Two country towns….and a brewery

Coming north to the West of Scotland involves, after crossing the Border, simply changing from the M6 onto the M74. You would not even know you had crossed a Rubicon if it were not for the road signs. As you travel about 80 miles, from the Border, you start to drive through the County of Lanarkshire. It is a county of two halves…..the northern, industrial part (now mostly decimated by the changes in the steel economy), and the rural Southern farming community.

Lady of the House  headed out for the day towards a little town called Strathaven (pronounced Strave-in), which we know quite well. Over 50 years ago, I would get two buses on a Sunday to play the organ at Rankin Parish Church, and my wife-to be, and I, would have ‘tea’ in a local cafe, and had walks. But we didn’t get to know it well, as many of the shops were shut. We have passed through many times and had coffee etc, but this was to be an exploratory day. It was not a brilliantly-sunny day, but reasonable for photos.

As in many of our town/villages, the car takes a lot of space, but the good Burghers have provided ample parking in a large car park adjacent to the shops. So first, to the Strathaven Gift Shop in the Common Green (the town centre) for some items to go with us to the Netherlands (success accomplished), and the items were beautifully wrapped by the lovely lady who served us.P1050784


A few yards’ walk took us for lunch at the Tudor Coffee House. This is a lovely little eatery with only six or seven tables, so best to go outwith the busy times. YOU CAN’T ACTUALLY MISS IT!


They offered a Senior’s lunch, which was excellent. A large glass of fruit juice, followed by steak pie, chips (I do like chips!) and peas, with a massive pot of tea (in china cups) satiated my hunger, whilst Lady of the House had chicken goujons, chips (she also likes chips!) and salad.

I went down into the kitchen, and was able to have a chat with the lady doing the cooking, to give her some compliments on the meal. She noted that we had been there before, with our Dutch friends last May! We must have made some impression! It is well recognised as one of the best local restaurants.




We were also on the hunt for a local speciality….Strathaven Toffee. The little place where it had been made had disappeared from the main street, but we were told it was available up a side street, in a small sweetie shop, quaintly named Vintage Violet. It was a treasure trove of old sweeties, and was run by an enthusiastic lady, who was happy to pose for me.


I asked about Jap Desserts, but she confirmed that the company who made it had discontinued them. …..Is there an business opportunity for someone here? It has a lovely view over a park and little burn  (for non-scots, this is a very small stream, sometimes only a trickle of water).


The water in the burn was low, (although locally-placed sandbags were evident that there had been a spate.) A pleasant row of trees guarded it nicely, with lights for the evenings, and clumps of crocuses.


An interesting piece of architecture can be seen from the park looking at the back of some of the houses. i would love o know which room is built in the rounded bit….or maybe it is a spiral staircase.


A 5 minute walk took us past the Rankin Parish Church where I started playing the organ in 1963 when just 18, and then into the local park, for our daily perambulation. There were plenty of snowdrops and other flowers in evidence, and it is an extremely well-cared-for. The only jarring aspect was the ruined house which had been a Museum gifted at the same time as the park was gifted to the town. Seemingly it was being sold off and builders were doing unsafe removal of walls and the work was stopped. It now sits as a mess marring the lovely environment. Very sad!


But the afternoon was moving on and we set off for Lanark by a spectacular rural B road. Suddenly Lady and I spied a notice announcing  something interesting, and which we did not know existed…..


We drove into what looked like a farmyard, but had been a mill, with its wheel powered by the local river. As the notice said, we were made very welcome. It is a three-generation family business producing six speciality beers, presentation packs, and beer-flavoured fudge in conjunction with a local farm. You can also see some of their products on Aldi shelves. You will also find them on social media, including Trip Advisor, so they are moving with the times. We took away some of said products, and tasted them with the experience of my next-door neighbour…… lovely!


We could not stay there for ever, so onward to the Burgh of Lanark, which is a busy county town, including the farmers’ market. It is also the birthplace of Lady of the House, so she feels attached to it. It would be a lovely place to retire to, were it not for the steep Main Street, and the possibility of being cut off in Winter with the approcah roads all being easily iced-up.

The most well-known building in the centre of the town is the  wonderful St Nicholas Parish Church at the lower end of the main street……..P1050788

…….and tucked- in to one side is the kind of marvellous hardware shop, which used to adorn every High Street, and is a dream for many a house-maker. And more interestingly for me, and something  which attaracts us for a day out……a little cafe……..


So we had come to the end of our day out and this always has to be noted with a little bit of local baking……can life get any better? I will leave this for you to drool over…….






The People Who Never Sang….



I think that I first became really interested in ‘singing’ when I was ‘just a wee boy’ in a Junior Choir at our church in Northern Ireland. I came from a family steeped in amateur music. My Mother ALWAYS sang, my Father sang in choirs in church and also in male voices, as well as conducting; cousins, and uncles were singers and an aunt was a piano teacher.

So it was probably not surprising that I would sing in choirs and also learn the piano and organ (reasonably successfully), and the clarinet (unsuccessfully). Junior and senior  church choirs, playing the organ at services, and choral and instrumental composing meant that I was in the thick of what was the great interest of my family, and this was no doubt a large part of their legacy to me.

I was probably about 18 when I was playing regularly at church services , and taking a choir of people old enough to be my parents, and perhaps grandparents! The bravado of youth obviously shaded me from my mistakes, but hopefully I did something right!

After Evensong Lochgilphead

The ‘formal’ Angelus Singers at Lochgilphead…

As you can imagine, many of these choirs required a rigid discipline in attendance and standard of singing to operate well, as we had Church-year timetables, and music, to perform. No good getting the Christmas anthems ready for mid-January!….or having half a choir turn up for the Easter Service!…..or someone hitting a bum note, or a wrong entry!

But there was  a sort of self-selection process going on, where people would not put themselves forward for membership if they felt they had no voice, or a poor one. And it obviously worked well, in that most of the choir-members I met, and dealt-with, had quite reasonable voices.

But, what about the folk who, despite our protests, thought they had a poor voice, or were TOLD by someone that they had a poor voice, or were embarrassed, or did not have the time, or were not tremendously motivated? We obviously never saw them, so there MUST have been a waste of natural talent out there.

Jump forward some decades to Gareth Malone on television, who parachuted-in to various places across the UK to form some type of choir, and obviously left it to underlings to get on with the practices. He would then appear again to conduct some item. It made good television, but not really practical in today’s hectic world!

Meanwhile I had given up full-time organ-playing and was happy to occasionally fill-in, and with there being fewer choirs, that door had been closed. Retirement had come, but I still longed for the heady days of choral music…..but surely that was all history, now, and I had better get used to it……but I was not to reckon on the  U3A, the University of the Third Age, which we only joined a few months ago!

I have blogged about it before, and the great motivation it engenders in people.  Someone had said in passing, in front of a crowded room at our first meeting, that there was a wish for a Singing Group, and that ‘Harry might be happy to start one!’ So there was a challenge! But where to begin?

Now, remember that the age-group range  of the Members probably centres on the early 70’s…..some are in their 90’s! You cannot start analysing and auditioning folk of this age, so the only two criteria would be, could they stand-up (even with help), and breathe?


The interest was amazing! We had 22 with us today at one of the weekly practices, we have 13 pieces on the practice list, and we sing lustily for an hour after some warm-up vocal exercises. Not everyone can come every practice (retirement is busy, you know!) so we are never exactly sure who will be there, but some have been to every practice. No notice is taken of previous experience, musical skills, embarrassment levels, etc, and mistakes are very common. But we are now singing lots of old post-war favourites, and rounds, in parts, and very good they are, too.

I have been given loads of music to look through, by members, so that there is always a new piece every week, of THEIR favourites.

We laugh, we joke, we do little musical tricks, ask them to ‘volunteer’ as  soloists, and have a thoroughly-great relaxing time. Everyone goes away smiling, and making sure they know when the next practice is. And beside all this the voices are really very good!

Personally, I have had a new lease of life, back to helping people find the joy of singing, and this time with no constraints of any kind, on the music, or the musical ability; simply the idea of having fun as a group, and, of course…….they will never be able to say ‘WE NEVER SANG’

P1050874A few of our Singing Group who obviously enjoy themselves in a relaxed atmosphere

(can you spot the 90-year old?)