Postcards from Scotland 1
Marian on Mull
We went there every year in my early teens: a caravan in a field above Tobermory on the Isle of Mull. I'm sure some rain must have fallen on this paradise, but these summers smelled of hot tar melting underfoot, new-mown hay, and mackerel sizzling on a Calor gas stove. Oh yes – and gas mantles lit very late, because this was July and it didn't really get dark.
Mr Thomson, whose caravan and field it was, used to go out fishing at dawn. When he brought the mackerel back, Mrs Thomson used to hand a pair over the fence with a bag of new tatties straight from her garden.
The ferries in those days used to sail from Oban north pier and they were always late. Once we left at around 11 o'clock, and in the twilight, watched schools of dolphins play alongside all the way up the Sound of Mull. That night, when we arrived in Tobermory (no ro-ros to Craignure in those days), the fishing boats had come in and we had to clamber, with cocker spaniel and cabin trunk, over all the vessels to reach the pier.
We walked for miles and sometimes got the mail bus back. Once there was scarcely room for us because it was full of boxes of salmon destined for Canada. And of course, we had to go to Iona on Sundays. It wasn't all re-built and sanitised then. But the water was as green as Iona marble and the sand dazzlingly white. There was some sort of gala day, and open boats brought folk in from the islands. They left a little the worse for wear and we prayed they'd get home safely.
Even for an increasingly stroppy teenager, this was heaven.
The auburn-haired maid was a mature woman of 18 and left her rinsed-out smalls hanging over the chalet curtain rail. They weren't white. When she knocked on the door and entered breathless and apologetic for forgetting them, she found me sitting on a bunk bed staring at their purple nothingness. 'They’re dry now', she purred, sorting out strands of coloured dental floss. She held a gossamer triangle up to the light and, for a boy of 11, provided a transparent glimpse of the unknown on the last day of a holiday. Two weeks before that fortnight at Butlins, hair began to sprout all over me. I was a 'first-sitting' werewolf.
Even if that leg-swinging disturbance hadn’t happened, I'd recall Butlins as my only holiday as a kid. The closest person I had to a hero (my uncle Dougie who played for United) paid for my board along with his family. And, on their coat-tails, I travelled vomit-inducing roads in a tight resentful car. Pent-up frustrations spilled into violence the third day due to Ayr's breezy ozone. As second-sitting campers made their way to breakfast they were greeted by the sight of three cousins swopping blows until separated by a man in pirate garb. Even minus an eye-patch his threats were convincing.
I'd become the target for jokes from two cousins, Paul and young Dougie, because I ate my bread dry. They lived in a semi-detached house with a bath that I'd excuse myself to look at when visiting. In their kitchen, bread was cut diagonally.
That's what I recall of that 1960 holiday: Chubby Checker, dry bread, a beery pirate and see-through lace. My uncle was six-feet-three and Hollywood handsome; in retrospect I’m thinking maybe that maid chose the wrong chalet.
The deputy editor
My most memorable holiday in Scotland would be one of many to Rockcliffe in Dumfries and Galloway. We would book a holiday house called Braefoot, which was big enough to hold the seven of us plus Shona the dog. My sisters and I all had matching red terry-towelling 'summer suits' (I had three more to grow into) and would spend all day exploring the beach and rock pools whilst trying to avoid the patches of quicksand. When the tide went out we would walk halfway to the nearest island where a huge wooden chest – our treasure chest – was lodged in the seabed.
Apart from my eldest sister throwing crabs at me or leaving them at the front gate (I was petrified of crabs, alive or dead), the only bad memory I have is attempting to walk along a coastal path – four miles of coastal path – with stunning views of the Solway Firth, to Sandyhills Bay. I was only about five and soon moaned along the way. This was worsened all the more when I inadvertedly stood in a very large, smelly cowpat! We got there in the end for a well-deserved rest and lift back to the village.
It had been a warm July day and the sun was trying hard to set over the hills of Cowal to the west. Our parents had 'taken a house' (with boat) for a month, as one did in those rather far-off days, in the hamlet of Carrick Castle on Loch Goil, Argyll. It was literally at the end of the road, and nothing much happened in those parts – just the way we liked it.
After the high drama of rescuing an injured peregrine falcon from inside the castle, and in an attempt to escape the midges, my 16 year-old brother (I was eight) offered to take me out in the boat. It leaked a bit, so I was bailing-out with a can, and he was rowing. There was neither life-jacket nor life preserver in sight.
We'd just got out to the middle of the loch which was mill-pond still.
'What?', rather impatiently.
'There's a big black thing has just come up out of the water over there, behind you. I think it's a big shark or a whale or something.'
As my brother turned round, the black thing had sunk under the water again.
'Don't be so stupid. There's nothing there and there aren't any sharks or whales in Loch Goil anyway.'
'What?', more impatiently.
We watched in total astonishment as a massive basking shark circled our tiny vessel, getting ever closer. The fin was about as tall as I was and its huge white maw, open wide and filtering, looked big enough to swallow our boat. It came close enough to touch. Suddenly, I heard an impassioned 'oh, s***', and my brother rowed us to shore like he had never rowed before. Thus began my life-long fascination for sharks, of all types. Memorable indeed.
Unlike some, I remember the 60s. One year at least: 1969, when Woodstock inspired Joni Mitchell to pen 'I’m going on down to Yasgur's farm'. We were headed for Brandon farm, a short hike from Arran harbour where the ferry disgorged us, a motley assortment of pretend hippies – some actually were hippies – in bleached jeans, semmits dyed pink and US officers' tunics purchased at the Barras. In comic fashion, we erected hired tents, the sum of which appeared – astutely, as it transpired – a bit flimsy.
Exerted enough to doze the afternoon on Brodick beach, we strolled, refreshed, to the Ormidale Hotel where a throng gathered in its conservatory. We made music other conservatories may have sniffed at, but, in Joni's sentiments, we wanted to 'join in a rock 'n roll band'. Led by 'Rowdy' Yates, a long-haired whistlebinkie, his heroic status was enhanced by the subsequent release of a 45rpm entitled 'Granny Takes a Trip'. (Not a bus trip, silly!).
Another of the gang, an American GI, had gone AWOL from the bad vibes of 'Nam. The only thing I had gone AWOL from was arithmetic. At 10pm, we piled into buses and made for a hall in one of the other villages – Whiting Bay, Lamlash, Blackwaterfoot – where a raucous band accompanied what passed for dancing.
Nursing sore heads next morning, we might trudge up a hill. But, driven by a couple of super-fit guys, our attack on Goatfell – a Kendal Mint Cake short of a Munro – was uber-energetic. After more tent mishaps and a few soakings, we sailed homeward as the Glasgow Fair wilted. Two astronauts stepped on the moon a few days earlier. Yet we were stardust, we were golden and I had to get back to the garden…my dad promised me 10 bob to do the weeding.