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  • Writer's pictureMark Howitt

[Work / Walk] in Progress

Into my sixth decade and I still get a thrill from being upstairs on the bus, the corporation bus. No longer a corporation bus, well, it is sort of, a kind of - what it’s called - hands free, no, that’s not right. Anyway, a company that’s owned by the corporation, the council, I mean.

It's a sun-drenched Tuesday morning in the middle of May and I'm on the bus, heading out of the city towards the Pentland Hills.

Got everything I need: map, compass, water, bread, cheese.

Arm’s length, not hands free.

From the start of this project, I suspected that the most difficult part wasn’t going to be the actual walking, or even the writing, but the getting to-&-from the start and finish of each of the 24 walks described in A Pech, A Pie & A Pint. When Derek Storey wrote the book in 1988 he carefully included all the available bus routes to get you from Edinburgh to Midlothian. But that was only a couple of years after Mrs Thatcher had wielded her axe over the country’s bus networks (“deregulation”) and since then rural bus services have declined markedly.

In fairness, getting from south Edinburgh to the start of Walk #1 isn’t much of a challenge. Lothian Bus number 15 takes you to Hillend, one of the entrances to Pentland Hills Regional Park. Or it would normally, today that bus stop is closed due to roadworks, but it’s only a short walk up the road from the previous stop.

I’d found the book in Tills Bookshop, off the Meadows, towards the end of a bitterly cold Saturday afternoon in January. I never fail to come out of there - or any other second-hand bookshop - empty handed, but I don’t usually venture into the back room. That day, I was drawn in by a desire for some warmth from the open fire that that sparkles and crackles in there during winter, before venturing outside again. Rifling through the “local interest” section I came across the spiral bound book which describes 24 countryside walks in Midlothian, all within twenty miles of Edinburgh and can be reached by bus. Each finishes at a pub chosen for its hospitality and food. The second sentence sealed it.

A plan started to formulate. I would revisit the 24 walks, have a dig around the history of some of the places on the routes, check out what had changed in the intervening 35 years, maybe drag some friends along, see how we had changed too. Not much of an idea (and a sketchy one to pitch to publishers) but aside from the buses, I could see from a quick glance at the book that some of the inns - Habbie’s Howe at Nine Mile Burn, the Marchbank at Balerno - were no more. I also had a suspicion that some paths marked as being on a dismantled railway had subsequently been re-purposed and now

formed part of the very much not dismantled Borders Railway.

So here I am, the start of Walk #1: Allermuir & Caerketton Hills. Do not take children unless you are quite confident that they can complete the circuit or you have enough stamina to carry them down. Useful advice, doesn’t apply, but thanks.

Here we go then, the start of a new adventure.

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