Holiday time. My journal is of my trip to Scotland in July, a 2000 mile drive. Probably it helps to split the trip into the various places visited:
Saltburn by the Sea, where Sue, my husband’s cousin lives with her husband Ken. They were kind enough for us to break our journey from London with them on our way to Scotland & on our return.
Alloa, Clackmannanshire. staying with Kitty, my 87-year-old cousin.
Kingskettle cemetery. Family grave of my parents.
Collessie. Meeting with ‘Friends of Collessie’ to research the McLennans who all lived in the area in the 1800s.
Dunkeld. Visiting my friend Angela, known since the late 1950, and husband Akii.
Wick. Meeting my cousin Dorothy, her husband Dereck & her daughter Amanda.
Orkney. Staying with friends Ingrid & Duncan.
Lentran. Staying with my friend Dawn.
Tarbert. Staying with husband’s cousin Malcolm & his partner Sue.
West Kilbride. Staying at a hotel for two nights, to research the area my father was born & grew up in.
Saltburn. Back to Sue and Ken.
Home to London.
Last year we went to Italy & Portugal. On both occasions we got held up at the airport. Annoyed by the irritation of this happening we resolved to go away in the UK this year. I wanted to visit Scotland & donate various papers birth/marriage/death certificates of my family on both my father & mother’s side. In London, prior to our trip, I made contact with Stirling/Collessie/Ayrshire archive departments & set up appointments to meet. I then built the trip/tour around visiting the archive departments.
Our first stop was Salburn, a seaside town we have been to before & really like. We were fortunate to have very good weather & arriving at my husband’s cousin it was great to sit in her garden & unwind from our long drive. Saltburn is a seaside town in North Yorkshire, south-east of Middlesbrough. Like last time, we enjoy the walk through wonderful woods, down into the ‘Valley Gardens’ that lead to the Italian gardens, & finally to the sea front. On the sea front is one of the world’s oldest water-powered funiculars that’s so useful when wanting to get up the cliffs. A very pretty pier opened in 1869 which now shows on its railings ‘guerilla knitting’ – such fun & many pieces extremely skilfully knitted. I have to mention an exceptionally good place to eat called Brockley Hall, where we had a taster meal. It was so good & would have been four times the price in London.
On to Alloa & my 87-year-old cousin Kitty. So wonderful to see her again – we last saw her 3 years ago. This time, unlike last time, we stayed with her, so I had a lot more time to catch up on family history. We spent time going out with her daughter & family & another time we took her to Stirling Smith Art Gallery & Museum. We had been before & it is exceptionally well done, starting with prehistoric whale bones, & Roman pottery. Lots about William Wallace. I should mention I was born & grew up next to Wallace’s Monument. Apparently one of my first words were ‘monnymont’…. as this was a place I loved to go & play in. The museum, also to my surprise when I first saw it, has the oldest ‘football’, supposed to belong to Mary Queen of Scots. My cousin was fascinated by all the domestic settings, bringing back so many memories of the house we lived in outside of Stirling in Causeway Head.
To get some exercise while there, one morning we were shown a lovely walk we could do around Gartmorn Dam country park. What a great place. It’s one of the oldest reservoirs in Scotland, looking more like a loch. Apparently constructed to provide water supply to John Erskine’s mines. We walked first through woodland & then up steps to views over the water.
I had a lovely childhood memory brought back to me when Kitty cooked a Scotch pie…so good. It’s a small double hot water crust pastry meat pie filled with mince. I noticed one day she often drew in a small notebook. When I asked her if I could look at them, I was fascinated to discover lots of strange drawings she said she did most days, to do with her innermost thoughts. There is an art form called ‘outsider art’ & her drawings fall most definitely into this genre.
Kingskettle & Collessie Church
Our next destination was Kingskettle Cemetery, where mum & dad’s ashes were put in a family grave 3 years ago. Since that trip, I had their names engraved on the stone, so it was good to see first-hand how it looked. We were extremely lucky with yet another wonderful sunny day. It was good to be back at the cemetery again & to plant a lavender bush below the stone. I spent some time remembering both mum & dad with so much affection & gratitude as to how they had brought me up, the encouragement & love they gave me.
From here we drove to Collessie village. An ancient medieval hamlet in north-east Fife. I only recently had found out that this was the area that the Mclennans of at least three generations had come from and were sheep farmers. When looking more closely at my grandfather’s birth certificate, I discovered that my great grandmother had died giving birth to him. Having just visited the family grave, I was curious as there was no mention of her on the stone. Getting in touch with ‘The Friends of Collessie’, I found out she, with my great grandfather, were buried in the grounds of Collessie church, a few miles on from the cemetery. Sadly, no stone, but I was shown by two ‘friends’ where they were. I was told of a very comprehensive book just written by Angus H.Shaw, called ‘A Brief History of the People of the Howe of Fife Parish Church’. According to the history of the church, the site could have been used for worship in pre-Christian times & the churchyard has been a burial site since the 12th century where there is an important tomb of Sir James Melville, interred in 1617, who was a diplomat & courtier of Queen Mary & King James VI. I have since bought this book as, in Collessie. I was shown a 1874 photograph of the village school where my grandfather was a pupil. I was happy to give the ‘friends’ various old certificates belonging to the McLennans’ ancestors.
From here we were told of a lovely place where we could have a picnic of sandwiches that my cousin in Alloa had made for us. Birnie Loch is a nature reserve created from the restored Kinloch quarry. What a beautiful place, so calm & peaceful. Ideal for our picnic.
Loch Tay crannog
Next onto Dunkeld, to stay with a very old friend from when I lived in Coventry in the 1960s. She has had a very interesting life which, if you want to read more, go to http://www.angelajeffs.co.uk. She now lives with her Japanese husband Akii in this pretty cottage called Burnside which Angela inherited from her mother and can be read about on her website. They have transformed the garden from when we were last here three years ago, almost creating rooms for different moods to walk/sit in. Again we had lovely weather & Angela drove us around the local area so we could appreciate Perthshire, which is so picturesque. A particular drive she took us on was from Amulree to Loch Tay along a single track road with amazing views. We had a four-wheel-drive following us & at one stage a car was coming at a very low speed towards us – no way we would be able to pass. Out got Angela & the man from the car behind. Sadly the car coming toward us was a hire car with a flat tyre, driven by American tourists in somewhat of a state. They were helped to push the car into the side of the road onto a grass verge & then they were told how far they would need to walk for help. We had to leave them & continue our drive, as once on this road there wasn’t any turning back or around! The views from this road were breathtaking. At Loch Tay, we sat beside the loch in a modern restaurant & had coffee looking out at swallows on a railing sunning themselves. Outside beside the loch is a reconstructed Crannag, originally used as a dwelling as late as the 17th/early 18th century. After our coffee break, we walked to the end of the loch, where it drains into the River Tay, to the village of Kenmore, dating from the 16th century. The Kenmore Hotel is reputed to be Scotland’s oldest hotel.
From Dunkeld I had planned to call & see my cousin living in Lybster, Caithness, before catching the ferry from Scrabster to Orkney. Unfortunately, I had received a text from her daughter when with my other cousin in Alloa, that she had had a stroke! It was thought we would cancel our trip to see her, but as I had never met her daughter, she said she would love to meet up, so we decided although she was further on from Lybster at Wick Hospital, we would go. We stopped at Dornoch, such a pretty village & possibly known because in 2000 Madonna married Guy Ritchie in the nearby Skibo Castle. We had something to eat & then continued our drive along an amazing coast past Golspie, Helmsdale, Lybster & finally to Wick. It was thought my cousin was in a good enough state to be dressed & although on top of her bed, brought into the visitor’s lounge to meet me. It was good to see her after more than 50 years, and to meet her daughter. My cousin was doing well, but it was early days. We spent just under an hour with her, leaving to then drive to Scrabster & the ferry across to Stenness.
St. Magnus Cathedral
Ring of Brodgar
Stones of Stennness
Ingrid, an ex-student of mine & now a close friend, comes from Orkney and lives there with her husband, the writer Duncan McLean & their daughter. Since we visited Orkney some years ago, Ingrid had been constantly asking when were we going to come back. So here we were in Kirkwall, staying in their beautiful holiday ‘let’ above their fashion & home shop called ‘The Longship’. A wonderful position for a flat opposite the famous St Magnus Cathedral, so convenient to visit. It is the most northerly cathedral in Britain. A great example of Romanesque architecture, begun in 1137, built of beautiful red & yellow sandstone quarried on the Island of Eday, giving a chequerboard pattern. At night it was beautiful to see the floodlit cathedral through the windows.
Ingrid & Duncan took a week off from their busy work. Duncan has a cheese & wine shop behind the Longship, an Alladin’s cave of wonderful produce. We spent many great days out with them & again were fortunate to have such wonderful weather. We walked around Mull Head, a nature reserve of heath & grassland at the north-east tip of Dearness. Information on this walk mentions Great Skuas, but we had no idea of what a risk we took on our walk. Deciding to take a short cut (not a good idea & to think we had two ex-scouts with us!), we walked across heather which was the place of a Skua’s nest and we were instantly dive-bombed by a very angry Skua, a very large bird constantly coming for our heads. In Orkney they are called Bonxies, apparently a Shetland name of Norse origin. Ingrid’s defence was to stoop low & to wave her shoulder bag in the air, as Duncan remarked, “never has a designer handbag been so useful”. Fortunately a distant helicopter seemed to distract the bird & by then we were through the bog. It was on this walk we saw our first grey seals.
Another walk started with a lecture by Nick Card (the boss) at Ness of Brodgar. An archaeological excavation at the heart of a neolithic World Heritage Site. The lecture was fascinating and, as we listened, the digging was actually going on which is revealing well-preserved monumental stone buildings, with walls six metres thick, occupied by people over 5,000 years ago. Decorated & painted stonework, as well as stone-tiled roofing has been found. Go to the website to see more.
After this lecture, Ingrid was keen we should walk the Ring of Brodgar along a beautiful grassy footpath with either side of us Lochs Harray & Stennesss, eventually arriving at the Standing Stones of Stenness, believed to date around 300BC. On this walk, we saw beautiful redshanks.
Another memorable day was our trip to Hoy, to visit Ingrid & Duncan’s friends Jill & Max. They live in a very pretty house in an idyllic spot. It had been organised that we would have a picnic on one of my favourite beaches, Rackwick – once more a beautiful sunny & extremely hot day. A very desolate beach full of boulders with circular rings of varying colours. The Old Man of Hoy is the big attraction of Hoy, a red sandstone sea stack (450ft) which we saw on our last visit. Joy took us to the Crow’s Nest Museum, an old byre & croft with dry stone walls & turf roofs left as they exactly were when inhabited in the 1940s. It was interesting to see how crofters lived. We then sat in glorious heat, having a delicious picnic that Joy had prepared. On our way back to the ferry we stopped at a newly established Emily’s ice cream parlour – such fun to find in such an isolated place & a delicious treat before our return ferry ride.
Inside Dawn’s house
A calm ferry-crossing back to the mainland & we are on our way to Lentran to see Dawn, an ex-student that I haven’t seen for over 50 years! It was difficult to find her house, but after various drives along single track roads & mobile phone instructions, we drove down a rough track to a beautiful haven of peace & tranquility. What a wonderful house & position. It was so lovely to see her after so long, living with her dachshund ’Sprout’. She took us on a tour of the gardens containing a large lily pond (when I asked how she looked after it, she said she got in to clean it wearing waders!) and a beautiful greenhouse with an old iron bed inside, while a hare bounded by in the next field.
Then a tour around the house. I couldn’t wait to take photographs, because every surface, room was full of colour & style. We sat in her kitchen dining area looking out of a picture window at a beautiful view, while she cooked a delicious risotto & we caught up, as much as we could, with our lives over the last 50 years. Eventually to bed, in a brass bed you climb up into and outside the window a family of bats living in the eaves. The next morning, at breakfast, we watched out of the window two pheasants that visit regularly, sharing seed she throws out for them. We then had to leave as we had quite a journey to our next place, but not before seeing a group of young deer in the next field – apparently regular visitors. I was so pleased to have met up with her again & what an inspiring place to live in. I’m looking forward to working from the photographs I’ve taken when I get back home.
View from Malcolm’s house
On Malcolm’s boat
Our next drive was from Inverness along Loch Ness, Fort William, Glencoe and Oban to Tarbert, a small sea port in Argyllshire. This is where Malcolm, my husband’s cousin lives – someone else we hadn’t seen for many years and lots to catch up on.
What a time we had here, it was hard to take in such an incredible view from the house, an amazing vista across to Arran. Amongst various trips he had planned, he took us with his partner Sue & his gun dog P.J. on a fascinating walk along the ‘Beaver Trail’ through a strange petrified forest caused by beavers. The walk took us around the whole of Loch Collie Bharr, beautiful waterlilies & beside dark forests. We were then driven to the Crinan Canal, where we stopped at Crinan port & sat in incredible sunshine heat & had coffee. This canal basin was full of activity with many yachts & boats. From here we were driven to Temple Wood, to the 3000BC stone circle of 13 standing stones – a funerary site that was in use for more than 2000 years. Another day, as he has a boat, we spent a great day, in glorious weather again, out on the Sound of Bute where we saw grey seals and porpoises. We dropped anchor & sat having tea & biscuits – so quiet & peaceful. The final day we went to Skipness Castle, the east side of the Kintyre peninsula. Built in the early 13th century, overlooking the Isle of Arran, we climbed to the top, to see incredible views out to the Mull of Kintyre. We walked down to the deserted sea shore where we collected coloured pebbles & shells. On our way back we stopped for coffee & cakes at the seafood shack. No need for us to have any seafood as Malcolm was an excellent cook – one morning we had freshly smoked filleted kippers complete with poached eggs on top. A wonderful stay in a great location.
West Kilbride, Ardrossan
View across to Isle of Arran
From Tarbert we drove to Ardrossan where my grandparents on my father’s side lived & where my father was born & grew up. Sue had told us to break our journey for a coffee at Luss, a pretty conservation village on the western shore of Loch Lomond. A lovely place dating from the 18th century. As it was lunchtime when we arrived, it was great to find a seafood cafe where we had lunch sitting out in wonderful sunshine.
We eventually got to West Kilbride to the Seamill Hydro hotel where I had requested a sea view, not expecting to get one. But we did, & what a view – it once more took our breath away and we were speechless just looking out for what seemed ages. Once we had unpacked a few things we went down to the beach for a walk – such a wonderful feeling, having sat in the car for so long, to get the sea air clearing our heads. The beach was full of wild flowers and wonderful rock pools. The hotel had a very good restaurant where we ate on both our two nights. This hotel catered for weddings which seemed to include, as we became fascinated with as we watched from our hotel window, photos taken on the beach with a drone.
I had come to Ardrossan to see where my grandparents’ houses were & also to see the Barony Church they & my parents got married in. We visited both of these places and it was a strange feeling to see where my grandparents lived but sadly the church was no longer in use & I wasn’t able to get inside. I had arranged to give various documents to do with my family to the Argyll archive centre & when we went to donate them I was pleased to be given a copy of a book to do with the church.
The final drive of our Scottish trip back into England. Back to stay with Sue, my husband’s cousin in Saltburn once more. So generous of her and her husband to agree to us stopping once more on our way back to London and such wonderful weather again. We walked down to the seafront to a new fish & chip restaurant where we had a great meal, in such fun surroundings, with a great view out to sea. It was quite dark when we left & walked along the seafront & up the cliffs & back to their house. The next day we were driven to Guisborough where they wanted to get fresh fish and we were dropped off at the Guisborough Priory. Founded in 1119, it belonged to the Norman feudal magnate Robert de Brus, an ancestor of Robert the Bruce! Destroyed by fire in 1228, so not a lot to see, but what was there was an example of gothic style and it must have been quite amazing when in full use…with wonderful gardens.
After three weeks of driving around Scotland our trip was now at an end – so much seen & so many memories. Lots of photographic imagery that I am now hoping to use. I feel my next journal in August will be considerably shorter.