100 weeks of Scotland: the forgotten central belt

The abandoned Lanark racecourse
The abandoned Lanark racecourse
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I had been struggling all week to come up with ideas for the latest instalment of this project. Finally, I decided to get in the car and just drive off somewhere and see what photos I could get. I was limited only by the short length of daylight in how far I could go.

I had no real idea where I was going as I started off. I would decide which way to go as I went. Before long I found myself, for no particular reason, heading along a quiet road which skirted the northern slopes of the Pentland Hills, which were only just emerging from a wave of clouds that were breaking over them.

Picture: submitted

Picture: submitted

I drove on, through woods and farmland. Pockets of mist still lingered creating strange landscapes that revealed themselves only slowly as I approached . Before long I was on a twisting road through moorland and high forest looking out onto the Clyde Valley below me.

To Lanark and it’s old racecourse. Closed in 1977 some buildings remain yet and the old scoreboard stands proudly amongst playing fields where once the thundering of hooves would have sounded. How many eyes in the past looked on it with joy and how many more with disappointment and a discarded betting slip? It stands still, waiting to record the result of a race that will never come.

From Lanark, north through Carluke (I pass a roadsign for a town called Bonkle and my teenage-self reappears briefly, sniggering) to Newmains, where as I drive through a half-glimpsed object makes me stop. I have no idea what this block once was. As I peer through the window, inside is what looks like a huge iron safe filling almost the entire space. Locked. As I knew it would be.

North once more over the motorway and I am in Airdrie where I do not want to be. The only place I was ever chased through the streets after a football game. My team St Johnstone had won and some of the home fans seemed to hold me responsible, as if I had, wizard-like, reduced their lumbering defenders to stone from the my place on the terraces (again, my teenage self reappears, not sniggering this time). However today Airdrie looks different, the old football ground has gone and the winter light gives it a brittle beauty that I definitely do not remember as I careered through the streets with the Airdrie massive at my heels.

From here I turned eastward and upward and headed for home. Not on the main roads. I took every small country road I could and ended up on high moors that lie in a part of Scotland I have never been to before. This area lies north of the Edinburgh to Glasgow motorway, south of the Edinburgh to Stirling motorway and east of the Glasgow to Stirling motorway. Unless you come this way for a reason you would pass it by as I have done many times.

Yet here, on this high plateau, is a rarely visited centre of central Scotland. I saw an old roadsign that pointed to villages long gone, down roads that no longer exist. There were mines here once and now almost nothing of them remains. The roadsign pointed east to Stanrigg where a now almost forgotten mining disaster occurred in July 1918. Nineteen miners lost their lives as the mine collapsed after weeks of heavy rain. Eleven bodies were never recovered and lie there yet. Earlier this year the memorial to the miners was given a long overdue refurbishment and stands near to the village of Greengairs.

By now the sun was low to the west and I carried on through this high country of moorland and ghosts towards home. At my back the sinking sun lit the sky above with evening fire and as the lower lands to the east billowed out ahead of me night fell and I drove on into the coming dark.

• Alan McCredie began the ‘100 weeks of Scotland’ website in October last year, and it will conclude in Autumn 2014. McCredie’s goal is to chronicle two years of Scottish life in the run-up to the independence referendum.

McCredie says ‘one hundred weeks...’ is intended to show all sides of the country over the next two years. On the site, he says: “Whatever the result of the vote Scotland will be a different country afterward. These images will show a snapshot of the country in the run up to the referendum.

“The photos will be of all aspects of Scottish culture - politics, art, social issues, sport and anything else that catches the eye.”

Follow the project at 100weeksofscotland.com. You can also follow Alan on Twitter.

All pictures (c) Alan McCredie/ 100 weeks of Scotland