Category Archives: A bit further afield

Topics not directly connected to Cruden country

The old and the new

A beautiful sunny February day saw us visiting the village of Whitehills in Banffshire.  Our main purpose was to visit our favourite fish shop there and stock up the freezer.

Although we have visited there once or twice we had never visited the harbour area.
A sunny day with a bright blue sea was just what we needed to do a little exploring.  Once upon a time the harbour would have been full of fishing boats.  Indeed I remember two brothers who were members of Buckie North Church in the 1970s when I was minister there who from Whitehills.  I am fairly sure theirs was a fishing family and their ancestors probably fished out of Whitehills.

The harbour was full during our visit, but now it is a marina, with yachts of all sizes, together with a few small lobster boats. It changed to a marina in 2000 due to the downturn in the fishing industry and the rising popularity of leisure sailing.  Whitehills is unique as it is the only harbour in the area catering for leisure sailors that is accessible for all but very large boats at all states of the tide.  Quite a contrast to Port Erroll Harbour at Cruden Bay with which I am much more familiar.

I walked along the pier to the light at the harbour mouth with camera in hand and managed to get one or two interesting shots.



Then we strolled along the shore to the old Blackpots harbour with its interestingly shaped sea wall and views over towards Banff, Macduff and Troup Head in the distance.  It’s just the sort of place that Poppy loves, especially walking along that sea wall…and so did Mary on this occasion!

Mary collected a few bits of sea glass in the sand, and reported lots of pieces of brick and pipe.  I have now read that Blackpots was the location of a brick and clay pipe works.  The Whitehills caravan site now occupies the place where once the brick works stood.

Beating the drum and kicking the ball

One of the joys of doing family history research is coming across interesting stories and people…..and then one things leads to another, with often quite unexpected results.

David Penman (1925)

That’s what happened to me this week.  While trying to fill in some gaps in the family tree of my wife’s grandfather (Pop), Andy Fraser from Tullibody in Clackmannanshire, I came across a wonderful photograph of his great uncle, David Penman, that would be my wife’s great great great uncle.   David (1854-1946) was miner who lived in the Carronshore area, near Falkirk.  The family seem to have had connections with the mining village of Kinnaird.  Nothing unusual about that, most of that branch of the family were miners in this area.

Andy Fraser (Pop) about 1960

I found out the usual information about the family from census returns and births, deaths and marriages, but it was the photograph which opened a window on the life of Stirlingshire miners more than 100 years ago.  This was not the usual formal studio portrait of the time, but shows David proudly displaying the big bass drum which bears the inscription, Kinnaird and District Brass Band.   Clearly there was more to life for David that hewing coal.

The village of Kinnaird no longer exists, nor does the band, but there is some information on the internet about the competitions they entered etc.  The band seems to have been in existence in the first three decades of the 20th Century and it looks like David would beat the big bass drum.  When he retired from the Kinnaird Band in 1925, he was presented with an enlarged portrait (with his drum) and a wallet of notes.

Then the trail led to another member of the band, James Turnbull, also a miner, who played the trumpet.   He was the father of a Scottish footballing legend, Eddie Turnbull.   In the 1940s and 50s  Eddie played for Hibs (Hibernian Football Club in Edinburgh)  He was one of the famous five front line for Hibs, along with Gordon Smith, Bobby Johnstone, Lawrie Reilly, and Willie Ormond, winning three league titles with the team.

“The famous five”

Eddie Turnbull

Eddie also had an international career: 1955 he was the first British player to score in a European club competition, the European Cup against Rot-Weiss of Essen.  Hibs were eventually knocked out in the semi finals of that competition by Rheims.

He played nine times for Scotland and played in the 1958 FIFA World Cup, in Sweden.

The next stage of his footballing career was as a manager, moving to Aberdeen in 1965 after a short time with Queen’s Park.  It was Eddie who introduced the iconic all red strip to the Dons, and he led them to a great victory over Celtic in the Scottish Cup final in 1970.  After that he returned to Edinburgh to become manager of Hibernian from 1971-80 where he won the 1972 Scottish League Cup Final against Celtic. He also masterminded their most famous victory, a 7 – 0 win over their Edinburgh rivals, Heart of Midlothian on 1 January 1973.

Eddie Turnbull died on 30 April 2011, aged 88.

But back to the band.   Eddie wrote an autobiography, Having a ball, in which he recounts his early years in Carronshore, and his father’s part in the band.   I wonder if David Penman played the bass drum at the same time?  In an early chapter of his book, Eddie gives wonderful pictures of life in the mining villages of the time and is well worth a read.  [Read Chapter 2]

Speaking about his father, Eddie wrote:  “Although he was no academic, like so many miners, my father had a life away from the pits which was full of culture. He had finished his formal education early, but he was a clever man and taught himself many things, including music. He played the trumpet and was a member of the local brass band, the Kinnaird and District Silver Band. As a child of a band member, I would share in the terrific excitement in the village when the band marched through Carronshore each Christmas-tide.”  (Having a Ball, Eddie Turnbull with Martin Hannan, Random House 2012)

I might have left the story there but for one thing that I noticed.  Pop’s grandmother was called Elizabeth Turnbull, born and brought up in Kinnaird village, as was Pop himself.   I wondered if there were any connections between Eddie’s family and ours?  But try as I like, I could not find a connection between Eddie’s father James and great great great grandmother Elizabeth.  I am sure there will be a connection, if I could only but find it.  There are more than a few Turnbulls in the Kinnaird, Carronshore area.

OS 1 inch Map 1891 (click on the map to enlarge it)

But I did manage to find a couple of connections, if only somewhat oblique.  Eddie’s uncle, James Jenkins emigrated to Canada in the years before the First World War, where he married a girl who hailed from the same village in Stirlingshire as him and who also had moved to Canada:   Margaret Penman. Margaret was David (the Drummer) Penman’s daughter.  They spent the rest of her life in Alberta, in Canada.

Margaret and James Jenkins (mid 1960s)

And there is another connection between the two families.  Eddie Turnbull’s aunt, Elizabeth Hunter (his mother’s sister) married Alexander Penman in 1878.  Alexander was Pop’s,
uncle, his mother’s brother.

So the footballer and the drummer are connected.   It may be of interest to my Aberdeen FC supporting children and grandchildren that there is a family connection to one of the great Aberdeen Managers of the past and I am sure we would all like to beat the big bass drum.



Memories of days gone by

I opened the Topper, eagerly looking for one of my favourite strips, Wild Young Dirky.  How would my hero manage to escape the clutches of the evil Red Coats this week?  And there it was, on the horizon of the first picture in the story, behind Young Dirky fleeing the Red Coats, the familiar spire of Brechin Cathedral with its distinctive round tower.  Brechin had made it into the Topper!  This must have been in the mid 1950s.  The Topper was launched in February 1953, and carried several series of Wild Young Dirky stories, drawn by Dudley D Watkins, the famous cartoonist and illustrator who created Oor Wullie, the Broons and other well loved D C Thomson comic strips.   Not that I cared about authorship back then, it was having my home town appearing in the Topper that was memorable.

Wild Young Dirky from the Topper

Wild Young Dirky from the Topper

All this came to mind yesterday as I was sorting through some old black and white negatives, looking for pictures of my relatives.  I hadn’t looked at these pictures for many a year;  some I had completely forgotten about;  some I suspect I had never bothered to print out in those days gone by when I did my own developing and printing.


I came across a picture of my Auntie Muriel and her life-long friend, Mina on their way to Brechin Cathedral.  And then there were a few pictures of the Cathedral itself taken from the High Street round about 1965.  I posted one of these pictures on Facebook yesterday, and had a response from a friend about me being in short trousers back in 1965.  No so, I was at university in St Andrews, and indeed  I had a copy of the Cathedral picture pinned to my wall in the student residence.




1965-brechin-cathedral-3Looking carefully at the picture I could see how the cathedral was built above the gorge of the Skinner’s Burn which separated it from the Castle grounds, the graveyard supported by a huge wall.  My mind was not then on Wild Young Dirky escaping after Culloden, but on a Saturday morning, down beside the Skinner’s Burn, below the Cathedral, with the 10th Angus (Brechin Cathedral)  Scouts, practicing lighting fires.   In those days (the late 1950s) one of the tests you had to pass to gain your Second Class Scout Badge was to light a fire outdoors, using only natural materials (no paraffin!) and  using no more than two matches, quite a challenge!

A couple of years ago during a brief visit to the Cathedral, I retraced my Scouting steps down to the burn.  It looked so much more organised and civilised to the wild place I remembered from that Saturday morning expedition with the Scouts.

Brechin Cathedral and Round Tower

Brechin Cathedral and Round Tower taken on a more recent visit

Morning walk

It as dull and grey this morning when Poppy and I ventured out of the motorhome onto the beach at Portsoy.   We love the site here, and we have a great pitch with the van pointing right onto the beach.  I lay in bed listening to he wind and the waves and of course the occasional seagull.

Up, up and away!

Up, up and away!

It was jut after 7 am, but already there were a few dog walkers about.   Not much chance of photos, I thought in the flat light, but I was wrong.  Looking closely at the beach and the rocks I became aware of more birds than just the omnipresent seagulls.  I stalked a redshank going for a morning walk among the pebbles and the rocks, and there always seems to be an oystercatcher.

Redshank on its morning walk

Redshank on its morning walk





Sitting is William’s seat

DSCF2760So there  I was sitting comfortably, contemplating my somewhat disreputable trainers.  I was putting in a few hours in Banchory while our motorhome was being serviced.  I had enjoyed a nice cup of coffee in a café and then set off to walk the short distance to the Bridge of Feugh.

Water of Feugh

Water of Feugh

Water of Feugh

Water of Feugh

I am always drawn to wild water, and the Water of Feugh can be wild indeed. The bridge is a place where people though the years have stood to watch for salmon leaping up the waterfalls. The old bridge itself is very narrow, but there are V shaped indents to allow pedestrians to seek refuge when vehicles are crossing.   So popular is the place that a separate foot bridge has also been built to allow fish watchers a vantage point in safety.  No salmon today, but still the chance to admire the wild water, and to notice that the first signs of autumn are appearing in the trees.

First signs of autumn, Water of Feugh

First signs of autumn, Water of Feugh

Nearby he old Toll House garden was looking good, and my eye was drawn to the old milestone, lurking between two modern road signs.  Just 17 miles to Fettercairn, but what a 17 miles, over the Cairn o’ Mouth.

Old Toll House, Bridge ofr Feugh

Old Toll House, Bridge of Feugh



It was on my leisurely half mile return journey to Banchory that I noticed William’s seat, and decided I would sit for a while, wondering what the view would have been like when first William Aitchison erected this seat.


Not much view here.

Not much view here

a seat with (No) view

Aseat with (no) view

Now all you can see over the road are a few trees and bushes.  I hope there was a better view in his day.  Incidentally another seat, just on the Banchory side of the bridge over the River Dee is placed dramatically in front of more vegetation, no view of the bridge or the river to be had.


But back to William, or was he a Bill or a Willie?  there are often plaques on such seats by the roadsides, but this one caught my interest.  W Aitchison was the Postmaster from 1910 to 1935.  I decided to see if I could find out more about him.  Here is just a little bit of what I found out in a hour or so last night.

William Aitchison was born round about 1847 in England.  He married Ruth Davis in Dublin in 1898 and they went on to have two children there, Irene and James Leslie.  William worked for the GPO in Dublin as a Telegraphist.   Promotion must have come his way and in 1910 he was appointed Postmaster in Banchory.   This coincided with the opening that same year, of the new Post Office and Postmaster’s house in a fine Kemnay  granite building in the High Street.

Daughter Irene worked in the Banchory Post Office too,  as a sorting clerk and telegraphist until her marriage in 1928 (to James Anderson also from Banchory) in the “Tartan Kirkie”, as St Mary’s Episcopal Church in Aberdeen is sometimes called.  Son James was married in Edinburgh shortly after his Father’s retirement in 1936, again to a Banchory girl, Mary Lennie, the daughter of a baker.

William at some point was made a Justice of the Peace and I suspect he was a swell known Banchory character.  He died in 1954 and is buried in the Banchory-Ternan Graveyard, together with his wife Ruth who lived on until 1961.

Banchory Post Office 2016

Banchory Post Office 2016

I wonder what Postmaster Aitchison would have thought of the changes in the Post Office in the 21st Century.  The fine Post Office building (and his house) is now the “Cook and Dine” shop in the High Street.  As I stood waiting for the bus to take me back to collect the van I looked at this shop, across the road, not realising that once the Post Office had been located there.   But I did find the present Post Office, now relegated to a tiny counter at the back of the Co-operative Supermarket.  I needed to buy stamps, and had to fight my way through crowds of white shirted Banchory Academy pupils with their informally tied ties  searching out something “fine” for their lunch.

About round towers

There are special places in the world that have a particular spiritual feeling to them, Iona is one and if I were to think hard I could probably list a few more.  Glenadlough in County Wicklow in Ireland is one of these. It was way back in 2004 when I visited this ancient site, with its two loughs, the place where St Kevin founded his monastery in the 6th Century. We spent a wonderful afternoon touring the site, guided by an expert who told us the stories of St Kevin and helped us to see Glendlough in all its spiritual splendour, in a wooded valley in the Wicklow Hills.

The round rower at Glendalough

The round rower at Glendalough

I was looking back over some old photographs this morning and came across the picture of the round tower at Glendalough, not that ancient round towers are all that unusual in Ireland – there are about a hundred of them.  Indeed the little St Kevin’s church nearby boasts its own round tower.  These towers where bell towers, where the monks in days gone by would ring their hand bells to summon the  brothers to prayer.  They may well have been used too for storage of treasures, and for protection in violent times.

The Church of St Kevin, Glendalough

The Church of St Kevin, Glendalough

When I took this picture I had another round tower very much in my mind.  Scotland has but two ancient round towers, one in Brechin and the other in Abernethy in Fife.  I recall being told about this during my school days in Brechin where our Round Tower was a familiar sight in the Cathedral City, I could even see it from the front door of my Granny’s house, and indeed read the time on the clock on the adjacent church tower with an old pair of binoculars she had.

Brechin Cathedral and Round Tower

Brechin Cathedral and Round Tower

We were told about the history of the tower, built about 1000 AD, and used as a place of look-out and refuge during the time of Viking raids on the east coast of Scotland.  I now read that this tradition is doubted by the experts who say that the tower would not provide much safety, indeed a fire set by raiders at the wooden door would soon let smoke fill the tower like a chimney and drive these ancient Brechiners out.  However, the very narrow door which was the only access is set well up above ground level and would seem to have been built for defence.

Whatever the experts say, a good story is a good story and a little boy, or indeed an old man can picture the Culdee Monks who founded the religious site at Brechin, peering out from the tower, up the line of the River South Esk towards Montrose Basin some five or six miles away, watching for the sails of the longships and the invading Norsemen.  The Vikings were certainly seen as a threat in Angus, with King William the Lion causing the Red Castle to be build in the late 12th Century to repel Viking raids at the sandy beach at Lunan Bay.

I have never visited the Abernethy tower.  I must do that some day.  However, I recall seeing a round tower in Dunfermline, close by the route we used to take when heading from Dollar to Edinburgh, avoiding the congested town centre.  I think I assumed that this was the second round tower, but did not give it much thought.  While thinking about this piece, I looked it up and found out that it is not an ancient round tower at all, but was built just a little over a hundred years ago at St Leonard’s Church in Dunfermline, but very much inspired by the ancient round towers.


Disappointment at Spey Bay

As we drove down the road from Fochabers towards Spey Bay we tried to remember when last we had visited here.  It was certainly when we were living in Buckie in the 1970s.  It was a place we loved to visit for the vast beach of shingle and of course the river Spey as it flowed into the Moray Firth.

Spey Bay Beach in the 1970s

Spey Bay Beach in the 1970s

We would bring the children here when they were very young.  I remember one glorious summer afternoon watching the salmon fishermen with their drag nets working in the river.   This gave the name to the little community at the end of the road, beside the ice houses Tugnet.

Salmon fishermen at the mouth of the River Spey in the 1970s

Salmon fishermen at the mouth of the River Spey in the 1970s

Mouth of the River Spey July 2016

Mouth of the River Spey July 2016

Other memories we shared were of an ice cream stop on a Christian Aid sponsored walk from Fochabers to Buckie, thanks to Gordon McKay who brought the ice cream in his boat’s van from Buckie.  Then there was the start of the walk which I made with the Buckie ministers in the early 1980s, starting at Spey Bay and ending up at Aberlour.

At the Scottish Dolphin Centre, Spey Bay

At the Scottish Dolphin Centre, Spey Bay

Spey Bay, however is now very much on the tourist route, thanks to the Scottish Dolphin Centre.  How different it was when we drove up to the ice house and found that the car park full, people everywhere, and we had to park on the verge.  What a disappointment it was, when I was expecting the quiet little place of my distant memories.

Traffic jam at Spey Bay

Traffic jam at Spey Bay

I have dug out a  few old slides of these early days, and scanned them in.  The colour is not great, and they are a bit messy and dusty, but they have revived my memories of the old days at Spey Bay.

Looking towards Buckie and the Bin Hill, July 2016

Looking towards Buckie and the Bin Hill, July 2016

Late night in the woods

There are lots of walks in the woods at the edge of the Delnies caravan park near Nairn where we are spending a couple of nights.   It was quite late, 9.30 or so, when I set of with the dogs on a lovely still, warm evening.  I had my camera with me and managed a few pictures, even though it was getting quite dark.

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That’s the big plus for this campsite, the down side is the main Aberdeen to Inverness A96 road nearby.  It’s not a quiet site, with the noise of the heavy traffic zooming past.




Dalbog revisited

The last time I visited the Angus Army Cadet Force camp at Dalbog in Glen Esk must have been more than  50 years ago  Not that I was ever a Cadet, but my father, Alf Coutts,  was the Sergeant Major in the Brechin Cadets and each spring and summer in the 1950s he would spend training weekends at the camp with the boys.   Although he had been a professional solider before the Second World War, and had much to share in training the cadets in the ways of soldiering, the task that he assumed at Dalbog was cook.

Regimental Sergeant Major Alf Coutts (1958)

Regimental Sergeant Major Alf Coutts (1958)

In the early days, before the “luxurious” brick-built cookhouse,  with its calor gas cookers, cooking was done on an open fire.  My father was very proud of the broth he cooked on that fire.  Even in later life, while living on his own in Dollar he would inform visitors, “Even if I say it myself, that’s a grand plate of broth!”.  He would often tell of the compliments he received one particular weekend.  He used to use a dirty cloth to lift the hot handles of the dixie pots, moving them around the fire,  Well on this occasion the wood smoke flavoured cloth fell into the broth, only to be retrieved surreptitiously, before anyone saw.  No one had though of food hygiene regulations in those far off days!  That day he was told, “That’s your best broth ever!”

The food stores for the weekend would be loaded up into an big army truck from Anderson’s wholesale grocery store in Market Street in Brechin and the journey was made, bouncing  up the rough track on the west side of the River North Esk.   When I made journeys to spend a Saturday at Dalbog with by primary school pal, Grant Geddes, it was in the Colonel’s car.  James Geddes was Grant’s father, the Cadet Colonel and also the Brechin High School Headmaster. Along with the rest of people who would spend the weekend at Dalbog we travelled up the “main” Glen Esk Road, parking in spaces at the side of  the road, then following the little path through the woods down toward the camp on the other side of the river.

J P Morgan, the American financier had built a little footbridge there over the river.  He was a regular shooting tenant in Glen Esk in the days before the War.  The bridge made make access to shooting butts easier for his guests. We called it  the Pierpont Bridge, although I have seen it referred to as the Morgan Bridge, providing access to the flat ground on which the old army huts stood, a wonderful base for the Cadet training weekends, and the perfect playground for little boy visitors.

And what a playground it was, woods, river, hills, and of course some fine broth to eat.    It wasn’t just Grant and me, others, including by big cousin Lindsay, would joint us for our Saturdays,  In those far away days, it wasn’t just food hygiene regulations though that hadn’t  been thought about;  we used to be able to play soldiers,  borrowing real rifles and bren guns for our games:  much more fun that the official  training the cadets received.  Just think of that in today’s culture.

Later I did make one or two private visits to Dalbog.  I remember Tim Davis, another childhood friend and I cycling from Brechin up the track followed by the army lorry and spending some time on a summer’s day at Dalbog on our own, and I also remember visiting it with my Auntie Muriel, again by bike I think, but this time following the Glen Road and wheeling our bikes over the footbridge.   But search as I like I cannot find any photographs of these visits in days gone by.

At some point the old wooden Pierpont bridge was replaced with a metal structure.  Was it the the Army Engineers who did this?  But still the only real access was on foot over the bridge.

We spend a couple of days in Glken Esk recently and I though it would be great to visit the place again, to reawaken the memories of boyhood games and smoke flavoured soup.  As we drove up the road towards Tarfside I looked in vain for any indication about where the path to the camp might be.   Later, over lunch  at the Retreat, I spoke to Joyce who works there.   She told me that she thought the bridge had been washed away in last December’s floods, and the camp was now in quite a derelict state.  I was to look for a draw in place, and I would find the path.

Sure enough, just as she said, we found a place to draw in with the van, and I went off with camera in hand, remembering as I went, the lay of the land.   Sadly, the bridge was indeed no more… just the east end, a “diving board”  over the river, and piers washed away.  I could see the camp, but there was no way to get to it.  It did look quite derelict, no longer in use.  Too much money would have to be spent on it to bring it up to standard.  It stands now as a relic and a jog to the memory of all the people who through the years spent time there.IMG_7003 IMG_7004 IMG_7007

One other little memory came back.  I recalled that there was a white wooden signpost by the side of the road where we used to park in the 50s, advertising that the Retreat was well worth a visit by those who would travel a few more miles up the Glen.   What a surprise to see that there still is a sign to the Retreat. A different sign now 50 or more years later, but it looks as if it was in the same place.   That will help me find where to stop if ever I want to find Dalbog again.


The Woods and the flowers

At the end of June the grass in the Hatton field is quite long, a challenge for little dogs on a walk, especially in damp weather.  The other night I completely lost Poppy in the grass, thank goodness she heard me calling and came sprinting back down to path to find me.
The owners of the Woods Caravan Park at Fishcross provide a section of their park as a dog walking area.   Perhaps it is not as secluded and mysterious as the wooded area we found at the Edinburgh park at Silverknowes, but some thought has gone into providing paths cut through the long grass which is growing in this area. We get the best of both worlds, long grass and wild flowers, and easy walking for little dogs and their human friends.


Sheep breakfast in a nearby field

An early morning walk on a misty morning provided not just vistas of hills with the sound of sheep bleating as they enjoyed their grassy breakfast, but a whole cornucopia of wild flowers for me to enjoy.

Wild geranium

Wild geranium

Red campion

Red campion

Cow parsley

Cow parsley



Back to the Woods and the Hills

We seem to be creatures of habit.  Not only did we visit the Glen Esk Caravan Park again last week, but we completed the double and made our second visit to the Woods at Fishcross as well.

I love to look at the Ochil escarpment, along the Hillfoots.  The view is always changing.  I remember my first view of these hills was in 1961, on a bus from Stirling, heading towards Dollar with my mother and father.  My father had just been appointed Janitor at Dollar Academy and we were off to see our new house.  After an early start from Brechin we boarded the train at Forfar (you can’t do that now!) bound for Stirling. The last bit of this mammoth journey was by the bus which was heading for St Andrews, and as the road came round past the Wallace Monument on the Abbey Craig, there were the hills, so bright, so close you felt you could touch them in the bright, clear June sunshine.

For Mary these are the hills of home.  She would see them every day as she grew up, from her home in Tullibody.  For me, they became an important past of my teenage years as I explored Dollar Glen and the hills behind.

Last week’s visit to the Woods gave me some more shots of the Ochils;  Dumyat as the sun had just gone down;  mist giving as soft focus effect to the hill; and a view eastwards, towards the Dollar hills.  Fraser commented on last this picture that it remind him of Austria, “The Ochils are pretty spectacular, ” he said.  He’s right.

Dumyat silhouette

Dumyat silhouette

The mist cover mountains of home

The mist cover mountains of home

Looking east

Looking east


We are sailing

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We made our regular stop at the Brechin Castle Garden Centre on our way home yesterday.  There is always a fine scone, and a good place to give the dogs a walk.  What drew my attention this time was the group of men sailing their model boats on the big pond which is the centre piece of the country park there.   As I drunk my tea I noticed the tip of a sail going past the boundary wall of the café terrace.  The sailors were in action!  The last time we stopped, the sailors had just packed up, securing their boats in the little shed there, but today there was chance for a photograph.

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By the time I made my way to the edge of the pond it was an AH (Arbroath registered) model fishing boat which was buzzing round.  The three men sitting on the bench caught my eye.  They did not seem to be paying all that much attention to the boat, but I am sure the one in the middle had the controls.   It is clearly a great opportunity for some summer afternoon socialising as well as giving the boats a sail.

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Standing there near Brechin my mind went back to the only occasion I have sailed a model boat.  It was many years ago (in the 1950s) but not all that far from where I stood yesterday.   A challenge had gone out for Scouts in Angus to build a boat, and enter a race in the River South Esk at Major Neish, the Angus County Commissioner’s estate at Tannadice.  I can remember the excitement as we were allocated our places in the river.  Unfortunately our Scout Troop, 10th Angus (Brechin Cathedral)  had to launch our boat at the far side of the river, where there was no current.  Other scouts, from all round Angus got places where the current was stronger.   It’s not fair we protested!”  as our red and black painted boat (the colours of our scout neckers) came in last.

Colin Francis Ian ‘Jock’ Neish

Colin Francis Ian ‘Jock’ Neish

A visit by Major Neish was always a special occasion.  I am sure he was a delightful man, but his large frame, and commanding appearance certainly made this little scout tremble when he came to the Cathedral Hall were we met on a Friday evening.

I left Brechin long ago, but my Scout career continued in Clackmannanshire. I believe that Jock Neish’s name is no perpetuated in the Scouting Centre build on his estate at Tannadice, near Finnavon in Angus. It seems right to be thinking about him on this day when we are remembering the Battle of the Somme. I read in a newspaper that his interested in Scouting had started through his admiration for Lord Baden Powell and his experiences as an junior officer in the Black Watch during the Second Battle of the Somme. Perhaps he seemed formidable to me as a wee boy, but he gave a lifetime of service to Scouting in Angus, with the Tannadice Scouts, and as I remember him, the County Commissioner. Perhaps we did not win our model boat race, but how great it was to have the facilities of the Tannadice estate to pursue our scouting activities, way back then.


Walking through the Butts

I love walking through the Butts Estate when I am in Brentford.  Wide roads, elegant large houses and trees.  You feel you are in a different world to the hurly burly of Brentford High Street.

I took just a few pictures of some details as we walked home through The Butts.

I wonder what the story is behind this lovely house? It must have had a very different life to the family house it is now.


This street name caught my attention.  Pi tyres came to my mind I’d large felines prowling the streets.

Mary was drawn to the brickwork, an inspiration for the colour scheme for a future crochet project.


For me it was the lush vegitation,forget-me-nots and nettles guarding the base of the wall.






As we approach York Road in Brentford our eyes are always drawn to the enormous advertising hoarding on the disused tower block at the end of the road. The posters have changed over the months but it always seems to be Apple products which are advertised. Here are pictures taken from the garden with the white roses, one year apart.

June 1915

June 1915


And one last March.


The family are having a loft conversion carried out and there is a huge scaffolding election in the garden.  Just one picture to remember this.


Along the Forth

As we drove our motorhome towards the Edinburgh Campsite we had great views over the Firth of Forth over to Fife.  The main purpose of my visit to Edinburgh was to check up on some details of family history in the Scottish Records Office, but a walk along the shore was a must.

The information provided by the site promised wonderful walks, and so there were.   Just out of the site gates and across the road was a path through the mature woods, leading to a long set of steps down to shore level.  The promised walkway was there indeed.  A broad sward of grass and a wide tarred path, part of the Edinburgh coastal way.  Concrete sea defences lined the way, so access to water level was somewhat restricted, much to the disgust of Lily and Poppy.

We are more used to rustic paths along the shores of Buchan;  here it was developed and popular: bikes, prams, joggers, dog walkers, all enjoying the sunshine and the sea air on this Tuesday afternoon.   Too many people for our dogs to be off lead, but still enjoyable.

On our way home in the van the light was even better and the tide was out.  But there was no time or place to stop and photograph the causeway to Cramond Island.   A project for a future occasion I think.

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On a hill far away

Yesterday I was transported to the top of a hill far away, without ever leaving my house.   The rain was lashing down in Hatton, but in my mind’s eye I was standing in the Greek Orthodox Monastery of Hosios Melitios, with the bright blue spring sky above.

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Founded in 1081, the monastery stands high  on the south side of Mt Kithairon, on the border between Attica and Boeotia in Greece. What transported me there was a brief internet conversation with an American friend, George Burn, who asked about our mutual friend Fr Stavros. I sent him on a picture that Fr Stavros had sent me a few days before, of an Easter service at the Monastery.

I remembered the trip that |Mary and I made there way back in 2003. Fr Stavros wanted to show us “his monastery”. Although working as a psychotherapist in Athens, as a priest he is also responsible for services for the nuns at St Melitios. The long trip in the car out of the city, and up into the mountain was well worth it. We came away with many memories of the place and the kind nuns who greeted us there, not to mention a small icon of Hosios Melitius.


On that hill faraway, Fr Stavros (whose name means “Cross”) celebrated Easter, and I remembered the Greek sunshine, in a wonderful, spiritual place.

The Greek road trip went on and later that day Fr Stavros took us to see the spectacular mosaics at the monastery of Hosios Loukas and to meet a priest friend of his there.  But that story is for another day.


With Fr Stavros outside Hosios Loukas

Viewing Dumyat

Mary and I lived at different ends of the Ochils hills in our teens.   For me at the east end, my view was of Dollar (Bank) Hill and White Wisp. From her bedroom window in Tullibody Mary would look out at the craggy shape of Dumyat at the extreme western end of the Ochil escarpment.


We parked our motorhome at The Woods Caravan Park, near Fishcross in Clackmannanshire. The owner is proud of the 180 degree view of the Ochil hills that visitors to his site can enjoy. And he is right. I was able to walk the dogs late at night and admire Dumyat silhouetted against the setting sun, or look the same way in the early morning light.


The sun sets over the Ochils


Dumyat is silhouetted against the evening sky


Dumyat in the morning

Dumyat is different from the other hills in the Ochils which tend to be more rounded. Dumyat is steep and rocky, with a distractive summit. The name comes from the Gaelic Dùn Mhèad, the Hill fort of the Maeatae, a confederation of tribes living north of the Antonine Wall in the 2-3 Century AD.
It is strange how things come together sometimes. Today I posted a picture on Facebook of the ruins of St Adamnan’s Chapel at Leask, near were I live. In doing a little research about Dumyat for this post I discovered that the Maeatae  (Adamnan called them Miathi) were still around in the 6-7 century. He mentions them as the Southern Picts in his life of St Columba.

Ruins of the 15th Century St Adamnan's Chapel at Leask, near Ellon.

Ruins of the 15th Century St Adamnan’s Chapel at Leask, near Ellon.

The Rocks of Soilitude

I had often heard my mother’s family talking about the Rocks of Solitude in Glen Esk in Angus, but it was never any place we went to visit on day trips from Brechin where we lived when I was young.   I knew this was a gorge on the River North Esk which my geography teacher at Brechin High School told us marked the line of the Highland fault which runs from Stonehaven to Dumarton. What I had seen was the river rushing through the rocks where the Edzell to Fettercairn road crosses the river at the Gannochy bridge, quite spectacular.
During our recent stay a the Glen Esk Caravan Park I had in my mind to try to take a picture from the bridge but driving back down the Glen after a visit to Invermark I spied a tiny sign pointing to the Rocks of Solitude. The next day we went back to explore.
There was a path here leading along the river, which rushed through rocks far below. There was not a great view to be had, but pushing my way through some trees covered with dead grass which had clearly been carried thereby the river during the December floods, I had a sight of the top of a waterfall. Clearly the water had been very high to leave its traces on the trees.
On our way home I hoped to stop at the Gannochy bridge to add another photograph to the collection, but no such luck, the only parking place available big enough or our van was deep in mud.



When I was home, a bit of research on the Internet informed me that there is much more to see at the Rocks of Solitude than the small part we had visited. There is blue door to look out for giving access lower down the river to he Burn House Estate and a network of paths past the Rocks of Solitude. Clearly this is another site added to the “needs further exploring” list.
As I wrote his I remembered a crime novel read many years ago. Our neighbour when we lived in Aberdeen was Frank Lyall, a law professor at the University who also dabbled in crime fiction. One of his books is set at the Burn House where an academic conference is taking place, and I am sure the Rocks of Solitude feature. I can’t recall the name of the book, but I wonder if it is A Death in Time. I have ordered a copy from a second hand book seller. We will see if I am right!

Wood violets bloom onthe banks of the river

Wood violets blooms among the grass.

A walk in the woods

Spring sunshine and mature beech trees bursting into leaf made an idyllic setting for walks with the dogs at the weekend, and as a bonus we had the whole place to ourselves.   Mary found a little track from the caravan site which led into this magnificent beech wood on the Burn Estate in Glen Esk.


How the dogs loved to scamper through the dry beech leaves on the ground, in between exploring far and wide.  Memories of days long ago came back to me – out with my grandfather in beech woods very near here, collecting leaf mould for him to mix compost to grow his bedding plants.


During the two days we were there the leaves came further out and the hint of bright green on the branches became more distinct.


The path through the woods led to a gate in a field with a pond.  The water seemed to have overtaken some conifers.  They looked dead, but they made an interesting picture.


From here the woods changed to birch, the type of tree that you can find all up Glen Esk.  Smaller, and now with lush grass growing below.


On our way back to our van we came across this beech tree carved with memories, some going back nearly  seventy years.  Clearly we had not been the first people to walk in these woods.



Up another glen

This glen is Gken Esk in Angus, another of my childhood haunts.  Trips in my grandfather’s car in the 1950s would often end up “up the Glen”.  It was one of his favourite spots.  Indeed, although I never saw it, he acquired a hut for his family in the years before the Second World War, and the family would cycle up the Glen from Brechin to stay there for a weekend and enjoy the hills and the river.
My father would also be a regular in the Glen with the Army Cadets who had a tainting camp down by the North Esk, near Dalbog farm. Spring time weekend camps were the regular thing, and my father was the cook. I would often go up on the Saturday with him and get a lift home in the evening.

This visit to the Glen was in our motorhome. We found a wonderful campsite on the Burn Estate which was just to our taste. Set among trees, with ducks swimming in the little pond beside our pitch. The weather was great too, and we had every opportunity to enjoy our trip “up the Glen”.





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