Intercity: Stirling

Stirling is Scotland’s sixth city, created by the Queen in 2002 for her Golden Jubilee. It is a place I’ve been to many times and for this Intercity series, I decided to write about the street or streets I associate with Stirling, namely the walk to the castle. Usually when I visit Stirling, I come by train and so it was this time, walking out of the station that wet and dismal afternoon and taking the well-trodden path. I turned up Friar’s Street, usually a place of strong sensory experiences, sometimes loud music from Europa Music, today pleasant garlicy food from one of the various eateries. Stirling has quite a few independent businesses, even on the back streets that lead up to the castle, though as many tattooists as anything else. On this occasion I refrained and walked on.


The many informative plaques that dot Stirling city centre informed this walk, particularly about the many buildings designed by John Allan, like the Tudor-esque building up Baker Street with the Stirling seal on the front, which I had never noticed before despite passing it many times over the years. It was raining a little but I wasn’t bothered, lingering a little to look around. I didn’t know that the cannons on Broad Street, facing down towards me as I walked, were installed in 1904, surplus to requirements up the road at the castle. Wonderfully, the War Office offered them to the council but neglected to mention that the council was to pay for them. Hence instead of the 12 the War Office wanted to offload, the cooncil bought four, two there and two nearby. I paused under the Mercat Cross, topped by our national animal, the unicorn, very appropriate as I visited on St. Andrew’s Day.


At the top was one of my favourite streets in the country, probably the most historically interesting, Edinburgh’s High Street excepted. I made sure I stopped by Mar’s Wark, home of the Earl of Mar, built to be near to the castle of which he was keeper in the 1570s. It felt like the Prime Minister being in Downing Street to be near Westminster. The frontage is magnificent, even if it is ruined, and I always like to look and imagine it in its day. I walked up by Argyll’s Lodging, the old military hospital, and up the stairs to be met by my first sight of Stirling Castle, my favourite of the big castles in Scotland, not least for the magnificent views, even from its Esplanade towards the Ochils, the mountains and the Wallace Monument, fields, towns and all else. It feels you can see all of Scotland from there and it is always nice to be there, even in the rain. It was only manners to finish this walk, go up to the castle, cross the drawbridge and in.

Thanks for reading. This is the second instalment of the Intercity series on Walking Talking. Glasgow came last week, another of Scotland’s seven cities follows next week.


Saturday Saunter: 12th January 2019

So, it’s Saturday Saunter time again and I wasn’t sure what to write today. I started to write a whole treatise about psychogeography and what it means to me but it was getting a bit meta and I was boring myself, to be quite frank. It might just have to be a bit of an aimless drift, just see where I get to.

As this is posted I will be on the way to work so I am writing this on Thursday night. On my telly is Springsteen on Broadway, which recently came on Netflix. It’s an acoustic concert with Bruce Springsteen singing and telling rambling stories. It’s not been too bad so far plus it is quite a nice soundtrack to writing. I work late on a Thursday so usually I’m not ready for bed for a while. I came in and did a bit of yoga, which I have been trying to get into. There was a whole lot of swearing as I tried some of the different poses in my book. I’ve sworn less at the football. Then I put Springsteen on and got my laptop out.


Last weekend I went to Dundee. I managed to cram a whole lot in, including some walks that will result in blog posts over the next few weeks. In the afternoon I ventured over to Fife and Cellardyke. Cellardyke is a village just along from Anstruther with old buildings and a stone-built harbour. From that harbour there is a great view right across the Forth to the Isle of May, the Bass Rock and North Berwick Law, on a good day almost to Dunbar, where I grew up. These were all familiar landmarks from my youth but in reverse. Anyway, Cellardyke is lovely and one day, probably by the time I’m 80 if things go the way they’re going, I would like to retire there, to a little writer’s garret with a sea view. I’ve been there on summer days and cold, wintry ones like Saturday when the sea was the colour of slate. The sunlight was rapidly fading as I walked and stood at the end of the pier for a few minutes. It was the right place to be, well and truly.

Springsteen’s just played Thunder Road. Cool.

While I was in Dundee, I managed to fit in that city’s contribution to the Intercity series, which should appear in about three weeks time. I chose Tannadice Street and Sandeman Street, which is much less glamorous than the Broomielaw or the High Street in Edinburgh but no less interesting. When I write these things, I tend to work from photos, notes and my memory and the piece gets written from there. I had planned to mention an old spinning mill that once sat on that street across from Tannadice. It interested me and could bring in some of Dundee’s industrial history, but as I wrote the piece on the bus home, it didn’t end up in it. I had looked up the street on Canmore and there had been interesting aerial photographs. The experiences of writing and walking are very, very different and it probably comes down to editing, the addition of a filter. I think of writing as like a patchwork. It is all in the stitching. I got a lot out of my trip last weekend, for writing and just generally. Just being able to ramble and explore was great.

On the bus I read Whisky From Small Glasses, a crime novel by Denzil Meyrick set in a fictional west coast town. It was well plotted and the characters had lots of depth, not always the case with crime fiction, and I’m looking forward to working through a few more of the series. I think I have the next one there to read soon.

This weekend I am working today and away again to Fife tomorrow. Fife might involve Dysart or the East Neuk. It’ll definitely involve fish and chips. We’ll see what happens before that.

Anyway, that’s the Saturday Saunter for today. Tomorrow it is Intercity and Stirling’s turn. Wednesday will be Loose Ends and a hill I might have been up last Saturday. I might be able to write a football post for Easter Road West over the weekend but we’ll see. Until next time, have a nice weekend. Toodle pip.

Postscript: Before I forget, it’s recommendation time. Jessica, who writes Diverting Journeys, usually reviewing museums, recently visited Glasgow and explored quite a lot of our fine city plus going to the Necropolis. Have a wee read of that. Also, Natalie at Wednesday’s Child wrote about January blues and I agreed with every word. Finally, Alex Cochrane wrote a good post about tea. I don’t like tea but I liked the words all the same.

Loose Ends: Calton Hill, again

Calton Hill was the place where Loose Ends left off, back in September, a fitting culmination of a few months of connected adventures including old football grounds, the Wild West, castles, bridges and fever hospitals. I was in Edinburgh just before Christmas and decided to start it all off again, beginning once more on Calton Hill, walking up on a suitably bracing December Saturday. It was bright as I headed up from Waterloo Place, as ever moving around the crowds who generally took the stairs rather than the winding way up the hill. There was a gorgeous light cast across the city, the buildings a golden brown hue, particularly across the New Town. From the prow of the hill a shadow was cast across the nearest streets, particularly London Road, a Lothian bus one of the few spots to escape the darkness.

Many connections come from this hill. Quite a few adventures have been launched from this place. The connection that came to mind, though, I can link into a trip very early in the New Year and it’ll be another hill in another city, one I’ve never been up before.

Thanks for reading. Another Loose Ends adventure follows next week.


Intercity: Glasgow


The Intercity series began with the heavens opening. I had chosen the Broomielaw for the Glasgow instalment since I hadn’t written about it before. It had been raining on and off (but mostly on) for days and I had headed into town hoping for a gap in the weather. I started at the junction of Jamaica Street and Clyde Street, walking underneath the bridge. Water dripped heavily in the tunnels under Central Station, man-made caves bringing the forces of nature into the heart of the city. The rain started with a trickle then a deluge as I crossed Oswald Street, rain, hail, wind, the kind of rain that shocks the system and opens the eyes. I nearly abandoned the walk, stopping in a bus shelter for a couple of minutes to let the torrent die down a bit.


Despite the rain, there were loads of people about. It was the middle of the day and office workers went out for lunch, stopped in doorways for a draw of a cigarette or maybe even went for a run, as quite a few did. The Broomielaw is part of the financial district of Glasgow, full of modern office blocks and temples of capitalism. It feels like any city centre only the mighty Clyde flows by. Liverpool and Dublin were just two cities I thought of as I walked, their waterfronts similarly smartened by sleek glass-fronted developments a far cry from the history that happened there in years gone by. There was not much sense of a past of ships leaving for far-off shores or even going doon the watter to Largs, Rothesay or Dunoon. One of the glass office blocks, to be fair, did have a lintel from the old Seaman’s Mission that once stood on the site, a smart galleon.

I walked as far as the Kingston Bridge, when the street had become Anderston Quay, and crossed the road to walk by the river on the way back. Under the bridge was a smart mural depicting a guy swimming, painted for the 2014 Commonwealth Games, one of many around the city, including at the southern end of that very bridge. Nearby was a plaque commemorating a horrific fire at a whisky bond in Cheapside Street in 1960, with 14 firefighters and five salvage workers killed. Next to it was a mosaic produced by local school children to mark the bravery of those who lost their lives that night.

As I walked back into town, I had an abiding sense that there should be a memorial to those emigrants who left from Glasgow for far-off shores. The Broomielaw is a very different place from what it would have been even twenty years ago and in the midst of all those office blocks it would be easy to forget what once happened here. We shouldn’t live in the past but it is worth remembering it, not to repeat mistakes and to consider the legacy from those who left to those who remain today.

All around me were people out for their lunch, passing across the bridges or along the riverside, some like me bound for the city centre, others back to their offices and another few hours’ toil. I came back to the bridge, as trains passed overhead, and the Broomielaw walk was finished. The weather had put paid to much standing and staring but I had plenty to think on as I trudged through the wind and the rain, of the work done there then and now, the world opening up with ship after ship lined up on the quayside as much as the tapping of computer screens and keyboards that defines it today.

Thanks for reading. The next instalment of the Intercity series, featuring Stirling, will follow next week.


Saturday Saunter: 5th January 2019

It’s nice to be back in the swing of things with another Saturday Saunter post, even if I’m writing it a few days ahead of time. Today I will be away for the day to Dundee. I have a few things planned for this blog’s benefit plus some which aren’t, thankfully. I’ve been to Dundee a right few times recently and I’m not sure if the new V and A will be part of my plans, since I’ve been there twice since it opened back in September, but I’m sure I’ll fill my day just fine.

I didn’t do a lot of writing over Christmas week. I wasn’t feeling well plus it was a busy time anyway. I had planned all these posts to come out over the time anyway, including the Best of 2018 and the Best Books posts, which were both written well ahead of time. My intention was to come off social media over the holidays but that failed dismally even after I deleted the apps off my devices as I couldn’t help checking anyway. I don’t think sudden moves like that work for me. What I did do was scrub my Twitter of anything political or shouty, leaving a mix of books, nature and football. I already make considerable use of the Mute function but this felt more of a clean break, making my scrolling time a bit less head-clogging. We’ll see how that goes.

I don’t really do New Year’s resolutions. They tend to be easily broken plus what I want doesn’t tend to change throughout the year. One thing I have been thinking about is yoga, of all things. I know people who do it and it benefits them though like all forms of exercise it will be about keeping it up. I have gym habits and swimming that I mean to keep up with too, with not much success in recent months. I manage to be fairly fit anyway but I want to find something that works, mentally and physically, beyond walking, which I do to get to and from the bus stop anyway. It isn’t a resolution so much as a continuing attempt to get by.

On the book front, as I mentioned in the December digest the other day, I read Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, which was all right, suitably Victorian and conjuring up all these characters and exotic locales through not-too-longwinded prose. I also worked through a few more books from Quintin Jardine’s back catalogue but I think I’m sick of Skinner and his company of coppers at the moment so I need to get to work on something new. Since this is being written in advance, I hope I managed to read a bit more of my to-read pile over the last few days.

Anyway, that’s the Saturday Saunter for today. Tomorrow’s post here will be the first Intercity post, on a very wet day by the Clyde.

Have a very nice weekend.

Digest: December 2018

It feels ages since I wrote the November digest, despite it only being a month since it came out. December has been an incredibly busy month and it is probably only natural that I’ve spent the last few days of it doing as little as possible. It might have helped that I wasn’t feeling well just after Christmas. I’m doing better now, though. This digest appears on Wednesday 2nd January so Happy New Year. Hope it was a good one and lang may your lum reek and all that stuff. Unlike many Scots I couldn’t give a toss about the turn of the year and I tend to pass it quietly with my family, watching a film, exchanging greetings on the stroke of midnight then to bed soon thereafter. We didn’t even have steak pie this year, a staple of many Scottish dinner tables on New Year’s Day, which I’m entirely fine with.

Sunday 2nd December was a Glasgow day. It was very busy at the Riverside Museum though pleasantly quieter at the People’s Palace, visited just as it was starting to get dark. I like the People’s Palace and particularly the Glasgow Comedy video at the top of the stairs. Parliamo Glasgow is something I can definitely relate to.

On Wednesday 5th December Hibs played St. Mirren. It was a draw.

The following day, on the way to work, I stopped off in Paisley and made sure I got a photo of the Snail in a Bottle sculpture on Wellmeadow Street, which appeared in that week’s Saturday Saunter. My shoes got a wee bit muddy but the photos were captured, which was of course the main thing.

Saturday 8th December was a bit mental. I ended up working in the morning, going to the football in the afternoon then to a night out in the evening. Hamilton Academical’s Hope CBD Stadium was the last Scottish Premiership ground I hadn’t visited before and it was all right, bitty with only two stands and an uninterrupted view into the back of a supermarket. Still, the Hibees won, again the main thing.

Sunday 16th December saw Hibs play Celtic. It was a lunchtime kick-off and since we were playing Glaswegian opponents, I made sure I was through in Edinburgh sharp before the trains got too busy. It was a bright if cold morning in the capital and I decided to do the third Intercity walk for this blog, starting outside a castle and continuing roughly a mile downhill to finish outside somebody’s holiday hoose. I may have appeared in quite a few tourists’ selfies as I ducked and weaved my way down that particular thoroughfare. Hibs won against the lesser greens.

Wednesday 19th December saw another visit to the capital to see Hibs play, this time against Rangers. That finished goalless. I enjoyed a walk around Edinburgh before the match, passing around Royal Terrace, under Calton Hill, with a great view across to Easter Road shimmering in the floodlights.

The following day, Thursday, I was off and I ended up back east, this time walking around the Aberlady Bay Nature Reserve, ending up on a beautiful, deserted beach last visited on a considerably sunny and warmer day in May. It was still excellent. I wrote about it here.

On Saturday 22nd December I was back in Edinburgh again, again to see the Hibees play. It was another sunny day and I walked up Calton Hill before going to the game, for spiritual benefit as well as for a future blog post.

My next adventure was Saturday 29th December and it was of course Edinburgh to see Hibs. Before the game, since I left early to avoid being caught up in the crowds heading to or from Ibrox and the Old Firm match, I had a decent walk around the capital, heading down through the New Town to the Botanic Gardens, sitting with my book under the sequoias for a bit, reading of exotic climes through Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, who was of course born a matter of yards away from the Botanics. Hibs got beat and it was a long train ride back to Glasgow. I at least managed to finish my book.

So, that’s the December digest. There will be a Saunter post here on Saturday and the first of the Intercity walks on Sunday. Hopefully I will have some Streets of Glasgow posts after that too. In the meantime, thanks as ever for reading, commenting and following. Have a good month.

Posts this month –

Saturday Saunter: 1st December 2018

Digest: November 2018

Streets of Glasgow: Oswald Street

Saturday Saunter: 8th December 2018

Caledonia Road Church

Streets of Glasgow: Glassford Street

Saturday Saunter: 15th December 2018

Glasgow stuff

Streets of Glasgow: Gorbals Street

Saturday Saunter: 22nd December 2018

Walking along the beach in December

Best of 2018

Books of 2018



Scotrail come in for quite a bit of stick. To be fair they do some things very well and other things very badly. Their marketing campaigns at the moment tend to focus on the new class 385 trains now running between Glasgow and Edinburgh as well as the Intercity services with refurbished High Speed Trains coming into service connecting Scotland’s seven cities. Those are quite cool. I haven’t been on one yet but I’ve seen some of the trains, complete with the silhouettes of prominent landmarks painted on the side.

The Intercity trains gave me an idea for a new series here on Walking Talking, one to get me out on the road across the country visiting each of Scotland’s seven cities. I’ve been thinking about it for a few weeks now and at first I was going to find a street name that each of Scotland’s cities have in common and do a walk on all of them. High Street is too obvious, King Street was possible, as was Queen Street. On a walk the other night, I briefly considered Union Street, but there isn’t an Union Street in Perth. Eventually I decided to pick a street in each of Scotland’s cities and go for a walk, in true psychogeographical fashion. But to make it more interesting I decided that the chosen street should be the first one that came to mind when I thought of that city. The exception is Glasgow since I live here and I’ve written about fifty two streets in this city already for this blog.

Since this is my show and I can make the rules, I’ve decided to twist it slightly. I associate Dundee with two streets that join onto each other so I’m going to write about them. Same with Stirling, which will be part of the walk from the city centre up to the Castle.

I am not sponsored by Scotrail or any other transport company so I won’t necessarily be travelling by train to complete this particular quest. For Edinburgh, Stirling and Perth, most likely; Glasgow, probably.

Next week the series will start in Glasgow and then break out across the country every now and then, basically when I can fit a walk in. Inverness and Aberdeen are a bit harder to manage than Edinburgh, Stirling or Perth, for example, and require more planning. My last series Loose Ends often happened because I could find a connection wherever I happened to be but this can’t be like that. I can’t do Aberdeen after work, for example. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, for what it’s worth, so we’ll see how it goes, beginning next week down by the Clyde…

Books of 2018

As promised, a special post going into the best books I’ve read this year. I should explain that I haven’t made a list of what I’ve read in 2018 so I’m going on memory. The most recent book I read (as I write this in early December) was Michelle Obama’s autobiography, Becoming, which was interesting, not least in how it went more into Mrs Obama’s life prior to her husband becoming President of the United States than the time their family lived in the White House. She came over well, writing with verve, insight and intellect about her life and the experiences she had. I just finished it a few minutes before I started this post.

This year I’ve read more than in any year since I was a teenager. That’s despite working full-time, studying for the first part of this year and keeping up with life and blogging. I read fairly quickly, often when I’m travelling though sometimes on work breaks or at home, as today. I read print books and digitally too, rarely buying given what I do for a living. I can go from reading non-fiction to novels, from crime to football depending on mood and inclination. I went through a Dervla Murphy phase earlier this year and I’ve read a fair few Muriel Spark novels too, helped by it being the centenary of Spark’s birth. Some poetry came through my hands, as well as The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, found when I was in the process of moving house. The latest Ian Rankin, Ann Cleeves, Quintin Jardine and Alex Gray novels were devoured, often a few hours after they came out. In between times, I read a few magazines and periodicals, mainly about football, including Nutmeg, which I contributed to this year, and Glory‘s issue about Irish football.

At this time of year a whole lot of lists of best books of the year appear. Usually they feature the latest popular titles, some which haven’t even been published yet, and very few that are older than six months. I’m not like that. I’ve read a few books published this year, the crime novels listed above plus Michelle Obama, For Every One by Jason Reynolds, amongst others, but I don’t feel a great urge to read the shiniest books right away. For HWFG by Chris McQueer, a selection of beautifully twisted short stories, I made an exception, reading it within a couple of days of receiving it and inhaling it over a couple of sittings. Rebecca Solnit’s new book of essays Call Them By Their True Names is an important book for our times, not just railing against Trump and the other forces of darkness but making a powerful case for the protection and vitality of language (and much else) in these political times. A selection of writings by Nan Shepherd, Wild Geese, also came out this year with some essays never published before, a slim but powerful volume. The Hidden Ways by Alistair Moffat provided inspiration for future adventures with the author walking various routes across our country, pilgrim trails, old railways and herring walks. 

Of the older titles, I enjoyed delving into Muriel Spark’s back catalogue. Of the ones I’ve read this year, I think The Finishing School, her last novel, was my favourite, a carefully created book closer to the modern world but not missing Spark’s unique logic and caustic wit. For something different, I read The Life and Death of St. Kilda by Tom Steel, an history of the people of that group of islands far out into the Atlantic, from their first interactions with the outside world to the eventual evacuation of the last islanders in 1930.


In the Best of 2018 post the other day, I wrote about my best reading experience, sitting on a bench on a sunny day in Culross reading a novella by Chris McQueer. I am often to be found on buses and trains with a book in hand and I can think of few things better, especially which are possible on a cold December day like this one.

My to-read pile is fairly big with some that have been sitting for months, waiting for their time. I have a couple beside my bed now with some in my locker at work and quite a few more on my iPad. Hopefully some of those will make the Best of 2019 list. In my experience the best book is not the last one but always the next one, the one which tempts and finally encourages you to open it to begin. Let’s see what next year brings.

Thanks for reading. I would be interested in hearing what blog readers have enjoyed reading this year. Please feel free to leave a comment.

Postscript: This is of course Saturday and I am away shortly to watch Hibs play. Today’s travelling book is Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, a book I’ve meant to read for a long time but haven’t got round to yet. It is part of a big pile of books I brought home but haven’t had much room to read so far. I think I overestimated my reading time over the holidays.

My to-read pile

Best of 2018

Hope you all had a nice Christmas.

Well, it’s Boxing Day so it must be time for the eagerly anticipated Walking Talking Best of 2018! I actually quite like writing this post every year as I get to look back on some of the most amazing experiences I’ve had over the year, sometimes having my memory jogged by looking through photos as much as going on my first answer. The usual categories apply. Don’t be alarmed, though. There will be a separate Best Books of 2018 post on Saturday. This is about the places I’ve been this year, with a few new entries from last year. Without further ado, let us start with the best museum of the year.

Best museum –

Winner – V and A Dundee

Runner-up – National Football Museum, Manchester

Honourable mention – National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh

Quite an obvious choice this one. The V and A is great. It is very new and shiny, architecturally amazing with diverse and stimulating exhibitions inside too. The Scottish Design galleries show off the best this country has to offer, done with the style and class of the V and A.

The National Football Museum was also great, the Homes of Football and Bands FC exhibitions both tremendous, particularly for the links to the mighty Hibernian, a nice sign this far from home.

The National Museum of Scotland is tremendous. It always is, of course, with exhibits about Scotland and the wider world. The Rip It Up exhibition about pop music was braw.

Best art gallery – 

Winner – Baltic, Gateshead

Runner-up – Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow

The Baltic is a good favourite of mine. I’ve seen many fine exhibitions there over the years, including the Turner Prize and Martin Parr. It can be hit and miss, like all art. I was there as part of the Great Exhibition of the North in the summer and I loved the Idea of North exhibition, which delved into what the north actually means, and the Lubaina Himid exhibition of banners, Our Kisses Are Petals, complete with my favourite ‘Much Silence Has A Mighty Noise’ which would be on any flag for the incredible introverts of the world.

GoMA is of course in Glasgow and I like wandering around its halls. I have been there a couple of times this year. The Glasgow International exhibitions were good, particularly the street model that was on the second level.

Best historic place – 

Winner – Culross

Runner-up – Aberdour Castle

Culross was brilliant. I was there on a beautiful day over the summer. I sat and read (Leathered by Chris McQueer, since you ask) and wandered around its stunning 16th century buildings, the abbey and along the pier. The weather, its effect on the light, and reading in the sunshine made it the best of days.

Aberdour Castle appears here because it inspired the Loose Ends series that took up much of this year here on the blog. I love Aberdour anyway and particularly the painted ceiling which I spent several minutes admiring while lying on the floor.

Best library – 

Winner – Abbotsford

Runner-up – Glasgow Women’s Library

Honourable mention – any library I work in, of course

Abbotsford was the home of Sir Walter Scott and I was there over the summer, as the result of a Facebook recommendation, would you believe. The study then the library were glorious and I spent many minutes looking around their shelves before I looked out the big windows over the Tweed. An incredible place and when I’m a big boy, I want a library like that.

The Glasgow Women’s Library is a place of light in an ever darker world. I am proud that it exists, especially in this city. I need to get back to read more of their Dervla Murphy stock, which I started earlier in the year. Their Muriel Spark exhibition in the summer was tremendous. The ‘PISSEUR!’ print, inspired by A Far Cry From Kensington, was superb. They were robbed in not getting Museum of the Year too.

Any library I work in is very obvious. I have to be biased.

Best place to watch football – 

Winner – Easter Road Stadium, 9th March 2018

Runner-up – Coldstream, 22nd July 2018

9th March 2018 saw Hibs beat Hearts 2-0 at Easter Road. It was glorious, made even more so by the impeccably timed unveiling of a flag that read ‘Natural Order?’ taking the piss out of some poorly judged remarks by Hearts manager Craig Levein.

Coldstream involved watching the Hibs young team against Coldstream, standing by the pitch and having a good wander by the Tweed. It was a warm afternoon and the football was secondary to just being there in that fine place.

This category stays despite also writing a football blog.

Best fish supper – 

Winner – Anstruther Fish Bar

Runner-up – North Berwick Fry

The Anstruther Fish Bar is justly one of the most popular chip shops in the nation. It is in one of the nicest parts of the country too but even if it wasn’t, it would still be stowed out. Their lemon sole supper, sampled more than once this year but one Friday in August, on a bench drying after rain as I looked out to sea, it was truly, truly braw. Served with salt and sauce, as these things should always be.

The North Berwick Fry fish supper was also served by the sea and also with salt and sauce.

Best park – 

Winner – Kelvingrove Park

Runner-up – Dollar Glen

Kelvingrove Park is a very fine place. I’ve been there with my favourite little people, playing on the swings, or eating lunch during a training course. Or on a beautiful autumn day recently in order to get the right words for a blog post.

Dollar Glen technically isn’t a park. It is glorious, wild and dramatic, leading up to Castle Campbell. I was there on a gorgeous, warm day in the summer.

Best beach – 

Winner – Gullane Beach

Runner-up – Embleton

Gullane was visited one glorious day in May. It was very quiet but beautiful, warm and just a perfect place to be.

Embleton is another favourite, visited on a cooler day but another dear, familiar place.

So, that’s the 2018 Best Of. I had a look through the last three of these and there are quite a few new entries. Easter Road has appeared here before, so has Embleton, Glasgow Women’s Library, NMS and Culross and any library I work in. Writing this on a cold night in early December, the Gullane day, started with a wild game of football before heading out into East Lothian, was the best ever, warm, sunny and richly varied, like life at its best.

Next year there will be a few interesting things here. I turn 30 next year. Before then Intercity, walks in each of Scotland’s seven cities, will be happening. As this is published, I’ve managed three of those walks. I like to be thinking of the next thing though posts like this make me think of just how interesting this year’s jaunts have been.

I end each Saturday Saunter post with thanks to all readers, commenters and followers. It is a reflex but I truly mean it. I write this mainly for myself and it makes me happy to think other people get something from it too. Best of wishes to you all, thanks a lot again. Cheers just now.

Walking along the beach in December

Some people associate the beach with warm, sunny, wavy, hazy days of summer, maybe by the Mediterranean or in the Bahamas, people clad in bikinis or swimming shorts, the sand warm under foot, the drinks alcoholic and flowing. I of course grew up in the east coast of Scotland and what I’ve described just isn’t what I think a beach should be. It should preferably be quiet, sunshine and warmth is fine but not a prerequisite. The beach itself would be reachable from my home in a fairly short time, which certainly rules out the Bahamas, probably anywhere by the Med too. There should be waves, proper, crashing ones maybe with an accompanying wind. The dress code is up for debate but the kind of beaches I like tend to be best experienced wearing many, many layers. Maybe even a bunnet, scarf and gloves.

The other day I went to one of my favourite places on the planet, Aberlady Bay in East Lothian. I had been in Edinburgh the previous night, at the football, and while I was in the capital, I had the notion to head out into the wilds of East Lothian the next day, which I had off. Barely twelve hours after I had got off the Scotrail Express at Queen Street heading for home, I was back on it, going east again. After picking up supplies I was soon on the East Coast bus out to Aberlady, the express version, no less, skipping Musselburgh, Wallyford and the Pans in its haste to reach the coast.

It was grey, cloudy but not oppressive nor gloomy. It wasn’t cold either though I made sure I was wrapped up anyway. I got off the bus in Aberlady and walked by the coast road to Tranter’s Bridge, which I’ve written about here before as part of the Loose Ends series. The car park had a couple of vans in it but nothing much else. I crossed the bridge and started into the nature reserve, meeting only a couple of people along the way, including someone riding a mobility scooter, made possible owing to the well-made paths. The bay opened up as I walked and I could see up the coast towards Edinburgh, particularly Arthur’s Seat, the Castle and Calton Hill. Turning left and the capital disappeared, sand dunes higher on the horizon as I walked towards them.

I came to the biggest dune and made my way up, putting one foot before another into the clefts left by previous walkers. At the top I stood and looked back, my view to the left and behind to Aberlady and across to the Lammermuir Hills and Hopetoun Monument. Ahead was the beach, the sea and tankers beyond. Long steps down through the dune carried me down. The last time I had been on this beach was a warm afternoon in May. I sunbathed and everything, a rare move for me, and it was utterly joyful. I sat and read, looked out to sea, lay back and relaxed for an hour or two. It was of course entirely different this time. The sun was nowhere to be seen and it was at least seventeen degrees colder but it was no less braw, with not too much of a wind but waves still crashing to the shore. I could look around and see rain on the horizon, at first towards the Forth Bridges, by the time I left moving east up the Forth towards Burntisland and Kinghorn.

John Muir wrote about the benefits of being in nature, of keeping ‘close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean’. With every step I felt my spirit being scrubbed, the day-to-day not quite eradicated but diminished temporarily, as I looked, listened, thought. I walked along the beach, stopping near the Point at some slippy black rocks. I stood, took photographs and just stood. There was one other person on the beach and as I stood there, looking towards Edinburgh and the Pentlands, they got closer and closer. I only moved when this guy was passing me. I nodded and started to move, reluctant to do so, my body almost figuring out movement again after ten minutes stood still.

The walk back faced the city and I thought about my journey home, the bus then trains across the country into the darkness and rush hour. The bus to Edinburgh left in an hour and most of that time would be spent briskly walking back to Aberlady and the bus stop. I couldn’t help lingering a while, as I reached the dune and especially at the top, once more savouring that view across much of eastern Scotland, before I sighed and pushed myself forward. I reached Aberlady with a couple of minutes to spare, a bus soon coming, a double decker so I could properly appreciate the view coming back into Longniddry, probably the finest stretch of road in the country, certainly the best bus route.

I spent my formative years living by the sea, seeing it most days, usually every day, hearing it, smelling it sometimes. I now live at the other side of the country, in the city and miles from the nearest waves, and there are times I greatly miss being able to be by the sea in a matter of minutes. I tend to think best when I’m walking and at my very best at the water’s edge. The winter experience is often colder, quieter and harder than the sunny, summer equivalent but that’s not always a bad thing. The time is just more precious, the light scarce but scattered and rationed as the solstice nears. The return comes when it feels a little too early, one’s hand pushed by the light draining from the sky rather than timetable constraints. My visits to the beach are rarer now but all the more special in that rarity, affording a rare pleasure of just being able to think as I watched the waves do their stuff.

Thank you for reading. The next post here is the Best of 2018, which appears here on Wednesday. To all readers, have a very merry Christmas and a peaceful and prosperous New Year.