Walking to Scotland 1965
Part 8: The Cairngorms, Perth to Glasgow and a day and night hitch back to London.
The Story so Far…. Walking Aonach Eagach. The Warden’s husband with a penchant for blokes. A Tiger in his Tank at Fort William and at Glenelg an old woman with rags for shoes and a hat for a pixie. Trouble brewing with the first Sabbath sailing to Kyleakin. Four free-wheeling young wardens in the Kyle of Lochalsh and Kishorn area. Fresh baked bread at Lochcarron. A bumpy ride to Inverness. Aviemore under construction and a Rank “Road Inn” at Loch Morlich.
To Come: Walking the Lairig Ghru Pass. Expensive mince and tourists in Braemar. All at sea Civil Defence on the start to Glen Doll. A street upset in Perth. Glasgow again and day and night hitching back to London, with a Freddie and the Dreamers look-a-like driving madly over Shap. The brand new automatic service ‘Transport Cafe’ at Forton Services, and a better one at the dead of night at the Blue Boar Services, Watford Gap. Trudging around London’s North Circular at dawn. Home.
June 4. Friday. Inverey YH, evening.
I thought the 24 mile walk from Loch Morlich to Inverey, via the Lairig Ghru Pass was going to be difficult, but it was O.K.
Leave YH around 9.30 a.m. Sun’s out but a strong wind and waves are choppy on the loch. Walk along by the loch and take the track making for the Rothiemurchus ski hut. It’s a moderately new track – white crushed stone. Walking along by this characteristic undulating heather area, and then gradually ascend the slope until you reach the hut. Although built in 1951 it’s an awful mess, made of timber and falling to bits. It’s a shabby, jerry built thing. And so the path that brings you onto the Lairig Ghru Pass path. Follows the valley, ascending slowly, sometimes by the burn, sometimes above it and then crossing over by the Sinclair Memorial Hut. Big scree slops on either side, towering up there. I’m going fast, making good time. Pass a party of school boys and their masters, ask the time – one o’ clock. There’s a couple of patches of snow as you get higher, blinded by the sun and the whiteness, one of the few times I wished I had sun glasses. After the snow there are lots of boulders – easy going though, jumping from one to another and unbelievably make the Pass, thinking – this can’t be it, must be further. But it is and there are the Pools of Dee.
Stop by them for a packet of biscuits, a cig and a rest. In front of me the valley descends gradually.
Big sweeping mountain sides coming down to the Dee. Continue after the biscuits, cig and rest. The mountains on my right getting more definite in outline, especially Cairn Toul – snow capped and some interesting, beautiful shaped corries high up at around 4000′.
As you start descending from the Pass and look back you see Braeriach and in its corrie what looks like a small landslide, or scree, shifting.
Come to Corrour bothy hut on the other side of the river, and this is where I branch off. following the slope of Carn-a’ Mhaim.
A party of oldish nice looking, blouses open schoolgirls pass me on the path, we exchange ‘Hellos’. They’re led by ‘Sir’ who gruffly tells me it’s 3 o’ clock when I ask him the time. Onwards now in Glen Luibeg.
Looking back it looks like a hanging valley coming out into Glen Dee. Desolate, wild, barren rolling hills around here. Sun’s gone in but it’s still warm. When I come to Luibeg Bridge it is washed away, part of its concrete foundations lying in the boulders of the river bed. There’s a lot of boulders in the river bed – must be quite a torrent during the melts. There’s a new bridge further up the tributary valley but I decide to ford the stream, being told last night by two blokes in Loch Morlich that you couldn’t. They’d done the route from Inverey yesterday. It wasn’t a problem, so not sure what they were on about.
Along the valley until it starts to get wooded on the slopes, and on down to Derry Lodge.
There’s a big herd of deer, lots of stags, on the other side of the river. They look at me, undecided, move away slowly and as I go past on the other side they move back. Cross the river by the bridge at Derry Lodge and continue walking along the glen, now called Glen Lui, and thinking about Sima and Shula, Israel, and going out to see them and before I know it I’m coming up to the bridge that crosses the river. There’s pine forest on my left. There’s a couple with camera and binoculars and they ask me if I’ve seen any deer – “Yea -two miles down”. “That’s a long way, isn’t it” they say. “Well, that depends”, say I.
Continue until I reach the road near Linn of Dee.
Make for the bridge, some tents pitched on the common, but when I get there it has also been washed away. Cheesed off as I contemplate having to walk right round Muir, but think – blow it. I retrace my steps and cut down to the Dee through the wooded slope. Wander up and down until I find a place I reckon I can ford. This time I need to take off my boots and socks and roll my jeans up above my knees. Socks stuffed in my boots which I’m holding (no room in the rucksack) I wade in. Water’s not as cold as I expected, but the rocks, pebbles and boulders in the river are slippery and hurt my feet. Move slowly across, water up to my knees, strongish current, until I reach the other side. Feel stupidly pleased with myself as I put my socks and boots back on, cut through the wood, make the road, trot down it. Stop by the first cottage, not sure whether it’s the hostel, move along to the next cottage and yes, it’s the hostel.
Enter. The oldish couple with car, the bloke wearing a kilt, who were at Loch Morlich last night are here, and a young couple who were at Glen Nevis on Monday night are also here. Dump ‘sac, go along to the warden’s house and pay my overnight 3/6d fee (17 p), and return to the hostel. Great hostel – must be the smallest in Great Britain – 14 beds. Nant-y-Dernol, Black sail – 16 beds. Beautiful stove – hot oven. Cook pleasant meal for a change. Talk to the young couple – they’re from Croydon, he’s chairman of the Croydon YHA, he gave references for Anne – small world. The girl’s nice, nice and fruity.
The hostel’s on open common ground by the river, there’s trees, big patch of grass and some campers are in tents out there. Two girls barge in – “Is this the key for the bogs?” Tarts. They take it, go in the bog and probably fix themselves up for the night. I eventually go to bed. Outside you can hear people moving around, trying the back door. Fuck ’em. Sleep.
June 5. Saturday. Braemar YH. Evening.
Woke up this morning and sitting in bed patched my jeans by ingenious method of cutting a piece off one of the back pockets. Jeans patched, arse’ole presentable I emerge and have breakfast, porridge minus milk – haven’t had any fresh milk for three days. Bad. Raining heavily outside.
Leave at 10.30 when the rain had dropped off to a steady drizzle. The young couple from Croydon ahead of me, catch them up, walk together for a bit, then leave them as I cross the bridge over the Dee.
Boring walk through parkland, the drizzle eventually eases up
Eventually come to Invercauld Bridge, which is two miles further on from Braemar, on the north side of the Dee.
Cross the bridge and walk along back along the road into Braemar, past a vile looking Braemar Castle, open to the public 10 to 6, and it looks about 60 years old.
Into the craphole that is Braemar – there’s fuck all to it. Mostly Victorian hotels, gift shops and coach loads of old people. There’s nothing else – no beauty to it, no age, so why all these tourists, all these hotels.
The scenery around here’s OK, but it’s not that great. Withdraw £10 from the P.O. and sent a postcard to the warden at Glasgow YH, after buying some food – including ½lb mince that cost 2/4!!. (11p). Me walking out of the butchers murmuring with great feeling “Robbing bastards”.
Walk a bit out of Braemar, going south, past the awful looking Victorian hostel, along the main road with deer fence each side until I find a tight space to sit down behind a crumbled down stone wall on the roadway, deer fence a foot away and eat wads of bread and jam whilst cars zoom past. Eat too much.
Guessing that it’s around 4 I walk back to the youth hostel.
It’s full of jerks, and when it’s like this I can only agree with Willie about hostels – hostels are OK, it’s the hostellers who are a problem, is the way he put it.
A party from South Shields – 3 blokes, 3 birds, 2 cars, one pair of skis, one of the blokes a ponce. But to top it all a S.J.P. (School Journey Party), with a woman teacher who’s got no sense. They take over the self-cookers, and each took a frying pan to fry 4 sausages, when they could have fried the lot in two pans. Masses of lard spitting all over, the place a mess, and everyone else – including me – having to wait until they’ve finished and cleared out. I cooked the mince and had it with spuds, and it didn’t taste bad. (The grudging acknowledgement from Le Patron that it was O.K. was not surprising. Being ignorant, he wouldn’t have realised that the bought in Braemar mince was probably prime Aberdeen Angus, and worth the extra pennies to spend on it.)
More people arrive, amongst them Americans and a young couple with children. Oh accursed hostellers. Sitting at the table after my meal are the young couple, who are touring around in a car. They’ve put their kids to bed, and the bloke has got his National Benzole map spread out all over the table, over my things, and keeps disgustingly sniffing all the time as he pours over his map, mouth half open, looking mental, and these deep, take it down the throat, green snot sniffing, until I feel like smashing his face in. Which of course I didn’t.
June 6. Sunday. Morning.
A foul night. Small dormitory – too many blokes – that bloke sniffing, people snoring, stuffy, couldn’t get the window open. Yes Willie, you’re right about hostels being OK, and hostellers being the problem. Not all, though. The answer is be independent – a new tent, sleeping bag, a paraffin stove and Bob’s your uncle.
Gladly left the hostel at half past nine, and oh gladly walked away from it along the main road until Auchallater Farm, the glen getting more definite as I walk. Opposite the farm where the track starts for Glendoll there are a couple of Civil Defence lorries parked. As I cross the road and walk past them a bloke asks “Are you going to Alpha?” – “Do what?” – “Are you going to Alpha?” What the hell’s he going on about. “Have you got a map?” he asks. “Yea.” – “I’ve got a better one in the lorry, I’ll show you where Alpha checkpoint is.” He shows it to me. The map’s the same as mine. Then I point out I haven’t got the faintest idea what the fuck he is talking about. – “You’re a scout aren’t you?” – “No.” – “Ah.” I trot off after he tells me Alpha checkpoint is a good 3 miles down the track, when it’s only 2. Can you imagine after a nuclear attack relying on these people to organise anything? (In the early to mid 1960s Civil Defence seemed to be mostly involved in training for preparation for a post-nuclear Britain. As the Beyond The Fringe sketch of the time wittily put it, in an answer to a question from Dudley Moore (in a pre Pete and Dud voice) about when normal services will be resumed after nuclear attack, a plummy mouthed Jonathan Miller replies “Fair question, fair question. I have to tell you that it will be somewhat in the nature of a skeleton service.”)
The track along the Callater Burn is easy walking, scouts pass me every now and then, part of this exercise. Come to Lochallater Lodge which I presume is a shooting lodge. Stop and have a cig and then walk along the loch, steep hill side tumbling down and continue to follow the path up the glen until I start branching off to the left, by a broken signpost saying ‘Footpath to Glendoll’.
Start to climb up to near the summit of Tolmont, at the 3014′ point. I meet three scouts on their way down. It’s a sharp gradient as I climb. I stop, start, panting and suddenly, there I am, unexpectedly on top when I thought I had farther to climb. Roll a cig and look around. Incredible plateau top, the first I’ve seen in Scotland.
Someone comes up behind me, hadn’t noticed him. Older bloke with Dartmoor cropped hair and turns out we’re both going in the direction of the hostel, so we set off together. Notice a big boulder with ‘Home Rule for Scotland” painted on it as we walk along. It’s a straight-forward walk down Glen Doll. He shows me where when it snows it can pile up in 50’ drifts, and a plaque to the memory of 5 hikers who died in a blizzard New Year, 1955. So what seems an easy going glen can be very different in winter. Reach the hostel and put off by the number of cars parked outside, but it turns out it’s a SYHA work party. Go in, it’s an ex-shooting lodge.
Warden not in, make myself at home. When she does come in she’s a young at heart warden. Sign in and buy some food from the hostel store. There’s also a couple of elderly English touring around in a car, a Swede and a Scot in kilt with a dirty long whispery grey/white beard. The working party left soon after I arrived. It’s a nice hostel.
June 7. Monday. Perth YH. About 7 pm.
Whit Monday in England, but just a day here. A big breakfast of 3 bowls of porridge with sugar and sterilised milk which the warden sells at the hostel. The hostel’s in a good situation, up here at 1000′, at the head of the glen. Very green, plenty of trees, the mountain-sides sweeping down to the valley floor.
After taking empty crates of orange juice outside bought six heavy ones back in to the hostel, my duty, and then was off.
Walking down Glen Clova – quite a beautiful, green U shaped valley, a few farms – a coach load of kids passes me going up the road to Glendoll. I continue down the glen, Clova further than I thought.
Stop and sit on a rock and drag on a fag. Coach returns empty. I look up, coach driver points down the road, I nod. He stops. Great. I get in. Nice driving along in a big modern empty coach, sitting up front next to the driver, driving down to Kirriemuir. The scenery’s getting smoother, rolling hills, lowland and very green. Hedges, fields, ploughing. Kirriemuir is on the plain. Flat around here, not a mountain in sight and a lot of council houses.
Driver drops me off just outside Kirriemuir, and as he told me, was continuing up Glen Isle, up the Devil’s Elbow and on to Braemar where he’ll pick the party of school-kids up. Walk back a bit into the town. Into a shop and out with dinner – packet of biscuits, date bar and a 1lb of Canadian honey. Walk back out, past the garage on the corner, out into the country. Not many cars. Eat the biscuits and dates, hitch the occasional car. Spend some time there, then as a Vivia (Vauxhall Vivia) zooms round the corner I hitch and he slams the brakes on. It jolts to a halt, I run down the road, rucksack banging, get in and off we zoom. Got quiet a lot of power those cars.
And then I have a horrible feeling I’ve left my map case on the verge. (These map cases were ex-WD cases, usually from the Second World War, bought in Army Surplus stores.) Feel behind the seat and feel it’s strap. Am I relieved. Driver’s some sort of rep – nice bloke. Notice going dirty white shirt sleeve cuffs, slightly frayed. Tells me about the fruit around here – black currants, etc, that are grown and bought by Chivers, Robertson’s. Tells me about what happened when the ferry went over to Skye last Sunday. Apparently 8 were arrested for obstruction as the cars came off the ferry at Kyleakin. A minister got arrested. I can imagine Fred and Willy going over on the ferry out of interest, Willie drunk and shouting at the protestors about religion being the opium of the masses. That would have made him popular.
The driver drops me off at Blairgowrie. He’s off to Dundee.
Sun now hot. Walk out of Blairgowrie on the Perth road. Stand by a golf course. Bloke with shoulder length blond hair is cutting the grass with a lawn mower. On the other side of the road there’s temporary built asbestos sheet houses, and a woman with a small kid in a push chair waiting by the wooden bus shelter. I’m just up from a bend where cars come zooming round and then roar down the straight. It’s hot. Smoke a couple of cigs. Hitch, but no go. Opposite, bus comes, mother and child get on, and off it goes into Blairgowrie. Hitch, but still no go. Perth bus comes – yellow Northern bus – it stops, some kids get off and with a “Will I? Won’t I? – Ah fuck it” I run up and get in. 2/5d (12p) to Perth.
Watching the driver slowly chewing in the reflection of the window where I’m sitting. After travelling through flat green countryside arrive in Perth. Perth. Pleasant enough, although still very hot. Stacks of school children around, it’s just turned 4. School girls trying to look fetching in uniform. Actually, there’s something pleasantly provocative about 17 year old girls in school blouses and blue skirts and satchels. Yes.
A long trek to find a bakers, but when I find one no brown bread. Directed up a side street, that also sells milk. Two women, middle-aged, possibly pros (prostitutes) are crying and screaming at each other, one in trousers, cotton tee shirt, long straggly dirty flaxen hair, crying and waving her arms and saying “I’ve had enough”, and her mate trying to restrain her – she’s also crying, wearing a red 1949 type cut suit. The first one pulls away and goes in a telephone box. People stand on the sidewalk looking, shop keepers come out and look. A bloke slowly dragging on a fag. Some watchers are smiling, others have blank expressions. No-one seems concerned.
Hot sweaty walk up to the YH. Along a short drive off the main road, after a lorry driver passed me, leaned out and pointed up the drive. I nod. Victorian house but peculiarly pleasant inside.
It’s slightly on a hill and looking out of the big windows at the front there’s a view of Perth. 2 Australian women, a sour faced Scot, 2 Scottish girls, a Scottish bloke who’s boring, and tries to get in on everyone’s conversation. Spent a lot of the evening talking to the Australian women and the oldish bearded relief warden.
June 8. Tuesday. Perth YH.
Still early morning but it’s incredibly hot – probably going to be the hottest day so far this year. There’s a misty heat haze over Perth and the slate roofs are shining a brilliant white in the sun. Television aerials, spires and buildings.
A Glasgow Corporation park, around 12 noon. Burning hot, sitting on a green painted bench. So hot you can smell the paint, even though it’s old. Boating type lake in front of me. Several people sitting on the benches, or wandering around, main road outside, heavy traffic. (This was probably Haggenfield Park.)
Left hostel 9.30 am, walked along the road and pursuing a policy of hitching everything it worked – a Jag stops, 1959 type but well kept, shiny black, automatic transmission, feel it pull under you. Quiet engine, sun roof open, radio on. Cruising through the sun burning countryside – very green and somehow foreign, could easily be in Germany or France and strangely there happen to be Mercedes and Fiats passing us on the other side – and even a continental train crossing with the bars up and the warning notice that are all over the continent.
Cruising along, driver’s OK, but says little. Going to Manchester – Jesus what a lift, if I wasn’t stopping overnight in Glasgow. Go through Stirling. Look out at a girl on the pavement, she turns her head and smiles back. If I had an E Type I couldn’t go wrong.
He drops me off on the outskirts of Glasgow and continues for Manchester. I walk in a bit, and come across this park by the main road. Write this, and will find a bus stop in a moment.
Glasgow YH Yeah-hey. I’ve got the job as assistant warden. Although I sometimes thought I didn’t want it, now I’ve got it I’m looking forward to it. It’s a dusty old hostel – the Glasgow dirt. Got a small, rather dingy room in the finance office cum annexe 2 doors along. Top floor, looking south and a magnificent view of the city, should look great by night. Warden hearing I can do posters wants some for the hostel – directions for where the self-cookers are, common room, dormitories, etc.
So, from the park. Decided to walk into the centre rather than get a bus as still mid-day. Hot, hot day and Glasgow’s a dirty city, but a nice dirty city. Seems to be a lot of poverty – dirty and soiled clothes, dirty tired faces. (Le Patron was walking through the East End.) Bloke’s in boiler suits, women, kids, a few bomb sites, pros, big black dirt grimed tenements. Get to the centre and big shopping streets. Down Sauchiehall Street to Charing Cross. Only 2, walk further on. And remembering that Glasgow has no bogs, I come across one, for Gents only. Green painted iron railings, on an island, circular staircase winding down to it. Have a pee and ask the attendant where the nearest Ministry of Pensions and Insurance office is. Maryhill, he says. Uh-huh, and it’s quite a walk, dropping into a tobacconists, asking if I was near it. “Aye well, you’ve got a wee walk yet” and given directions.
Made it. Exchanged my card, just like that – no comments or questions about why it’s only got 20 stamps in it. Wander around until four, then go up to the hostel in Park Terrace – get the news, shown vaguely what I have to do, then upstairs to their quarters and a cup of tea. Then to next door and the room I’ll be sleeping in and a clear out. My Struggle by Adolf Hitler and Albert Moravia’s Two Adolescents in a drawer. Carpenters have been in to replace the window. Swept out all the chippings and filings but can’t get the window open.
June 10. Billericay.
Got a lot to catch up on and try and remember. Left hostel around 8.30 am, and decided to get the bus to Rutherglen – the warden had suggested that as the best way to start hitching south. Warmish cloudy morning. A lot of people around and traffic, all going to work. Walk to George Square and can’t see bus stop for Rutherglen.
Go into the Information Centre. “Get a No.18 in Argyll Street” bloke says. Find Argyll Street and the bus stop and get the No.18 to Rutherglen – outskirts of Glasgow.
Not much chance of a lift so start a long walk out to Hamilton, hitching as I do. No go, walk, hitch, no go. I’m standing opposite a school, iron railings. Derelict expanse of ground, weeds, pylons, industry and houses in the distance. Now very warm. A woman waiting at a bus stop opposite. Hitch and at last my first lift. Bloke in an Anglia, going to his office, takes me out of his way onto the Carlisle road the other side of Hamilton, youngish bloke who’s done camping, hiking in his time.
Don’t have to wait long. Hitch and get a lift to Carlisle in a brand new sky blue Morris van, youngish bloke – some sort of photographic salesman, only I mistook him for an engineer. Van pretty filthy. Doing a steady 40 back along the route I came into Glasgow by. Driver going to New York for his holidays, taking wife and kids, got relations over there. Seems to be making some money. Carlisle about 2 o clock.
I get dropped off at the same spot I was dropped off when I hitched from Cockermouth in May. Into that small round bog where the cars are parked. A pee and a walk through Carlisle – about as hot as it was when I did the same walk to hitch to Penrith. Walk out of Carlisle, sit on that bench by the big ad. board and eat a packet of biscuits. Walk on, past the garage, and hitch. No go for a time then a lorry pulls out of the garage, just misses hitting an office. I don’t hitch but driver indicates down the road. I nod, he stops, the Austin behind nearly going into the back of him, and overtakes with an angry blast on the horn. Driver and his mate. “Where yer going?” Penrith way, I say. He tells me to climb up into the back of the lorry, low-loader. I’m thinking he’s only a local lorry, at first it’s OK but when he picks up speed slate dust starts whirling around, blowing in my eyes. Keep my head down, eyes closed – and oh, what a driver.
Really belting that Morris lorry along, getting impatient when he gets behind a lorry and can’t overtake. Feel the engine, hear the engine start up for a spurt, then relax, start up, relax. Get stuck in a jam in Penrith. Driver’s mate leans out the window. “Where yer going?” – “Lancaster”, thinking they’re not going further, “Well Manchester, actually.” Mate talks to driver then leans out. “Here”, he says, “get in cab, we’re going there.” Oh, fucking great.
Get in cab, sitting on the engine, my back to the windscreen – driver puts a heavy coat over the engine as it’s pretty hot. “Aye, we’re going past Manchester, Sheffield way.” says the driver. He’s a youngish bloke, late 20’s, early 30’s, black curly hair, rough textured face, oily almost, needs a bit of a shave, wearing glasses. He looks like Freddie of Freddie and The Dreamers.
He’s sun-tanned, tattooed arms on the wheel, his mate, Pop, old bloke, wearing a sweat rag. He speaks. “‘Ee, it’s fooking marvellous up here, eh?” They’re great blokes. Been out 2 days, delivering a load of slate to Carlisle. We belt along and then get stuck behind a lorry and trailer on Shap Pass.
This is Shap – a narrow road with bends. Driver: “Look at that fooking lorry, fooking hell.” Then makes a break for it, gripping the steering wheel, the engine revving madly and start to overtake, driver jerking backwards and forwards frantically in his seat trying to make the lorry go faster and pass the wagons before he smashes into something coming the other way. We make it, but bloody hell. Pop hands Woodbines around. Then he hangs a damp dirty white shirt out the open window to try and dry it. Crazy. We’re now on the M6, belting along, Pop hanging his shirt out, hanging on to it for grim death, hauling it in every time we pass a lorry, clicking of lights lorry to lorry as we pass and pull back in.
Pull off the motorway at a newly opened Rank cafe. (This would have been the newly opened Foxton Services, between Lancaster and Preston. Wikipedia says it was opened in November, 1965, but it was open in June, 1965. November may have been the official opening. The nearest other M6 motorway stop in Lancashire was run by Forte.) It says above one entrance ‘Transport’, so up we go, up the stairs and go on in. Transport? Everything’s money in a slot to get your food. You have to buy your tea from an automatic machine – 6d. I go out and down, to buy some Woodbines. Go in the bog – Christ, I look like a coalman – face black, from the slate dust when sitting in the back of the lorry. Buy the Woodbines from yet another automatic machine. Coaches in, coach crowds. Back to the cafeteria, the so-called ‘Transport’ section. They’re sitting there, looking suspiciously at all the ‘nice’ dressed people. Join them and hand round the cigs. “Ee, this is a fooking place, 4/- for fooking salad.” We get egg and chips for 2/- but a slice of wrapped bread and butter is 6d. Fucking robbery.
There’s a bloody stupid woman going around, sort of manageress, going around asking everyone if their food’s alright. Comes to our table. “Everything alright, sir?” It’s fucking ridiculous. Pop looks at her as if she’s from outer space, but doesn’t say anything about the prices. None of us do, sort of shifting around uneasily in our seats. I nip out to have a wash and brush up. Run across to the lorry. Climb in the back. Rucksack’s covered in black dust. Take out my towel and washing stuff.
Into the washroom. Spend a couple of minutes trying to work out how to get water out the tap. Start to dismantle the tap when a bloke comes in, starts to wash his hands, can’t see where the water’s coming from. Ask him. He indicates the floor. A-ha. Underneath the sink there’s an oval rubber thing you press with your foot, and it works. Wash. Return to lorry, cleaner. They return. Check oil. There’s a lorry parked next to ours, artic with a J.C.B going to Staines. Driver tells me to go and see its driver. Do. – “Are you going to London? Could you give me a lift?” – “I would, yea, but I’m not allowed to.” Fair enough. I get in our cab. Artic. driver comes round to inspect his back tyres. Talks to my driver. “No, I can’t take lifts, we have spot checks, insurance, you know.” They have a friendly chat. Artic driver: “Burnt my breaks coming down Shap.” – “Did you?” And then we’re off again, belting down the motorway.
I’d be wondering if I should get dropped off to where they’re going on their way to Sheffield, but decided to get dropped off when they turned off the motorway at the Manchester turn-off. I do. Friendly waves and thumbs up all round as they pull away. Good blokes.
I’m where the main Manchester – Liverpool road passes underneath the motorway approach roads. Plenty of traffic. Get my fawn socks out of the ‘sac and start to brush off the dust. Got most of it off when Anglia stops. I look up. And get a lift. Within 5 minutes. Great. Quietish bloke going down to South Wales. Dropped me off in Wolverhampton around 8 pm. By now I’ve decided to push on regardless.
On Birmingham road – built up, factory type area. Birds dolled up for the evening. Cars with young couples. Hitch and green Ford Prefect stops. Irish chap – looks like a typical Irish labourer – and there is such a thing as a bloke looking like an Irish labourer. Quiet, soft spoken. It’s all built up between Wolverhampton and Birmingham. Drives carefully. Pleasant chat – he’s a ganger for Wimpey. Just about to cross some lights and they turn red and he protectively puts a hand out over my chest as he brakes to a halt. (UK car manufacturers had to fit seat belts from 1967 models onwards, but it was not compulsory to use them until 1983.) Drops me off outside Birmingham, apologising he can’t take me further.
Hitch and a new dark green Zodiac stops. Youngish well dressed smooth bloke, smelling of aftershave. Must have plenty of money as he gets 8 gallons put in the tank at a petrol station. Goes out of his way to drive me to the other side of Birmingham. Now getting dusk, even though it’s only 9.15 pm. Go through the centre that’s called The Bull Ring and surprised me – all mod, underways, overways, looks really mod, lights, colours. Yes, I like it, then back to industrial areas. Drops me off near a sign that says ‘Birmingham Airport 5 miles’.
Start walking. Past a bingo hall around 9.30 pm. Women, nearly all women pouring out, some to get buses, others being picked up by their husbands. Keep walking. A couple of cubs (Junior boy scouts) ask me where I’m going. Walk on and on, never-ending built up areas – no let up in houses, shops, pubs, fish bars. Now getting late – 10.30 p.m, and no lifts. Put 6d (2½p) in a Walls Ice Cream machine, only don’t get an ice-cream or the 6d back. Narked. Into a fish bar, just about to close for the night. Buy a ‘Hubbly’ coke. Further 9d down the drain.
Sit on a bench by a bus stop, a big ghostly empty looking cinema opposite – everyone gone home. Bus stops at the bus stop as I spread honey on my sliced brown bread. Three girls giggle – “Can I have a bite of your sandwich?”. Bus pulls way. Get up, keep walking, keep hitching the occasional motor. Now nearly out in the countryside, of sorts. Lorry stops. Cockney, says he’ll take me to the Blue Boar (Watford Gap). Great lift. Chat in the cab. He’s not going into London, hence why he’s dropping me off at the Blue Boar. Which he does. There’s a specially built transport cafe, proper cafe, beside filling station, a posh cafe for others and large parking space. Around quarter to 1 a.m. Warm night, cloudy night sky, a lot of lorries on the motorway, headlights streaming past, huge amount of BRS (Motorway: The M I and BRS: British Road Services), and a tremendous amount of haulage parked. Go in the transport cafe.
It’s modern, but it is a proper transport cafe. Crowded. Drivers sitting at tables. A young tart sitting by herself. A very young couple – mod couple, can’t be more than 15, at another table. Otherwise, solid with drivers, smoking, drinking tea, talking, arguing, laughing. Two West Indian women serving behind the counter and one white.
Buy two cups of tea and saturate them with sugar, tea like syrup and hot. Idea is to keep me awake. Half eaten plate of egg and chips opposite me on my table. Juke box occasionally plays, pin tables going. Go out to the bogs. Have a wash. 1.15 am.
Outside, walk between the lorries down to where they drive back onto the motorway. Hitch the occasional few that start up and set off, but it’s a car that stops. Austin Cambridge. Young bloke going to London. Casually dressed. Tee shirt and slacks. Gives me the boot key to put my rucksack in. There’s golf clubs in there. Lock the boot, get in and we’re away. 80 – 85 mph all the way. Try not to fall asleep and wondering how it is that the driver doesn’t, as he has the heating on, the windows are up and it’s a warm night. I’m sweating. Pass plenty of lorries, roaring, grumbling along in the night, red tailboard lights. Flicker of acknowledgement lights from one to another when pulling in after overtaking. From picking me up until near the North Circular he doesn’t say a word. Near the North Circular he offers me a cig. Half smoken, he drops me off, him going into central London.
Ah great, cool air after that car. London 2.15 am. Left Glasgow 9 am. Not bad. So a walk round the fucking N.Circular – oh so many times walked. Past familiar landmarks – Hendon Dog Track – making for Edmonton 6½ miles.
The traffic has melted. Hitch the occasional lorry. Stop for more bread and honey. Continue, hitching now and then when something passes. Birds are starting to sing. It’s getting lighter. Cars parked outside houses. A few lights start to go on in flats and houses. I’m now 2 miles from Edmonton and it’s completely light. See a first, early morning red London Transport double decker. Go into a bog and have a wash. My back aches. I’m pretty tired. Hear someone in one of the bogs, paper being ripped at spasmodic intervals. As I pack my washing gear a down and out emerges with his bundles. Stands around aimless after, I guess, spending the night in there.
He’s still in there when I emerge. Sit on a bench. Roll a cig. Go across and ask a bloke standing at a bus stop the time. 5.30 am. Wood Green’s only a mile, so I walk there, passing a couple of coppers. No one else. Near Wood Green a couple of old women off to their early morning office cleaning. Find the Eastern National bus depot. Small inconspicuous place. Get on a 151.
Sit upstairs at the front. Two other blokes on it. Around 6.15 am we move off, and it’s ridiculously cheap to Billericay – 3/3d (16p). I’m asleep most of the journey. There’s a pause at Brentwood and I nip off for a pee and then back on. Some blokes going to work have got on. Brentwood 7.15 am. Nearing Billericay from the top deck I see Dad belting like mad in his Austin 1100, overtaking – and think, Christ what a life. Get off at the Green. Walk round the back of the house. Mum’s making the bed in the bedroom. Doesn’t see me, must be deaf. Go in the kitchen. Pour myself a cup of tea, pot’s still hot. Mum enters – “Oh, hello.” And that’s it. Back again. I could have been just round the corner, popped out and come back. And even though I left when the trees were bare when it was March, it seems time’s stood still, it’s just the same as when I left. Yes, I’m back.
What Happened Next?
Le Patron worked at the Glasgow youth hostel during the summer of 1965. He never got to see Sima and Shula in Israel. In early 1967 he returned to Glasgow and got a job with the Glasgow Parks Dept. Whilst working there he met what became a life-long friend who tipped him off about a job with the Forestry Commission on Arran. He got the job and moved to Arran, September, 1967.