LAST weekend, before dawn had fully broken, three cars passed through the village, one after another. Barely awake, we wondered what was going on. There’s not much traffic to speak of in general right now, but before light on a Saturday the most you expect is an overenthusiastic farmworker on a quadbike, or perhaps the newsagent, who faithfully delivers in the dark and the snow, the glow of security lights on a neighbour’s forecourt the only sign of her passage.

Shortly afterwards, as we sat at the kitchen table, the Jedburgh bus went by. Jedburgh? Heads swivelled at the sight of a flashy maroon single decker. Soon another followed, signposted for Carlisle. Clearly there was a roadblock, and traffic was being diverted. Flood, ice or fallen tree? There were various possibilities. Later we heard there had been a serious collision on the main road a few miles away. For much of the rest of the day we were treated to the vision of the Borders bus system doing its best to keep to schedule, one passenger per bus, or so it seemed.

If only they had drawn up at the bus stop, half the village would probably have climbed on, simply for the novelty. During the week there is a shuttle service taking people from surrounding villages as far as Melrose, the railway station at Tweedbank and on to Galashiels. At the weekend, however, all public transport ceases.

Hillwalkers arriving in expectation of a bus to ease the final few miles can occasionally be seen trudging disconsolately down the road or – in happier days – being offered a lift, to speed them on their way to the train station some miles away. Hence our excitement at the glamour of buses heading all over the region. The possibilities of far-flung travel – Peebles here we come! – suddenly seemed endless. Just imagining what we could do with a day trip, between first and last buses, was almost as good as the real thing.

We enjoyed only a few hours of daydreaming before the crash site was cleared and normal service resumed, in other words bypassing us entirely. Near silence recommenced. I’m not entirely sure I’d like a steady stream of buses trundling by. Even so, the mere sight of them makes you realise just how inadequately served rural communities are – many a great deal more remote than Hoolet – when it comes to public transport.

In some far-flung areas, school buses and postal vans are the answer to complete isolation, but whether the postie is merely taking pity on someone stranded, or is an official part of the transport network I do not know.

Around here, a few months before Covid arrived, there was strenuous opposition to plans to reduce the shuttle service that passed through Hoolet. The council recognised the distress this would have caused, and agreed to retain it, to everyone’s relief. While it has not been heavily used during the restricted months of lockdown, it remains a lifeline for those who depend completely upon it. Even for the fit and healthy, the prospect of hiking to the nearest shop, especially in wintry weather, can be daunting.

The idea that those of us with cars need not worry about buses or trains is the definition of short-sighted. If you hope to live in the country to a ripe old age, you might one day be temporarily incapacitated to drive – broken arm, heavy medication, car repairs, a boozy barbecue.

Even if these never apply, eventually the time will come when driving is no longer an attractive or viable option. If you do not recognise this inconvenient fact yourself, rest assured it will be impressed upon you by anxious family, friends or – worst case scenario – the police. Personally I can’t wait for driverless cars; no need to wait for my dotage, I’d sign up for one tomorrow.

Thankfully, it seems there are optimistic signs that the powers that be appreciate the demand for better links to outlying places where, of course, we consider ourselves the centre of the universe and everyone else on the periphery. Talk of extending the rail network (as, for instance, adding a halt stop at East Linton in East Lothian, a bijou village on the main east coast line), suggests awareness that better infrastructure is required, and soon.

The unexpected success of the Waverley line that runs from Edinburgh through the Borders to Tweedbank has led to discussion of its extension, as far as Berwick and Carlisle. If that ever happens, you’ll hear cries of relief from down the route, as the cut-off are reconnected, much like when a careless tree surgeon is reunited with a severed finger.

As the pandemic’s impact reverberates across almost every aspect of life, it surely is time to reassess the entire map of public transport, putting the countryside to the fore. We have had a Peasants’ Revolt, Radical War, Rent Strike and Poll Tax riots. Maybe now is the time for a Pedestrians’ Protest, to get things moving in the right direction.

The world has changed so dramatically in the past 12 months that even the future of the HS2 line is in doubt. Needless to say, the reason for the wobble in confidence is not the route’s impact on the environment, but because nobody is sure if there will be demand for this super slick service by the time it is finished. Suddenly, speed of getting from A to B is no longer the priority.

What will happen to HS2 remains to be seen. For rural Scotland’s future, the reach and regularity of public transport, and the ways they interconnect, should become the measure by which plans to improve services are gauged. By effectively linking those who lie off the beaten track to one another, and far beyond, the country’s circulatory system will begin to pump properly once more.

As the enormous popularity of the Waverley line suggests, people are happy to let go of the steering wheel. Once the pandemic is under control and the thought of being in proximity to others is no longer alarming, a radically revamped bus network could fly, in a manner of speaking. If that happens, perhaps my secret longing to become a Hoolet shuttle bus driver is not as far-fetched – nor as far off – as it previously seemed.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald.