So, I finally summoned up the courage to retrace my family routes in the wilds of West Lothian. And, let me tell you, it doesn’t get much wilder than Polbeth on a November afternoon. Thankfully, the train station at West Calder is one of the ones that has been reopened, so Day Saver in hand, and off I went.
When I arrived in West Calder, it was blowing a wintry gale, but the sun was shining, so I decided to save my £1.20, and walk the couple of miles down the road to Polbeth. Now, it’s been a long, long time since I was in this part of the world. Barring my Uncle Wullies funeral in the early nineties, when I got a lift there, I hadn’t been back since before my Dad died in 1980.
In my head, though, I knew exactly where I was going. I’d been so many times when my grand-parents, Alexander Hamilton and Mary Dawson Bell had lived there. Add on the number of visits to my Dads Auntie Kate and Uncle Wullie (Catherine Logue Bell and William Linton), and I had no doubt that my feet would just follow the route.
So why didn’t I recognise anything. Granted, there is nothing in Polbeth. And by nothing, I mean nothing. A garage, a couple of wee shops, a primary school and some splendid views of the shale bings.
But nothing seemed familiar as I walked down the main road. Now I don’t know if it’s early onset dementia, but it took me 10 minutes to realise that it was because everything was backwards. See, when my Dad used to drive his prized second hand Austin 1100 to Polbeth, we came in from Edinburgh. But I’d got the train. And walked back towards Edinburgh. Which was why Chapelton Grove was nowhere to be seen on the left hand side. Because it was on the right hand side. Idiot.
Having established that, I decided to nip down past the school to the house where my Grandparents lived in the sixties, in Burnside Avenue. I was very young when we used to visit here, as my Gran moved to Edinburgh, to live with my Uncle Ian (John Sorely Hamilton), a couple of years after my Grandad died in 1968.
They lived in virtually the last house in the street, and this was where my Dad, Alexander Walker Hamilton, set off from to marry my Mum, Grace Muir Robinson. It’s the middle door in this picture.
Then it was back over the main road to head for Auntie Kate and Uncle Wullies. Strangely, my feet led me right to the shortcut inbetween the houses that I’d used a hundred times back in the seventies. Chapelton Grove is a cul-de-sac, and rather than walk round the long way, we’d nip up the path which led right to Auntie Kate’s front door. Now, this was weird, as it felt just like yesterday, although I can’t have been here since 1979. The lived in the keyhole of the cul-de-sac, and Uncle Wullies garden hut was right where I remembered it. Although I assume it’s a new one, just visible to the right of their old house.
If memory serves, Auntie Kates son, Robert Linton, lived in the same street, on the right hand side somewhere.
Naturally, being Polbeth, the rain decided to descend, so I jumped on the bus to go back into West Calder. Incidentally, any furriners reading this, the locals pronounce Calder as Cothar. Go figure.
Now West Calder isn’t that big, but that doesn’t stop it having three churches in the main road. United Reform Church, Church Of Scotland and Roman Catholic. Here’s the Catholic one, just to get my Wee Free Gran turning in her grave.
There are reminders of what used to be, everywhere.
Here’s the Masonic Hall.
This is the West Calder Co-operative Society clock, erected in 1884.
And here’s the memorial that was added after the Burngrange mine disaster in 1947.
This is the library.
This is the main street looking West.
And looking East.
It was an odd day, as I had some pretty vivid memories of being there with my Dad, doubly odd, as I can think of no reason why I will ever return. But it was nice to see places I associate with good times.