Category: Scotland

A Sense of the Past

Too much time on my hands?

Well possibly. But surely isn’t that what retirement is all about, being able to do things never previously thought possible.

What started out as an occasional rambling developed into a blog, which proved I could at least write, and somehow out of this has come a book which has now found its way onto the Amazon shelves. Don’t expect to feel the crisp edges of fine paper here since this is purely for eBook readers, but in creating this thing I have taken a new direction, delving into fiction, and gone further than I expected. And yes, there is a sense of achievement.

So what is it all about? Well this is a synopsis…

This is a story within a story, an account of the enlightening process of writing an ancient tale and how the author becomes engaged with the characters in such a way that they came to life, describing each event as it unfolds, a tale that comes leaching out of the faint remains which are still present in the landscape in which it is set.
The book begins in the modern day with a bus journey from the tiny village of Carradale on a road which winds its way southwards towards Campbeltown. The travellers, most of whom are well acquainted with each other, gaze out at the stunning scenery as it rolls by or engage in friendly chatter to pass the time, noticing but not commenting upon the beautiful landscape around them.
We are then transported into the lives of a young man called Drustan and a girl called Ailisl (who might be called Alice in the modern day), both of whom lived some 4000 years ago in the same remote part of Scotland, what is now Kintyre in Argyll. Considered remote today, in Ailisl’s day it would have been much more so and the impact of the arrival by boat of a group of strangers into her fragile, isolated community forms the basis for the tale. The narrative deals with issues which resonate clearly into the modern day; how we deal with strangers whose language and customs are foreign to us, how we judge our fellows and learn to place our trust in them and how communities can come together in times of adversity. It draws much inspiration from the author’s love of this part of the world and from the lives of its present day inhabitants.

To find it on its bookshelf just follow the link.

Angus the alpaca

Angus the alpaca

Just spent a lovely afternoon walking with the alpacas.

Highly recommended.


In this country it is during the month of November that we hold ceremonies during which we pause our lives to remember those whose lives were lost in conflict and we to try to understand the futility of war. We particularly focus on the lives of those lost in Tree-planting-at-Well-Park_thumb1the last century, those whose relatives are still living with us. The passing of one hundred years since the outbreak of the First World War is a significant milestone and one of the remembrance events in Carradale took the form of a small exhibition where details of the lives of sixteen local men, fourteen of whom died during the 1914 – 18 conflict, were displayed. Information on each man’s life was gathered together, along with details of how and where they met their death. Rather poignantly, on the village memorial stone the men’s names are listed in the order of their having died, which brings home the horrible impact such losses would have had on this tiny community. There was a large turnout for the 2014 Memorial Service, after which most of us adjourned to the playpark, beside which sixteen young trees have been planted, one for every local life lost. Suitably protected from the rabbits and the deer, these trees, and the plaque beside them, will long stand as a reminder to those who come after us.

I find it difficult to comprehend the sense of duty that drove so many men to volunteer themselves for service rather than wait to be called up. Sadly though, although we may think that by remembering the pain of war it will change us all for ever, recent events in Paris show that there are some who are willing to start all over again.

2015 is the fourth anniversary of the move Kate and I made to Scotland, to Kintyre and to the village of Carradale, something we could, and we might, choose to celebrate. Instead I find myself looking back at this blog to see what words came out at that time to describe our first moments here (Mostly Moss). I suppose I am trying to work out whether my own feelings have changed, whether I still experience the same excitement I felt on first exploring the land around us, how different it felt from the south of England, the sights, the smells and the colours. lichen on bench The first thing I notice is that I am still taking photographs of lichen, on the trees, on the rocks or in this case, a lichen-covered picnic table. The wood here has taken on the appearance of a barnacle-covered rock, and rendered the table unsuitable for use in the process. I still find myself fascinated by this strange combination of organisms just as I am by the low angled winter light asouth from the baynd its effects.



Some of the pictures I have taken lately reflect this, although they hardly do justice to the landscape.




Four years on and Kate and I both still find joy in short walks around the village even though by now we have now explored each and every passage and footpath thoroughly more than once. The beach will never lose its charm. Empty though it often is, we never fail to wonder how it is that we came to choose a place to live where such an unspoilt piece of coastline could be within only a few minutes walk. mal&kate on beachOn the rare occasion when we do meet another human (or their dog) crossing the sand, even with the cold wind in their faces we can see immediately that they share our joy at being here. Carradale Bay has this miraculous effect on those that set foot there. Our remoteness guarantees that nobody is ever there by chance but only through choice or maybe occasionally because some magical force has pulled you there knowing that your soul needs to recharge itself.

Oh and it seems I am still taking selfies on the beach. So nothing changes after all!

On a wet Sunday when the horizontal rain lashes our windows for most of the daylight hours our biggest excitement comes when the ‘Men from BT’ arrive to plant a new phone pole in our garden. BT men at work in gardenAs fast as they dig, the rain backfills the hole but they are equipped with a large ladle on a pole, an essential item in this climate, so they can bail even faster. Knowing just how rocky our garden becomes just below the turf we cannot help being impressed by the speed of their progress and by the depth of the hole their efforts are achieving and soon our shiny new pole is standing plum upright beside its elderly (and rather slanted) predecessor. No matter how good the clothing Scottish rain will find a way through sooner or later so it doesn’t surprise me when they conclude their day before transferring telephone wires from old to new. Beyond taking pity on them (and providing tea) there was little we could do to help, so we had no qualms about watching them work from the warmth of our house.

Four years has taught us that no matter how bad the weather, a brighter day will always follow along and it is knowing this that makes life here so good.

Home life

I sit around at home trying to commit to memory the words for my part in the Christmas pantomime, learning my prompts and wondering how much of it will be acting and how much just me. The humour in the part I play requires me to act a little stupid, so nothing difficult there then. (More than this I cannot disclose at this stage for fear of revealing the plot prematurely and spoiling the show for the paying audience.) Having little or no acting experience counted for nothing in getting me into what is, as it happens, my first starring role. There was no audition, no submission of a ‘cv’, instead it was merely a matter of knowing the right people and being around just at the moment the panto rehearsals were about to start. That, and upon being asked neglecting to say the word ‘No’. But I have lungs strong enough to make myself heard from the stage and I have little fear of embarrassment. Acting the part is really no more than not taking myself too seriously, something I don’t find difficult.

Kate is seated in another armchair with her computer perched on her lap. She has recently abandoned her ‘laptop’ computer, which had become so hideously slow that writing on papyrus would have been faster, and upgraded to a significantly faster tablet PC. This makes her smile as she types up a set of minutes taken at a meeting of the local Harbour Group or maybe it is the Village Hall committee or the management committee of the local Abbeyfields care home. By virtue of being rather good at documenting on paper proceedings at these events she has progressed to the role of Champion Secretariat in the village, a secretarial superwoman if you like.

Early one morning a lorry manoeuvres down to the end of our road to deliver some more timber joists and a handful of planks for the decking I am constructing around the concrete hard standing beneath the car port we know as the ‘Bus Shelter’. The rain is lashing down and the southerly gale is blowing the water beneath the canopy so it is rather wet out there. Ducky is away being serviced so I help Steve, the lorry driver, unload my planks and lay them flat on the ground before rushing back indoors to avoid the rain. We live in a wet climate, with local vegetation sometimes being described as ‘temperate rainforest’, and have experienced days of continuous precipitation on numerous occasions since we moved here. So today is not unusual. The landscape here is mountainous. The rivers have only a short distance to flow before reaching the sea, so water does not generally stay long on the land. The rivers swell, turn brown and churning, but water usually stays between the banks as it rushes towards the sea. On this occasion it has been raining heavily all night, the land is already saturated from last week’s rain and the rate at which the stuff is now falling suggests that this just might be something a little out of the ordinary.

I have a dental appointment in Tarbert, 25 miles away to the north and in these conditions this is a major expedition. So I dress up in waterproof clothing, check the mobile phone is charged (not that a signal can ever be guaranteed around here), and set off to drive up the single track road that winds along the Kintyre coastline. In and out of pine forests, across countless small streams, past farms and remote cottages, rising high one minute and dropping to sea level the next, anything can happen in the next hour, the time the journey usually takes. There could be fallen trees, the road could be undermined by water runoff, lying water could splash into the engine and kill it dead, a skid on mud and leaves on the road could put me in a ditch, or else I could just make the journey safely, in which case I have to endure the dentist’s drill after all. The road is wetter than I have ever seen it. In many places the water pours off the steep hillsides and overwhelms the channels dug to carry the water away. I drive past ditches so full they carry water half a metre above the road surface. It all has to go somewhere and randomly and unexpectedly around a corner there is a flood which flows across the road washing gravel and small rocks down the hill on the other side. Water ejected into the air from under the tyres is blown across the windscreen by the gale but fortunately the engine is well protected and it doesn’t falter. It is important to keep both wheels on the thin band of tarmac as the ground is soft on both sides; to drop a tyre off the road is to risk sinking in and coming to a sudden halt. Care is required, speed is best kept low even if this means I am late for my appointment. But no, I have set off early and I arrive safely for my treatment, unfortunately.

It is raining in Tarbert, maybe not quite as heavily, but the high tide pushed even higher by the southerly wind brings the water in the harbour almost up to road level. I feel strangely uncomfortable walking next to this as it heaves gently and two swans paddle over, stretching their necks hopefully towards me in case I have something for them. The high water level gives them a view across the road into the shops opposite, something they don’t usually get to see. I wonder what they make of us featherless people strutting about in the rain.Carpark in Nov14 flood

Much later I have survived the return journey down the single track road and I splash past the village hall, a place Kate and I now have a stake in. Our newly gravelled car park is awash with runoff from the hill opposite which is normally culverted away beneath the road. Now the foaming flood is pouring across the road taking the easiest route towards Carradale Bay which, were it not for the still torrential rain, I would be able to see in the distance. I fear for the safety of the hall and can imagine the carpark surface being washed away downstream but can do nothing about it. What will happen will happen; it is too late now to intervene.

Local knowledge later tells me that this is nothing exceptional, it is not the biblical flood it might have seemed but is just one of those ‘rather wet periods’ we get from time to time. Although it continues to rain all the next night, the wind slapping the rain against our windows, by late morning the next day the sun is shining and the wind has gone. Likewise most of the water has flowed away too. I can hear the burn in the woods just below our garden but cannot see it, which means it still bubbles along happily within its banks. Carpark after rainThe village hall car park is back  to normal, still with its coating of gravel and the sun warms me as I continue with my decking construction project in the garden. The ground is sodden, as you might expect, but other than this two days and nights of heavy rain has disappeared like magic.

Later in the day we sit in front of our log fire and contemplate how fortunate we are in our choice of house, that it can be so unaffected by weather extremes.

Island over the sea

deer at lochranzaCan there be a better advertisement for a natural, nature-friendly campsite than this, red deer grazing outside your door, guaranteed, any time of the day or night? However these creatures are not put there just to add interest for the campers. Indeed they may be regarded as something of a nuisance for they are somewhat casual about where they leave their droppings and they can hop over onto the golf course next door as easily as wander into the road. They know the area so well and seem to assume the grass is put their entirely for their benefit. After all this is their home, and has been so for longer than anyone can remember. From the first steps ashore from the ferry at Lochranza on the Isle of Arran we notice how garden fences and gates are built shoulder high rather than at waist level, as if to ensure the inhabitants don’t escape onto the road. Only later do we twig that we’ve seen this height of fence before on Forestry land. It is the height that a deer cannot jump. So on Lochranza deer are being kept out of gardens, full as they are with such a delicious variety of food items, and the fences are not (just) to keep dangerous locals under control. light through treesThey certainly have remarkable freedom (the deer, that is) and their behaviour is tolerated far beyond what might be expected. The rut, for instance, when the stags bellow endlessly and joust amongst themselves for the ladies, must be a particularly trying time for those living here yet they seem to have adapted to this, stepping around the odd gaggle of hinds when they have to just as we do on the campsite.

We consider ourselves blessed as the sun comes out in some force after only one day of torrential rain at the start of our five day visit, a day that gave the legs a chance to recover from our eight mile coastal afternoon hike around the Cock of Arran on our first day. The worst part was when we were already tired and at our furthest point from ‘home’ when our path forced its way tortuously through a boulder field, studded with ankle wrecking dangers as well as being well supplied with midges and other biting insects. Given enough wind, midges generally find flying too difficult so the presence of a fresh breeze when out walking is normally welcome. tickLess easy to avoid however, especially when passing through waist-high bracken, are the ticks, tiny black creatures who scuttle down beneath the clothing then latch on using a barbed probe, penetrating the skin to, well, suck up their host’s juices. The itching generally does not start until later and then goes on well after the creature’s now swollen body is extracted, a process that involves a specially shaped device and exceptionally good eyesight. Given that these beasts can carry Lyme disease a full body inspection is recommended after walking through any long vegetation, a minor price to pay really for the pleasure of so much fabulous scenery.

From Machrie Moor we look across Kilbrannan Sound to our home on Kintyre, where less than three miles away, our village nestles at the foot of its valley. Machrie standing stones3Although nobody can ever be certain about the precise date, I can say that some time after the last ice retreated 12,000 years ago and before about 750 BC, some large stones were dragged across Arran and firmly stood on end in such a way that they still remain standing today. As to how this remarkable feat was achieved or why it was done nobody alive today really knows, which seems quite sad considering the effort that must have been involved. Today we might use a large crane to lift something this heavy into place but archaeologists doubt that such things had been invented back then so the whole place is surrounded in mystery. We can speculate that their commanding presence, and there are lots of them here placed in circles or arranged in alignments that today we can only guess at, must have been quite stunning to those passing by when they were first erected… and they have lost little of that today.Machrie standing stones5

Before coming to live in Scotland we had never heard of this magical place. So it seems strange that we should discover something like this so close to our home. In some ways it’s rather like finding Stonehenge is just down the road although the hoards of tourists are missing here. Remoteness does have its advantages.

To complete our slow circumnavigation of the isle of Arran we steer Ducky over the String Road back to Brodick, a long climb over the central mountainous backbone with a fast descent on the other side. Ducky on Cloanaig ferryI regret to say that Arran has benefited little financially from our visit; only two nights were spent on formal campsites and most of our food was brought with us from home. There are plenty of places where we can pull off the road, get tucked in behind a few trees and find isolation and a quiet place to sleep, so apart from the cost of the ferry (twenty minutes spent sitting in a gently swaying van or waving farewell from the upper deck) this has been a cheap holiday. Our walking boots return a little muddier and our faces a little ruddier from exposure to the sun but we feel richer and wiser knowing what lies across the sea from our home.

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