The John Muir Way with
Neil and Russ
24 March 2018
We caught the bus from Falkirk to get to Princes Street. It was a beautiful Sunday and we checked timetables to make sure that we hit the right stance. The bus had a few passengers waiting: it was a single decker, useful around town probably not the best for long haul journeys such as the 27 miles to Edinburgh. We followed our fellow travellers onto the bus, our Bus Passes in hand: mine from Falkirk, his from Fife. The ritual is that you clasp your card in your clammy mitt and press it onto the pad until it pings up for the driver, but you need to state your destination.
“Whaur ye goin’ tae?”
“Edinburgh. Put it on?”
Places card on pad.
I make my way to the seat two thirds of the way back which is over the wheels and therefore higher than the body of the kirk.
Meanwhile, Neil is having a problem with the machine and the folk on the bus watch Neil’s struggle with the machine. I apologise to the passengers, and identify myself as his carer. Passengers chortle. Neil says something pithy, and the machine says “Yes”. “This” doesn’t happen in Suffolk, although in fairness I can’t remember being on a bus in Suffolk. The “this” being an acknowledgement that a) someone else is nearby b) that you are there and c) that all are part of it, can hear it and would be allowed to comment or laugh.
Neil came down to stay with us in Suffolk for a week a few years back to help with some DiY stuff. I was working for part of the time, so Neil decided he’d walk into town (Sudbury, pop around 24000 – look it up on Wikipedia) and sample the local brews. So, off he trots.
Neil came back growling. He’d walked into the first pub in North Street. Ordered a pint, tried to strike up a conversation with the barman. Drawing teeth. Tried talking to another customer who by Neil’s account almost went into shock. Neil heads for the next pub and has pretty much the same result. Not a happy bunny when he got back, and he still refers back to the experience. Culturally, Neil’s culture is as geographically close to Scotland and is far removed from that of East Anglia. Having a joke down the bus with other passengers joining in is not something that would happen in Suffolk even on a bright Sunday morning.
It seems like all buses in Edinburgh go through Princes Street, so at 9:20 on a Sunday morning, there’s us: Neil and me, standing at a bus stop on Princes Street. Sunbathing. The walk has been incredibly un-rainy for all the walks so far. Amazing, and now we were basking in the sunshine awaiting a bus out to Prestonpans with an excellent view of both the castle and the bus stop opposite. Altogether a good start.
This is the usual start of the day photo. Please note: Neil likes to wear Arthur’s Seat in his left ear. I favour the right.
I’d been to Prestonpans couple of years ago on one of our jaunts to Scotland to see family and, that time, friends. Old friends from Holland were over for a conference at the same time as Sarah, our favourite daughter( i.e. only daughter), was running a half-marathon. We’d motored across to Prestonpans in search of the course and in so doing had driven and walked along a bit of the route, which included the Prestonpans murals.
Sarah, (seen above being silly for admiring parents) is important: Sarah is the éminence grise behind all this writing malarkey. She does the techy stuff, and acts as an editor. “Acts” not being defined specifically as tragic or comic. She is primarily responsible for setting the blog out properly: the content is mine, the mistakes are hers. It’s her fault.
So, anyhow, I knew the murals were there.
Neil and I got off where we’d got on, in the main street of Prestonpans not far from “The Goth”.
Prestonpans is a pretty average-looking place, but is hooching with civic pride. The series of murals depict the history of Prestonpans, its people, its culture and its buildings. The project was initiated in 2000, and developed following visits to towns across the world who had created such murals as a focus of civic pride. The idea came from a small town on Vancouver Island where the main industry, a saw mill, closed down appearing to be the end of the township.
“Chemainus was a saw mill town on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, which faced no future when its MacMillan Bloedel mill closed. But it refused to die, and created the concept of telling the town's history on outdoor murals by leading Canadian artists .. and the tourists came to see. Today the small town is a byword for self help in the face of adversity. And in 2000 it opened its own theatre club as well.”
So Prestonpans has its murals, like Chemainus, like Kati Kati and like others. Prestonpans has a mural of John Muir, possibly because the John Muir Way was drawn through it but and perhaps because of a sense of connection with what Muir stands for. The Way has images of John Muir with its little purple badges, but this is something else. Each of the towns speak of the resistance of communities to economic decline.
Visiting Scotland with school friends after we finished school was memorable, and was informed by John Prebble’s books on Culloden, the Clearances and Glencoe; living in Scotland made that all the more accessible. My life in Scotland In the ‘80’s and ‘90’s was like being a spectator, perhaps a fan, seeing the changes taking place. I remember standing at a window looking out over the derelict Bathgate factory site, thinking about the Proclaimers and “Letter from America”. Seeing the disintegration of industries — Ravenscraig, the miners’ strike and ending of the pits with the ‘Gannet so near, the loss of Carron, ICI and the changes in a way of life I saw as a spectator, an Outlander. Where my children were born. Seeing communities re-discovering themselves, like Prestonpans and like KatiKati, that I have visited (accidentally), and Chemainus which I haven’t, asks questions that beg answers.
There is something about lost communities in Scotland and across the world, and something about pride in communities that lose their wealth but which reclaim their heart. There is something about “place”, something about belonging