Napoleonic, WSS & ECW wargaming, with a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that


Wednesday 10 July 2024

Hooptedoodle #465 - Much to See on the 253

 After some rather hectic weeks of trying to plug holes in dykes, I am pleased to be able to say that I have managed to get my mother safely relocated from a local residential care home (which our County Council has suddenly decided to close - they didn't ask my mother, by the way) to a very satisfactory nursing facility in Berwick-upon-Tweed. The move finally took place on 28th June, and it all seems to be working out rather well.

Berwick-upon-Tweed (which I shall subsequently refer to as just "Berwick") is the famous old frontier town, which at various times in the past has been in England and/or Scotland. It is about 45 minutes drive from where I live, so not an impossible journey by any means, but over the last few weeks I have made quite a few trips down there to get things sorted out. Today I had to make another visit to sign contracts and set up payment details and so, partly for a little variety and partly to take advantage of the free travel pass available for Very Old People like me, I travelled by bus.

 
My bus, in far more pleasant weather than I saw today

The bus journey takes almost exactly twice as long as driving there, but I decided to make it a day out, and took my camera along. Surely, I hear you thinking, the old fool isn't going to give us an illustrated narrative of his free day out on the bus? Well, yes - in fact that is the plan, though it may be even less promising than you fear - the weather was so awful that I didn't get to take any useful photos, so I shall use a few borrowed from elsewhere.

This now stops being a tale about me and my bus pass, or even about my mum, and becomes a little potted history of part of the A1 - the Great North Road.

The A1 is the official main route which connects Edinburgh and London, the capital cities of Scotland and England. The London Road from Edinburgh has evolved almost beyond recognition over the years, as you would expect. Back in the days of stagecoaches, roads connected villages to local market towns, some of which were large enough to offer stabling services for horses and hospitality, and the run to London consisted of an extended join-the-dots puzzle.

As time passed, many of the towns were bypassed, new expressways were built across-country to get traffic away from town centres and speed things up, and a lot of places were left high and dry. It surprises even me, but I am old enough to recall when the A1 used to include the main streets of a few villages which are well off the beaten track now.

I have always been interested in this stuff; in a village about 6 miles from where I live, there is a fine old stone bridge - single track - which was a toll bridge on the London Road into the age of the motor vehicle. It was bypassed in 1927 by the new link road which later became the A1, and that new road was itself bypassed when a brand-new, motorway-standard A1 section was opened in about 2002. This is all progress in all sorts of ways, and the little stone bridge is now just an old curiosity in a quiet backwater town.

 
I boarded the bus at East Linton, which is about half-way between Haddington and Dunbar

My trip was on the No. 253 bus, run by Borders Buses, which travels from Edinburgh to Berwick, and it goes all over the place (which is really the whole point, both for my trip and for the existence of the bus route in the first instance). The reason it takes twice as long as a trip by car is not because the buses are very slow, it is because the service supports some isolated communities in rural Eastern Scotland which otherwise might struggle to survive at all. This is an oft-forgotten aspect of public transport. I just about remember the Doctor Beeching years, when railways which did not make a profit were culled wholesale, and stations were closed in their hundreds, which was hard luck for those people who were stupid enough to live in the wrong parts of the country. Mrs Thatcher's later privatisation of local transport services complicated things further (as countless visitors to rural bits of the UK will testify).

 So today's run to Berwick included many loops off the A1, to visit (as far as I can remember) East Linton, Dunbar,  Innerwick, Thurston, Crowton, Oldhamstocks, Cockburnspath, Grantshouse, Reston, Ayton, Eyemouth and Burnmouth. I saw a few places I have never seen before, and some I haven't seen for a long while. Some of them used to be on the A1 in living memory (well, mine, anyway), some are just outliers. They are not all trivial; the river crossing at East Linton was of military importance right back to ancient times; the castle at Innerwick was one of the lairs from which the Moss Troopers tormented the English army after the Battle of Dunbar; Dunbar itself and Eyemouth were important fishing ports until comparatively recent times. 

I emphasise that these are not my pictures, just things I borrowed from the Internet to add some body to my little story.

 
The 253 well off the beaten track, in Eyemouth town centre
 
 
Ayton High Street, a very long time ago
 
 
Burnmouth Harbour
 
 
The Mercat Cross at Cockburnspath, founded by James IV
 
 
Dunbar High Street
 
 
The old bridge over the (Scottish) Tyne at East Linton, once part of the London Road, with the old Toll House on the right
 
 
What remains of Innerwick Castle
 
 
Nearly 60 years after Dr Beeching closed the last one, they have a new railway station at Reston. Here you see a typical resident waiting to get on board [this last bit is a joke, by the way]
 
 
Reston - has both a railway station and a post box...



21 comments:

  1. Very good to see that the work of getting your mother satisfactorily situated has ended successfully. I enjoyed your local transportation history. Out in the western USA, a 45 minute drive is nothing. We rarely think twice about hopping in the car for a 45 minute drive. In fact, one of my regular gaming buddies lives about 45 minutes away in the neighboring state.

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    1. Thanks Jon. My occasional experiences of driving in the western USA (mostly California) confirmed that travel is very different there. Since distances are large, and people just have to go about it in a sensible way, it seems to work because motorists stick pretty closely to the rules.

      In the UK, we have an instinct to make it into warfare; the man with the more expensive car will expect to be allowed some freedom of interpretation; 12-lane freeways would not work in the UK because some idiot will insist on driving at the wrong speed, and overtaking on the wrong side, just for the sake of it. Just to spoil someone's day.

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  2. Very interesting, thank you. Every time I travel up the A1 (sometimes all the way to Edinburgh) I am conscious of travelling in the footsteps of history, even if the actual route has meandered around a bit. Some bits of the section between Alnmouth and Berwick still feel like a single lane cart track...

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    1. Agree wholeheartedly about the Alnmouth-Berwick experience! For some reason I rarely see dry weather on that section, which must take more serious planning. The equivalent road on the West side, the A74, was completely upgraded to motorway standard as the chief remembered work of Malcolm Rifkind (who was once my MP). I recall when the A74 was a real horror, with a shared overtaking lane in the middle! The A1 has mostly been a poor relation, which maybe suggests that Glasgow has been a more important place to get to.

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  3. I enjoyed reading about this route. Long ago at a key point in my life I was resident and working in Berwick - I have good memories of that time. Thanks
    Stephen

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    1. Thank you Stephen. A fine part of the country. Berwick itself has been off the A1 for many years, of course, sitting in a big loop which crosses the Tweed on the far side of Tweedmouth. The evolution of travel has made the main landmarks for motorists travelling through the area the River Tweed bridge and Morrison's supermarket!

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  4. Interesting for someone who approached Berwick from the opposite direction.
    I think if you are coming from Alnmouth you are using the Coastal Route and not the A1.....
    The CR does indeed meander through small villages - between Alnwick and Bamburgh is a route I have travelled many times by bus, car and on foot....
    Travelling from Newcastle used to take 2 hours by bus; 1 hour to get to Alnwick and a further hour to travel 20 miles....
    The train used to stop (occasionally) at Chathill - not sure if it still does - linked to the coast villages by a Post Office minibus!
    Neil

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    1. Hi Neil - thanks for this. I think both Martin and I meant Alnwick rather than Alnmouth - I have less experience of the coastal road - my trips to Holy Island and Bamburgh were usually cut-offs from the A1 (Belford?), though I have driven to Spittal. From my far-off musical days I have nightmare memories of journeys driving north on the A1 to get home to Edinburgh from Hull or the Channel ports - always in vans, eternally at 3am, occasionally in thick fog. Coffee breaks at Scotch Corner, Washington, Adderstone in the dead of night; nervous banter; shivering with cold. Thank goodness I was never a professional...

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    2. Yes, the many cut-offs - Denwick, South Charleton and Belford to get off the A1. Apropos of nothing, I was reminded of an episode of the Likely Lads where they challenge each other to a cycle race, to (IIRC) Berwick from Newcastle, with lots of cheating. One of the excuses is about taking "the Belford bypass" which at that time didn't exist....
      The A1 has improved with many of the towns and villages bypassed; it used to run through Morpeth and Felton with the subsequent delays.
      The A30 down in Cornwall was a similar experience; it's almost as if the peripheries don't really matter to Westminster....
      Neil

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  5. Very pleased to read that your Mothers situation has now been sorted and that she is settled.

    That was an interesting and enjoyable morning read Tony, I feel as if I have had a day out without leaving the house.

    Bus pass? I really must get my application form filled in now that I am also an official Old Person!

    Cheers,
    Lee.

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    1. Thanks Lee - I like to think that successful relocation of my mum is all down to my own initiative, but to be honest I got some invaluable help, and certainly a couple of good breaks! Most of the help I got was not from people who were supposedly paid to help me - interesting, that.

      Bus passes are great things - no doubt. Useful for routine getting about, but also brilliant for planning special trips!

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  6. Very interesting and brings back a few pleasant memories. I rented a cottage on the lennoxlove estate for a while. Spent may happy days pottering about on the backroads with my dog in the car exploring.

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    1. Thanks Mike. Lennoxlove brings to mind the road to Gifford, and then up to Yester and Hopes Reservoir, or else the run over the moors, down the Whiteadder valley to Cranshaws and Duns. Great places to visit. A lot of history too - I'm very keen on the Covenanter army with Alexander Leslie, heading down to the border in 1643.

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  7. Good news about your mother, you must be relieved. Always good to see some pictures of buses, and your little travel piece was fun to read and think about. We travelled the A1 recently from the A14 to Northumberland, sadly suffering a two-hour traffic jam at Pontefract where the whole thing was closed for 'improvement'. We noticed that the famous Ram Jam Inn is no more, and in the process of being redeveloped for apartments - presumably to be named 'Dick Turpin House' or similar..

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    1. Thank you David - the more the merrier - remember your bus pass as and when appropriate. I have a recollection that you occasionally used to visit Joppa or Portobello in Edinburgh; if it wasn't you, or if it was somewhere else entirely, then shake your head gently and move on; if it was you, did you drive up to Scotland on those trips? Getting to Edinburgh from the Sarf-East gives a choice of the A1 (with the strange century switch between Newcastle and Berwick, or the M1/M6/A74 run up the west side, which still involves a bit of a ramble between Biggar and Auld Reekie. As I say, maybe nobody really wants to go to Edinburgh.

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    2. Truth be told, I have never been to Portobello or Joppa, but a friend of ours has a share in a house at Joppa, and we rather plan to drop in there one day! Another friend lives at Prestonpans and we have visited there, but travelled by train, I think. So the furthest ( or nearest, to you ) reaches of the A1 have not yet been traversed..

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    3. My mistake - I am impressed that you visited Prestonpans though.

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  8. Good to hear about your mother. A bus or train journey can actually be a welcome change and you can always read if you are stuck in a jam.

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    1. Thanks Matt - not much chance of getting stuck in a jam at Innerwick (unless there is a flock of sheep in the lane), but the potholes make it difficult to read - I've always been fond of public transport (except commuting, of course).

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  9. Glad to hear you were able to sort out a new place for your mother; all very stressful, I'm sure. And thanks for the tour with its many interesting spots. It's not a part of the world I know but one day, hopefully, I might get there...

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    1. Hi David - thanks for your supportive message! Yes, it's been an interesting time - now I can actually relax for the first time in a few months.

      This part of Scotland - which in the context of this post probably means the Borders - is full of character and history. For centuries it has also been an area that everyone passed through on their way to fight the other lot, which means it was also fair game for pillage etc. This is why there seems to be a tradition of living in castles!

      I will probably be roundly abused for saying so, since we are all heavily into sovereignty and patriotism and All That Crap, but it seems to me that the area of Scotland between Berwick and the Forth is a close relative - culturally, geographically, linguistically, industrially, even tribally - of Northumbria. Comparatively, it is far removed from the Highlands - a fact which used to surprise my English relatives when they visited!

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