|On a clear midsummer morning, I cycled my
way westward from Dundee in the east, through the city of Perth, and onto
the open road heading for faraway Crianlarich. Once there, I hoped to find
a bed in the youth hostel for the night. This is a long but lovely road
for a cycle ride. There are field upon field as far as your eye can see.
If you are lucky, and have chosen the right day and hour to travel, you
can miss lots of traffic. On a Summers day such as this and with the wind
constantly in your face, the smell of growing things is everywhere. One
such strong and lasting one is the heavy pungent smell of the oil seed
rape. Yellow on yellow, the fields stretch with the strong heavy scent.
Cycling at a steady pace, I always wondered why the wind always seemed to
be in my face and, no matter what road I was on, I never ever seemed to
get a tailwind ... but today, that didn’t seem to matter. The first
village you come to is Methven, and in two blinks you are in one end and
out the other without noticing then and on again as the road swings
slightly south towards Gilmerton... into Gilmerton and a glance northwards
up the Sma Glen and then south for a while into the lovely welcoming arms
of Crieff. Crieff is a small town, larger than a village, with a few
hotels, good pubs, and a place in the square, where, if you are a checkers
player, you can play checkers on a board larger than life .. where the
checkers have to be moved by two hands or your feet. From this checker
board, you can look south down the steep road that leads deep into the
county of Clackmannanshire.
However it’s westward I’m for ... to
the little country village of Comrie ... through Comrie and towards the
ancient St. Fillans. It was on this stretch of the road that I stopped to
observe, in a field about a quarter of a mile from where I stood, a farm
worker in his tractor, moving up one row away from me then turning, coming
back up another row towards me. He was intently looking to the side and to
back of his tractor. He approached me very slowly, and then again turned
down the next row to the end of the field. I sat and watched him. He took
about five minutes or so to complete each row and I must have been there
for half an hour or so. Looking at my watch, I decided to mount my bike
and continue on. The tractor at this time was about half way up the row
towards me and I lifted my arm in a silent farewell. The tractor man
looked and paused a moment. I hadn’t realized he had actually noticed me
... so intent on his work he seemed to be ... but he raised himself and
looking towards me, lifted the bonnet from his head and gave me a wave. It
was in this moment that I realized that a silent communion had passed
between us ... both lovers of the land ... one toiling and tending to it
...the other passing across it ... both in our own ways enjoying the day.
And so it was, I came to St. Fillans.
From here you travel along the north shore
of Loch Earn. The road winds its leisurely way ... the loch always visible
through the trees ... lots of campers on the shore ... the vehicles and
tents visible and their smells of cooking wafting to my nostrils. On these
country roads, the traffic is not all that heavy but I have to, at
intervals, alight from my bike, and rush to the aid of an errant,
jaywalking hedgehog. Scooping him up, and chancing the odd sting of his
spines I rush him to safety into the ditch ... his only mistake ...
trying, in his slow waddling walk ... run the gauntlet of passing
vehicles. Lucky him
on this day ... not for him the fate of his kind whose remains dot the
country roads. Slowly, slowly now, for I am tiring, I now approach Loch
Earn head. This is a tourist trap of a place. A few fancy hotels, but the
one I stopped at was the old stone one. Loch Earn Head is a T-junction.
The road south leads to Balquhidder, resting place of the most infamous of
the MacGregors, Rob Roy himself. Northwards is my biggest challenge, a
five mile hot and weary slog, pulling man and bike all the way up and over
Glen Ogle. But for the moment ... a meal in the old hotel. It was there
that I met the old
A quick plate of chips and a cold beer and
a nod of the head towards the old one. He was an old timer with the stamp
of the country loon on him ... faded old pinstriped suit ... grubby shirt
collar and polkadot tie. His boots were proud and shiny black ... lots of
spit and polish there. I asked him a few questions about the area and he
asked from where I came and commented on the length of journey
I had still to complete. He then proceeded to tell me the story of the
city folks who used to come each year for their holidays. This annual
event happened at the tyme of the Glasgow fair. I don’t know when this
started; it may have been just before or after World War II. A certain
farmer in the area had a field
lying fallow and had been approached by a delegation of people from the
working areas of Glasgow. The Glasgow fair was approaching. This was a two
week period when the working people in Glasgow from the factories and the
shipyards had their annual two weeks summer holiday. These people wanted
to rent the field from the farmer in order to bring their familes and
friends for a holiday in the countryside. The farmer, seizing the chance
of a good deal, gave permission ... and so it was that the
Glaswegians came to Lochearnhead. They were first viewed with a certain
suspicion by the locals for they spoke a different kind of Scots. They
seemed cocky and full of confidence, loud and pushy and with a strange way
of talking out of the side of their mouths. The first week, they moved
into the field and with a military efficiency had organized their
temporary village, everyone to their own job for things to run smooth.
Before moving in however, they had posted invitations through the local
churches and newspapers to all the locals to join them in friendly
sporting competitions. First and foremost was the games for the bairns ...
all sorts of race ... nothing but fun. There were football games for child
and adult alike, boxing matches, highland wrestling, tug-o-wars running,
hurdling, and swimming races in the loch. Nothing was overlooked. In the
evenings when bairns were abed, the musicians and songsters would gather
and entertain the folk long into the summer nights.
The old man mused....on the romances which
blossomed, for the’ sair herts’ that were left to break, with the
going of the visitors. He chuckled in his remembrance and I suspect that
he may have been
responsible for one of these injured hearts.
But he said they returned the next year and
for years after that. Fast and lasting friendships were struck. The
Glaswegians had changed, from being strange in the eyes of the country
folk, to welcome summer visitors.
Alas, with the changes in the sixties and
the affluent society invading, working folk were able to go farther abroad
for their summer recreation and so there came a tyme when the visitors
stopped coming. They were sorely missed, but as tyme passed, fewer and
fewer folk could remember their coming.
The old man’s story was told. He got up
to leave and shook my hand, wished me a safe journey and was gone.... I
had stayed later than I had planned and there were still a good few miles
to travel and the thought of the cycle up and over Glen Ogle was not one I
looked forward to ... however, such is the choice of countryside
It was two years since I had met the old
man and again, I was on the same journey. On approaching the junction
however, I was dismayed to discover that the hotel was no longer standing.
It had been destroyed in a fire the year previously. I enquired at the wee
shop further along the road as to the
whereabouts of my old friend. No one knew who I was talking about ... and
although he had been a regular at the hotel’s small bar, of him there
was no information.
I never saw the old man again....