Living as I do in an area that’s a tourist destination, I’m always curious when I go away on holiday to see whether I can find any other tourist spots that are equally homely. It’s rare to find another place that’s a match for our little corner of the Cotswolds.
I’m therefore taken aback to come across a small Scottish town that seems on first glance to meet my demanding criteria.
Late one afternoon, en route in our camper van from Perth to the coast of Fife, we encounter a small market town with a familiar air. Spotting brown tourist information signs to a nearby castle, we decide to stay the night and visit it in the morning. We find a place to park near the centre of town, and while my husband reads the paper and my daughter plays with her toys, I combine a recce with a run (I’m in training for the Bristol 10K).
I gently jog down the narrow high street, making a mental note of the facilities. There’s a craft bakers, an award-winning butchers, two charity shops with a high class of junk, and a useful old-fashioned hardware shop.There are signs to a library and a leisure centre and an edge-of-town supermarket. (Sound familiar, anyone?)
The calorific perils of a chippy, a Chinese and an Indian take-away are offset by a slimming club in the old market hall,which also hosts a cafe offering hearty soups, sandwiches and cakes. (Well, this is Scotland). I jog on to the end of town and I’m immediately amidst farmland, where fingerposts beckon me on to pleasant footpaths through sheep-strewn green fields.
Hmmm, this is home from home, I begin to think. I could get to like this place.
There’s even a local royal connection, albeit not one to ever make the pages of Hello magazine: Mary, Queen of Scots, was once a guest at the local castle and later a prisoner.
Turning left onto a footpath, I jog happily round the perimeter of the town and am rewarded with a glimpse of the castle, in the middle of a small loch. I pause to catch my breath by the ticket office and mentally book a family boat trip to it for tomorrow. Culture, a boat and a spooky-looking setting that would do Scooby-Doo proud – there’s something here to keep all the family happy.
When I head back into town, the charity shops are opposite me, and I notice for the first time that they are in aid of a Scottish children’s hospice. A little further down the road, in the direction of the other end of town, is a sign to that very hospice. A few yards further I pass the high school. It is closed down and boarded up, peppered with danger signs. I’m sure there’s no connection between the closure of the (dangerous) school and the presence of a children’s hospice, but it still makes me shudder with horror. I’m so sad for the children affected by either building.
I run on, hoping to find something cheery to negate the effect of these discoveries. A little ahead of me is a large building, by far the most grand and imposing on the high street. I run a little faster, spirits rising. Level with the gated entrance, I read the sign. It is a funeral directors. Now feeling thoroughly chilled, I turn on the heel of my trainers and plod back to the van, to find my family waiting. I couldn’t live here, not amidst all this sadness. After all, there is no place like home.
(This post was originally written for the Tetbury Advertiser, May 2012 issue.)
If you enjoyed this post, you might also like this one about the lure of home: East, West, Our Village Show’s Best or this one about another country dear to Mary, Queen of Scots’ heart: Lost In France.