Any excuse to explore a new part of Scotland
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OUT AND ABOUT WITH RALPH: Taking inspiration from the train window and finding time to visit places seldom seen
It’s always good to explore somewhere new in Scotland. I remember a poem about looking through the window on a train journey: "Those roads I've never travelled on, those places where I’ve never been," and indeed on the line from Inverness by Aberdeen to Dundee, that is often true for me.
I’ve explored much of the country around the very familiar route over Drumochter, but the north-east landscape of farmland, rolling hills, woodland and rocky coasts is much less well-known to me.
A few weeks earlier, the need to visit Edinburgh for a hospital consultation gave the chance to visit the tidal Cramond Island. Thousands see it from the air every day on the way into the airport but never go there. It’s an intriguing place I’d always wanted to get to but somehow never had.
The tide was just right for the short walk across the causeway in the morning before my appointment, and plenty of others were also taking the opportunity.
A slippery concrete path runs alongside the wartime submarine barrier. The island was wooded and bigger than expected, a couple of kilometres of paths lead over and round with old pill-boxes along the shore.
The far end seems a long way from the city with terns calling over mudflats and views across to Fife. Harebells, thrift and thyme grew above the rocky shores, there were alders and birches and brambles inland. Definitely recommended for your next Edinburgh visit, but check the tides first!
Now I was heading south again for the operation, doing my best to avoid catching Covid on the busy trains. Alighting at Leuchars, the taxis looked tempting but fresh air would be better so I chose to take my time, slowly walking the last four miles to my son’s in Strathkinness.
Indeed, once I’d managed to cross a very busy road it was a pleasant route up a riverside path, through woods and across stubble fields. The tattie harvest was going well, the veg had mostly been lifted but some huge fields of magnificent brocolli were slowly turning to yellow flower, awaiting perhaps non-existent pickers or drivers.
The house looks north across the Leuchars airstrip and the Eden estuary to Tentsmuir Forest and the Abertay Sands where a very long sandspit creeps out from the mouth of the Tay at low water. One day I must explore this tantalising place by kayak – walking would be too risky with soft mud and fast tides.
I had to get a Covid test at the hospital and then self-isolate for a couple of days before my op. You can self-isolate pretty well on a bike, so the following day I borrowed my son's and set off to explore Tentsmuir nature reserve. Some 1500 hectares of Scots Pine cover the sandflats and dunes just south of the mouth of the Tay, a bit like a giant version of Dunnet Forest and also traversed by a network of paths.
I cycled past the security fences and barracks of the army town of Leuchars and round the long airstrip to secluded sands just across the estuary from the St Andrews golf courses. Sandy paths then forest tracks led north above the Tentsmuir Sands, well provided with public information boards and even composting toilets.
Tentsmuir Point had low dunes with a grand view over the estuary and east to those intriguing sand bars. You might, you are told, see seals here. The track carried on to Tayport, almost at the Tay Road Bridge, then, after crossing a very swish golf course, emerged at the secluded woods of Morton Lochs where many red dragonflies darted in the sunshine.
Tentsmuir is surprisingly wild. The tracks are mostly on a grid, but I managed to choose one of the few which petered out as a dead end – it was bound to happen. All that was needed though was to wheel the bike eastwards through the rough woods and pick up the next south-going track, but that gave plenty of time for the mosquitoes and ticks to attack. There are plenty of habitats with wet former dune-slacks, long grass and an undershrub of birch and alder.
That’s Scotland all over, wild and little-visited country so close to cities and main roads. It’s always worth making the most of any opportunity to explore!