………Do we ‘own’ our country?………

Retirement has given the Lady of the House, and me,  the opportunity to travel round bits of our country at a rate which is bordering on dawdling.

Instead of cramming our travelling into a hasty run, we can now turn-off on side roads and let our Garmin ultimately guide us back to our intended destination. Yesterday, on a bright, warm, Autumn day, we had set our course for Tillicoultry. We headed over the River Forth using the old Kincardine Bridge, and went westwards through the back streets of the old village of Kincardine, now a town.

We had been through here many times before, over the  decades, but yesterday was somehow different. There was a strange nervous expectancy, and the streets had a  hushed fear of the future, as we were led along the banks of the Forth. As we were guided northwards, the flat countryside reminded us of our recent trip to the Netherland. But then, the Ochil Hills came into view. There are 60 hills in the Ochils, all over 300 metres.

Some of the most spectacular scenery in the Central Belt of Scotland is here as an East-West massif stands proudly as a barrier to the greater hills farther north. But as you drive along the road which follows this range, you suddenly realise how small you are.

We partook of afternoon coffee and scones at a lovely farm shop near Blairlogie ( http://www.blairmains.com/farm-shop ) and sat facing directly to the hills. The sun was perfect, the sky was cloudless, the shadows on the face of the hills accentuated the indentations worn by aeons of weather.

These hills have lasted for countless years, which makes our threescore-years-and-ten seem miniscule. Their height, extent, majesty, and sheer bulk make us see how we have to ‘fit-in’ with nature, and only succeed when we work hand in hand with our environment. The scenery in which we live does not ‘belong’ to us who live within easy travelling distance . We are entrusted with its care so that those from further away on these islands, and indeed from the rest of the world, can come and enjoy the beauty.

Surely it is not too big a step to see that this small  country of ours is only part of much-larger groupings, a bit like a Russian doll. We cannot be Independent in any kind of ancient sense, but we can become Separate. Even Clan Munro, to which I belong, had to continually forge alliances to stay in existence. Having done so it produced many great names over the centuries and is known world wide. Our countryside ‘belongs’ to the world, and our country belongs within the Union.

As an Irishman who has happily dwelt 52 years in the land of Scotia, I shall be voting on Thursday, to preserve the co-operation within which we have worked instead of breaking-up our extremely-interwoven world.

 

 

 

 

You scratch my back………..

My maternal and paternal grandparents made their living off the land in the area of Lisburn, which is now a major City in Northern Ireland, but in those days (1940’s and ’50s) was just a sizeable market town about 8 miles south-west of Belfast.

Sarah and John Stewart at Ballymullan on reaper date unknownMy mother’s folks were humble, but hardworking, farmers with cattle and lovely arable land which afforded a beautiful vista over Belfast from theagnes-bobby-stewart-and-mother-marg-crawford-ballymullan[1] Ballymullan hills. All the ground was based round a little cottage, in which five children (four girls and a boy) had been brought up, and although the facilities were primitive, it had a lovely Ballymullan homestead...seen better days Jan 1969warmth about it….maybe the subject of another post. You could walk to anywhere on their farm within 15 minutes so it was not extensive. They grew potatoes and wheat, along with hens, pigs, and their herd of cows, which provided the farm with eggs and milk, as well as some income. I don’t remember horses being used but the ‘Wee Grey Fergie’ tractor was where I started to learn to drive about the age of 11′

On the other hand, my father came from what must have been Baling 1943 Jim Monroe on rt, Tom Monroe 2nd from righta relatively-wealthy family. All the photos I have from two generations back, are smartly-dressed men and women, posing with staff in front of large houses. The H's Monroe g'parents + unnamed uncles large houseMonroe family was well-known in Irish history, (specifically in this area) although this was not really discussed at the time. They had an agricultural contracting company (to do work for local farmers who did not have, or require, the expensive machinery), bus company, brickworks, a large farm, workers houses etc  and as far as I know.the road was named after the Belsize House where they lived. With little imagination the company was called ‘Monroe Bros’

So there were two quite different families in the same area, and the common link was the marriage of my mother and father in 1943. Four ladies (Monroe)My mother had worked in some office in Belfast so was aware of accounting practices. It appears that she took on the position of Book-keeper within thePerhaps great aunt Minnie firm, and I recently came upon an old accounts book for 1944/45. She probably gave up when I was born in 1945.

It makes wonderfully-interesting reading, at least for the family, as many of the customers of the agricultural contracting business were individuals (or their descendents) whose names were mentioned regularly in our childhood, but we as children would never meet them. There were also titled people whose estates obviously needed extra help during the ploughing, planting and harvesting seasons.

The various activities involved in this business were numerous, and many would not be known to urban dwellers and the costs are well detailed. They included the following (with modern-day coinage in brackets):-

  • Ploughing, £1/5/00d per acre….(£1.25)
  • Cultivating, Discing, grubbing, carting, digging, harrowing, sawing…7/6d per acre…… (38p)
  • Threshing…..10/00d per hour….(50p)
  • Binding bales, 14/0d per acre……(70p)
  • Tractor work including 2 men, 8/00d per hour……. (40p)Tom Monroe on tractor  undated

But the one set of entries which intrigued me most was the one, in 1944, where my father’s father’s business did work for my mother’s father’s farm at Ballymullan. It came to £14.16.00p, a not-insubstantial sum. It may have been that the bill could not be paid immediately due to a cash flow problem, but the accounts show quite clearly that cash of £4/16/- was paid on 16th October 1944, with the £10 balance being paid-for by 2 tons of potatoes!

I have no way of confirming the value of potatoes in 1944, so cannot comment on which side felt they had done well out of the deal, so perhaps someone can enlighten me if such information would be available…….

To the lovely north of Scotland…Day 4..Thurso to Lochcarron.

It was now Wednesday 30th October, and after another super breakfast, we SAM_0464were to head west from Thurso, on a gorgeous day.

When we ate last night at near-by Scrabster, it was dark, so we wanted to see the harbour in the light.   A simple place, but the lorries were leaving in numbers, with their marine cargo in refrigerated containers, to presumably the nearest station to continue their journey to the tables of London and beyond.

We only had one thing to do in Thurso itself; get a postcard for a niece and family. We have always done this and it HAS to be about the town.  Chatting with the shop staff, we mentioned that a nephew was married to a local girl, whose family still lived in Thurso. It was inevitable that they were known, and we might have enticed a few skeletons from the cupboard if more time had beenSAM_0473 available!

The A836 follows the north coast from John O’Groats in the east, to Tongue, and then heads south to the Dornoch Firth, through very-varied scenery. Not far from Thurso we met a lot of wind turbines (turning, or stopped as required), then the wave power of the north Atlantic. But most interesting was seeing the Dounreay Power Station, near Reay village, again after some 40 years, when it was at the height of its power generation. Now decommissioned, I fully expected to see a rusting hulk or half-demolished sheds. Pleasantly surprised at how attractive it still looked, whatever concerns we might have about nuclear safety…..and the sheep seemed quite unaware of the technology so close to them.

I wanted a photo of Dounreay  from another direction, and just past Portskerra, SAM_0479when a little track ran out onto Strathy Point, we took it. Up here the roads are in good condition, and I got my desired shot. Returning to the main road we saw work on a ‘bothy’ which is now used as an animal shelter.

For the next 20 miles, till we got to Tongue, we were treated to some of the loveliest scenery I have ever seen, with massive beaches, headlands, gentle valleys and deep clefts in the coastline.  I have let some photos speak for themselves, and then we will renew our journey…..

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After this beautiful scenery on the coast, the road went south just before Tongue, and we headed for Crask the-crask-innInn for lunch. It is a well-known place, not just in the area, but on Trip-Advisor. One is well-warned that it is not a ‘normal’ inn, as it is run by farmers, and takes a pragmatic attitude to serving food, drink, and accommodation. When we arrived about lunchtime, there were no cars about, so I parked opposite and went to the front door, opened and looked in. There was a nice little bar, but no-one about. Back to car, to be followed by a lady who asked if we had been looking for something. She didn’t seem worried t0 lose potential business…..and we drove off. However I’m sure it’s better in the evening!

Minimal lunch came courtesy of our cool-box in the car, and another 20 miles or so took us to The Cally Café, at Bonar Bridge, at the western end of the Dornoch Firth. It’s a pleasure going in here as the staff are so friendly, so hot choc and home-made cake refreshed us. They also have a little shop of local goods so some Xmas shopping could have occurred.

SAM_0489 The photos show the view from the window, the little shop and the Bridge itself.

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SAM_0490 Suitably refreshed, we turned round the end of Dornoch Firth, and then struck south onto one of the most170px-B9176_-_Coppermine_-_13619[1] infamous roads in Scotland…the B 9176 Struie Hill. I had never driven it before, but it is well-known on the weather forecast as one of the first roads in Scotland to be closed when snow hits. It is very twisty and steep so that it is bad enough negotiating it in good weather, but it must be a nightmare in December. Fortunately the snow-gates were open and we proceeded to some of the loveliest views in Scotland, down the Dornoch Firth……if you can find somewhere to stop, of course! The other problem was that there were a lot of dark clouds gathering, so the mid-afternoon light was not good, so we pressed-on  via Alness, Dingwall, Strathpeffer (with the Highland Museum of Childhood…..well worth a visit), Contin, Garve, Achnasheen, and down Glen Carron, to the village of Lochcarron, our stop for the night.

SAM_0497It’s not a big place, and is built on a main street, which separates it from the loch from which it takes its name. This time of the year most accommodation was closed for the season, so we were lucky to get booked at the Pathend House. The local Hotel was near enough to walk-to so we went along in the rain, for an evening meal.

The bar, like most of these places is an entertainment in itself, with a dog wandering about, several ‘worthies embibing, the quiet bar-staff, and the owner chattering with some of the locals through the base of a whisky glass. If you ever watch the TV Series Hamish McBeth, then you have it in essence. Big portions of everything, and transport costs are said to keep prices high, but the vegetables, and no doubt the beef and potatoes were local…..or maybe they just saw us coming!

It had been a long day….almost 200 miles over highland roads, and sleep was required……….but the SAM_0495rain, thunder and lightning, and the rich sauce of the steak and ale pie would intervene……

To the beautiful north of Scotland, Day 3…Inverness to Thurso

We set off from Kingsmills Hotel Inverness on the Tuesday, fortified by a large breakfast, and Kessock Bridgeknowing that the weather was likely to be a bit unpleasant. Fortunately we had not had the terrible gales and rain which England and Europe had experienced the previous day, but still, it might not be nice. The east of Scotland is usually colder but drier than the west, which has the Gulf Stream to influence it , but not this time.

The road north takes us along the continuing A9, over the Kessock Bridge. This divides the Beauly Firth and Moray Firth (sea lochs), but joins the ‘mainland’ with the Black Isle Peninsula. The Isle does not deserve this description, as it is a  bright, flat, lush. area, criss-crossed with many pretty roads,  with a long coastline, and villages and small towns such as Cromarty (of weather forecast fame), Rosemarkie, Jemimaville and Fortrose. When crossing the bridge, luckily the weather was OK but showed signs of worsening weather.

We were now travelling in an area well-known to our family, as these were the lands of the Foulis castleMunros of Foulis Castle in Ross-shire. Born in N Ireland, I claim descent from Prince Ocaan of Fermanagh (of about 1000AD) the chief of a Scots clan which had been driven from Scotland in the fourth century, by the Romans, to Ireland. The clan had lived near Loch Foyle on the River Roe near Londonderry (from whence the name Munro, or Monroe, was derived). His son Donald then took the clan back to Scotland, and after fighting for King Malcolm 2nd in 1025, he was given a Barony (which he named Foule or Foyle) and was granted lands in Ross-shire. Hence the name Foulis Castle at the town-land of Evanton. There is normally a wonderful view of it from the Black Isle, but not today. I described the view, and called the castle a beacon, in a poem I wrote for the Clan Gathering, many years ago. If any Monroes or Munroes want a copy I can get it to them or post on the clan FB page.

A number of years ago the Clan Chief Storehouseestablished a rather pleasant eating place and shop just as you come off the Black Isle. Called ‘The Storehouse of Foulis’ it presented good food and information about the Munros, and the usual momentoes for those interested. It has now passed into other hands but is still an excellent location for a stop.

As you can see the weather, had started to break down, and so we sat in what was a bit like a marquee for our hot chocolate, and looked out on what is called Seal Point. At the right time, many seals can be spotted coming into the shallow area to catch fish. We were there on a beautiful night some years ago at a Clan Gathering with fireworks going off, and since there is a minimum of light pollution there, it was very spectacular.SAM_0442

But we still had some distance to go, and the storm clouds were gathering. Farewell to the area, and hoping to be here again next year at the next gathering, we sallied forth. We were going to an area where road fuel is sold only in a limited number of places, so were astonished to discover that at our first petrol station it was available cheaper than we get it at home…..so filled-up at Tain.
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Round the corner of the Dornoch Firth, is a small town called, not surprisingly,
Dornoch. It has a rather sophisticated and dignified appearance with a lovely large square with Courthouse, Jail, and Police House…..obviously a peace-loving area!
It also boasts a Church of Scotland Cathedral……one of only a few. We were  fortunate and privileged some years ago to be asked to do work on the sound system and it was a very-pleasant experience. So we had to pop in and were delighted to see SAM_0447that our original wiring was still there. The photo looks toward where the altar would be in an Anglican cathedral, but here it is simply an entrance door. It is a beautifully-light area with large stained-glass windows. Unfortunately the weather was worsening and we had no chance to spend much more time in what is a delightful town.
It is a great holiday/fishing/countryside/seek-the-Scottish ancestors, sort of place, so it is well-catered-for with regard to hotels and guest-houses. As a curiosity there isSAM_0450 local accommodation called www.fourpenny.net. So you may like to look at it.
North of this is where the scenery becomes really spectacular as the coast road allows us views of great  headlands and deep valleys, or glens….when weather permits, of course. It was not terribly kind to us in that regard, so we called-in at Golspie for some nourishment, at ‘Poppies’. The tablecloth design says it all!
We passed through Brora, Helmsdale, Berriedale, Latherton etc, but with poor views due to mist and cloud, before arriving at Wick. It had meaning to us as we once were asked to come and sort a problem in a Church sound system (we had not put it in!). We travelled from near Glasgow one Sunday, sorted the problem the next morning, and returned home on the Monday! Not to be recommended!
John O’Groats was but 20 miles north of this, but we preferred to go to Dunnet SAM_0457Head, which is the true most-northerly-point on the mainland. The shades of evening were descending but the cloud formation was spectacular. We could not stay long at the sands as the light was fading fast and so we made tracks for our overnight stop in Thurso, Pentland Lodge House.
Because of the proximity of the sea, almost all restaurants advertise themselves as the ‘Best Seafood Restaurant in the north of Scotland’. We decided not to go into the town to eat, so dropped down to the local fishing harbour of Scrabster, where we found the Ferry Inn, and ‘Upper Deck’ Restaurant. SAM_0463
It nestles into the local cliffs, and commands a view over the harbour. I can’t pretend that it is looks exactly a beautiful or ostentatious building; in fact it almost looks like a giant set of wooden packing cases! It was gratifying, then that when we went in, we saw a clean, airy, immaculate restaurant, with cheery staff and a good menu. You probably do not need two guesses as to what we ate……yes, fish!
Then off to bed…..for we were about to have our longest day trip on the morrow…..

To the Beautiful north of Scotland…Brodie Castle

One thing I love about being away on holiday is the variety of breakfasts available. I like to serve myself and can try things for the first time. Having said that, I had a Full Scottish Breakfast every day! Presumably every British area has its version….but it is still probably based on egg, bacon, sausage, beans, black pudding, fried bread/hash etc,…… good healthy stuff! Much toast and coffee and I’m set-up for the day. The Kingsmills Hotel was our place of repose for the night, and next morning dawned with a blue sky, and you can see Lady of the House waiting patiently, and wrapped-up, for our SAM_0379friends to collect us for the day.

For those of you who don’t know the area, Inverness and north can be windy. When preparing for our trip, I looked at videos I had made over the years, and speech was often drowned by the wind. So that it makes the use of a even a modern video camera very difficult. So it was to be my still camera only.

We, and our local friends  have been members of the National Trust for Scotland for many years, and we make use of the facilities as much as poss. There is a variety of outdoor-nature-historic,-gardens to see but the further you go from areas of population, the options decrease.

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However, Brodie Castle is one of these places where you can spend equal time inside and out. We were blessed with bright, cold blue skies, and the extensive grounds were chosen for exploration while the weather held-up. Long wide avenues, tree-lined tracks, a well-populated duck- (and swan-) pond and a private family graveyard would give us plenty to see. Last time we were here was in 1996 and we met Ninian the 25th Brodie of Brodie, but he now passed away.

The castle itself was built in 1567, but the family presence there goes back to the granting of the lands around the castle stands in, during 1160, by King Malcolm IV.

SAM_0392But first of all we had to fortify ourselves against the bitter winds, and this was achieved by repairing to the warmth of the little tearoom in the castle. This is one thing which the National Trust for Scotland does well……they have volunteers who serve in the tearooms, and use local baking and cooking where possible.

So hot chocolate and highly- calorific cake were consumed avidly before we set-out. The gentleman in the picture (I use the word ‘gentleman’ for the sake of retaining his friendship) may well be known to watchers of Grampian Television News, as he provides signing for those with a severe hearing impairment.

The swans and ducks were very friendly – indeed they followed us along the towpath- but it SAM_0407may have been the desire for food! I can imagine both swans and ducks providing food in the early days, but now they are now just for show. Along the side of the pond was a narrow track with trees, whose leaves were turning in colour. I much prefer walking on non-manicured lawns, amongst untrimmed trees, and crunching on the leaves. And this was certainly possible here.

It was a wonderful time, not just because of the natural beauty, but also because there was no wind. We were well-protected amongst the trees, but still left with a ruddy glow to our cheeks.

One relatively-known fact is that Scotland, and especially the north, has superbly beautifulSAM_0425 beaches. You will see some more later, but just along from Brodie is the town of Nairn. famous for oatcakes, and as the holiday home of the singer Harry Lauder, A thriving town, but it was the beach we had come to see.

I think most of us love beaches, either because of childhood memories, the fact that there is a sort of ‘cleansing effect’ from sea-air, or we find some strange affinity with a vista which seems limitless.

So today we had seen three different environments…the castle, purely man-made…the gardens, nature tamed by man, and…..the sea and beach, still largely free from man’s interference, but for how long?

Off tomorrow up the rugged east coast to the most northerly point of Scotland’s mainland………come and join us….

To the Beautiful north of Scotland….Glasgow to Inverness

One of the delights of retirement is the ability to make sudden decisions about events or make alterations. And so it was that a two night visit to Inverness a week ago, to celebrate our wedding anniversary with friends, was extended into a trip much further north, and into the north-west of Scotland. As we are now ‘getting-on’, and creaking bones and stiff backs are now unlikely to get much better, we decided that it was a good a time as any to revisit old haunts, and take the chance to see new areas while relative fitness was still available. ‘carpe deum’ was the motto. the Good Lady has a love of Autumn, and if Canada was not to happen this year, then at least this would be ‘something’.

Waterproofs were packed to add to the ‘dressy’ clothes, and off we set…in Imagebeautiful weather. Now this is not unusual in September and the beginning of October, but here we were, verging on November and the trees were beginning to change colour. we took the A9 to Pitlochry, with a famous theatre, and got our first shots of the changes.

Stopping on the A9 is not to be normally recommended but we found a suitable place just before the Pitlochry turn-off and began to see the delicate tones of Autumn. Luckily the clouds in the back-ground did not materialise as rain….at least not then. And the lower sun in the west gave a more-intense background for the colours

Pitlochry itself, is an old spa town, with lovely hotels, walks, and access to much beautiful countryside. Unfortunately, like many such Imageplaces, there is an air of sadness about, as small, niche businesses open and close, and the numbers holidaying abroad means there are fewer beds taken here. Whether the old days will ever return is uncertain, but there are still places where women can browse, often as a group (whilst their men wait outside!).

Of course, this was the day when a terrible storm was to hit middle England, but we saw nothing of this as we proceeded on through sunshine, and cloud towards Inverness. We had planned that we would not be travelling large distances every day so could ‘tootle along’ at a reasonable pace, but without hassle, or shattered nerves. we did see the occasional driving idiot, but mostly it was trouble-free.

It lies at the north end of the great split which divides Scotland into east and west. Known rightly as the Capital of the Highlands, it straddles the River Ness, with OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAglorious bridges. Much of it is flat so it is accessible for easy walks. The River is clean, bright, and wends like a silver thread through the city. You can cross it in many places so the opportunity for photography is endless. You can see Inverness Castle in the photo, but of course it is no longer a fortress.

It boasts excellent hotels and B and B’s offering accommodation to cover a wide Many fine restaurants are situated on its banks, so that dining-out can also be a visual delight. We were staying at the Kingsmills Hotel, courtesy of our son who had given us the weekend as a present……great!

A marvellous meal at the Italian Riva Restaurant (not an Italian on the staff!) with our old friends, and we were glad to lay our heads down in anticipation of the trip to Brodie Castle on the morrow………………………..

Beards

Last year, ‘The Daily Dish’ posted a note about her husband’s facial hair. She obviously was very happy with the ‘teddy bear’ on his face. For those with beards/moustaches/excessive sideburns (remember those?) she did raise the question of why and when we started the process.

In my mind this brought up a different question….is it a negative action (stopping shaving) or a positive action (designing and cultivating some facial architecture) ?

I remember In our final year at High School, in the early ’60’s, the boys all started trying to grow ‘something’. It was all so soft and downy that it could only be seen at close range! Whether it was to impress the girls, who were experimenting with make-up, I don’t know,

The act of allowing a beard and moustache to grow is probably some kind of transition to manhood for boys, but the hacking away at it with a piece of protected metal eventually became a real pain, in more than one sense!

Then came the work in a laboratory, when we all had horn-rimmed glasses, wore white coats, had beards or moustaches, and smoked the pipe. It was in this condition that I courted my wife-to-be. She says that I was clean-shaven when we met, but after 50 years, who am I to argue!

And so it has been all through our married life, …..sideburns, full beard, trimmed short or long, all sorts of variations, until relatively-recently that is. Moustache and sideburns all disappeared, leaving only a small, short, pure white, beard covering my chin.  I imagined that at least our children would have noticed the change, but no word has been forthcoming from that or any other direction, so I can presume that no-one ever really noticed it enough to comment on its demise. So was the changing facial architecture something of interest to society?…….

I don’t think so and frankly, at my age, it doesn’t really matter!

…………but I don’t like designer stubble!