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Cycling - The Lochearnhead Tale


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 the
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
man.

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 cyclist....

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....

Graham


Read other stories from Graham Donachie