed about returning. It’s still a possibility. It’s like the sign on the front in Oban pointing towards Campbeltown, which is about 80 miles away but still in Argyll and Bute. A trip to Campbeltown isn’t something I would actively encourage, incidentally, but there are beautiful places on the way, like Tarbert and Machrihanish.
There’s something exciting about just picking up and going as far as you can go. I live in Glasgow so the furthest I can go in a single journey by train varies from Mallaig, Oban and Inverness to the north and London, Bristol and Penzance to the south. I’ve done Oban, Inverness and London so far, though the others elude me as yet. The problem is getting to these places and realising they have untold possibilities of their own, just waiting to be explored. Thankfully for my energy levels not to mention my bank balance, there are only so many hours in the day. There’s always another horizon, though, and a way to cross it, even if it might take longer to come back, even if I might never actually reach it. Very often wonder is good enough.