Busy times, 5

I wrote the first draft of this on the train back to London after a weekend in St Andrews, during which I marked ten exam scripts and six projects, as well as various other exam-related work.

It struck me, marking masters level exam scripts, that there is one difference between these students and the first years. The latter, if bogged down in the middle of a long calculation, would simply fudge it, and jump straight to the answer they were hoping to get, assuming that I wouldn’t notice the switch. Three years on, the students have absorbed the honesty required of mathematicians, and will explain that they hope to get from here to there, but can’t see how.

Yesterday I had my first day off for some time, and took myself for a walk, planned out on the Fife core paths maps.

I made use of my bus pass by starting off catching the bus to Leuchars, then set off on a circuit that started on the Fife coastal path (which I know reasonably well by now). Then I went through the back end of Tentsmuir forest, and across the nature reserve at Morton Lochs. All the paths here were clearly waymarked.

Fife core paths

But across the Tayport road, things were very different. Much of this stretch was on roads, ranging from single-track roads with HGVs not allowed, to the side of the busy A92. (This was a mistake: I had transcribed the path hurriedly onto the OS map; I missed a waymark at a big roundabout and was faced with a mile on the very narrow verge.) I passed the ruined church and graveyard at Forgan, and then a mausoleum (I am not sure whose) on top of a hill, while buzzards circled overhead. Thoughts of death were inevitable, and the mile beside a busy road didn’t help. I found myself wondering (not for the last time) whether I would be the first person to die on a Fife core path.

The path turned off a B road and up Newton Hill, 144 metres high. The waymarks immediately ceased (I decided that the council workers had only put up waymarks at places which they could reach by wheeled transport), and pretty soon the path did too, so it was back to traditional navigation skills.

From the top of the hill, there were lovely views, over much of Fife (the Lomond Hills, Largo Law, the coast from Fife Ness to Tentsmuir), the Tay with Dundee beyond, the Angus hills, and glimpses of higher mountains beyond.

Then I came to a serious check. The path went through a gate into a field with a big herd of cows, many with calves, who came hurrying over to see me. With them came the bull, a very solidly built chap whose conversation and gestures made it very clear that he didn’t want me to come into his field. Normally it is quite easy to hoosh cows away, but this herd, perhaps emboldened by the presence of Big Daddy, were not to be moved. So instead I had to climb over the fence and walk through the potato field next door.

Through Galdry, a very pleasant (and waymarked!) forestry road took me down to Kilmany (a significant name in view of the day’s prevailing theme). Then a disused railway line marked the end of the waymarks, and again navigation was a bit of a problem.

The last stretch, from Balmullo back to Leuchars, was the worst of all. Although a core path, it was a road with two-way traffic, much too narrow for two lanes. Unlike the courteous drivers one mostly meets in Fife, these drivers seemed to take pleasure from heading directly for me, and swerving away at the last minute. Since there was no verge at all, just a steep bank topped with a thorn hedge, there would have been no escape.

But finally I was back at Leuchars, none the worse for wear.


About Peter Cameron

I count all the things that need to be counted.
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