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30 July 2014
Escape from
Brigadoon
on Speed
Kenneth Roy

Point of departure. Photograph by Islay McLeod

I
If you are one of those unfortunate people – a tiny minority, I imagine – who are finding the patriotic requirements of Brigadoon on Speed too stressful to cope with – for example, you have ceased to be absolutely riveted by hours of televised ping pong – I have discovered a way for you to escape without actually leaving the country.

What you do is this. You get yourself down here to Prestwick International and board a train south. You may have to change at Ayr, but keep going until the view from the window assures you that you have finally left Brigadoon on Speed. Although your destination is still nominally part of the new and exciting national brand, you have my word that it bears no resemblance to it whatsoever.

This strange place – the other, older Scotland – is served by one of the loneliest railway stations on what it is still permissible to call the British railway map; the idea that it could ever be described as a train station is ridiculous. In its bleak way it is too splendid for that.

At journey's end, you will be greeted by a signalman who doubles as the stationmaster, who attends to no more than six trains a day in each direction and goes up the line to check the points in the roughest of winter weather.

But this is no ordinary signalman. This is a signalwoman. She has been doing the job for 21 years and hopes to retire before she and admirable people like her are superseded by remote control from Glasgow, and her station is relegated to the status of just another unmanned halt in the wilderness. When she is not tending the signals and keeping her passengers safe, she is tending her animals at a small, remote farm.

But I'd better get on with your journey. Here you are, after all, on the edge of nowhere – with me as your unreliable guide.

II
To your right as you leave the station is a moorland road, rutted by cattle grids, which Tom Morton once described as one of Scotland's great lost roads. Avoid this road, for it is now one of Scotland's great found roads. It has been discovered by some Christian people from Paisley and forms part of their pilgrims' way, a designated route. The mystery has gone. The risk has gone. The poetry has gone. Tom Morton has gone.

But, if you are a curious independent traveller and not one of the backpacking devout, you have an alternative. You will choose the road down to the strange village of which I speak.

You will not have walked far before you come to the new cemetery. In my various visits over the years, I have yet to encounter the old one. A creaking gate will guide you into the resting place of many a Hyslop and many a Strain. Few in the parish live to a great age even now. Their longevity is scarcely more impressive than that of East End Man, who notoriously expires at 51. If you think rural life is any healthier than it is in the neighbourhood of the athletes' village, I suggest you visit the new cemetery.

The grave of a small child in the front row may hit you with a pang of melancholy, as it did me. Douglas Teece, aged 5, died in 1988. I remember the year well; it was the year I made the mistake of returning to journalism. It is rather a long time ago. Yet, if little Douglas Teece had lived, he would have been only 31 years old. I did this arithmetical exercise as I stood there staring at his black headstone.

After the modest graveyard you continue your walk into the village, which remains out of sight until you are almost upon it. They have not bothered to cut the verges this year. They are wild and overhanging, obscuring the outlook. And there is a notice warning that the track to the Martyrs' Tomb – for this is a land of Covenanters – is hazardous through want of attention.

When you finally reach the village, you find yourself in that rare settlement, one unmarked by bunting. The royal stick has not graced these parts; the gala day, if there was one, must be long past.

The swallows swoop high above the down-at-heel Memorial Hall erected in honour of the village's war dead. On the other side of the main street the bowling green is deserted on this warm afternoon in midsummer. There is still not a soul to be seen when you arrive at the public park. Nothing stirs. Silence.

You find – I'm warning you in advance – that the village shop closed at noon, just before you turned up, and that the pub doesn't open until 2. There is thus a two-hour gap in which the invisible villagers observe a proper siesta. Please note also that, although there is a tiny branch of the Bank of Scotland, it doesn't run to a cash machine.

You go on walking to the end of the meandering main street with its low terraced cottages and make two important discoveries: the village ends with a bus stop and the next bus will be here in three hours.

What next? You may well ask.

At this point, I advise you to take the dirt track to the big hoose. On the way you are likely to be mauled by two tenacious hounds, whose owner cries, 'Are you all right with dogs?', as they leap menacingly towards you. Alternatively, you may wish to jump over the wall into a field of nettles and be stung to death.

If you get to the big hoose in one piece, you will be looking forward to lunch. You have heard that this substantial pile has been converted into a hotel. But you have been misinformed: it stands unoccupied and forlorn, its windows rotting. Your lunch consists of an orange, more accurately a tangerine, which you thought to bring with you on the train, and which you now consume in the grounds of the grand estate.

A local shows up. 'What happened?', you ask. 'The old man died', he replies.

By the time you have trudged back to the village, the pub is opening. You are joined by an elderly couple of few words who glance occasionally at the television set in the public bar. Half pints all round; oh, and a second packet of crisps.

Back in Brigadoon on Speed, nothing changes. Is that wrestling? Or could it be rugby? The painted spectators cheer obligingly, and the commentators seem to having another orgasm. Soon there will be medals and anthems.

III
Perhaps you have read R F Mackenzie's noble elegy, 'In Search of Scotland'. If you have, you may remember being as mystified as I was by Mackenzie's prophecy that, if the revolution came, it would start in the country places.

I can't see it myself. I can't see a revolution starting in this country place. It feels more like a place of refuge from the revolution, whatever it is, whenever it comes.

They're serving dinner in the pub tonight, at plain little tables of the sort you and I like; nothing fancy. The tables are invitingly set. They have scrawled the menu on a blackboard; nothing fancy about that either. And you think: why go on walking? There may be a case for just hanging around, waiting for nothing to happen, as the roar of the distant crowd recedes, recedes.

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