My Earliest Travel Memory

“A half to Ayr, please,” I said to the bus driver as I placed my money on the tray.  Mum was still standing on the pavement making sure I’d asked for the right thing and as I took the change and stuffed it in my pocket; I turned around and waved excitedly to her before the bus moved off.
I was 11 ½ and travelling from Glasgow to my Great Aunt’s house 30 miles away by the sea. “It’s only down the coast,” I heard my Dad tell Mum as they were discussing the wisdom of letting me travel on my own. To me, it felt like I was going to another country.

old glasgow to ayr bus
Old Glasgow to Ayr bus

The number 4 bus was a single deck, glossy red with a cream stripe down the side and a frontage that looked like a surprised open-mouthed face.  It carried me from the familiar, dull, red-sandstone, tenement-lined streets that I was used to playing in, to the open countryside and the sea where I spent a week exploring and creating adventures with imaginary people and creatures. 

It was the late seventies; a time when strangers chatted to each other and smoked at the back of the bus and some read the paper or just stared out the window, like I did, all the way to Ayr.  The seats were hard and scratchy and the bus was uncomfortably hot. I had chosen a window seat on the sunny side of the bus and was dressed in my heaviest clothes; my other clothes for the week were neatly folded in a Boots plastic bag on the seat beside me.  But I didn’t care about the discomfort; It was all part of the adventure. 

Ayr Beach in the 1970s
Ayr Beach in the 1970s
As we reached the outskirts of Glasgow, the buildings changed from tenements to rows of terraced houses with neat gardens and shapely hedges and black wrought-iron gates. Going further into the suburbs, the houses became castles with abundant land; some even had cars in their driveways. There were more fields than houses now and I felt like I was really far from home already. 

We turned right, just after the bleak Fenwick Moors that I’d heard my parents talk about and headed deeper into the countryside where farmhouses and tiny white cottages with smoke streaming joyously from their chimneys, settled in the fields and old mining hills.  I’d seen pictures of cottages like those with pink roses climbing round old wooden doors and wilderness gardens waiting to be explored.  I was dying to breathe the fresh air of the country but all I could smell was cigarette smoke. 

Suddenly, a black and white sheepdog ran out from a farmhouse and chased the bus away from its territory.  I watched him as the bus rounded a bend and could see that he was satisfied with his efforts as he trotted back to his house wagging his tail.

We changed drivers at Kilmarnock.  Our driver put on his hat, filled out a form and unclipped his leather money bag before taking his jacket from the back of the seat.  He had a brief conversation with our new driver who entered the cab and followed the same routine in reverse order, fastening his leather money bag to something in the front and filling out the same form before taking off his hat.

As we left the bus station and headed towards Prestwick, we caught glimpses of the sea and I almost exploded with excitement.  Exhilarated, I looked around to see if everyone else was as effervescent as I was but they hadn’t noticed this momentous occasion, so I camouflaged my emotions with a cough and carried on staring out the window.

The Heads of Ayr
The Heads of Ayr

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