Postcards from Scotland 7
Girvan. Photograph by Islay McLeod
Childhood holidays for me meant Girvan on the Ayrshire coast. Occasionally we ventured to Dunoon or Rothesay but never to St Andrews or Crail. My father, who had the ultimate say on vacational matters, knew that the east coast smelled of fish. Girvan offered many delights: a lovely beach with views of Ailsa Craig, at least two large parks, a harbour, an amusements arcade and Woolworth's. The holiday I remember most was in August 1945, just after VJ Day, when the second world war finally came to an end.
I was eight years old and my sister some four years older and I vividly remember the excitement when we heard that there was going to be a special celebration on the middle Saturday of our fortnight's holiday. Did the sun really shine every day as we swam and built castles and ate ice-creams, all the while wondering what the victory celebrations would be like? There's probably a website that would tell me, but I won't try to find out. All I do know is that the anticipation of 'Victory Saturday' added piquancy to our adventures that week. So did it disappoint?
What I remember still all these years later is the fireworks, probably because they were the first I had ever seen. But there was much, much more: brass bands and bagpipes; Highland dancing; a choir of fishermen. It being August the days were still long so we must have been up excitingly late for these fireworks. It was all magic.
My parents continued the Girvan tradition and took their grandchildren there, sometimes all four at once. When my daughter Rosalind was home with her American husband in the early 2000s, she asked me to take them to Girvan. 'It's not the same', she said. Indeed.
Arran. Photograph by Islay McLeod
Since 1997 our family holidays have been to Arran. This will be our 16th, every one wonderful. Our grown-up children still steal a few days, with friends or partners, each summer on the island they love as much as we do. Was there a 'most memorable' one? Lots of memorable moments but every one had its high-spots. Climbing Goat Fell was a triumph, especially for two game wee girls, an eight and a nine-year old. (We'll repeat that this year.) Completing the Arran half-marathon, occasionally for me, regularly for my wife and, last year, for my older daughter, was a great set of achievements. I'm happy now if I can complete the four-mile 'Round the Square' race at the Shiskine Valley sports day.
For my wife there's golf at the superb, stunning, unique Shiskine Golf and Tennis Club, so beautiful that it could almost make me take up golf: almost. I ride out from Glen Sannox and Cairnhouse. There's no view of Arran so fine as from a saddle. Cantering the beach south of Blackwaterfoot and disturbing a falcon before climbing cliff paths you'd never believe a horse could manage is unforgettable.
It's not all wildness and activity. A sail on the Waverley is a return to an older style of Clydeside holidays. The Arran Heritage Museum is a clanjamfrey of delightful exhibits including a small display of material on the commandos who trained on Arran in 1940. My father was one: another Arran connection which I value. But the great joy starts with the moment the boat leaves Ardrossan. The world of work is left on that mainland quay. Relaxation, fresh air and reading await. And that first moment remains until the boat returns a fortnight later, with passengers all thinking of their next Arran trip.
1944. I am an 11-year-old living in Wick. My radio operator father has just become a ship inspector stationed in Glasgow. (He certifies that shipping entering or leaving the Clyde is equipped with radio equipment that functions up to the standard required by UK regulations.) So that summer Glasgow it will be for the full length of the school holidays. We live in a flat in Kenmure Street, Pollokshields.
What is it that made that holiday so memorable? The warm, sunny weather. Was the south always like this? The public library just down the street. I was a dedicated reader. Of what? That summer it was westerns. I couldn't get enough of them. Sometimes two in one day – and a reminder from the library that a book could not be returned on the day it had been borrowed.
Cricket. My father had played so I was anxious to follow in his footsteps. Clydesdale Cricket Club at Titwood was within walking distance. Soon I was in a team: Clydesdale Minors. In one match I scored 28 runs and held a sky-high catch. The result was promotion to Clydesdale Juniors. Alas I never again made it into double figures. Finally there was 'Buffalo Bill'. Desperate to see the film, I am allowed for the very first time to travel alone into the city to go to the cinema. What an adventure! The stars are Joel McCrea and Maureen O'Hara. The stand-out moments? Little Big Horn and Custer's last stand. I was not disappointed.
A summer to remember. A Glasgwegian now for almost 33 years, I'm not sure I recall a better one.
St Andrews. Photograph by Islay McLeod
I was born in the late 1980s, long after holidays abroad had become an expected part of the calendar year for most people. Trips 'doon the watter' or even to exotic locations south of the border such as Blackpool, Scarborough and Great Yarmouth – long staples of the Scottish working-class experience – couldn't compete with the attraction of relatively cheap package holidays. As such, I have only limited experience of enjoying anything that might qualify as a 'holiday' in Scotland.
On the other hand, the experiences I do have form some of my earliest memories. To access them I have to enter the personal archive and draw on partial and possibly distorted sources. I can recall a trip with my family to a cottage in the vicinity of St Andrews. One of my abiding memories is of a damp, oppressive haar that squatted on the area for what I remember as being the duration of our stay. As is probably the case with most Scottish holidays, the weather doesn't allow me to date the trip accurately in the absence of other corroborating evidence.
The cottage I remember as being sparse with stone flooring and probably no wi-fi. The living room had a fireplace in which you could make an actual fire and the motif was certainly natural. The other stand-out memory was of an abundance of rabbits – rabbits everywhere. This suggests a (supposedly) springtime sojourn. Their presence, the isolation of the cottage and the visual limitations imposed by the inclement weather combine to conjure up an almost other-worldly memory.