Keep right on to the end of the road…….

I don’t know about you, but I have a fascination with dead-end roads, especially in the countryside. In some ways the sign we use can be a bit disappointing, or even intimidating….’Not worth going down this road’…’There’s nothing to see’…….. ……’Better to turn round while you 7559_signs[1]have the chance’……you know what I mean.

However there usually is something to see…a beach, a loch, a little pier, a house, an old church, and often they have a lovely view. Someone obviously thought that it was worthwhile building and maintaining a road for good reason.

And so it was that yesterday, along with two of the ladies in my life, we set off for one of the loveliest dead-end roads in the west of Scotland. Skirting the historic City of P1010551Stirling, you take the A84 and A873 through Thornhill. There you will find the excellent restaurant ‘The Lion and the Unicorn’ where you could stop for excellent refreshment. Continuing to head west and joining the A81, you pass  (or stop to admire), the only lake in Scotland, the Lake of Menteith. It is tiny, but the village is called  Port of Menteith, and it feels quite proud of its watery neighbour, and the Inchmahome Priory.

Just as you come to Aberfoyle, you enter the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park, and head on the B829, which has the afore-mentioned ‘dead-end’ sign . The B designation is a good indication that this road is not for the faint-hearted driver, as it is single-track with passing places. P1040845But we managed to stop and pick some blackberries on the way, on the side of Loch Ard.

I should say here that it was not me driving, as medical advice was that I should not get behind a wheel for a little time yet. So it was the Lady of the House, who was in control. (She is, of course often in control when I am driving!) Daughter was in the front passenger seat helping with the negotiation of this nasty but lovely road.

Wonderful country houses abound along here with the sweeping drives, and gardens which would have engaged a number of full-time gardeners at one time. Lovely it must be to live in such locations, but what about the winter? 4WD vehicles would be more suitable than a flash car when the snow comes, or trees fall over the roads, or accidents block roads.

When you are able to stop to admire the vistas, Ben Venue, Ben P1040838Vrackie, and Ben Lomond all offer great views, so a camera, and binoculars are advised on this trip.

Water is not normally in short supply here, and so several lochs have been dammed and channelled to provide water for Glasgow and the Central Belt of Scotland. Besides Loch Ard, where got the berries, Loch Chon also is beside the road, and both offer boat fishing. The water here and ultimately fed to Glasgow is very pure and no lime-scale is produced in kettles or washing machines…….and it is lovely to drink, especially in a glass of amber liquid!

As we move northwest, we are travelling between two large lochs….Katrine (Glasgow’s main water supply) and Lomond (known the world over for the Bonnie banks). At a T junction you can turn right to Stronachlachar (an awkward-sounding word for non-Scots), with a Pier-head Tearoom.

P1040851However we were turning westward past the lovely Loch Arklet heading to the village, or more-correctly, the clachan of Inversnaid.

This is probably the most awkward part of the road as it drops sharply to the northern tip of Loch Lomond, and indeed the Banks are Bonnie as promised in the song. Suddenly, from a narrow country road we descend into a large car park, beside the massive Inversnaid Hotel, and situated beside the pier for boats cruising Loch Lomond.

So, you may ask, why has this large Hotel beenOld Photograph Inversnaid Scotland[1] built here in a remote area, and is obviously popular, with high-occupancy rates? The old photo shows how long it has been operational.

It was built in 1790 by the Duke of Montrose as a quiet hunting lodge. It achieved exposure to the world, when Queen Victoria visited there several times, for privacy. Whether the impropriety involved with John Brown, her ghillie, occurred here I do not know. It has obviously been extended over the years.

We had a very tasty meal in the hotel, chosing the Inversnaid Burger, which consisted of P1040865chicken, bacon and cheese. Afterwards, we went to examine the waterfall just beside the hotel. There has been no appreciable rain recently, so no  great torrent of water, which was a bit disappointing. There are lots of little walks in the area, which we could not explore due to time restraints.

The pier is a place of constant activity during the day, and P1040858no doubt, there is a fair bit of freight brought in by boat. Looking across the Loch, you can see the village of Inveruglas, and the large pipes of the Loch Sloy Hydro-electric Power Station on the hillside. They have a Visitor Centre about the area, so is well-worth visiting.

Two other facts about the area…….

Firstly……The local primary school was, in 2010, the most expensive/pupil in education costs, in the UK. It is said it was £54,000 per pupil! Presumably some may have been accommodation costs for those who could not commute each day, in the scattered community.

Secondly……The famous Rob Roy was basically an outlaw involved in castle-rustling, and in the Jacobite rising. He hid in a cave, close to the Hotel, and which can be only approached by water, and was well-hidden. No doubt the locationis pointed-out to all those on the cruise boats.

……so there you are, a true end-of-the-road journey, which provided on a very-pleasant autumnal day, a lot of visual excitement with the gorgeous scenery,  a trip on narrow roads, a pleasant meal, and plenty of blethering!…….

And the day was complete on our way home, as we popped-into a tearoom in Aberfoyle………pleasure complete……

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European friends…

It was just about a year ago that we were on holiday on Lake Como, in Italy. Sad to say the weather was worse there than it had been in Scotland, and the hotel and food left a little to be desired. Luckily it was a secondary holiday, so we were happy to make the best of it.

There was a wide range of nationalities represented, as you can imagine, and I always enjoy speaking a foreign language. The difficulty arises when you catch short snatches of what is obviously not English, but are unable to identify it. I once had a long chat in German with a gentleman at the Mozartblick viewpoint in Austria, and only when we asked each other where we lived did I discover that he came from London, and of course I was from the west of Scotland! Red faces and laughter were evident in equal measure!

And so it was at Lake Como. Staring out at the rain, I sensed a Germanic conversation drifting towards me from a couple. I was in the midst of commenting on the weather in German, but was informed that ‘We are not Germans’ in German, and then repeated in an undistinguishable lingo. It turned out they were from the Netherlands, and from such a rather unfortunate start, we grew to be regular conversationalists in English which they both spoke very well!

Over the relatively-few days when our holidays overlapped, we found a bond developing, and since they had never been in Scotland, they were invited to come to our house to see some of the best of our wonderful country. Such offers and acceptances are easily made, and just as easily allowed to lapse. But we felt there was something in this one, and exchanges of Christmas cards, and the arrival of a Dutch-English Dictionary, seemed to weld the friendship together, and eventually dates and provisional plan were agreed.

It was probably at this time that a few minor thoughts crossed the minds of both families…..we didn’t know each other well, would they like our food, could they manage English for a solid eight days?, what if it rained all the time? would they be comfortable staying in someone else’s house? what about their political views?, could I learn a few words of Dutch? We were also having a large party at our house at the same time, for Son’s 40th birthday, so how would they manage in a large crowd?

Suffice to say that all went perfectly. From the meeting at the airport we felt we were in the presence of lovely friendly people, who settled well into our house, and seemed comfortable to be with. The weather was unbelievable, and trips to Aberfoyle,the Trossachs, Dunoon, Inveraray, Glencoe, Loch Lomond, Glasgow, St Andrews, and Crail went well. Unfortunately there are so many great places to be seen that they could only visit a few. The eventual parting was accompanied by a number of tear-stained faces, and many hugs!

We have seen how two different cultures can get along so well in the intimate spaces of a house and car, such that even possible disagreements in culture or politics do not have to prevent people from being part of a friendly human race. We are now saving our Euros so that we can make a return trip, but I must try to get my tongue round some of their very strange-sounding words..because they’re not German, you know!

Snap!

When we were at Aberfoyle on Sunday, a few of us took some photos of St Mary’s church and, of course, the assembled choir, for use in the local Church Newsletter. This will be retained in the archives, and, probably, occasionally looked-at over the coming years.

We all try to preserve a written or photographic record of outstanding events in our lives, and rightly so, but what about the not-so-important ones? I have been keeping a daily diary since 1958, and have been slowly reducing it to an autobiography. Not from some narcissistic wish to remember my life, but to record something for the children and future historians.

What I found interesting was the number of bits of information I had kept, like my wages, the price of petrol, what we paid for our first house, what we ate for breakfast nearly 50 years ago, bus timetables, when we stopped getting milk in bottles, the video out-takes from weddings…… All were not tremendously exciting at the time in the writing, in fact mundane. But from a historical point of view, someone will find them interesting.

So can I appeal to you to record not only the things which are important to you, but also those which might turn out to be important to your children, and your children’s children.

My parents and most of my uncles and aunts are dead, and there are now many questions I wish I had asked them, but didn’t. So ask that question now, and take your camera everywhere   ……..Because you rarely get a second chance!

A magically-musical Sunday

This Sunday is treated as the Feast of St Mary, the mother of Christ, and we spent it in two Churches with her as the Patron Saint…….St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral in Glasgow, where we heard the marvellous choir, supported by an oboeist, flautist, and pianist, as well as the organ. A wonderfully-eclectic group of anthems and hymns.

In the afternoon, our musical group (the Angelus Singers) went off to practise in St Mary’s, Aberfoyle. A lovely example of simple rural architecture, set in phenomenal countryside, it exuded warmth, and peace. We joined with the organist, and local singers, and practised lustily through the afternoon.

After refreshments, we sang the office of Evensong, and the Sermon was by Bishop John Crooks, who was a one-time Rector there. A good congregation certainly seemed to be inspired by the ancient words of the Liturgy.

So, two different experiences in one day, but still with a common purpose…..worship. No matter the different sizes and location of the two buildings, the numbers of those worshipping, the perfection of the singing, I hope that  the same effect was achieved and that we all went off with our spirits lifted…..and when that can happen twice in one Sunday, can anyone ask for more?

So thanks to ALL those in both Churches who have made this a wonderful Sunday for an old codger who just loves music!