A last Hurrah to Raasay BC part 3

Now in the third week of extreme social distancing our last trip away in the Van seems a million years ago!

Parked up at Metal Bridge

I am not sure if looking back at it is helpful or if it brings more to the fore the adventures we are missing.

As we retired a few years ago from our teaching posts we thought we were used to staying at home. But in actual fact we didn’t spend as much time alone together in the marital home as we thought.

Friends and family who know us and our history well have kindly enquired how we are managing in solitary confinement, caught together like rats in a trap! Suffice to say that although I keep the frying pan close to hand….I haven’t felt the need to use it ….yet!

So back to our last adventure.

Our first stop over on the Friday evening was a place we had driven past on many other occasions always intending to “give it a try” sometime. The Metal Bridge Inn near Gretna Green just off the M6.

This is a well known motorhome stopover and the pub provides about a dozen marked out pitches in a car park at the back of the pub. There is access to clean water and also large tanks to empty all types of waste water. Even better, access to the pub’s toilets is available from when they open their doors at about 7am until they close late at night.

When we arrived at about 4:30 there was only one other motorhome in the car park , although by the time we went to bed there was total of 6…and this on a cold night in early March. At the height of holidays I would imagine that the pace is crammed. We opted to park facing the riverside…with a view not only of the river banks but also the traffic speeding passed on the M6.

View from the van in our parking spot

Inside the pub was warm and cosy and surprisingly, extremely popular on a freezing March evening. People were even waiting outside for it to open up when we arrived before 5.

Part of the deal when parking up overnight for free in a pub’s car park is to have a meal and drinks in the pub. So we duly went in and happily complied with the unwritten rules. Gary was a tadge disappointed that the there was no hand pulled beer on offer but nonetheless enjoyed a couple of bottles from Scottish breweries that he likes….and later the several, inevitable glasses of red wine.

We sat in the conservatory looking out on the river and enjoyed a very pleasant meal in the busy pub. It looked as if many folk had come in for the meal deal which seemed excellent value…2 courses for £7.50.

We were just musing about whether to have a pudding or not when I went to the ladies. I was washing my hands…very carefully of course….when the door burst open ….Another lady customer appeared in a great rush and  some distress. Before she could make it through the doorway and in to one of the toilet cubicles she directed a stream of projectile vomit right at me. Leaving me cowering in the corner before this most unexpected onslaught.

Ignoring my baser instincts of cowardice to head for the hills, I dutifully enquired of the poor woman, as she continued to puke into the toilet, if I could help in any way. Thankfully, she spluttered a negative. Unconvinced, I asked if I could let anyone know of her predicament…her friends or family…or …given the dire state of the entrance to the bathroom the pub management? Again her answer was a no thanks…she would clean it all up herself and not to trouble anyone.

Still unconvinced, I left the Ladies and headed for the bar. The whole area of the toilets would need a thorough deep clean….and any unsuspecting female could easily step right into the unholy mess and then tramp it through the whole pub!

At the bar I approached the very young waitress who had served us earlier that evening. Trying to minimise the vomiting lady’s discomfiture I discreetly murmured the whole sorry tale to her. Shock, dismay and very definitely fear instantly registered on her pretty face. Realising that something was up her manager bellowed across the pub asking what was wrong. There then followed a bellowing farce between the two of them before he finally got the message and she was dispatched to clear up the mess and check on the possibly still puking lady.

For myself, I glanced around looking for the spare seat from which the puker had hailed. Was she with her partner, family or friends. No, I couldn’t see a vacant chair. So I returned to Gary and told him the sorry tale.

Gary was horrified. I was worried that she might be really very poorly….he was sure that it would be alcohol related….even though it was only about 9 o’clock. Pudding was definitely no longer an option. I just wanted to get back to the safety of the van as fast as possible. So we agreed to finish our drinks, pay up and go.

Then I saw her return to the very table next to us. This was a party of 4 middle aged couples out for a meal together. I watched her take her seat and wondered what she would say to her partner and friends.

To my amazement….she said absolutely nothing and carried on eating her meal, laughing and joking as if nothing unusual had occurred!

Perhaps Gary ‘s analysis was correct. It was alcohol related. Nonetheless I worried for the rest of the night that as I was in her direct line of fire…and ugh splatter… I might become ill.

I rang Sue the next morning and explained the whole sorry affair. Should we return home or continue with the risk of bringing her some lurgy?

She urged us to continue on our way. I hadn’t become ill yet and we still had a couple more days of travelling before we would reach Raasay. If I did fall ill on the way we could always reassess our options. I should seal all the clothes I had on that evening up in a plastic bag and wash them as soon as I reached her house.

So off we trundled on our way again…

To be continued….

It’s never too late!

Life can get in the way of keeping up with friends and sometimes no matter how close they once were the connections you had with them slip and slide away.

Sadly this has been true with one particular friend who I first struck up a friendship with over 30 years ago. This is despite the fact that she only lives 5 minutes walk away and that we have many other interlinked connections and relationships.


It was through Carol that we bought our very first VW camper from her friends, Colin and Mary. They had called the van Bessie and had had many adventures with her throughout Europe before parting with her. We continued this tradition and have maintained a love of camping and travelling ever since, albeit through a series of camper vans. After many adventures, Bessie has been long gone, mainly due to her temperamental nature and the difficulties around securing parts for constant repairs!

Me, Laura and Jamie with Bessie on our first foray into France.

I had first met Carol about 32 years ago. I was teaching in a school attached to a children’s care home with some of the most disturbed and distressed young people I have ever met. Carol was a new teacher and my first encounter with her was memorable. I was in the corridor outside the room she was teaching in when the door burst open. Carol flew out of the room a vibrant bundle of energy and started banging her head on the wall all the while shouting repeatedly “I am not  a tomato!”

After a few repetitions of this announcement she quietly returned to her class and shut the door.

The children we were working with had all suffered trauma from the emotional and physical abuse they had encountered. In the classroom the outward symptoms of their emotional turmoil could take many forms…..and they loved to test out the patience and understanding of new members of staff . As far as her English class was concerned, Carol was “fresh meat”. Which was why I was casually positioned in the corridor outside her room in case things inside her room became “tasty”. Carol’s outburst was in fact a clever, considered response to the complete silent treatment and refusal to engage that the pupils inside the room had been set upon following. Her tactic worked, the ice was broken and the stunned class began to respond and become involved in their lesson.

We soon became good friends and along with other like minded female teaching colleagues from the school formed a close friendship group. In an ironic salute to the characters from the comic Viz we referred to ourselves as ” The Fat Slags”. I can recall several occasions in local curry houses, the astounded faces of other diners when Carol bellowed to me across the room…” Oi! You Fat Slag!” upon randomly encountering me there.

In times gone past we had almost always attended Carol’s annual Christmas party, held the last Saturday before Christmas Day. A boozy, exuberant evening of Christmas Carols and other festive songs. But this too had slipped away.

In the weeks before Christmas, as I passed the end of her street, weighed down with Christmas shopping, I did wonder if she would be hosting one this year. All the while acknowledging that it was unlikely I would go…..I was far too busy following the life path that had diverged from the one that led to her house. But, heigh ho that’s the way it goes.

Then just before Christmas Eve I bumped into one of the many connections we have with Carol. It was at a Mik Artistik gig at the Brudenell. This connection was in the form of Angela, one of Carol’s stepdaughters.

Although, Carol had split from their father decades before, she had remained on very close terms with all her stepchildren. Angela with her husband, Alun, had also worked with my husband, Gary at a challenging, Leeds secondary school. A great and lasting camaraderie among the staff there had been created by the difficulties they had faced together and whenever we bumped into Angela and Alun we always enjoyed a catch up.

As I said our links with Carol are complex and our lives in Leeds are closely intertwined even if we have somehow let our friendship slip aside.

Carol, Angela told me, was seriously ill in hospital. So ill that she wasn’t expected to recover. She and all the rest of her family had been keeping bedside vigils in the hope that Carol would recover from the pneumonia and other illnesses that had struck her down in November.

Carol on her wedding day in the Caymen Islands

Her illness was a huge shock to everyone in her very wide circle of friends, family and work colleagues She was much younger than me, a larger than life character full of wit, joy and laughter. She had once laughingly referred to herself as the female version of my equally lively and sociable Gary.

Instantly I was torn. I wanted to rush off to the hospital to see Carol and support and help her. But, what use could I be? Also, I still remember how bitter I felt towards the couple who came to see my mum when she was very ill with liver cancer. I felt they stole the last of her precious energy. So I knew I mustn’t butt in on this vital time with her close family.

As it was, I waited until a few days after Christmas. Then other Carol connections kicked in. I found out through another mutual friend, one of the original, Fat Slags, that Carol had fought back against all the odds. Despite the fears of the medical staff her condition had improved and she was getting better.

Although she looked emaciated and exhausted and her skin had a papery, yellow tinge she looked much better than I could possibly have hoped for when I visited her in hospital that week.

She was still the same engaging, generous and thoughtful friend she had always been and we chatted easily about her illness, medical treatments, our families and mutual friends.There were some changes though. Her wonderful, wild tangle of hair which had been such a glorious feature had somehow finally been tamed and become impossibly thin and straight. She had always been a voracious reader, gobbling up books by the bucket load, reading at least a dozen or so every week. But the measure of her exhaustion was clearly highlighted by the fact she hadn’t had the inclination to even touch a book, newspaper or magazine for over 8 weeks.

A few weeks later when I visited her and Adrian at their home I took Carol a little crocheted, cat bookmark I had made and a copy of the book I had so enjoyed reading that Christmas, The Soul of an Octopus. This was all in the hope that she had rediscovered her joy of literature . It was a great relief to find that she had indeed taken up reading again.

Ever the English teacher, she even engaged in a lively discourse about the failings of D H Lawrence as a writer explaining that she felt he was over rated and that although she had loved his work when she was in her twenties she had “grown out” of him. Not quite sure about my own thoughts there….I will have to reread his major works to check that consideration out.

As we re established our acquaintance, recounted past memories and caught up on each others lives in the intervening years I discovered Carol had developed a new talent.

She had begun to write poetry. Not only that, but she had had one published in the Morning Star. It was her own personal reflection, as a devout Scouser, to the long awaited justice for the victims of the Hillsborough disaster. With the final Hillsborough memorial service for the 96 people who died due to take place at Anfield on April 15th this year her poem is a poignant reflection of the horrors of that day and the ” fake news ” stories that surrounded it 31 years ago. Here is the link if you would like to read her tribute. https://morningstaronline.co.uk/a-b6a4-carol-ann-dunn-theyll-never-walk-alone

So, I was very lucky. Carol is still slowly recovering from her illness and our friendship and connection have been securely re-booted.

Flashback Sunday

So, still on the theme of Laura and her early years. Here is a lovely picture of her with Allan Moran, her first, or rather, her biological father.

Laura and Allan at Grandma Joan’s house in Nevison, Pontefract.

Laura looks a lot like Allan and even has inherited some of his gestures. So much so that my brother once commented that he had just seen a ghost coming out of our van….meaning he was shocked by how closely she resembled Allan and even moved like him. This was despite the fact he had died when she was still very tiny.

Respecting the Ancestors… a memorial to a bronze age princess.

The many different peoples who have inhabited the lands of Arran and mainland Kintyre have left artefacts, monuments and memorials that show the deep respect they had for their ancestors and forebears.

Stone covering the burial cist on the island of Inchmarnock

We have had many enjoyable times discovering the remnants of those memorials and burial cairns. Some of which stand out stark against the landscape whilst others are more hidden and remote.

One particularly memorable day involved a trip in Kathy and Nigels rib to the isolated and uninhabited island of Inchmarnock. What a special treat that was!

The islands name comes from the Gaelic, Innis Mhearnaig, meaning island of Marnock (saint). It could be that this refers to a holy man who lived on the island in the 7th century and who established a monastery there. Or it could just be a general reference to the patron saint of the island’s monks,

A burial cist was found on the island by a farmer in the 1950s while he was out ploughing. And, apparently the grave was left open simply covered by a pane of glass for many years before it was covered with the huge stone which now marks its position.

It contained a 4,000 year old skeleton of a female along with a jet necklace and a dagger.

Surprisingly, the archaeologists were able to identify the necklace as being made from Whitby Jet. What a distance those materials had travelled to be worn in both life and death on a tiny, seemingly remote island.

Clearly , these bronze age peoples were more widely travelled and connected than we might have imagined. Travel and trade will most probably have happened by sea and water including rivers and lochs rather than overland.

The plaque on the burial cist

Even more surprisingly they were able to reconstruct her appearance from her skull and even identify elements in her diet.

Reconstruction of her head and the Whitby Jet necklace.

Apparently, she was born in the Cyde Estuary but did not eat seafood even though she lived on a small island.

Clearly, she was regarded as someone of great importance by her peers. Archaeological evidence shows that she had plenty of contemporaries living on the island, however, very few other cist burials have been found . Additionally, she was allowed to keep her precious necklace with her on her journey to the next life despite it being of great value.

Looking back from the burial cist towards the rib

The island itself is serenely beautiful with outstanding views and due to its undisturbed habitat a wide variety of plants.

Since the last inhabitants of the island finally departed the owner of the island, Lord Smith of Kelvin, has farmed the land organically with a herd of highland cattle and so encouraged the native flora and fauna to flourish.

We did spot this rather lovely specimen close to the burial cist.

Is it a Scarlet Pimpernel?

What a fitting floral tribute for an archaeological gem hidden in full sight.

Little Children…

Lochranza in September

As Autumn approaches and the Arran landscape changes colour the type of visitor coming to the campsite has changed accordingly.

With the Autumn weather beginning to bite there are significantly fewer tents pitching up midweek.

The tent field empty except for 2 tents.

As Scottish and English children are all back at school the average age of our campers has increased. Now we have the Baby Boomers sometimes referred to as the Silver Surfers arriving in expensive motorhomes and campervans often bought with retirement, pension lump sums.

Sid, our resident hawklike seagull, prowls the campsite in vain for tasty morsels he can scavange or steal from unsuspecting campers.

Sid surreptitiously looking the other way…

Apparently one year a camper had left his walking boots outside his tent tied up inside a bin bag. A hungry seagull espied the bag and being unable to peck it open did the next best thing and picked the bag up, boots and all, and flew away with them. The site wardens chased the bird shouting and waving their arms  it eventually dropped the bag and boots on the other side of the burn!

Seagulls are not the only scavengers on site! The deer jump the fences and come on during the night searching for better quality grass…they will try to eat anything…..including a backpackers Rice Krispies that he left in a carrier bag outside his tent!

However, back to the rise in the ages of our visitors. There have been no children on site for several weeks. Then last night as we prepared our evening meal in the van we were sure we heard a childs voice. Were we imagining it?

Further signs that children were on site became apparent in the ladies washroom…..an Opal Fruit abandoned in the bottom of a wash basin.

And some flowers on the toilet cistern…..

Yes….there are definitely children on site!

What no posts???…..but lots of extreme excuses…..

I have no real excuse for my lack of posts the last month or so! There have, however, been some impediments of varying magnitude which have hindered my posting capacity.

  • Firstly we have been very fortunate to be distracted by a large influx of personal visitors, both good friends and close family. In total, so far, we have had over 22 different visitors with more planning to arrive soon! Altogether they have stayed here for over 40 days and nights. More than Jesus spent wandering
    in the wilderness!

Thalia and Adam came from the furthest away, New Zealand. Here they are enjoying an evening around the campfire.

What with providing food, accommodation, acting as island tour guides as well as working on the campsite little time has been left for blogging. But what fun we all have had and some very memorable days.

Elsa and Steve enjoyed Arran so much that they came twice! Here they are with their lovely doggies as well at the Blackwaterfoot Beer festival.

Said doggies, travel in style when they are out cycling….

  • Secondly, the internet / wifi connection at the campsite is variable and at times it is so saturated with people trying to use it that I cannot upload posts or pictures.
  • Thirdly and by no means least, we have experienced 2 floods on the campsite during August. With the first being of such a cataclysmic/ apocalyptic nature that it caused a great deal of damage and upheaval which in turn meant a huge clean up and reparation of the site was needed. Leaving very little time to even consider posting blogs about it !!!

But more about the floods later…..

In the meantime here is the headline about it from the local paper, the Arran Banner.

Life gets in the way….

Since we arrived back on Arran on the first of July we have been very busy with campsite duties, enjoying the beautiful countryside around us and playing host to wonderful friends and family who have been kind enough to visit. Combine that with virtually non existent wifi and the result is that I haven’t been able to write any posts for weeks!

As ever our return trip from Leeds was great. We stopped off for an overnight at The Hopetoun Arms Hotel at Leadhills which is reported to be the highest hotel in Scotland, although nearby Wanlockhead is acknowledged as the highest village at 1,295 feet These villages are only about 5 or 6 miles from the A74 motorway in South Lanarkshire and so are ideal for breaking a journey further north.There is also another pub at Wanlockhead , the Wanlockhead Inn, which also welcomes motorhomers ….and which we also intend to try at some point.

Both villages are very interesting and well worth a visit. Leadhills, as its name suggests, originally developed to accommodate miners who came for the deposits of silver and lead which could be found there. Gold was also found and the area around became known as “God’s Treasure House in Scotland”. In fact gold is still panned in the area, although you need a licence.

The Museum of Lead Mining looked fascinating and includes a real 18th century lead mine and 2 reconstructed miners cottages. But we didn’t have time to visit the museum or the Leadhills Miners library which is the oldest subscription library in the British Isles. Another attraction we didn’t have time for was the Leadhills and Wanlockhead narrow gauge railway which closed in 1939 but has been reopened by volunteers and railway enthusiasts.

So we will definitely be back for a longer visit!

This was the second time we had stopped over at The Hopetoun Arms and wont be the last.

The friendly landlord welcomes motorhomers and has 4 or 5 hard standing plots with hook up at the back of the hotel. Hook up costs £10 a night. He insisted that he recognised us, well… Gary at least, from our previous stopover a few years ago.

We have had lovely meals both times ……standard pub grub but well and freshly cooked with portions suited to hungry appetites. Several of the other couples/ people who were eating there that evening were also returnees …..another good sign with regard to the quality of the food and the warmth of the hospitality on offer.

The village shop is next door to the pub and has a good selection of groceries and the very helpful shopkeeper even offered to order newspapers for you if you ring him up in advance as they only have a couple of copies of each one.

The next day we drove along the winding B797 over Mennock Pass and through a beautiful, steep sided valley beside Mennock Water. There were lots of people wild camping along the way and some of them even seemed to be panning for gold. It seemed a beautiful, if a little desolate and wild, spot and it also all seemed a little vaguely reminiscent. I felt as if I had been through that valley before.

Was this aged photo taken in this valley too?

Can anyone identify these two youngsters?

Antidote for days of dreary rain…..photos of a memorable Spring day on Arran

Yes, I know the gardens and farms needed rain after a near drought earlier in the year….but after days and days of the stuff and flood warnings in abundance it is good to remember drier days!

One of those days involved a beautiful circular walk on Arran from Lamlash, around Clauchlands Point and up to the prehistoric fort of Dun Fionn and then a return to Lamlash.

Throughout this walk there were great views of Holy Isle and of Lamlash Bay which was Scotlands first No Take Zone.

The walk hugs the coast before rising steeply uphill to a narrow path along the cliffs to the ancient hilltop fort of Dun Fionn. Not one to be attempted in high winds but on a warm Spring day it made for a lovely little toddle for two aging, occasional walkers.

The views from Dun Fionn were stunning all ways and provided a good view of Goatfell in the distance beyond Brodick as well as the distant Ayrshire coastline.

With its fantastic rocky ramparts Dunn Fionn was a brilliant and inevitable, choice position for a hill fort as can be seen in the pictures below.

Looking back, up the steep mound of the hill fort

This was a lovely, fresh Spring day and the bluebells that clothe the areas around the base of the hill were in full bloom.

Then it was back to Lamlash to the Pier Head Tavern, for as we all know, it isn’t a proper walk without a pub at the end.

A bit empty downstairs as everyone was enjoying the sun upstairs on the patio

As well as great beer the Pier Head Tavern has a fabulous balcony patio that overlooks Lamlash bay.

It also has a tiny but beautifully presented terraced garden……..

Complete with surprising driftwood sculpture…….

Who does this remind you of?

Artistic advice needed!

Remember the Arran Temperature blanket?

During our stay on Arran I planned to make a Temperature Blanket based upon the C2C Temperature Blanket MAL pattern by Esther Dijkstra from itsallinanutshell.com .

To that end I carefully selected 30 shades of mostly acrylic DK yarn that would provide a graduated selection of colours to correspond to temperatures that ranged from -3 to 26 degrees.

I also decided to use both the minimum and maximum temperatures reached each day to create the blanket so that each day would have 2 rows.

However, in practice I soon discovered this meant that there would not be a gradual colour change across the blanket, as there is usually about between 4 and 6 degrees difference between the minimum and maximum temperatures. Meaning that in reality there is a wide colour change between each row.

Here is my Arran blanket for our first month on Arran, of May.

After the first few days of making I began to feel uneasy about the constantly stripey pattern I was creating but ploughed on as I thought I just needed to get used to it. I did enjoy the fact that the blanket was recording the variable weather we were experiencing and the randomness of the colours it threw up.

Then a couple of days ago I thought I would try a test sample for the month of May just using the minimum temperatures. I did consider making it into a cushion using the maximum temperatures for the other half of the rectangle.

This is how it has worked out so far.

The camera has bleached out the pale lilac on both photos so that it looks like a pale grey. So the colours are not as vivid as in reality. But you can see that the colours have a slightly more gradual change and in some cases where the minimum remained the same for several days there is accordingly a block of the same shade.

Which version do you prefer, please ?

And do you have any other thoughts about how I could develop this project using both sets of temperature records.

Your thoughts will be greatly appreciated!