It was Christmas Eve and once more we were down at Fort William, to do a bit of winter climbing. We decided to celibate on Christmas Eve with a drink. All the pubs would be closed in Fort William, as it was Sunday. However if we travelled down to North Ballachulish and cross the ferry to South Ballachulish the hotel there would welcome us with open arms, we would be bonafide travellers. You would have to sign a book to say where you were travelling from and where you were travelling too, this would be checked out with the local bobby. We put all sorts of places from-too in those books from Bute to Inverness, today it was Fort William to Oban.
Returning on the ferry we decided that no one should have to pay on the ferry, not on Christmas Eve, (we as Mountain Rescue were already exempt). The vehicles that were coming down Glen Coe and onto the ferry were piled high with snow so we gathered snowballs and climbed onto the superstructure. When the ticket master came to collect the fares we pelted him with snowballs until he retreated into the safety of his office. The passenger then came from their cars and joined in the snowball fight. Our captain, who we knew well, one of our members would later marry his daughter, was happy to laugh along with us. It was a glorious and unforgettable Christmas celebration, on that ferry crossing at Ballachulish.
As we passed through the village of Onich we spotted a little canon on the forecourt of the filling station. Back at base, a plot was hatched to take the canon back to Kinloss with us and have a small brass plague made and screwed onto the canon that would read:
This canon was captured at the battle of Ballachulish by RAF Kinross, Mountain Rescue, and returned the following weekend to the filling station.
The best laid schemes of mice and men…..
A plague was ordered at the jewellers in Forres but did not arrive for weeks rather than days. When it did finally arrive the canon was taken from its hidey-hole, given a good clean and the brass plate screwed in place. There did not seem any reason to put it back in the underground storage bunker so it was left on the barrack table in plain sight.
Someone happens to mention the canon in the presence of a Snowdrop (RAF Policeman) and rather than turning a blind eye, he, in turn, reported the canon to his superior, who in turn informed the local police of a stolen canon on the camp. Something that had started as a bit of a laugh had now suddenly become very serious.
The local police would have been happy to simply leave this until the canon had been returned but were put in an untenable position and charged the three lads that had put their hand up, with theft. When the case came up before the judge at Fort William Sheriff Court, the Judge listened for a short while, then stopped the trial, and said to the owner of the canon,
“Has the canon been disfigured to a point that it has now been devalued in any way?”
“No Sir,” was his replay, “I believe it has been enhanced by the plague”.
Bang, bang, when the judges gavel “Case dismissed”.
I am still keeping the peddles turning but today there was a distinctive change in the weather, much cooler and low cloud, that lifted later in the day. All is just about ready for my next trip, will have to do some fine adjustments, the gears on my bike do not click in as cleanly as they did, new cables stretching, I suspect.
I have been pouring over my maps, and the more I do, the more I change my mind about where to go. But is seems I always end up Assyn Coigach and Noth-West Sutherland. Looks as if another attempt at crossing the Kyle of Durness to visit Cape Wrath is on the cards.
James Mitchel was a retired police sergeant in Dunfermline, he once told me that on Student Rag Day, the students will go down the high street and the town will be split 50/50. half wanted their antics curtailed the other enjoyed the spectral. I think the Mountain Rescue in the 1960s was seen in much the same light. We would come down off the hill after a long hard day intent on enjoying ourself, a few pints and a sing song. Most costumers would enjoy our impromptu choir, with their random selection of well known bothy ballads, others would not.
It was Fort William on that particular weekend, my first time climbing of the Big-Bad-Ben, Ben Nevis, then crossing the scary arête and up onto Aonach Beag, dropping down to the Steall Hut and back to camp. Steall Hut belonged to a boys club from Glasgow, their uniform was a Donkey Jacket, their merit badge, rope burn down the back of the jacket from abseiling.
Changed and fed we headed for the town centre, the Imperial Hotel, our chosen venue. There would have been around seventeen of us packed into the small bar that night and it was not long before a communal sing along got underway. As the beer flowed our voices, now well lubricated, grow in stature until the owner of the premises arrived from the lounge and asked us to keep the noise down, he had guests in the hotel. We did for a while but as more boisterous songs began to be sung the volume would inevitably rise.
Now it so happened that the owner of the Imperial Hotel, at that time, was a South African and could only visit Scotland for a maximum of eighty days in any one year. The owner returned to the bar and in his best South African, authoritarian voice said, “Surly I have some say, in my own hotel?” the response from one of our group was “It may be your hotel mate, but its Oor country”
Our parting song (before the police arrived) was a Red Army song with lots of Hoy! Hoy’s! In the chorus.
In May 1960 a horse was sold in Dublin, it was bought by Anne, Duchess of Westminster who had named him after a mountain on her Sutherland Estate. The horse remained on Anne’s farm, in Ireland, just outside Dublin, his new stable-mate was Arkle. Anne had a habit of calling her horses after mountains and like Arkle and Ben Stack, she called this new horse Foinavon. In 1965 the horse was up for sale again this time it was bought by John Kempton who ran Chatham stables a small training yard in Compton Berkshire. Foinavon’s new stable-mate this time was a white goat called Susie. He never shone in 1966 managing sixth place in a field of seven but the following year was placed in seven out of eight starts.
In 1967 his trainer, John Kempton hoped to ride Foinavon in the 1967 Grand National himself but, at over six foot he was never going to make the weight. Cyril Watkins, the horse’s owner, wasn’t keen to pay the additional fee expected for riding in the Grand National and was turned down by three jockeys. Days before the race John Buckingham, who had never before ridden in the Grand National, took up the challenge. Foinavon would start the 1967 Grand National at odds of 100/1
Of the 44 starters, 28 were still in the race as they approached Becher’s Brook on the second circuit with Foinavon going well in 22nd place, just behind the favourite Honey End. As they approached 23rd fence, Popham Down, one of two riderless horses out in front of the race, veered to the right and ran across the fence, causing a pile up. Rondetto, one of the leaders managed to clear the fence but then unseated his rider after landing, as horses refused the fence they crashed into one another and ran up and down the fence. Foinavon slowed to a canter and managed to find a gap, cleared the fence and carried on.
At the next obstacle the Canal Turn, Buckingham looked back in disbelief at the 30-length lead he had with only six fences remaining. Seventeen horses, including remounts, did give chase and the 15/2 favourite, Honey End closed the gap to within 20 lengths but at the final fence Foinavon would not be caught, Foinavon romped home to win the 1967 Grand National.
When I returned from Cyprus, I was posted to Kinloss GRSS (ground radio servicing section), we were a small and pretty nomadic bunch, we could be at Saxa Vord on the north tip of Unst in the Shetland isles one week the next in Northern Ireland or even Stornoway. I joined the Mountain Rescue when I was at Kinloss, although I could not go out every weekend with them I did have some good experiences.
Leaving the camp on Friday evening we travelled up to North-West Sutherland, making camp at Alt Ceann Locha. Once the tents were pitched it was into the landrover, to beadle off to the nearest pub, I believe that would have been Rhiconich. Plans had been hatched back at Kinloss as to who wanted to do what, arranging pick-ups amongst themselves. Since I had little experience of hill walking would be part of a team doing a ridge walk, nothing too desperate. Tomorrow I would be walking along the crest of the remains of a long-extinct volcano called Ganu Mor Foinavon at 908 meters above sea level and since we would be starting at sea level, we would have to climb ever meter.
Now it just so happened that the 1967 Grand National would be run the following day, Saturday. A certain group of lads from Kinloss Mountain Rescue Team, would be walking the Foinavon ridge, must be an omen in there some place. I believe it was spoons, who phoned his friend at camp and asked him to put the bets on for us before the race. The rest you can read above, I can assure you there was a lot of new climbing equipment in evidence the following weekend. Me I was back in Northern Ireland, spending some of my ill-gotten gains in Mooney’s Bar in Belfast.
I’m sure You have already worked out by now that Jimmy was my father (James Hamilton).
With five women still living at home, dad called our cooncil hoose, Bedlam Hall, and when the noise reached a crescendo, he would escape to his workshop, I like a faithful puppy dog at his heels. I spent a lot of time with my father as a young lad, working in his workshop, or travelling around the country on the back of his motorcycle, we would even go camping together, sitting at the camp fire I would listen, wide eyed to his stories from around the world, his real-life adventures, that was magical. I would also listen in when men gather, to smoke and blether on the street corner or down the Seaman’s Union. All of the stories that you have read were based on his true-life experiences. OK, I did not know all the details, some I tried to research, some I tried to fit into a time scale that would have been about right, and yes I did use some poetic licence.
Dad was much older than mum, but he always looked young for his age so the difference never showed until the latter years of his life, his attitude to life gave him that persona of young and modern, so helped hide his true age too. But if you knew them both, as I did, dad was very much in the 19th century mum in the 20th in many ways dad was very Victorian in his attitude. He was a Darwinian, for a start, live and let live, survival of the fittest, and the church, as far as he was concerned, was a corrupt sham. When the Pope appeared on television, dad calls him “Old Father, do them all”. Still, he was happy to see us, his kids, go off to Sunday School, like mum I suppose it got us from under his feet for an hour.
Reading the Sunday papers were almost a ritual, he would read the papers from cover to cover, reading allowed passages that he thought his wife would (or should) be interesting in, then give his comments on those affairs. Mum just sat in an identical chair at the opposite side of the fire, knitting needles clicking away twenty to the dozen, and I’m sure her ears firmly closed to his wise words.
To me it was a happy house and so different from homes today. For a start mum was always at home. Thinking back she was a hard-working woman. There to send dad off to the pit, no matter what shift he was on. Then my big, big sisters, and finally Irene, my big sister, would be sent off to work. Then came my two sibling sisters and I, full of porridge, off to school we would go (there were big gaps in the family, dad being a sea, during the war years and the whaling, saw to that).
I’m sure she hardly had time to lift her head when dad would be back home from the day shift, then we kids would burst in a happy screening horde, or at least we must have seemed like a legion most of the time. Irene from the Co-op would soon follow, then would come the others. We always had meals together around the big table, with its pull out leaves, Copious amounts of Scottish fare, stew, potatoes and what ever vegetable was in season, or possibly a big bowl of thick, home made, vegetable soup, always followed by pudding, custard poured over sponge cake, apple crumble, or Semolina with a big dollop of home made jam in the middle, Rhubarb and Ginger was mums favourite.
Mum had to go into hospital for an operation, all I knew about her condition was “It was Woman’s trouble” which normally would mean having a baby but I think mum was already too old to have babies, or at least this is what I had overheard.
Dad would be looking after us whilst mum was in the hospital. Dad was a good cook but no cake, no fancy puddings just plain fare. Breakfast was, as always, porridge, cooled on the back doorstep. Irene came down the stairs, rushing at the last minute, as usual, Irene liked her bed and would lie until the very last moment then everything was a rush. “I don’t want porridge this morning” she called to dad as she flew out the front door. “That’s all right,” he told her, but by then she was out the door and I don’t believe she would have heard his response.
Irene arrived home from work, she was always first in, the Co-op being in the village and closed around five in the evening. When dinner was served, we all had potatoes and mince, Irene had the porridge she did not want at breakfast. Another of dads Victorian ideals, “Waste not, Want not”.
If mum was not in the living room then you would find her in the kitchen, preparing or cooking food, making jam, baking cakes, or on that special day, buried in a cloud of steam, pulling white linen sheets from the boiler, feeding them into the big sink for rinsing, then through the ringer that would be clamped between the two sinks. I would help out by turning the handle for her as she worked the sheets in through the rollers.
I’m an engineer, ma mither has a mangle,
When she dis the washin’, she lets me turn the handle.
Our bright yellow canary, lived in a cage that hung in the kitchen window, he would now, be lost from sight in a room full of steam, singing his heart out with his beautiful rolling song, keeping it going hour after hour until the washing was done. Mum said he was enjoying his bath.
Mum and dad were married on the 12th November 1925 and lived together until dads demise on 26th September 1983. Two gemstones of different material. They lived through two wars, depression, hardship, apart and together all those years from their marriage until dad died. By the time of their retirement, the waters of life that washed constantly over them, often turbulent flash floods, certainly in the early days, that tossed and tumbled them, knocking off their rough edges only succeeded in smoothing and polishing their nature like a lapidaries sands. I was privileged to know them in times when quieter waters lapped over them, two highly polished pebbles now lying still and peaceful together side by side, in quieter times. I was mums carer for the last years of her life and she would tell me stories of her early childhood and married life, and they were not the romantic stories I had grown up with, there were no “Good Old Day”, but what I remember most from that time was how much she missed ‘Her Jimmy’.
I have enjoyed this wee dip into my past, it has been very therapeutic for me, maybe you would like to find out more about your family if so, do not leave it too late, once your parents have passed, there will be no one to answers the questions you so desperately wish answers to, only questions will remain.
When I want to feel you near me,
I stand in this quite place,
With the silver light of countless stars,
Falling on my face,
They all shine so brightly,
And it comforts me to know,
The ones that shine the brightest,
Died an eternity ago.
Lyrics from a song written by Eric Bogle.
We buried mum on the Tuesday, the following Saturday I had taken my sister Irene, to an Eric Bogle concert. We chatted with Eric and John (Munro) sitting outside on the veranda before the concert, as a request, he sang “One Small Star” for us at that evening’s concert. Precious moments, like these last a lifetime.
On the shores of the Black Sea stands the city of Odessa. A city forever synonymous in Russian history, for it, was there on 22 June 1941, that the German Wehrmacht troops fired the first shots of Operation Barbarossa, marking the beginning of Hitter’s invasion of the Soviet Union. Russia was in no position to fight a war, many of her senior officers purged during the revolution, she simply crumbled before the German onslaught. Stalin’s plan was to move his factories to the icy wasteland of Siberia. geographically as far from the front as possible from the front line. Over 1,500 factories were systematically dismantled and shipped on 1,800 trains. Burning what they could not move, they left nothing for an invading army to feed upon. Badly in need of Western aid, Churchill in 1942, and against all advice from the Admiralty, promised Stalin three convoys of war aid every two months, some would come from Britain some from America. The ports of Archangel and Murmansk would be their destination, the Russians preferring Archangel, Murmansk being just thirty miles for the German lines. Archangel, however, was frozen in for much of the year, notwithstanding Russia had undertaken to supply ten ice-breakers, promising to keep the port free from ice, only two ice breakers materialized, and in 1941 a number of ships were stranded there throughout that winter.
Added to the natural hazards, these Arctic convoys would face, was a shortage of escort vessels, inadequate numbers of ice breakers, little in way of discharging facilities, or medical care for wounded, and the failure of Russia to provide coal, ballast, stores and fresh water, required for the return voyage. On the plus side the ships that were used were modern, since they had to be specially fitted out in order to withstand the awful Arctic climate and mountainous seas. The first twelve convoys all reached their designated ports without incident. Convoy PQ13 was less fortunate her losses amounted to 30,000 tons of merchant shipping. In June 1942, convoy PQ17 set sail for Archangel, Her escort was ordered to withdraw and the convoy to scatter, PQ17 was decimated by the Germany bombers and U-boats a total of twenty-nine of the original thirty-eight merchant ships lost. The Royal Navy did not come out of it well, Rear-Admiral Burnett, giving his explanation of events, on his return to Scapa Flow, only succeeded in gaining the nickname ’Bullshit Bob’. The Admiralty wished to put a complete embargo on further convoys during the continuous hours of daylight found this far north in summer, Churchill, however, was adamant that they go ahead and ordered Admiral Pounds to fight another convoy through the Barents Sea. In his own words, “If a naval battle should ensure, so much the better”.
In August 1942, the Merchant Navy Shipping Officer, sent for me, I was to report to Loch Ewe to join Empire Snow, one of thirty-four ships due to sail in convoy code named PQ18, our destination, Archangel, in Russia. Maggie did not wish for me to return to the sea, saying I was still not well enough to go, and the doctor almost agreed with her. Endless days in freezing ships engine rooms and the biting cold air of Antarctic had taken their toll, leaving me with a hacking cough, he was now saying my Woodbine cough might be something more serious, and that I should maybe spend more time ashore; however, I managed to persuade him to let me sail. What would I do washed up on the beach at my age, any way any money that I had made during the good days was dwindling fast, my 21 gold sovereigns a distant memory. I assured him I would rest up after this trick, reluctantly he signed my chitty, if it had not been for the war, I am sure he would not have done so.
Our escort included an aircraft carrier, two anti-aircraft vessels, eighteen destroyers, four corvettes, four-armed trawlers, mine sweepers, even two submarines, it seemed we were part of an armada rather than a convoy with an escort. At 16.10 on the 2nd September, we started the first leg of our journey, sailing for Hvalfjordur in Iceland, there to pick up six Russian freighters before heading through the Denmark Strait to rendezvous with various other freighters and warships that would finally form as Convoy PQ18. By the time we had left Cape Wrath astern of us we were pounding through high winds and heavy seas, gale force 9 to storm force 10. Already the convoy was being torn apart. The American and Panamanian ships with no previous experience of convoy work, gave little attention to signals and were seldom found to be on station. The Campfire and the American liberty ship Patrick Henry raised their ‘out of command’ signals reduced speed and put their helms over to port as dangerous beam seas threatening to swamp them. At 7,167 ton, the sea for us was no more than a discomfort, for the smaller ships of the Royal Navy was a night of pitching, rolling and corkscrewing, their scuppers streaming water, all the way across the stretch of open sea, between Iceland, the Orkneys and the Shetlands, commonly called ’The Rose Garden’. To add to this already formidable escort, the cruisers Cumberland and Sheffield along with destroyers Amazon, Echo, Venomous and Bulldog patrolled off Spitzbergen. Whilst the three cursers Norfolk, Suffolk and London, gave support off Bear Island. Crossing the Greenland Sea, the swell rose and the horizontal rain blown in on gale-force winds turned to snow. On the 12th September a flight of Sea Hurricanes were dispatched from Avenger to intercept a Blohm and Voss BV 138 but they easily avoided capture by flying into the cover of low cloud. At 21.00, Faulkner sunk the U-boat Bohmann’s U88 with depth charges ahead of the convoy, this was turning into an eventful journey.
At 08.55 on the 13th September, we lost the Stalingrad, hit by a single torpedo on her starboard side. Rescue ships were quickly on the scene and picking up all of the crew uninjured. Almost at the same time the Liberty freighter Oliver Elsworth was hit by a second torpedo again on her starboard side. Little could be seen from above, the damage all blow below the waterline, at the command to ‘abandon ship’ all but one of her crew managed to get clear. The skies were now filled with aircraft, fighters, bombers and torpedo-bombers, the planes came over the ship and dropped a torpedo, not in the water but clear into the hold of Wacosta exploding inside her hold, seconds later Oregonian, was hit and started to sink, just ahead of her, the Panamanian freighter Macbeth hit by two torpedoes and quickly capsized. The Empire Stevenson carrying explosives simply evaporated in a column of flame and smoke. A second Panamanian ship Africander torpedoes and sank, her crew all rescued. Empire Beaumont also lost. The American liberty ship John Penn was less fortunate the torpedo entering the engine room killing all four-crew members instantly. Another torpedo fired haphazardly, snaked its way through the convoy and unluckily found Mary Luckenbach in the eighth column. She was carrying ammunition and went up in a ball of flames, the explosion, rocking the ships around her. Although attacks followed an attack by plane and U-boat no more ships were lost, and by 16.00 hours on the 18th the weather deteriorated aiding our escape. On we battled through high winds heavy seas, final to approach the Kola Inlet, there to be met by the ships HMS Salamander, HMS Hazard, HMS Britomart and HMS Halcyon it was they that would lead the convoy through the shallows and over the Devina Bar. Proceeded against an ebb tide and with such severe weather conditions, few pilots were prepared to put out, forcing the convoy to come to anchor.
Life onboard Empire Snow was now a misery, dragging anchors and snapping cables as the ship rolled and pitched. The temperature dropped rapidly throughout the night and by dawn the ships were unrecognizable. Cross-trees, superstructure, winches, rigging, stays, halyards mast and ladders all were now coated in ice, so thick we feared she would turn turtle. Steam hoses were rigged and constantly played on the superstructure to lessen the topside weight, but almost as soon as large chunks of ice were dislodged the windblown rain and foam would freeze the instant it touched any solid object. By the 20th September, no fewer than five ships were aground on the Devina Bar, ships and crew could do little in such conditions except endure. As the weather moderated the ships not aground again got underway. On the 27th September, the tides were high enough and the remaining ships were finally floated free to make their way upriver.
It would be a further month before all the ships could be unloaded and made ready to return home. It may have been the Russian Convoys to blame, for my mental and physical condition, or simply the drip, drip, dripping of hard sea-time, but Maggie was physically shocked when I returned home in mid-November. My recovery was a long one, first I spent months in the sanatorium, then when recovered sufficiently, sent to work in the Donibristle Aircraft Factory. The warm dry conditions there did much to restore my health. After some instruction I was given a team of young girls to work with me, we would produce many fine aircraft wings. Maggie seemed happy to have me under her feet, and steady regular wages made life much easier for the family, bonuses too since it was piecework. When the war ended in 1945 the demand for aircraft wings fell off and within a year I was again out of work and once more found myself down the Seaman’s Union, much too Maggie’s dismay. I was now off to lift wrecks from the French harbour’s.
Dad did not take any wages when in France, for they were paid in French francs which were practically worthless, instead he had all his wages sent home. Spending money came from the sale of salvage from the ships they dragged from the bottom of the harbour, They would go around the bars and cafes and take orders, to be sold or bartered for food and bottles of wine or Cognac, then volunteer for fire picket over the weekend. I certainly remember at that time we had some very fine cutlery and dinner sets on our table all with ships names in their decoration.
Some years on Blue Peter (a kids program on the BBC) was asking us children to box up unwanted cutlery and take it down to the post office to be collected and sold, the money would go to charity. We asked mum if we could send some off and ‘Silly Mum’ said yes. Dad had to drive her down to the Co-op to buy new cutlery before he could have his dinner.
I have never sailed with the Royal of Merchant Navy, but I did spend much time with my father as a young lad, and heard the many stories of his time in the Royal Navy and Merchant Service, (Dad hung up his sea boots in the early 1950s). I have always loved sailing and working on boats and I know how seductive the sea can be. I can also understand why it is not for everyone. I use to sing a song around the folk clubs and countless yacht club bars, one that sums up the two sides of the argument, much better than I could ever hope to do, it’s called:
Lock Keeper by Stan Rodgers.
You say, “Well-met again, Lock-keeper! We’re laden even deeper than the time before, Oriental oils and tea brought down from Singapore.” As we wait for my lock to cycle I say, “My wife has given me a son.” “A son!” you cry, “Is that all that you’ve done?”
She wears bougainvilla blossoms. You pluck ’em from her hair and toss ’em in the tide, Sweep her in your arms and carry her inside. Her sighs catch on your shoulder; Her moonlit eyes grow bold and wiser through her tears And I say, “How could you stand to leave her for a year?”
“Then come with me” you say, ” to where the Southern Cross Rides high upon your shoulder.” “Ah come with me!” you cry, “Each day you tend this lock, you’re one day older, While your blood runs colder.”
But that anchor chain’s a fetter And with it you are tethered to the foam, And I wouldn’t trade your life for one hour of home. Sure I’m stuck here on the Seaway While you compensate for leeway through the Trades; And you shoot the stars to see the miles you’ve made. And you laugh at hearts you’ve riven, But which of these has given us more love of life, You, your tropic maids, or me, my wife.
Been very lazy today, after a short run I sat down in front of my computer and wrote a couple of short pieces for the website, I have to keep putting something on it to keep the interest flowing until I can get out on my next great adventure.
Bang! my iScot magazine, dropped onto the mat. Along with this superb magazine came an unexpected novella, Fatal Contagion, by Allan Martin.
The book was commissioned by Ken McDonald, manager and editor of iScot, to be given out with the magazine as a bonus for readers during the lockdown, Allan came up with Fatal Contagion a wee crime story and a new case for Detective Inspector Angus Blue.
I have lost a whole afternoon for I just could not put it down until the very last page, and I’m not a big fan of detective stories. But this has no complicated plot, in fact like me you will possibly be one jump ahead of the posy, all the way, the cat with its collar was a dead give away, now where did I read a story with a cat with a very special collar, a bobble that contained the world? The characters, seemed real, the places they visited, were all recognisable and made it very believable. However what caused me to keep the pages turning, was in the writing, fast-moving and easy to read, much like a Lee Child, Reacher novel, but thankfully a lot shorter, or nothing at all would have been done today.
P.S. I’m not very happy about you taking a swipe at cyclists, Allan, the only excuse I can see for this sort of behaviours is that you are a dedicated Volvo driver.
All the talk of war made me unhappy about sailing to the Antarctic less the fleet found itself trapped there for the duration, having spent two seasons at Leith Harbour, I did not wish to spend another. I was fortunate and secured a position as the second engineer with, Blue Star Line. They being amongst the better shipping lines, at that time, carrying a combination of passengers and refrigerated cargo. There main sailings were to South America and Australia, carrying meat, perishables, businessmen, and diplomats. However, by the 1930s a worldwide depression had put an end to the luxury passenger business and ships such as Avalon Star, owned by the Blue Star Line Ltd. found herself in Greenock for modification. All passenger accommodation was removed as was her dummy funnel. The superstructure lifted and moved forward increasing her refrigeration compartments to eighty chambers giving a total cargo capacity of 699.000 cubic feet. Powered by four Parson steam turbine engines she could romp along at 17 knots. By 1939 we had circumnavigated the world a dozen times, now lying in Dakar, Senegal we received the news that Britain was at war with Germany and ordered to sail light-ship for Buenos Aires and return loaded with 8,800 ton of frozen meat for London. The trip was uneventful, by way of Santos, Brazil and Freetown, a port we reached on 15th June, sailing the following day to rendezvous with a thirty-four ship convoy, which we overhauled three days later on the 18th June, with them we now zigzagging our way back across the Atlantic Ocean.
At 10.00 hours in the 30th June, 200 miles north-west of Cape Finisterre, the first ship in our convoy was hit by a torpedo and sunk. The red and blue signal flag was immediately hoisted, and all turned to starboard and continued to zigzag. One hour and thirty minutes had elapsed when Avalon Star herself was hit, blasting open her Number 2 hold. Big as she was Avalon Star was she was lifted clean from the water, carcases thrown clear into the air as hatch covers burst open. She settling back with a 20-degree list, before righting herself. It was the collapse of the aft bulkhead that finished her as tones of seawater flooded into the stokehole exploding her boilers. The order to ‘abandon ship’ quickly followed. Within minutes of the order, all but the four men trapped or dead in the engine room were in the boats and safely away. MV Beignon steamed to our rescue and plucked us from the water at great danger to herself, then continued at her best speed once more to chase down the convoy. At 03.00 hours she too was struck on her starboard side by a torpedo, listing badly she started to go down by the head. Beignon, normal compliment was thirty men, now carried an additional eighty she had insufficient lifeboats so a raft was fashioned from odd planks of timber and empty oil drums, commonly found on ships decks during times of war. I clung, with twenty-five others, to a rickety structure waist deep in oily water, shivering with fear and cold. Our SOS sent out from the sinking ship had been picked up and the destroyers HMS Vesper and HMS Windsor who arrived at 05.00, all 110 survivors from both ships were picked up and taken on to Plymouth. Maggie welcomed me home, a shadow of the man, she sent off to Antarctica. I had lost weight and my hacking Woodbine cough as bad as it had ever been.
My morning ride was a bit special today and a run that has to be right up there for me. Anstruther, Crail and home. The heat was already in the day, it was just so perfect.
If I had to pick one time of the year to visit Scotland it would be autumn, such a magical time and a time that is just around the corner. The early snow on mountain peaks, the lower slopes ablaze in purple heather and autumn’s perfusion in lowland woods. By late autumn the stag, separated from the hind now, antlers dressed in velvet, migrate down onto the lower planes. Just to wake, in some remote part of Scotland, no one around, why you could almost be the only person on the planet. Skies still and clear, starlight casting its ghastly light upon the waters of the loch, mountains black cardboard cut-outs, silhouetted in the low autumn sun. How could you be anything but in awe of such magnificence?
I had tried to keep myself busy during a lockdown, and I did feel I was coping well, but from time to time I would start feeling weepy at old films and my writing reflected my mild depression. So, with the van now having a full year’s MOT and my feet starting to itch, thoughts once more turned to get away for a while, something that had been put on hold.
I started by installing an inverter in the van today, so many things require charging these days all with different voltage requirements, that it is best to plug them into a 240V outlet, with their own charger. The old car battery is not a deep cycle, as was the case in the big camper van, but it should do the job OK. My solar panels are portable and full self-contained just connect to the battery, simple, and fold away flat when not in use.
To test it all out I decided to MOP (mechanically operated polisher) the van. I have not used this for years, last time was on my boat hull. Its a bit messy since you have to use water as well as the compound, otherwise, it will burn the paint, centrifugal forces will do the messy part and I’m a dab hand at making even the simplest of jobs messy, you should see me with a paintbrush, “Will you be putting any of that paint on the walls Walter?” and today was no exception, but great fun and the car park will be find after a shower of rain.
With coronavirus still a threat, more so for wrinklies like myself, I will stay clear of the coast Montrose, and especially Aberdeen, a route I would normally have taken north. This time it will be Blairgowrie (might be a bit early to see the Beech Hedge at its best, Beech being late to colour) Braemar Ballater, Grantown-on-Spey, would make sense. Cape Wrath is still on my bucket list, now there’s a thought. Keep peddling and stay safe.
The owners of the Norwegian whaling fleets had harbours and shipyards back in Norwegian so would return home at the end of each season. Salvesen, however, had no such facilities at home so would not only incur the cost of steaming home and back to the fishing grounds but also the high costs of mooring and servicing of the fleet in Scotland. The solution was to leave the fleet at Leith Harbour and transport man and materials there for the off-season servicing of the fleet.
During the 1930s, when jobs were scarce at home, there was no shortage of whalers ready to volunteer for the winter. Compared with the normal two-year articles of engagement in the merchant navy, a period of eighteen months away was relatively attractive, particularly as there was no way of spending earnings. Those who wintered there found Leith Harbour a much pleasanter place than might have been expected. There were occasional heavy snowfalls which lay up to ten feet deep, but it was no colder than Norway, apart from a gloomy mid-winter period when the sun did not rise above the hills behind the station.
Arriving at Leith Harbour, at the head of the Stromness fiord, I could not believe any place could be so delicate. Despite the amenities such as a cinema, library and football field, this was the backend of beyond. The station had a big installation for the servicing of the floating factories and overhaul of the catcher fleet, including a floating dry-dock. Tanks for storage of fuel and whale oil and large guano shed for the storage of meat and bone-meal. Coronda Quay, the main jetty had very deep water alongside where floating factories and transports could safely lie. The whale catchers had their own quays there they would be moored over winter, fuelled and repaired. Close to the quay were the substantial machine shops, platter and boiler shop and foundries all required for the winter overhaul programme. The wages paid by Salvesen were higher than paid by other companies in South Georgia and the slop chest prices very much lower than at home. In fact, there had been a dispute over wages a year or so before I arrived at Leith Harbour, settled when the company agreed to an increase from 50 Kroner to 80 Kroner per month. The men on South Georgia had been in a strong position at that time, for once in Leith Harbour they could not easily be replaced. a situation however that would soon swing in Salvesen’s favour as unemployment at home increased, the threat of a strike might mean no work the following season.
During those dark months of winter down in South Georgia, the weather could be horrendous. Leith Harbour, although well protected from the worst of the winter storms, the bitter cold was everywhere. Working onboard empty ships, whose steel hulls would run with condensation, and when the temperature dropped would freeze into solid ice. We carried a small bogie stove with us, that even when glowing cherry red halfway up its stove pipe, gave off little heat in the vastness of a ships engine room. Off duty, there was little to do but try to rest weary bones, and learn a few new tunes on my box of whistles. The schedule meant our work was never-ending and glad I was to see spring. There were days however when up on deck looking out on a mirror-calm sea, the ship rolling in the Southern Ocean’s swell, listening to the plaintive cry of the solitary sea birds and the unmistakable boom of a whale blowing as they surfaced. The tinkling, like breaking glass, of ice in the swell, or the dramatic crack, like that of a gun, as the ship broke through the pack ice, there were times when I thought the Antarctic was the most beautiful place on the planet. My fondest memories of Antarctica was seeing for the first time the Southern Lights, the aurora borealis of the southern hemisphere. This strange and surreal curtains of dancing light, the colours green, yellow, red, blue and pinks, dancing unrehearsed in the night sky, almost defying description.
By December all was ready for the new fishing season, I sailed onboard the floating factory ship the Neko, a converted cargo ship of some 3,576 gross tons. Our destination was the South Shetlands, a small group of islands about 400 miles southeast of Cape Horn. We went south with three catchers and a two-boat, but the weather was most foul and ran into some very unseasonable heavy ice. It was with great difficulty that we reached Deception Island arriving there in mid-December, despite our late start we had a very successful season. Striking a balance between, enough coal and sufficient space for the storage of oil was always a problem. Too much coal, less so, since it could simply be dumped overboard, however, the weather is unpredictable, and if continuous bad weather depletes the ship’s bunkers, there is little that can be done. On our return to South Georgia. Returning at the end of the season we again hit bad weather, reducing our speed and burning up our bunker. With no wireless to contact our base and have supplies vessel sent out to replenish our stocks. with only half, our journey completed Scapa was first to raise a distress signal that she was our of coal. later that day Sonja put up her signal, she too was running low on bunker. The following day Silva ran out of fuel, all now taken into tow by Neko with still 500 miles of ocean before us. The one remaining catcher made it back to South Georgia under her own power, Neko towing three catchers four days later, our bunkers exhausted we were down to burning all spare timber on board along with three barrels of whale oil.
It rained a lot yesterday so I donned my cycling cape and did a fast circuit, over to Pitscottie and back, at my time of life you have to push yourself, it is far too easy, when sitting in a comfy chair in my cosy we flat, to say, it is too wet to go out. Doing so will only lead to it is too windy, too cold, too hot even to go out.
My van, that has hardly turned a wheel since I bought it, went in for its MOT on Monday and failed seems the exhaust, was not only broken in two pieces but rotten too, what rotten luck. Today it goes in for a replacement, costing half the original price of the van. So I really need to put it to work. Up until now, I have been reluctant to do any travelling that would bring me into close contact with others, this coronavirus has to a greater or lesser degree made me its prisoner. So taking advice from Maria, I will turn a new leaf.
“Oh, I must stop these doubts, All these worries. If I don’t I just know I’ll turn back! I must dream of the things I am seeking. I am seeking the courage I lack” (from the sound of music).
At the start of the 20th Century almost every whaling station in the North Atlantic was faced with a decline in catches. Some gave up, others followed Captain C.A. Larsen to the more lucrative southern seas. In December 1909, he arrived in Cumberland Bay, South Georgia with a modern steam whaler and two small sailing vessels that would be used as transport. Deceived by the bareness of the island, Larsen established his whaling station and set to work; quite unaware that South Georgia was a British possession. C.S. & Co. (Christian Salvesen & Co.) had been given a chance to go south a decade before Larsen began to whale in the Antarctic. A Dundee expedition to the Antarctic by Dr. W. S. Bruce and his friend W. Burn Murdoch, like Larsen saw the potential of southern whaling and on their return to Scotland they held a meeting of businessmen in Edinburgh, in order to raise the capital needed to finance a whaling station on South Georgia. Christian had attended the meeting, but was unconvinced, with Bruce’s clams, for the taking of eight humpbacks a day, believing this to be a gross exaggeration. It was not until 1907 that Salvesen decided to go down to the Antarctic and applied to the Colonial Office for a licence to fish the waters off South Georgia, where Larson had been so successful, this was turned down. However, if they were to take up the offer of a whaling option for the Falkland, their application to fish South Georgia the following year would be looked upon most favourably.
C.S. & Co. at that time purchased the Icelandic station at Faskrudsfjord dismantled it and shipped it along with 60 men, some thousands of barrels and a cargo of coal to the New Island in the West Falklands. The construction of a station there was a formidable undertaking with the land having to be levelled, slipway built, fleshing plan, building to erect too house blubber, meat and bone boilers. All to be carried out by January, the start of the fishing season. On the16 January 1909, gunner Edmund Paulsen brought in the first whale to be caught by Salvesen in the southern hemisphere, 227 were caught that season. This was encouraging and in the 1909/1910 season, four catchers operated from the station and 475 whales taken. The New Island station was never as successful as Leith Harbour in South Georgia, and in 1915 New Island was dismantled and the equipment taken to Leith Harbour, where increased production was required to satisfy war needs. The cost of producing whale oil that could only be sold for burning or lubrication was becoming unsustainable. Fortunately, there were companies working to perfect the process of hardening oil to a soft solid fat by adding hydrogen, if successful whale oil could now be sold to soap manufactures and if the oil was deodorised, to manufactures of margarine. The technology was there but convincing customers to spread whale oil on their bread might prove more difficult and many margarine manufacturers shied off the new oil until the price forced a change of heart. Lever Brothers at first would only use whale oil in the manufacture of their Lifebuoy Soap, the carbolic destroying any hint of whale oil. However, as the scarcity of other oils, such as palm or kernel, pushed up the price and they were forced to reconsider. Unfortunately for the whaling companies the manufactures formed themselves into a cartel and kept the prices low, not allowing them to exploit the new markets. Again it would be the war that changed the fortunes of companies such as Salvesen. Glycerine and important component of high explosives, which could be extracted from whale oil. Lubricants was another and for the future margarine would later outsell butter. When in 1916/1917 Salvesen was asked by the Director of oil and fats to do everything possible to increase production, Theodore, went into overdrive, buying the station at Saldanha Bay, South Africa. Salvesen worked hard at improving production. The facilities at Leith Harbour, were greatly improved to utilise as much of the whale as was possible, it was said that had the smell so pungent at Leith Harbour been marketable he would have tried to process that too. Lever, the soap magnate, was once asked why he did not go into the lucrative whaling industry. He answered ‘Gold-mining or dice-throwing are unexciting occupations compared with whale-fishing’. Notwithstanding Salvesen was the largest whaling enterprise in operation, and without question the most efficient.
all research of the whaling industry, from Wray Vamplew book Salvesen of Leith 1997 Scottish Academic Press.
Built-in 1892 Pentaur had served Salvesen well over the years, by 1928 with an overcapacity of merchant ships, a combination of depressed world trade and too many ships having been built to replace those lost during the Great War, 1914 – 1918. Salvesen decided to sell-off many of her merchant fleet and concentrate on her whaling in Antarctica. Pentaur, was one such ship sold to the Argentine Navy as a supply vessel, she was in need of a crew to take her down to South America.
We lay alongside the coal chute with the black diamonds poured into our holds. The deck crew then battened and washed her down from stem to stern to rid us of the coal dust that had accumulated over the ship. No matter how meticulously the deck crew worked, the gleaming coal diamonds could be found for weeks after we sailed in every nook and cranny of our quarters. The cargo of good quality steam coal was cargo only, Pentaur, boilers that feed her triple expansion engine with steam having already been converted to oil burning. The coal once sold would help pay the ships way to her destination. The trip across the Atlantic was uneventful until approximately 500 nautical miles from the estuary of the River Plate, a fire was discovered in the hold. When the hatch covers were lifted, the coals hot through internal combustion, ignited into a roaring inferno with the introduction of oxygen, the fire that had smouldered away unnoticed for weeks, now engulfed the entire cargo. Orders had been given, for all crew members, not directly involved in the fighting of the fire, make ready to abandon ship, such was the situation with flames leaping 20 feet into the air and smoke billowing over the entire ship. All that day the fire-crew pumped water into the hold trying desperately to bring the fire under control and reinstate the hatch covers. The fire could not be extinguished only subdued and happily burned away even after the hatch covers were replaced and fire hose nozzles inserted into the hold to play a fine mist of water over the cargo. The Harbour Authorities at Rio was made aware of our plight, that we had the fire under control and were making best speed for Rio de Janeiro. They in returned bad us enter the harbour but ordered us to stay out in the river until a fire boat could be sent to make the ship safe to enter the harbour. With the cargo dumped into the sea and the fire boat crew happy that there was little danger of another outbreak, the authorities reluctantly allowed Pentaur enter Rio. Such was the damage by heat to the ships plates and bulkheads that she was only fit for scrap. I was ‘paid off’ in gold sovereigns I felt like a king, never to be poor again.
Britain was a country in two halves during this time; Chamberlain was telling us “We have never had it so good”. and for many in the south of England that was certainly true. New industries brought wealth and prosperity, semi-detached housing schemes were expanding out from central London and brash new Art Deco factories were springing up all over the southern counties. In contrast the old industries, coal, iron, steel and shipbuilding were all laying off men and closing their gates. Unemployment in the North of England, Wales and Scotland was severe. For these families no new semi-detached homes, they remained trapped in their rat-infested, diseased ridden, Victorian terraces, tenements and miners rows live an endless struggle of survival.
A few years ago I bought a ‘new to me’ box van and set about converting it into a camper-van, it had the lot, bed, cooker, washing facilities, small wood burning stove, and last but by no means least a chemical toilet – just in case I was caught out, I used local toilets all the time I was away, so it was never used.
I travelled the length and breadth of Scotland in my old van, it never missed a beat, over the two years I travelled with it. Winter months were brilliant fully insulated keeping it cosy and warm, and I had the little wood burner in reserve, never really needed and lit mostly for its comfort. I would lie in my bunk, on those dark early winter evenings, with only the light that had escaped from around the joins of the little stove, my little magic lantern. Snug as a bug in a rug, I would watch the night skies in all their spender. Scotland is so beautiful in winter and free from two of Scotland pests, the midge, and the tourist. After my extended trail, I parked it up and started to plan a foray into Europe.
I was spotted by a lad one day, he had caught me lounging around inside the van, well, the solar panels still worked as did the CD player and I had built up a good library of books and magazines I had collected on my travels, but never having found the time to read them when I was away. The van had now been turned into my wee bolt hole. Over a pot of tea and a bit of humming and hawing, he bought the van from me. Well, I was getting on a bit and the van was not getting used.
I had a new neighbour last year and if you have moved into City Park and want that new piece of furniture assembled, that came on a boat all the way from China as a flat pack, then any of the girls will tell you Walter is the man to see. Flatpack furnisher Tick, Pictures and mirrors hung Tick. Pictures and mirrors are taken down and move to a different wall, Tick. Then again maybe that mirror would look better in the bathroom, Tick.
Later in the week, no names no pack drill caught me in the hall, “I wonder if you could put up some shelves for me?” she asked.
“I’ll have a look first” I said.
Simple enough job, if fact I have an old countertop made from Oak, it had been rescued from a skip in South Street, a bit of renovation going on in the Rule, at the time, it would cut down into a nice set of shelves.
We chatted away during the times I spent in her home and it seemed she loved to travel, but I soon found out that we lived in different worlds, I did not travel first class on the ‘Canberra’. I said I loved travelling to Europe, that my favourite country was France, but it would be a toss-up between France and Germany, and how I had been planning a return trip to the continent.
If this was not always going to be just a dream, serious plans would have to be put in place, this encounter with, no names no pack drill, had reawakened my dream, plans started to drop into place.
‘Everything comes to those who wait’.
I needed a van to sleep in, the old-age pension does not stretch to B&B. A van would also be needed to carry my bike and equipment. I had no intentions to build another camper van, this time around, the trip would be more roughing it, than Cooks Tour. Something more economical too. I put out an SOS and my nephew came up with the goods, a small VW Caddie. He had ordered a new car and, needed to sell at least one vehicle from his stable, to help finance his new dream car.
I went into overdrive and was all but ready to depart, camp bed, Tick, cooker, Tick, DVD/CD player, Tick, spare battery and solar panel to keep it fully charged, Tick. Inverter, to charge up my laptop and kindle, Tick. Then disaster struck in the form of coronavirus, shit.
On the first of August I turned over my calendar to discover that the van was due an MOT, and being a ‘cut as stick when you come to it’ kind of guy I booked it in for its MOT right away.
Up early, cleared our all the rubbish that had accumulated, over the time it has been sitting, more or less dormant in the car park. Bucket and sponge at the ready, I gave her a good going over, may as well do my bike whilst I am at it. Off up to the MOT station in plenty of time.
It was all locked up, shutters down, everything. Well, I am a little early. I spent half an hour over at Aldi doing a bit shopping but when I returned to the van, the garage was still firmly locked up. The penny dropped, “Why did you not tell me it was only Sunday?”
I returned to the MOT station this morning and yes it was now open, “Come back at 10 o’clock it will be ready for collection” I was assured.
My wee van failed, seems the whole exhaust system is shot from stem to stern, on Wednesday, after it receives it’s new pipework my bank book will be depleted by a further few hundred pounds, I hate books with sad endings. Still better to find out now than, somewhere in France.
There was also an advisory, ‘light rusting and pitting on brake discs’, hardly surprising the van has been, more or less, sitting in a car park for the last three months, they will be well and truly polished by the time I make the boat at Southampton.
“It’s an ill wind indeed that blows no one any good”.
In some ways, it was good that I did not get away last spring as planned, I will have had a whole year to iron out the wrinkles with the van and save some extra money for the trip. I have also sorted out the electrics, (inverter and solar panels) I know it sounds more like taking it all with you than getting away from it all, but I like to watch my DVD when the weather has closed me down, and my laptop and kindle requires re-charging from time to time.
Now all I have to do between now and spring 2021, is keep dodging the undertaker and hope that the coronavirus has run its course.
Hundreds of coastal tramp steamers of all sizes sailed the Home Trade. Every kind of general cargo was carried, scrap metal, pig iron and steel rails so much needed and carried to Hartlepool, Redcar and Middlesbrough during the reconstruction years after the Great War. Goods carried to the Continental ports, would be such as china clay uplifted from the Cornish town inside Gribbinhead and from Teignmouth small ports in Devon and carried on to Antwerp. This was the most miserable of cargoes to endure, deck and accommodation were smeared with traces of clay from stem to stern, and even after hosing down deck and superstructure the dreadful stuff would turn up in food and bunk for weeks after it had been unloaded.
I spotted Marquis, in the dock she carried the distinctive pink funnel and blacktop, for Messrs. J. Hay Shipping line, her destination unknown, however, I knew she would eventually return to her homeport of Glasgow. The talk around the docks was that the ship was already sailing short-handed the fireman had gone down with pneumonia and taken ashore. I had never served as a fireman but needed a berth, spending days even weeks in a foreign port awaiting a ship did not appeal more so since Continental docks were awash with men willing to do any kind of work for a days wage.
Marquis main engine was a Ross and Duncan compound, steam supplied by two Scotch Boilers their fires generating steam at 110 to 160 pounds to the square inch. She also had a Donkey boiler situated at the entrance to the stokehole and used a great deal for steam to drive the winches on deck. Her only other engines was a one-stroke engine, housed above the main engine, this drove both generator and steering gear, all were looked after and tended by two engineers. The First Engineer, known as ‘Chief’, and his satellite the Second, ably assisted by the two firemen.
The First Mate had been sympathetic to me an ex-naval seaman, having served at the temporary rank of Sub-Lieutenant R.N.R. When his ship had been commandeered for water carrying to the forces in the abortive Dardanelles campaign and further Levant actions. The Old Man would have the final say, however the First Mate’s recommendation, as too the crew would normally go unquestioned by the Ships Master. So I was put to work under the supervision of the Second Engineer, he himself having come to that position via the stokehole, often referring to himself as a shovel engineer.
A watch for one of the two stocker’s onboard (known as firemen on Scottish boats) would be four hours on and four hours off, theirs the toughest work, shovelling fuel into the jaws of the two Scotch boilers. Much would depend upon their bunker supplies, good Welsh steam coal, soft and combusting gave a good heat and small ash but more often than not it would be little better than dross, that took real sweated labour to break up and induce to take fire. Half an hour before the watch ended to ease the task of the new watch the fires were cleaned of ash and clinker, then freshly stoked. The hot debris then hoisted up through the ventilator for dumping overboard. Tedious work when a tide had to be caught. With fires kept at maximum, the firemen sweated like slaves ending there watch exhausted and good to drop. Still firemen, like all onboard, were feverishly proud men who would put everything they had into there stint. Black with coal dust they stood clad only in knickers and boots getting heat and steam out of whatever fuel was supplied. A white feather of steam issuing from the waste steam pipe, abaft the funnel, their certificate of competence.
The boat’s layout was familiar enough to me or anyone who had knowledge of these traders. At the forepeak the lamp and paint lockers, and on the starboard, the crew’s water-closet, flushed with seawater by bucket. Down the steep scuttle from the forepeak the quarters, There were portholes in the quarters but being level with the sea and to prevent seepage during heavy weather, their deadlights had been screwed uptight and over time had gained a generous helping of paint. The light came from three electric bulbs that burned constantly whilst at sea, but with the loss of the dynamo in port, paraffin lamps would be pressed into service. Tables, cupboards, stove, benches and brackets were all firmly fixed to the bulkhead and to the fo’c’sle deck. No gally was provided for the crew such meals as were possible being cooked upon the bogey stove in each of the quarters, firemen to starboard, deck staff to port. Hardly had I time to stow my gear than I found myself on watch. My first attempts were pitiful to see, as shovel after shovelful of coal would end up, more on deck than in the firebox, it took time to find a rhythm but the second was patient, and by the end of my first watch I had the rudiments. As the days past the work become as natural and predictable as the tide and in this constant labour the hours passed quickly. When we tied up in Weymouth, I was by every bit a fireman.
For a brief period after the war the demand for British products more than made up for the lost from Government charter. This was to be short-lived however and by 1921 the world went into a long and unrelieved recession, depression for the British ship industry at the time when a rush into new construction had once more brought a surplus of ships into the market. The 1920s much of the new ships constructed had changed to oil-fired boilers and many of the older ships converted in this way. This made for big saving on fuel storage. In or around this time Diesel engines were also becoming popular the exception being the whaling industry, Diesel engines it seemed drove off the whales. Coasters were the other exceptions to oil-fired boilers, Home Trade vessels were never far from land and a plentiful supply of the cheaper bunkering of coal so continued to use this fuel.
Jimmy had spent two years in the colours now three years in reserve, and now he found himself right back in the very place he had tried to escape from, so many wasted lives ago, this dirty little town with its dirty little pits.
Men gathered as men had always gathered by the corner of the Co-op building. The men talked of coal and smoked and talked of coal. Finally, salvation came when I signed onboard S.S. Nugget as an A.B. (able-bodied seaman) S.S. Nugget a “Three Island Vessel” built in the Ailsa Shipyard at Troon, was sailing with a cargo of Scottish whiskey, her destination privileged only to her officers, unknown by her crew.
Her layout was common to most Home Trade boats, prior to oil-burning taking over from coal-fired vessels. Mid-ship quarters between the two cargo holds an after house containing stoke-hole, engine room and after quarters. Three masts were stepped, the fore, into the deck and end of fo’c’sle head, the main immediately at the bridge rear, finally her mizzen at the after structure, sometimes sheeted with a sail to aid steering. The fore and main masts would each carry a derrick fitted with a steam winch at its base when not in use for the lifting of cargo, would be cradled in their crutches. Dead-weight tonnage including cargo and fuel was around seven hundred and fifty tons, displacement total weight could only be guessed at by her crew. Affectionate known as “Three Stickers” after the unique arrangement of their masts.
We sailed from Ayr Harbour on the afternoon tide clearing the southern Scottish Coast, passing lights I would come to know like old friends. Kilintringan, Corsewall and the Mull of Galloway. The midnight watch saw us south of the Copelands off the Northern Irish coast, and on to the South, Rock then into the Irish Sea. Here we passed the Rockabill, and the Baillie outside the Liffey, making for the Tuskar Rock Light, St. George’s Channel and the open Atlantic, as we passing under the Longship Light at Landsend. I munched my “Rab Haw” at the wheel. The wind was a light south-westerly and a bejewelled sky, dark as black velvet scattered with bright shining diamonds our canopy. The undulating rhythmic motion of the sea like an old friend.
“Look to your work, our wake is making every letter in the alphabet” The Boson’s admonished at my lack of concentration.
The next day, we closed on a Cornish landfall. The deep Atlantic rollers now taking hold of our little ship lifting and plunging her until we rounded into the Channel, the stately rollers giving way to cross seas, playing our boat a lively tune. The long sea voyage down to Channel had been a healing balm, the routine of watches helped heal a torn soul.
An unusual fair passage had brought us into St. Peter Port in The Channel Islands. There were much talk and rumour in the taverns around the harbour that the whiskey was bound for America, there it would be smuggled ashore, breaking the United States Prohibition Laws, the rewards for singing on for such trips were grossly exaggerated but handsome non the less. We left St. Peters Port with empty holds, not to the Chief’s liking. A racing propeller put a strain upon shafts, tail-end gland and stuffing box, this could lead to loss of screw and fractured of their shaft. The Chief would stand-by all that watch when the boat’s deeper divers, racing occurred. We sailed east of Hern and the Casket Rocks catching the Alderney Races on slack tide, rounding de la Haute, and into the French port of Cherbourg. The French agents confirmed the rumour that the whiskey was bound for America, and that it would be taken there onboard a large schooner, fitted out in Cherbourg for the voyage and dew to sail on the evening tide.
The S.S. Nugget sailed short-handed, I was already on my way back to St. Peters Port under full sail onboard a fiddle-bow schooner.
I was glad to escape that, he drum – ho drum boat, her crew, mostly from the west coast of Scotland conversed with each other in their native tong Gaelic. I signed the articles with few questions asked of me and was immediately put to work making ready for sea. Back in St. Peters Port the boxes of Whiskey were loaded on board, filling every nook and cranny of the ship making the small cramped fo’c’sle of the S.S. Nugget a ballroom in comparison to our quarters now, but as we sailed under full canvas, south for the warm waters of the Canaries, I had no regrets at jumping ship in Cherbourg. Christmas passed un-noticed the routine of watches and bells our only clock. One bell at the quarter-hour at the watch end, when the O.S. (ordinary seaman) would shake the teeth from tired men after a succession of four hour watches and then ring out eight bells at the hours, four, eight, and twelve, no dog watches were kept. Our calendar and distance set in the ships daily log. The warm, constant trade winds drove us steadily south and west, then north was our course laying sea anchors to stop a drift back out into the Atlantic. We lay off the Eastern Seaboard outside US Territorial Waters, for two full days the crew taking the opportunity to bathe and scrub clothes clean in rainwater caught at the goose-neck of the mizzenmast, where a sail had been set to keep our head into the wind. It was on the third day when the fog rolled over us, that we heard the deep rumble of large engines coming from the land. “Quick as you like lads get those boxes up on deck” were our orders as the first of the high-speed lunches came upon our lee from out of the fog, the fast yachts now fitted with modified aircraft engines throbbed as they lay alongside, case after case of the fiery immature spirit was passed down and stowed in hast onboard the launch. Six trips they made with their precarious cargo before we heard the distinctive rat-a-tat-tat of machine-gun fire answered almost immediately by the distinct thud of a heavy calibre gun.
These modified yachts could easily outrun the Coast Guard patrol boats, that had a top speed of only 12 knots. A captain of a Rum-Runner could earn several hundred thousand dollars per year, vastly more than the Commodore of the Coast Guard on 6,000 dollars per annum, so was willing to take a few risks, even shooting it out with the patrol boat, that had heavy calibre guns. The Rum Runners had a few tricks up their sleeves however and would carry old oil that could be poured over a hot exhaust enabling them to ‘Make Smoke’.
“Look lively lads; get us underway” was the skipper’s response. We moved up and down the coast for a further four days staying well outside the limit before being able to discharge the remainder of our cargo. Thee boatloads of spirit had been lost to the Coast Guard, still, if only one-third of our cargo made it onto shore it would make a handsome profit for the smugglers. We set a course for the Azores and anchored in the clear blue waters of the bay where bumboats came alongside. The slops chest was raided and everything and anything passed down on lines in exchange for fresh, fish, fruit and vegetables, we were to eat well that evening as we set a course for Antwerp.
My ship had been in a supporting roll of the French at kereves Dere in Morto Bay. That big old battleship seemed so indestructible, like a steel overcoat rapped around us, I was on looked duty, staring out at the action on shore, such a surreal sight, like watching a play, the exploding shells throwing earth and water high into the air, men dieing, surly it would end soon, then the actors would come forward, form a line across the stage and take their bow. The Turkish destroyer torpedo-boat Muavent-I-Miliet, sprung unseen from a low lying fog bank close too shore, like a leopard might from the long savannah grasses onto her unsuspecting pray, she sent three torpedoes crashing from her decks fanning out they speed towards the Goliath. As soon as the first torpedo hit our ship I knew that it was curtains for the old lady; she listed badly to starboard. All hell was set free in those first few minutes, the noise on board deafening. I scrambled up the steep raked deck to the port rail to join the midshipmen, who had already gathered there, some still in their pyjamas.
“Boat ahoy! Boat Ahoy!” they cried out. Below decks the crashing sound became intense as all that was not fastened down began to shift as the list grow greater. Men screamed as they were pined against the bulkhead, flesh ripped open and bones crushed. The Goliath now near twenty degrees to starboard. I remember how she stopped for just a moment, as if for one last breath before taking the plunge. The voice of one of the officers rang out clear as divisions. “Keep calm men, be British!” Then the ship started to heel rapidly. Where the courage came from I know not, the dark sea was a long way down, thirty feet or more. Without another thought I throw himself out overboard. The ice-cold air rushed past me as I fell towards the water, then in an instant it had disappeared. Goliath, was rolling fast now her bottom rising up out of the sea towards me, then the pain as first my legs then my face smashed against the side of the ship flipping me over, helter skelter, I was now sliding down her slimy bottom, landing with such force that the impact of it drove the air from my lungs leaving me raked with pain. Sheer panic griped my body as I clawed at the water, time had no meaning now, only that after what seemed like an eternity I did break the surface and gulped noisily at that sweet, oily, salt sea air.
Goliath had gone, it was quiet now the only sound the voices of other swimmer’s but even they seemed far away. I tried to swim towards the place I last saw the Cornwallis, but was driven completely in the opposite direction by the speed of the current, swept along now like a paper boat in a fast flowing river. Treading water had become tiresome as the cold seeped through my body I knew I would die, yet felt no willingness to fight, reconciled to my fate I awaited the relieve of the saline water that would soothingly take me in her embrace.
Caught in the searching beam of HMSLord Nelson and unceremoniously dragged on board one of her boat, the pain returned. The riveted plates of the ship’s side had ripped a large chunk of flesh from my face my right cheek hung open to the bone, my arm hanging limply by my side and felt nothing of my legs. That was too be the end of my war, as it would be for the five hundred and seventy of my shipmates who did not escape, so swift was the sinking of the Goliath.
I was coming home no longer the boy that had run free as a young puppy might upon a grassy field for the first time. I now felt alien amongst these familiar streets. I had found myself back in civilian life, with no idea what I would do with the rest of my life; there had been little point in planning a future amides a backdrop of war and little or no time at the abruptness of its ending, still I was fortunate, for many their war would last a lifetime and for many wives, a torn and troubled stranger would enter her bed.
Did you really beleive them when they told you the cause,
Did you really believe that this war would end wars?
To be continued – Tomorrow Jimmy on the Rum-Running.
I am still peddling away, but nothing to write home to mum about, but plans are in place for my next big trip. We left Jimmy heading for Turkey and the war, but what was shipping like at the start of that war?
In the early days of the war, Tramp charter came to a virtual standstill through uncertainty, and a strong German Navy forced the closure of many large ports, St. Petersburg, Gothenburg, Copenhagen and Danzig. Another worry for British shipping, in September of that year, was the closure of the Black Sea with Turkey’s control of the Dardanelles. The insatiable appetite for materials for the war effort forced up freight rates, now the glut of shipping was transformed into a famine, this was further frustrated by shipyards giving priority to naval vessels over merchantmen and companies having their ships detained in foreign ports.
Of all the worries during these early years, the greatest danger for British Tramps was the unseen menace that none could have predicted. Glitra, one of C.S. & Co. ships, loaded with a cargo of coal, coke, iron plates and oil, out of Grangemouth and bound for Stavanger, made history when she was stopped by a U-boat just afternoon on the 30 October 1914. Captain Johnson and her crew were ordered into lifeboats and towed by the U-boat for some five hundred yards before being set free to row ashore, their ship’s sluice valve, then opened by the boarding party caused the ship to sink rapidly by the stern. As the war progressed merchant ships were no longer afforded the protection of international convention and sunk without warning. After the sinking of Glitra, and up until the end of hostilities in 1918, Salvesen alone lost 10 of her fleet to enemy action, giving some idea of the scale of losses for merchant ships on the Home Trade. All vessels lost, were covered by the Government’s war risk insurance scheme, however, it was hardly likely to cover the cost of replacement.
Many ships were requisitioned by the Government at a fixed rate agreed by the ship owners and although they reflected the market rate at the time was within weeks outstripped by the market price now six times that agreed. Again Salvesen faired better than many having some of her ships registered under a Norwegian flag, so gained form the Government paying higher prices for the services of neutral vessels. Not only unhappy over the fixed prices paid for the requisitioned vessels, there seemed a great inequality when it came to requisitioning of vessels, some companies having much of their fleet under requisition orders and other free to reap the rich rewards. Certainly from Salvesen’s own books, it is clear they profited handsomely from the war years, their profits in the years before the outbreak of war had only averaged £35,300, jumping to £255.300 in 1915 and in the first six months of 1916, £326,500 was recorded.
To be continued, tomorrow we join Jimmy’s ship in Turkish waters, and in trouble, the Dardanelles.
When I acquired my ‘New to Me’ bike at the start of lock-down, it was four years old but had never been ridden, so the Brooks saddle was new. I have a very comfortable saddle on my tricycle but thought I would leave it there and bed in the new one. When I returned from my trip along the Forth and Clyde canal I noticed the surface was starting to break up, so contacted Amazon (who else) for a tin of Brooks saddle oil. Which in turn inspired yet another silly wee poem.
I have been spending a lot of time in front of my computer, thankfully I have finished the draft for the story and happy with it just to do the difficult bit for me – re-read and correct spelling and grammar mistakes – sadly I never did find out what Grammar Are.
Tomorrow I have made up my mind to cycle over to Dundee, it has been a while. alas the shuttle bus does not take bicycles, so no breakdown service available, better take some spares.
The pit could not hold Jimmy and eighteen months on, with his mother’s help, Jimmy’s dad finally relented and signed the papers that would allow his son to enter boy service with the Royal Navy.
They were given a thorough medical and other examinations when they made an appearance at the recruiting office, being one of only six boys out of the thirty or so to pass, Jimmy was give 1/6d travelling money to see him on his journey south to HMS Ganges. Sixpence of which was given to The Royal Marine Recruiting Sergeant, for his part in getting him into the Royal Navy. he gladly handed over the sixpence and considered it a small price to pay.
HMS Ganges was one of her majesties training ship situated at the point of a peninsular formed by the Rivers Orwell and River Stour, near to Shotley. The train that carried the new recruits from London’s Liverpool Station was lively with excited young men, many like Jimmy leaving home for the very first time. The young lads chatted and fooled around, Smithy, a rather shy lad, had a large fruitcake, baked for the journey by his mother, which we soon devoured by his new shipmates, Smithy would go down with the Goliath.
Disembarking and stepped onto the dimly lit station platform of Harwich. They were greeted by a voice like a foghorn, this would be the voice they would come to know and obey, for the remainder of our stay at Ganges, leaving them in no doubt, they we’re now in the ‘Royal Navy’.
“On the double you shower of idle bugger”. The instructors doubled his charges down to a waiting steam Pinnace that transported them across the estuary from Harwich to Shortly. It was fascinated to the lads, many seeing the sea for the first time, the Pinnace, with its tall funnel, banded with shining brass rings, soon they would know how it maintained its gleaming appearance. The Pinnace docked alongside flights of well-worn stairs they would become to know as Faith, Hope and Charity which in turn lead them into the stone frigate Ganges. There mood sombre and subdued with anticipation they now found ourselves in an austere bathhouse.
“Come! Come! Lads don’t be shy we are all boys together here, ‘Get them off!’ into the baths, on the double!”
Some were clearly finding the stream of orders difficult to live with. Jimmy had no such problem being in the Royal Navy was all he had ever dreamed of doing form early schooldays.
After a bath, the boys were doubled to the mess for a late supper of bully beef and Kye, (a bowl of cocoa layered with grease).
‘Eave-o! Eave-o! Eave-o! Lash up and stow! Rise and shine, the morning’s fine the sun’ll burn yer bleedin’ eyes out! Was their early alarm call. In the classrooms, they would learned knots and splices, shipboard duties, signals and flags and general seamanship, and on Ganges’s parade ground, that seemed to stretch forever squad and rifle drill. To all of these places, they would double. Worm and wrap with the lay, turn her around and serve the other way. Green to Green and Red to Red, means perfect safety, go ahead. When all lights are seen ahead, starboard wheel and show your red. These were the calls that would be repeated a thousand times during there stay at HMS Ganges, and the way they would learned all the rules that would be required onboard ship.
Ganges was built on the lines of a Nelsonian three-decker. Dominating each and every day was ‘The Mast’.
A replica of those found aboard the old square-riggers, ever visible, with its three long yardarms and high top, symbolic of the time of ‘tall wooden ships and men of iron’. When aloft on those yardarms you came to realise just how true that must have been. Even on the calmest of days, it was hard enough ‘Manning the Mast’ standing hand in hand along the yards ratlines, with the button boy perched on top 150 feet above the parade ground. What must it have been like in a wild sea when a body was wet, cold and tired and you could no longer feel the ropes in hand or beneath bare feet?
Mother’s letter had found young Jimmy on board my first ship, they were on route for Turkey in support of the armies of the Gallipoli campaign. Jimmy read her words as I hung in my hammock. ‘John will not be coming home’, she wrote, ‘for he lies with his comrades the glorious fallen’.
Although Jock and Jimmy had been lifelong friends Jimmy could find no remorse or sadness at his fiends parting; it all seemed to have happened so very long ago in some other lifetime.
They hit heavy weather going down the channel; the ship danced merrily to a lively tune of wind and tide the sea frothed at cresting waves, Jimmy found it hard to keep his balance and was glad of the safety line that held him fast to the rail as he stood his watch as look-out-duty, standing near to the bridge scanning the horizon through a pair of powerful binoculars set atop their plinth. “A light, Sir, there’s a light out there!” he cried, out. “Aye lad, that will be the coast of France, you see”. the officer’s reply was kindly, he had seen so many young lads, keen as mustard, aboard their first ship.
“France?” Jimmy said softly to himself, his mother’s words came flooding back once more, ‘John will not be coming home, for he lies with his comrades the glorious fallen’, tears now rolled fat and heavy down his cheeks. Jimmy buried his face in his binoculars desperate to masked his embarrassment.
I have this idea for a story, but it is fat too long for a blog, so I thought I could break it down into small bites and put it on my blog each day as I did with the Tour of Britain, and still keep my cycling exploits going too.
From school to the pit
The two boys were sitting on their haunches with their backs against the Co-op wall, a building that took up most of the Main Street, and where most every stitch of clothing on their backs and every morsel of food they had consumed over the years had come from. Big Jock joined them, Jock, never said much at the best of time and said nothing now just slotted himself into the group. Big Jock had lost his father before he was born, although there was some who believed he was never there in the first place. To help his mother out Jock, worked up at the farm during the weekends and during the harvest, but as he neared his fourteenth birthday, the Truant Officer was never away from his mothers door.
“Are you going to st’y on at the ferm or will you be going doon the pit wi us next week?” Jimmy asked him.
“The pit, there’s nay money on the ferm” said Jock.
The three classmates walked doon the Station Brae with the rest of the miners the Saturday after the school broke up for the summer.
Jimmy and Laurimer pushed the tub out to the pit bottom where it would be sent up to the pithead, there the girls would separate coal from stane, only coal brought to the pit head would be paid for in wages and shared out amongst the team that had worked it.
Auld Pete called Jimmy over, “Ask your dad for a fill for my pipe, tell him it’s for Pete and he will get it back the morn, there a lad”
Jimmy’s dad cut an inch of tobacco from its length and handed it to Jimmy, “Here take that to Pete, that will keep him going to the shift ends” he assured his son.
Sure enough next day when Jimmy brought the first tub to the pit bottom, Pete handed him a small piece of tobacco and Jimmy delivered it to his dad.
“Whit’s this?” he questioned the boy. The tobacco Jimmy had handed his dad was only about half the size of the piece he had given Jimmy to take to Pete yesterday.
“You tell Pete, when you go back, that your dad’s no happy and tell him to give you at least the same again”.
Jimmy did as he was told and on his return to the coal face, his dad was waiting for him.
“Did you get my tobacco from Pete?”
“No dad, Pete said to tell you that the bit o’ tobacco he gave you in return came from the Co-op”.
It was early to bed yesterday, today I feel fine, a bit sleepy head and stiffness in the upper legs but that is only to be expected, yesterday was a long day for me.
Short-run today out to Leuchars and back, and almost as part of the military surrounding the tune in my head was the military band of the Wehrmacht, playing a slow march, so there I was behind the Sousaphone and Glockenspiel marching slowly forward into a headwind, wheeling and turning in perfect harmony with the band. No matter the source, music like a good wine will always travel well. Coming back it was all about tall gears and jig time. Home shower, breakfast, (now where did I put that bed).
The headlines today are all about the second spike of Coronavirus, hardly surprising from what I have seen over the past days and weeks. None wearing of face-covering even getting onto a bus. I moved my seat on what was a 50 seat bus yesterday with half a dozen passengers on board, when some Numpty sat down in the seat behind me, he seemed rather taken aback when I asked him if he had heard of social distancing.
They talk of trying to get people out of their cars and onto public transport, at this rate we will be lucky to keep public transport. One of these fine days the government will say, “Sorry but we can not afford to run empty buses around the country any more”. I wonder if Coronavirus is having a mental effect on the population at large, the disease seems to be causing some sort of lemming effect, self destruct.
I left for the bus station at 07.45 I arrived back home at a just before 17.45 it has been a long day.
After yesterdays constant rain today was fine, a few clouds but the wind would keep the rain at bay. The bus deposited me at Glasgow just before 011.00 it was getting late so I decided not to go all the way out to Bowling but headed for Drumchapel and picked up the canal there. I really wanted to see a bit of the city before heading out into the countryside. Along each bank of the canal a woodland of self-seeded trees and shrubbery have grown up over the years. This, although does have its own sense of beauty, and makes for a great windbreak, does blanket out any landscape beyond the canal, so it can become a bit boring to ride in parts.
95% of the towpath surface is in excellent condition so I was able to get a bit momentum going, however as you neared towns and villages close to the canal, the strollers and kids on bikes became more of a problem, “Coming Throooooooough” and most become confused and undecided they sort of stagger around in front of you. (Where did you pick up that trick riding Hamilton).
Still in the City I passed the old whisky bond at Port Dundas, then it was out into the country for Kirkintilloch – where there is nay pubs, because, if the Corries are to be believed “My brother and me, went on a spree and drank the pubs a’ dry”.
Twechar, has a lifting bridge so I stopped to gannet down my Kit-Kat and participate in the wine, well a 50 pence sports drink I picked up at the service station before entering the canal system proper. You have to cross a busy road at Auchinstarry then you are onto a long straight all the way to more of less Bonnybridge a few miles west of the Falkirk Wheel.
Today there was a good number of visitors, and again not many wearing face-coverings or social distancing to any great extent, I hate to think what will happen when the kids go back to school.
From here to the Kelpies the scenery is more townscape, again the car park at the Kelpies were full to overflowing so I took a few quick pictures then peddled off for Kincardine to catch the St Andrews bus.
I passed through the little village of Skinflats. When Grangemouth Chemicals came into being Mum persuaded dad to try for a job there, she was sick of him being away at sea all the time leaving her to bring up the family on her own. He did and mum decided she wanted one of the new Scottish Special Houses that had been built at Skinflats. Dad was not so sure, the rents were not cheap. But mum got her way in the end. So expensive were the rents that for the full year that they lived there only one other house was occupied, which just so happened was the one next door. The neighbour and his wife had come up from England to work at the new complex as a chemist. Being neighbours they shared a lot, like when dad and his neighbour shared the cost for the equipment to build a Crystal Set, Seemed they took turns at having it in each other’s homes.
Money was scarce, there was a road for every penny earned, so when dad cycled home from work one day to see that not one but all the windows in the house had curtains hanging in them, he was not happy. Thinking mum had bought the curtains on Tick, dad could not be consoled until mum asked him to go and have a closer look at the curtains, they were made from Crape paper.
As I climbed up onto the A876 – which is really a continuation of the M876 for Glasgow, Stirling and Edinburgh, so as you can imagine is very busy, vrooooom, vrooooom they go bye, scary stuff. A stagecoach bus went whizzing by, Oh no, I hope that is not the St Andrews bus, don’t fancy spending an hour in Kincardine waiting for the next one.
I pulled up at the bus shelter, I asked some lads hanging out there “Any you lads have the time on you?” Brilliant only ten minutes to wait for the bus. Time to pop into the wee shop for a packet of salted crisps, I believe the salt help in my recovery.
So overall it was a great three hours thirty minute (almost to the minute) ridding, including stops, but alas this pales into insignificance considering I spent six hours on buses.
One more ticked off the ‘Bucket List’ no sign of the bottom yet.
The ship docked in Folkestone, on the evening tide, a crescent moon hung low down, caught in the rooftops of the town, it was a beautiful evening, tomorrow morning would see the crew paid off. Work was short during the years leading up to the Second World War and ships were laid up in every river and loch in Scotland, and although Jimmy had a second engineers ticket he had been known to sign-on as stocker just to have a birth. The first port of call for Jimmy and Laurimer, tomorrow morning would be the Seaman’s Union hoping for a ship. Jimmy and Laurimer had grown up together, gone to the same school, and on leaving school, gone down the pit together, they were as Jimmy’s mother used to say, “Joined at the hip”.
Even at school, the two boys were never out of trouble of one kind or another, more for the excitement of it rather than from necessity or pure devilment. They were sitting on there hunches back against the Co-op wall, where most every stitch of clothing on their backs and every morsel of food they consumed came from as it did for most everyone else in the village.
“Do you have any fags on yi” Jimmy asked.
“Nay chance ma mother keeps her eye on them, she caught me the other day slipping twa fags fa’ the packet”.
“I have an idea, come on”, Jimmy was up and off along the front of the Co-op building before Laurimer could open his mouth. Laurimer followed the fleeting figure passed the Co-op, and the Minto Hotel and down through the snicket to the back of the hotel. Like many hotels at that time the Minto had a brewery at the rear of the building, guarded with a tall brick wall and two large stout Brunswick green gates.
“Give me a punt up” Jimmy demanded of his pal.
“Where are you going,” Laurimer asked, excited and nervous at the same time, Jimmy was forever getting them into bother.
“Keep your voice doon, you will wake the deed in Lisa Brae cemetery, just give me a punt up over this gate” Jimmy demanded.
Jimmy nimble as you like was over the gates, with an anxious Larimer now standing alone and feeling vulnerable on the outside.
“Here take these” and from under the gate came a dozen empty beer bottles. As Laurimer gathered up the bottle, stuffing them down his jumper, Jimmy was back over the gate and had dropped light as a feather to the ground.
The front of the Minto Hotel had a long lobby and off it was the lounge and the bar proper, it also had a hatch that opened up into the bar for carry-oot customers. Jimmy hammered on the hatch, and heard the gruff voice of old Wullie on the other side,
“Keep your hair on, I’ve only got twa hands”.
The hatch slid open lighting up the dim corridor and the smell and heat of the bar pored out of it.
“What do you twa scallywags want?” Willies’ breath was as foul as his language.
“We have some bottles fur yi” and with that Jimmy started placing the ill-gotten gains on the small counter.
“Some of these bottles are not oor’s, they don’t have oor labels on them” gruffed Willie.
“They’re all yours”, Jimmy insisted.
“Wullie had been stacking the bottles in a crate behind the bar as they came onto the shelf, “That will be 6 pence,” he said.
“Ma brither wants fags” Jimmy was not going to give an inch. Wullie passed the loose Woodbine over the counter and banged the door shut.
As they walked towards the front door Jimmy stopped, “The buggers short-changed us” and was about to turn back when Laurimer stopped him.
“Are you mad, we got away with it and got the fags, let’s get out of here, now” he insisted.
The beer bottles were coming in through the hatch a bit too frequently, Willie smelt a rat. Jimmy had climbed the gate and dropped down the other side but found only empty grates stacked in the yard, no bottles. Making his way over to the sliding door he found it had a large chain and padlock securing it. In frustration, Jimmy grabbed at the chain and gave it a good hard pull, and to his surprise out popped the staple holding the chain and padlock with such ease that he almost fell on his backside as it came away. Sliding the door open a foot or so he slipped inside the brewery and helped himself to half a dozen bottles from a stack of crates.
As the bottles slid under the gate to Laurimer waiting on the other side, Laurimer exclaimed: “These bottles are full”.
“Will you keep your voice down, don’t you think I know that” Jimmy was not in the mood for long explanations, just wanting to get away as quickly as possible.
“What do we do with the beer in the bottles, we can’t take in full bottles to Wullie?”
“We are not taking them to Wullie, that’s the beauty of it, we don’t have to go near the pub, we are going to sell them to the big boys on the corner, get some money to buy fags” a beaming Jimmy explained.
A week had passed and Jimmy was once more over the brewery gate, in through the sliding door and about to pinch a few bottles of beer from the stacked crates, when all of a sudden, the brewer light came on and standing before him was big Wullie and the hotel’s owner, who also just happened to be the magistrate. Jimmy’s chin hit the floor, he was so surprised he could not even think to scamper for it.
“So it’s young Hamilton is it, we seem to have oor thief Wullie,” said the magistrate. “Well lad, what’s it to be, punishment now, or will your dad be accompanying you into my court tomorrow morning?”
“Jimmy knew what would happen if his dad found out, a good leathering with his razor strop, “Now Sir,” was all he could muster.
Trousers down and now hanging over a beer barrel, the horsewhip stung like hell, O’ sha’ boy, O’ sha’ boy, he let out at each and every stroke of the whip.
The next day, behind the bike, shed Jimmy was asking a halfpenny from anyone that wanted to see his stripes.
Last Saturday of another month, where did it all go? What a morning I have had, took the milk from the fridge and I would not pour from the bottle, not a good start to anyone’s day. Aldi allows us wrinklies (over 70s) to go into the shop half an hour before opening time so that we can stott around the place trying to remember what we came in for. I set off for Aldi and as I arrived at their doors – they opened as if by magic, and all the lights went out, major power cut, not a good re-start to anyone’s day. I hung around for ten minutes – this could take hours, I thought. It was too early for M&S, just over the road, so I thought the petrol station on my way home. Home with my bottle of milk at last that cup of tea, I so desperately needed, I was already suffering severe withdrawal symptoms. The milk was cheese and would not leave the bottle, this was not a good day. Checking the label (something I should have done at the filling station) it was dated 23rd – what is this 25th there was no trouble about changing the bottle of milk and when I went to the cool cabinet, the labels ranged from the 23rd to the 27th from front to the rear of the cabinet.
The clothes were sticking to my back,
I thought it might rain,
So as not to disappoint,
Down it came.
Years ago there was a comic song doing the rounds, Life Gets Tedious, Don’t It. Rain comes down and it soaks my skin – the sun comes out and I’m sweating again ……. We travel hopefully.
Wednesday it rained most of the day, Thursday it was dreich, today I would have to make the effort. I caught the early bus into Leven and there I was deposited, along with my bike, at the bus station. It is not much of a climb out of Leven and onto the main road into Lundin Links. I used the wide footpath/cycle track since it was empty of jogger, walkers, pushchair pushers and cyclists. This is a busy main road, and more or less, a long straight road hugging the Links golf course.
These links had always been common land, where locals could graze their animals then came farmers and the golf clubs. They happily put in pegs a yard into and along the boundaries of the common land and if no one objected within a year they could clam that strip – well sort off – they had no legal papers to say they actually owned it. Each year they would put the pegs out a little further until they had all the common land under their control, (you will also see this taking place at houses along the shore at Elie, pegs being put in, on what had always been the dunes).
One day a woman was exercising her dog along the side of the fairway at Lundin Links golf club. When she was approached by one of the high heid yins at the club, he had taken exception to her being there and told her to get off the golf course. He had inadvertently picked on the wrong woman, she knew much more about local law then our man. She gathered a few local housewives, and after calling the newspaper, marched her troops down to the first green, and there, right outside the clubhouse, they proceeded to spread out their sheets, for bleaching. And the apology was accepted, whereupon the women decided it was not the best weather for bleaching after all, so removed their sheets and headed home.
Lundin Links The small village, in the parish of Largo, was largely built in the 19th century to accommodate the growing number of tourist coming to the area by train, Lower Largo, now bursting at he seams, Lundin would take the overspill. The name Lundin was that of the former landowners in the area, Lundin House was demolished in 1876 however the Tower is still remaining.
Lower Largo (or Seatown of Largo)
One of the small villages that grow up around fishing, like many along the north shore of the River Forth. What put Lower Largo on the map was the book ‘Robinson Crusoe’ written by Daniel Defoe, his real life hero was Alexander Selkirk born in the village and put ashore (at his own request) on Juan Fernandez Island where Selkirk lived for more than four years as a castaway. Juan Fernandes Island lies some 7,500 miles distant from the small Fife village.
The closure of the Fife Coast Railway line that serviced Lower Largo in 1960 under the Dr Richard Beeching Plan, saw a decline in visitors to the area, all that remains is the impressive viaduct that dominates the village.
Nigel Tranter, in his book ‘Lion let loose’ tells the tale of the boy James, later to become James 1st of Scotland. James was under the care of Bishop Wardlaw when a plot was uncovered, how the Duke of Albany would take the young lad into his care and use him as a puppet to rule Scotland. The boy must be spirited away from the castle at St Andrews and take the road for France, where he would stay until he was of an age to rule as king of Scotland, in his own right. One stormy February night in 1406, he leaves with his escort the Earl of Oakley and Sir David Fleming of Cumbernauld, taking the road in the dark of night for Lower Largo where a boat would await they’re coming to take them across the Forth and the safety of the Bass Rock, where he would await passage to France. We are told how the sailors were unwilling to sail so bad was the storm and only after they felt the broad edge of Flemings sword were they induce to set sail. This is Real Boys Own stuff.
Today It was a bit of a puff up the short, sharp hill from where you will find the statue of ‘Robinson Crusoe’ then on to the main road and another little climb into Upper largo. When I had the dog we would walkout along the Coastal Path from Elie, and before the village of Lower Largo, we would turn up through the wood for Upper Largo, there to catch the bus back home.
At the school our geography teacher mentioned this coastline as an example of how when the ice disappeared after the Ice Age, how the land bounced up like a cork, causing such sharp falls here and further up the river at Methil. Maybe that was a little simplistic.
Nearing Elie, there is a signpost directing you to Shell Bay, before salmon fishing was banned in the river, fishermen from the village of Elie would climb up over Kingcraig Hill and drop down to Shell Bay to set their nets, hanging them like a curtain from poles well out into the river. The fish would come to the net and would be guided along its length into the trap at the shore.
The fishing must have been lucrative for when the Second World War broke out and the Army commandeered the hill for the setting up of two large guns placements, using guns salvaged from a First World War battleship. The object of the exercise was to guard and defend the Forth against any German ships, trying to sail up the river and attacking the important Royal Naval dockyard of Rosyth.
There was a great story of how when the guns were being dragged up the hill and into position. One broke loose and trundled back down the hill at high speed. It finally came to rest in the garden of a large house down by the old hospice, only yards short of demolishing the house.
The fishermen faced with the loss of their livelihood paid a local blacksmith the princely sum of £150.00 to make and hang chains around Kingcraig Point, so that they could reach their fishing grounds. The route is still there (The Chain Walk) the original chain having been replaced by new stainless steel ones, curtsy of the local government. It is an interesting scramble, and not at all difficult, but can only be achieved at low tide, and if you intend to try it give yourself an hour. As you traverse the chain walk you will visit the ‘Organ Pipes’ tall columns of hexagonal rock formation (not unlike the Giant Causeway or Finagles Caves) stretching vertically up the cliff face.
I was on home territory once more peddling freely along the beautiful coast road, only ever a handful of meters from the sea, that would take me all the way to Crail before turning north for St Andrews.
The music buzzing in my head today was from Mozart’s Le Nozze Di Figaro. It was the aria where Cherubino (the trouser role) sings his poem about love to the two ladies. It is a lovely little aria often overlooked. I do not speak Italian so I just make strange noises along with the music in my head. I can’t understand, why I receive so many queer looks from passing cyclists, (I suspect it’s because they have never heard the aria).
During the summer I cycled along the coast giving a comprehensive report in my blog and I see no good reason to repeat it here, but I did visit the harbour at St Monancs this time round. Like all the villages of the Eat Neuk, fishing was the main industry and I certainly remember boat building and repair taking place here at St Monancs.
On now to Pittenweem, which is now the harbour of the Fife In-shore fishing fleet.
The statue at the harbour is dedicated to the fishing families that worked and died fishing from the harbour here.
They tell us, that after mining, fishing was a most hazardous occupation, yet looking at many of the grave markers in the cemetery of the Parish Kirk here at Pittenweem, and many such graveyards all along the coast, you will find even as early as the 18-19 centuries people lived well into old age.
The abbey on the ‘Island of May’, was constantly being raided by those pesky marauding Vikings, so the monks wisely decided to up sticks and moved their quarters here to Pittenweem.
I visited St. Fillan’s Cave but did not bother to go find a key to venture inside. There are all sorts of stories attached to the cave, and St Fillan, but as you see from the fancy new entrance it is more about tourism that St Fillan.
I peddled on to Anstruther, but did not go down to the harbour this time round. I pressed on to Cellardyke, Kilrenny and Crail, where did all these cyclists come from? It had been such a pleasant day out, (although sticky) I decided to visit Fife Ness. And Constantine’s Cave.
The East Neuk of Fife (according to my old geography teacher) was called the ‘Back Garden of Fife’. And it seems that the well-drained land around the Neuk suits the growing of such vegetable crops.
Back into Crail and turning north for St Andrews, around 8 miles, again easy cycling, passing through the beautiful little village of Kingsbarns. At the summit near Brownhills, I stopped to take a picture of the town bellow, (long distant shots don’t seem to come out well with my wee camera) then went zooming off at a great rate of knots for the cathedral.
St Rule’s dates from the 10th or early 11th century, certainly the oldest remaining church in Fife. It was built for the then Bishop of St Andrews and served by a group of Augustinian canons, brought to St Andrews by Bishop Robert in 1127. St Rule’s now lies in ruin, roofless, all that remains, more or less intact, is the tall square tower standing at a height of 33 meters.
St Rule’s was superseded by the much grander St Andrews Cathedral, work started in 1160 and was completed and consecrated in 1318 and in the presence of King Robert the Bruce. Close inspection of the east gabble will reveal the triple windows, there to light the relics of St Andrew, housed behind the high altar.
Travelling up from Anstruther on the B9131 and on reaching Brownhills you look down upon St Andrews, no matter how many times I have seen this sight I’m still in awe of how beautiful it is. How much more would the first pilgrims have been on first seeing St Andrews, and its great cathedral, standing there on the headland of the bay? It is not hard to imagine the sheer elation that pilgrims would have felt at seeing this magnificent building, that would have shone in splendour, shining like a beacon of hope. The sheer size, the largest building anywhere in northern Europe, its stonework still clean and fresh, catching every ray of the sun’s light.
If you consider the date of its consecration you will understand better the reason for it to have been built at all. Scotland was fighting for its very existence, the cathedral was not just about religion. The cathedral along with the relics of one of Christ’s apostles, reinforced Scotland’s claim to be an independent European state.
After the reformation in Scotland, the cathedral would have fallen out of favour and been abandoned, it would not have taken long before it became a ready source of stone for the up and coming town of St Andrews and presbyterial churches that sprung up around the university. This is a problem that England will have to grapple with in the future, large cathedral-like York Minster, Ely, Durham, to name but three, that have no real purpose in modern society, other than as museums, and/or visitor centres. How many cathedrals will the taxpayer be willing to pay to keep when the bills for each run into million each and every year?
If the weather holds I will be off on faze three, leaving only the two island abbeys. Keep well.
Ewen Bain, was born in Maryhill (Glasgow), on the 23 June 1925. His family came from Skye (an Island on the west coast of Scotland) he studied at Glasgow School of Art, and became an art teacher by profession.
Ewen was very supportive of the monthly, pro-independence newspaper, Scots Independent, contributing a long series of editorial cartoons between 1978 and his death in 1989.
His comic strip depicted a quintessential (stereotype) 20th century highlander, Angus Og, that ran in the Daily Record and its sister paper The Sunday Mail.
This wee story was inspired by my love of Ewen’s cartoons.
It came to pass that a Lowlander had bought a smallholding down in Glen Brittle, and was in need of a good sheepdog. “Angus Og is the man you need to see, you’ll be sure to find him down at the hotel most evenings” said a local ferryman.
In the hotel that Saturday evening, there was Angus, at his feet a young Border Collie, it had come to his attention that there would be a lad in tonight looking for just such a dog.
Tom, the Lowlander, looked over the dog, “I am looking for a good dog mind, can he work sheep?” he asked Angus.
“Work sheep, I tell you, boy, you will not find a harder working dog in the whole of the island” he assured Tom. A deal was done.
Come Monday evening, an unhappy Tom was back in the hotel bar. He went straight up to Angus accusing him of being furtive. “I took that lazy dog out into the field yesterday, he lay down in the grass and refused rise, let alone do a stroke of work, what are you trying to pull here?” he accused Angus.
“Yesterday, did you say?” asked Angus.
“Aye, yesterday, Sunday?” replayed Tom.
“There’s your problem right there,” Said Angus, bold as you like, “You see that dog belongs to the Wee Free”.
Outside Norwich City Hall, the remaining forty-three gladiators lined up for the final stage into London, leading them out would be the ‘Lone Star’ rider, Ken Russell. Could he possibly pull it off against the might of the well-organized teams and win the greatest prize in British cycling?
Content once more to drop back into the pack of the peloton, Ken sat and waited, only a breakaway led by Les Scales or Bob Maitland would cause him to attack. After twenty-six miles, Aldridge and Newman broke away and built up a one-minute lead on the peloton. Through Newmarket Thomas, Maitland and Scales moved fast to the front, Russell sensing the danger moved with them. The Aldridge and Newman team were sucked un at fifty-two miles forming a new seven-man breakaway. Ken Russell could well be in trouble now with a force of three BAS riders against him. His salvation came forty-five minutes later when the peloton reformed after a surge from the main field. For the next ten miles, they jockeyed for positions until Jones made a dash for it leaving the main field for dead. By Royston, Jones was three minutes up and the pack was getting jumpy. Again Bob Maitland and Scales tried to sprint off the front hoping to dislodge Ken Russell. Ken ever ready for any move by this pair answered every challenge. Eighty-eight miles out Just before Stevenage, Jones was caught and now the five riders were three minutes upon the main pack.
Disaster struck for Ken Russell his crank started to work loose and the tyre softened, all his hopes and dreams of winning this most coveted of prizes was vanishing just as quickly as the air from his tyre. Having fought so bravely over the past weeks and after almost fourteen-hundred miles, Ken may have missed out within shouting distance of his goal.
Ken looked over towards the Belgian rider Michaux and in his best French, not knowing a word of Flemish, “Donnez moi vote bicycle” Michaux did not hesitate but jumped from his machine and swapped with Ken then set about the task of repairing the stricken machine.
Ken sped off in pursuit of the leading group once more, however, he was not out of the woods yet. Michaux machine had developed a crack in one of the front forks and with thirty miles remaining it would have been foolhardy to push an attack. Ken contented himself and sat behind the other riders onto the finish.
As they entered Alexandra Palace, ken made a big effort in the final yards coming second and ten lengths behind Les scales. Sadly for Les, he was beaten into second place overall by virtue of three minutes. Unbelievable as it may sound and after a total distance of one-thousand-four hundred and seventy miles, a mere three minutes would separate first and second place. Ken Russell has now crowned the Daily Express 1952 Tour of Britain winner.
Three men, Les Scales, Bob Maitland, and Ken Russell, were never out of the picture from start to finish. Ken won, but there were no real losers in this race. The final time was Les Scales four hours fifty-three minutes and twenty-seven seconds.
At the time of writing 2002 (the 50th anniversary) Bob Maitland, from Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands, and Ken Russell, Bradford, West Yorkshire was still riding. I cycled alongside Ken a lot during those days, and where the inspiration came from for me to write the piece for the club newsletter. He told me that sadly M. Michaux, who became a close friend of Ken, now suffered from Alzheimer’s and that the disease was at an advanced stage. Ken was a keen photographer and a member of the local photography club. When I went off to Spain for three weeks to ride the Compostela de Santiago, Ken looked after Tim, the dog and it was he who took the picture you see of Tim with a ball taken in Ken’s back garden in Bradford.
There had been two serious attempts at a breakaway, now forty-four miles out they were as one. Five minutes down the road and a breakaway consisting of Thomas Jones, Pottier, and Philips, pulled away decisively from the main group. Seventy-six miles out of Kings Lynn, their lead had grown to three and a half minutes and by Fareham, they were more than six minutes upon the main field.
This was a worry for Les Scales and Ken Russell since Thomas was in with that leading group and therefore a challenger for the overall lead. Spurred on by such thoughts the peloton quickened their pace.
A quick-moving pack of seven riders made up of Welch, Christenson, and Yeaman having caught up with Thomas, Jones, Pottier, and Phillips on the outskirts of Norwich, headed for the final. Their race was almost a dead heat in fact so close was the call that Thomas was given first, by the breadth of a tyre, and the following six equal second. Whilst the breathtaking race was being played out at the front, the pack had made up some remarkable ground but alas still three minutes back the road.
Since the three challengers, Ken Russell, Les Scales, and Bob Maitland were still in the main pack. The Yellow Jersey remained on Kens back. Thomas’s time was five hours, zero-four minutes, and twenty-eight seconds.
We had been off for a week now and desperate for any kind of work, then one evening Laurimer chapped the door with good news, he had found them some work, they were to be chippies.
“Chippies!” Jimmy exclaimed “We will never get away with that”.
“Why of course we will, we will only be building gates into fields, nothing to it,” said Laurimer, as if it was going to be the easiest thing in the world, “money for old rope,” he said.
The company they would be working for was running new power lines across the land and to gain access had been demolishing sections of wall and part of the agreement with the farmer was to rebuild the walls and reinstate new gates where required. Arriving at the office the following day they were told what was expected of them, and shown where the timber and furnishing were in the yard.
“And the lorry?” asked Laurimer.
“No truck, you will have to carry the timber from the yard to the job” they were told.
“Oh no, no, that will never do we need a lorry to carry tools and timber” Laurimer insisted.
After a bit toeing and throwing, it was agreed they would be given a small truck. With timber and tools at the first gate, Laurimer had to go on an errand, leaving Jimmy to build the gate, something he had never done before and was thankful that something remained of the original gate to give something to work from. When finished and hung Jimmy move quickly onto the next gap and there again was a pile of timber all ready and waiting for him, but still no Laurimer. In fact, Jimmy would only see Laurimer when going home and coming to work in the morning. Laurimer always seemed to have a wee bit business to attend to. Notwithstanding each day that passed the gates were looking better and being built much faster.
Come Friday, as the two chippies walked home, Laurimer pulled 2 shillings, nearly a week’s wages, from his pocket and handed them to Jimmy. The wee bit business turned out to be, fetch, and carry tools and materials for the linesmen in the truck and was paid for his services at the end of the week.
One day Jimmy asked Laurimer to bring up a strainer post. “Why, would we want strainer posts,” he asked.
“Well to hang the gates on, this posts has had it” Jimmy informed him.
“No, no Jimmy, you see, we’re gates not posts”
“We will have a hard job hang the gate if there is no post to hang it on” he was told.
“I’ll see to it” and repeated, “We’re gates Jimmy not posts”
Laurimer came back with half a dozen strainer posts. “why did you bring all these posts, we only need one?”
“Well, you see I have agreed that we get an extra shilling for each of the strainer posts we have to replace, I’m sure we can find a few more that need replacing”. Strange as it may seem, most every gate needed a new strainer post from that point on. Laurimer was pulling them out with the truck ahead of Jimmy and his gates.
“We will get the jail for this if we are caught” complained Jimmy.
“Then let’s make sure we are not caught” was all the answer Jimmy was given. The two chancers were hiding posts in woods and ditches all the way up the line, by the end of the week they had made twice their wages from replacing posts than from making gates.
I’m elated – no you are not going to get this grin from my face just yet. Today a weather front has moved in from west to east already bringing rain to the area, I have decided to remain in harbour until it has passed. Hard to believe that only a few short months ago I was laid low with sciatica, constant pain and could hardly get out of my bed in the morning, I still sing the praises of the good Dr Francis Kelly (principal Chiropractor) in South Street for sorting out my back and getting me back on my bike. Tomorrow I will continue my sojourning. Keep well.
Stage Twelve, Scarborough to Nottingham -125 Miles.Stage Twelve, Scarborough to Nottingham -125 Miles. So long as Bob Maitland and Les Scales stayed within the main bunch Ken Russell was content to remain there too in the relative ease of the peloton. Between Selby and Thorne, the gates of the level crossing stopped the main field. Michaux and Steel raced over the pedestrian crossing carrying their bikes, steel streaked away Mathews and Newman gave chase, and soon joined with Steel the three then settled down to pull in the quintet that had gone off eleven miles out and been more fortunate in making the level crossing before the gates closed. It would be a tall order closing down these front runners but by Bawtry the four had their lead reduced, now only two minutes ahead, and by Ollerton, the hounds had hovered up the leading pack. Seven men would fight it out for a first place in Nottingham. Not one rider was able to break free of the group, Ian Steel would lead then into Nottingham Recreation Ground. With the finishing line in his sights, he made one last defiant charge for the line, Overcooked the corner and ended up ridding grass track style around the banking. Six riders shot passed him, with herculean effort, steel was able to overhaul four of them before the line, snatching third place from the jaws of defeat. Trevor Fenwick taking the win in four hours, thirty-eight minutes and zero-three seconds.
I woke at 5 am, again at 6.10, and 6.25, this is hopeless may as well get up. Fussed around, checking everything I would be taking with me, then checking it again. Out to the van to get the bike out, check that over although it had been serviced only yesterday.
It is always the same all the planning, research, preparation yet when it comes down to the start line, the butterflies start. Cycled around to the bus station for the 8.55 bus, only three people waiting. Onboard I picked up a Metro newspaper and settled in, the butterflies took flight. I did read that one of the early signs of dementia is the loss of smell, if you can not smell a rose or onion then you are in trouble, (I think you must be bad if you can not smell an onion). I had my Kindle with me so read a few more chapters of Royal Flush to while away the miles.
The weather forecast was for overcast skies and a 7-12 mph wind from the west-southwest. It was hot and sticky and windless as I disembarked from the bus in Kincardine and peddled my way towards my first abbey at Culross.
Longannet Power Station
Construction of the Kincardine power station began in the mid-1960 2.5 miles downstream from the existing Kincardine power station, I heard a lot about its construction from my brother, an apprentice served joiner, who found work there as a shuttering joiner, near the start of construction. The 74 acres site was reclaimed from the River Forth using ash from the Kincardine station. Longannet began generating electricity in 1970, with a design lifespan of 30 years and was in full operation by 1973, at that time Longannet was the largest coal fired power station in Europe, with a generating capacity of 2,400 megawatts.
It 1990 the electricity industry, along with much else was privatised by the then Tory Government under Margaret Thatcher, and would now have to pay the National Grid, £40 million connection charges, due, they said, the distance from the South of England, although it was very much in the centre of Scotland to which the National Grid also supplied electricity. Under the UK Transitional National Plan, that place limits on the sulphur dioxide, nitrous oxides and particulates emissions, the plant tested additional technologies that could have permitted it to operate beyond 2020 under the EU industrial Emissions Directive, but it was all too little, too late to safe Longannet and it was finally closed on 24th March 2016. at the time of its closure it was the third largest, after Belchatow in Poland and Drax in England, and the 21st most polluting. Longannet’s massive chimney stack that stood 600 feet (183m) in height, was a landmark that dominated the skyline of the Forth, there were no cooling towers normally associated with such power station Longannet instead used water from the River Forth.
When fully operational the plant burned a staggering 4,500,000 tonnes of coal each year, delivered by road, rail or straight from the Longannet mines, that was established in 1960s and built on the north side of the River Forth and east of Kincardine. The mine connected with the Bogside, Castlehill and Solsgirth collieries forming a single, five mile long tunnel. The coal was delivered from the power station’s storage area, with a capacity of 2,000,000 tonnes, and from there transported by conveyor belt to the boiler house at a capacity of 3500 tonnes of coal per hour. Longannet’s four boilers each consumed around 250 tonnes of coal per hour and produced 1800 tonnes of 168 bars high pressure steam per hour, that in turn drove the 300 MW General Electric Company turbo generators, for all its size its thermal efficiency was never better than 37%.
Blair Castle was like a five-star hotel where retired miners could go each year for a fortnight, my mum and dad looked forward to going each year. Just up the road from the home was the Valleyfield pit, the last place my father worked. He was a Deputy (sort of underground safety officer) and so was in junior management, this put him on a monthly salary and entitled him to join the Superannuation scheme. The money would be taken from his pay each month and when he retired it paid out as an extra pension. On his death, mum received 50% of the original pension for the remainder of her life. I was mum’s carer for the last years of her life, and each month she would receive confirmation from the pension scheme, to tell her that a further £200.00 had been paid into her bank account. Each time she received such notification she would say “Your dad is still looking after us”.
Culross next stop. Culross Abbey is found at the top of a very steep hill that can only be walked up because the road is made up of huge round stones set into the surface. However, it is well worth the climb.
The legend of Culross,
When the princess, daughter of the king of the Lothians, became pregnant out of wedlock, her family threw her from a cliff. She miraculously survived the fall and found herself alongside an unmanned boat. With no way back she pulled herself on board, whereupon the boat proceeded to sailed her across the Firth of Forth and beached itself at the shore of Culross. Mother and child were now cared for by Saint Serf; who become foster-father of her son. The boy would later become Saint Kentigern of Mungo, his mother St Teneu.
Culross Abbey, the earliest of two abbeys in Fife.
The Cistercian monks were established in Citeaux in Burgundy (eastern France) and were a rather austere order. St Bernard joined the order in 1112 and it is from this date forward that the order saw its greatest expansion. The first Cistercian house founded in Scotland was at Melrose in 1136. Culross came into being in 1217 founded by Malcolm, earl of Fife, it was a daughter house of Kinloss in Moray, itself a daughter house of Melrose.
The Cistercian cut themselves off as much as possible from the world outside. Work around the abbey was carried out by illiterate lay brethren, seems strange that the Cistercians should agree to settled in Culross, a township with its own parish church already in existence. Excavation suggests that the abbey was built over the remains of an earlier community that of St Serf.
The central belt of Scotland lies on huge coal deposits and by the 16th and 17th century Culross was a town that thrived on the coal under its feet. In 1575 a pit was sunk here and would became the first pit to be established in Scotland, and in 1595 the Moat Pit became the first pit in the world to extend under the sea. The coal was not brought back onto the land but a large circular tower was built on a small outcrop off shore and the coal shipped from there. The Moat Pit was destroyed in a storm on 30 March 1625. Sir George Bruce of Camock, with the wealth from the coal built the Palace of Culross and established the family monument that stands in the north transept of the Abbey church.
One other industry that sprung up along the Fife coast was salt panning. It was the abundance of coal that made it possible. Large iron pans would be flooded with sea water and fires lit under them to evaporate the water, leaving the salt behind, this was a very lucrative trade salt being needed for a variety of industries from cloth dying to fish packing, and was the third biggest export from Scotland at that time. Coal and salt out and returning ships would ballast there holds with Dutch roof tiles, they were the corrugated iron of their day, and can still be seen on many roofs along the Fife coat. The town of Culross declined as a port from the 18th century and by Victorian times it was a backwater. The harbour itself was filled in and the sea cut off by the coastal railway.
During the 20th century, Culross was recognised as being a bit special with so many unique historical buildings and preservation and restoration work started in 1930 is still ongoing.
Just outside the town is the 18th century Dunimarie Castle. Built by the Erskine family to replaced the original medieval castle. Dunimarie Castle was the home of Mrs Magdalene Sharpe Erskine, the only surviving daughter of the late Sir William Erskine of Torrie Baronet. She was born in 1787 and died in 1872. in 1853 she decided to turn Dunimarie Castle into a museum, as she was heir to her brother’s collection of furniture and paintings. I visited the castle a long time ago, and what I remember most was the abundance of fine French furnishings. Sir James Erskine 3rd Baronet had a vast collection of French furniture and Dutch paintings, having bought much of his collection in Paris in 1815, where he was on Wellington’s staff. The French furniture collection came from Cardinal Fesch, the brother of Napoleon’s mother.
The uniqueness of the town has made it a magnet for film-makers, from Kidnapped in 1971 to the filming of Outlander, starting August 2014.
I pressed on into Dunfermline, I was really feeling strong and peddling well. Entering the Glen it was swarming with people, you could not get another car in the car-park if you tried, the fine weather had brought them out like Livingston Daisies. I had noticed the same at Culross, lots of cyclists too. They are going to take it ill out when the Furlough money stops, and they have to go back to work, those that have jobs to go back too.
It was Malcolm 111, known as Canmore (1057 – 1093) that established Dunfermline as his home and capital. Heavily wooded land high above the River Forth made it ideal for defence and hunting. There was a Pictish or Celtic settlement, with a church, already in existence, it was in that same church that Malcolm and Margaret, a cousin of Edward the confessor, were married.
Malcolm was credited for bringing about the federation of Pictish kingdoms in Scotland, Malcolm Canmore is also attributed with the introduction of surnames.
Margaret his wife was a very pious woman, it is said that she gave up her wish to enter a nunnery in favour of her marriage to Malcolm. And if half of the way history paints her is true she must have been a religious pain in the bottom. It was Margaret that brought the Celtic Church into line with the Church of Rome, with regard to Lent and Easter. She schooled the court in civility and encouraged the fashion of wearing brighter clothing at court.
The Benedictine priory established in Dunfermline, along with the priory on the Isle of May were the beginning of monastic life in Scotland. In the early 12th century David 1 re-established his mother’s small Benedictine priory as a full abbey in the Romanesque style. This was to be the family mausoleum. Margaret died a few days after her husband and son in 1093, and following her death she was canonised, Saint Margaret.
The Canmore Dynasty ended with the premature death of Alexander 111. Whist returning home from meetings at Holyrood (Edinburgh), to the castle at Kinghorn. Alexander fell to his death over the clifftop at Kinghorn. Tragedy heaped on tradition, the only successor to the crown of Scotland was his infant granddaughter, Margaret, Maid of Norway, who died whilst on her way to take up her rightful place as Queen of Scotland. From this point on Scotland’s fate lay in the hands of the ruthless Edward 1 of England leading to the Wars of Independence.
The Stuart Dynasty that came after made frequent use of the Royal Palace of Dunfermline, up until the 17th century. Dunfermline was gifted by James V1 to his wife Anne of Denmark as part of her Wedding Gift and many improvements at the Palace and abbey were carried out at her instigation. Charles 1 and his sister Elizabeth were born in the Palace, however, after the restoration of the crown on the death of Cromwell, Dunfermline like many of the Royal Palaces in Scotland became redundant.
The Abbey saw many visitors including King Robert the Bruce and Edward 1 who stayed in the Monastery in 1303/04, whether by design or accident the Monastery was set alight when he left. Royal visitors, and their entourage, and pilgrims, brought much industry and money into the towns coffers. The Cathedral would have been a much different place to the one we see today. Inside the walls would have had plastered panels covering the walls on which would have been painted over with scenes of biblical stories in bright gaudie colours. Likewise many of the building around the abbey would have whole gables painted in a similar manner, to those painted gables we see in parts of Ierland today.
Dunfermline’s other claims to fame and favourite sons.
Andrew Carnegie was born in a weaver’s cottage in Moodie Street on 25th November 1835. This was a turning point for hand-weaving in Dunfermline, when weaving sheds were introduced and soon after steam driven looms. Bad enough that the weavers lost their livelihood, but mill owners took on women in preference to man. The new faster steam driven looms, where dexterity was called for was much better suited to women. This insighted riots and troops were sent from their barracks in Edinburgh to quell the mob. A few hand-weavers turning out a high quality linen did survive for a while after the introduction of the mills, but the days of the weaver were over and Carnegie’s father William sold up and in 1848, and moved the family to Pittsburgh, the rest as they say is history.
There were six large mills established during the hay-days of the linen weaving. The most successfully mill by far was owned by Erskine Beveridge his factory at its zenith housed 1000 looms and continued until 1990. The office block was also a sales office. He introduced showrooms, much like house builders today have show homes for perspective clients to visit, there buyers could see the mill’s linen goods set out as they would appear in a domestic setting. Although the factory has gone the warehouse and office block still remained now converted into desirable (sales agents code for expensive) flats.
Visitors to the town will find plenty to interest, the Louise Carnegie Gates at the entrance to the Glen. Made from elaborate wrought iron these gates are a bit special. Lookout for the images of small birds, animals and flowers discreetly hidden within their decoration.
A highly ornate doocot located on the north perimeter of the park is though to have been built in the 18th century.
Down the Glen you will find a double bridge, the second built on top of the original to help flatten out the road. The bridge below would have been the only one over the Tower Burn and the favourite walk of Queen Margaret. One day whist crossing the bridge she dropped her Book of Hours that fell into the water below. When retried it was bone dry. This is said to be the first miracle associated with Margaret.
Pittencrieff House, in the park is a 17th century mansion, the former home of Brigadier General John Forges. The story attached, is that the owner did not like all the merchants, pilgrims and beggars passing his door every day and offered to pay the cost of diverting the road to what is now Bridge Street, I’m not sure he had in mind the pulling down of the City Chambers and erecting a new one in its place as part of the deal, but that is what happened. A bridge was constructed over the Tower Burn, giving Bridge Street it name, and the new City Chambers was opened in 1879 it replaced the 17th century building. Our man filed for bankruptcy.
St Margaret’s Cave, this is situated in the new car park in Chalmers Street. Before the car park was created and the ravine backfilled, St Margaret’s Cave was on the banks of the Tower Burn, as I remember it when a boy. Margaret is said to have walked along the path from Malcolm’s Tower to the cave when she wished to pray in solitude. The cave was decorated ‘suitable for its purpose’ as an act of penance by Malcolm for doubting her reason for visiting the cave.
As you travel up the High Street from the City Chambers, look up, you will see attics above the shops with very large windows. These were the studios of the pattern designers who made the patterns for the high quality damask linen manufactured in Dunfermline. The damask looms were brought over to Scotland by the Huguenots who had fled the Low Countries to Edinburgh, to avoid persecution. They kept their damask looms secret but one James Blake, a weaver from Dunfermline, went to their premises in Edinburgh and acting the daft laddie, around their workshop enabling him to gleam enough to build his own loam. With this knowledge he set up shop in the old ruined pens of the Abbey. By default he saved the weaving industry in Dunfermline.
I headed down the back road into Inverkeithing
It is well documented that Inverkeithing was around at the time of Agricola, when he journeyed to Northern Scotland, back to AD 83, and well established by the 5th century. A church was founded here by St Erat, a follower of St Ninian. Inverkeithing was mentioned in the foundation charter of Scone Abbey, granted by Alexander 1 in 1163 as Innirkeithin and again in Pope Alexander 111’s summons of the clergy of the British Isles to the Council of Tours.
One of first royal burghs in Fife (early 1160) gave Inverkeithing particular legal and trading privileges, (it would have been able to charge a tax on imports and exports). And situated at the narrowest crossing of the River Forth with a sheltered bay, made it the choice for the King to grant it that status.
The town was also the last place that Alexander the 111 was seen before he fell to his death from a steep rocky embankment at Kinghorn in 1286.
Edward 1 of England (Longshanks) stayed in Inverkeithing on 2 March 1304 whilst travelling from Dunfermline to St Andrews, during the First War of Independence.
Around the mid 12th century a Franciscan friary was established in Inverkeithing, and today there are still the remains of what would have been the gatehouse above-ground. In the friary garden are the remains of the original stone vaults, possibly used for storage. Inverkeithing would have been a convenient stopping off point for pilgrims on their way to Dunfermline and St Andrews, and would have help swell the town’s coffers.
Inverkeithing would have had a wooden palisade, but the town was one of only a few towns to have 4 stone ports (gates) to control people and goods in and out, so that taxes could be collected, in 1515 the wooden palisade was replace by a stone wall, the remains of which can still be seen on the south side of Roman Road.
As a thriving medieval bough, Inverkeithing held weekly markets, trading in wool, fleece, hide, a hub of trade for the whole of Scotland. Along with the weekly market the town had five annual fairs, and a fair is still held there annually, that closes off the town to traffic during the fair week, (continued under charter) although today it is travelling showmen and not a trading fair as such.
In 1654, Joan Blaeu mentioned Inverkeithing as “formerly a flourishing market” in his Nova Fifae Descripto, but by the 17th century plague and war had reduced it into poverty.
In 1621 six Inverkeithing women were tried for witchcraft in the Tolbooth, and between 6121 and 1652, at least 51 people were executed for witchcraft. The high numbers are attributed to the Rev. Walter Bruce, a known witch hunter, minister of St Peter’s. Bruce was a leading light in the Great Scottish witch hunt of 1649 to 1650. However the outbreak of cholera and famine during those years would have contributed, scared people will put their trust in any savoir, albeit that trust totally unfounded. The place of execution was Witch Knowe, a meadow to the south of the town and within the Hope Street Cemetery.
The battle of Inverkeithing
Oliver Cromwell had come north to quell the Scots still royal to the King, and it was here, on the Queensferry peninsula that the Battle of Inverkeithing took place on the 20th July 1651. This was a particularly brutal battle, a well equipped, well fed, well paid and well disciplined modern army under the command of Major-General John Lambert, had landed on the north side of the river at Cruickness south of Inverkeithing Bay and took up position on Ferry Hills. Pitted against them the royalist forces under the command of David Leslie, it was a rout the battle spreading all the way to Pitreavie on the far side of Inverkeithing. It was reputed that the Pinkerton Burn ran red with blood for days and the heaps of dead resembled stooks in a harvest field.
The invasion of the Kingdom of Scotland following the Third English Civil War, was an attempt by the English Parliamentarian forces to outflank the army of Scottish Covenanters, Loyal to Charles 11 at Stirling and gain access to the north of Scotland. This would be the last major engagement of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms and led to Scotland passing into Cromwell’s control. There is a memorial cairn at Pitreavie to the Clan Maclean. It is said that of the 800 Maclean clansmen who fought in the battle, only 35 survived.
Inverkeithing’s fortunes did not change until the 18th century when industry replaced fishing, and by the late 18th century the town had a foundry, distillery, a brewery, tan works, soap works, a salt pan and timber works.
By the 19th century quarrying, engineering and shipbuilding were major industries in the area, By 1870, engineering and shipbuilding had ceased, and the harbour lost freight traffic to the railway so that for the first time Inverkeithing was not on a through route for freight. The opening of the Forth Bridge in 1890, however, led to a surge in incomers and new building. By 1925, quarrying remained a major operation, and whilst the saltworks, distillery, iron foundry and sawmill were no longer in operation, a successful papermaking industry developed at the harbour. Then came Thos W Ward ship-breakers, still in operation today as a metal recycling facility.
then quickly on to North Queensferry, this stopping for picture taking was eating up the time.
Margaret, with her brother Edgar the Aetheling, came ashore at what is now know as St Margaret’s Hope a bay to the west of Queensferry, she was Hungarian by birth and had come to the lands of Picts in 1068, to marry king Malcolm 111 of Scotland. Margaret had boarded a boat over on the south side then rowed across the river. It is reputed that she established the village on the north shore in order to ensure a safe and regular ferry service for passage, travellers, and pilgrims alike to make the journey, this gave rise to the village being named, North Queensferry. However, a settlement around the present village had been long established before that time. These narrowest on the Firth of Forth, would have been the natural point of crossing and a vital link to the north of Scotland for centuries before the Queen’s Ferry was established.
Anyone travelling from the north of Scotland who had business in Edinburgh, would either have to cross at Stirling or at Queensferry. The ferry would know no rank, from pilgrims, cattle drovers and their beasts, Kings, noblemen on their way to Edinburgh Castle would all have use the ferry. Mary, Queen of Scots, we know, was taken over the River Forth at this point on her way to Loch Leven Castle and imprisonment in 1565.
The oldest building in the village is the 14th century Chapel of St James (‘the Greater’ patron saint of pilgrims) founded by Robert the Bruce in around 1320-1323 and abandoned after the reformation. Later In the 18th century the land on which the chapel once stood became the cemetery of North Queensferry Sailors’ Society. very little remains standing today. The graveyard walls carry an inscription: “This is done by the sailers in North Ferrie 1752” The chapel was destroyed by Oliver Cromwell’s men in 1651.
The railway Pier, was the terminus for the ferry for many years, it was designed by John Rennie and built between 1810 and 1813. and in 1817 the harbour gained The Harbour Light Tower: until then the Signal House had been used for navigation.
When larger steam-powered ferries with a deeper draught came into service, the Town Pier was extended the work carried out under Thomas Telford in 1828. during the 19th century an alternative crossing came into operation between Burntisland and Granton and by 1870 there was increase calls for a bridge to be built over the Forth. The work on a bridge to carry rail traffic over the Forth commenced in 1883, under the supervision of Benjamin Baker and John Fowler, at its peak four thousand men were employed on the building of what has become the iconic Forth Rail Bridge. The bridge was opened to great fanfare on the 4th March 1890 by the then Duke of Rothesay (later to become King Edward V11).
The ferry crossing continued and year on year the number of cars using the crossing increased and by 1960 the Queen’s ferry was handling over two million passengers a year and over six hundred thousand motor vehicles. A road bridge was needed.
The very last commercial ferry to cross the Queen’s Ferry was from Hawed Pier (South Queensferry) on the evening of 3rd September 1964, and docked at North Queensferry shortly thereafter. The following day Queen Elizabeth 1 of Scotland and 11 of England, opened the new Forth Road Bridge. the Queen’s Ferry, up until then, had been in constant use for at least the last 800 years.
You do not have to look far to find building dating back to the 18th century. Houses in the Main street and Post Office Lane are dated 1693 and 1776 respectively. Brae House and White House also in the Main Street are dated 1771 and 1778 and have a sundial on the first floor level. At the Pierhead stands a small hexagonal Light Tower, (moved here from the Tower House in 1817). close by is the Tower House itself, this was originally the old ferry office. In the 19th century passengers awaiting the ferry would shelter in the ground floor the Superintendent had his office on the first floor above.
As you leave North Queensferry by The Brae, you will pass the Waterloo Memorial, and well, this is a bell-shaped stone dated 1816. a watering stop for horses. Also on The Brae are pantiled cottages with forestairs, and the Old Schoolhouse, built in 1827.
We are now onto Ferryhills Road, that will lead us into the village of Jamestown. The road skirts the edge of a redundant quarry, (worked out) and there is still a viewing platform to look down into the old workings. There was another worked out quarry nearby and the pool that was created has been repurposed as Deep Sea World.
The last real diversion from the main road came at Dalgety Bay to visit St Bridget’s Kirk, you have to go along a part of the Fife Coastal Path to get there. You get a good view of Inchcolm island on which the Abbey of Inchcolm is found. The sun was now well over the yardarm I had to push on.
There is evidence of human activity going back 4,000 years in the area of Aberdour from carvings on the Binn. The Roman commander Agricola used the natural harbour and set up camp at the nearby Dunearn Hill in AD 83.
Aberdour Castle, lies in Easter Aberdour, it started life as a small Hall House overlooking the Dour Burn in the 13th century, it is now a semi-ruin, but worthy of note as it is one of the earliest surviving stone castles in mainland Scotland. It was extensively added to over the next 400 years, and the parts that are still roofed where the work of Earl of Morton and done in a renaissance style, the architectural ideas of that age, the second half of the 16th century. A fire in the late 17th century was followed by some repairs, but in 1725 the family purchased the 17th century Aberdour House, on the west side of the burn (Wester Aberdour) and the medieval castle was allowed to fall into relative decay. Aberdour Castle is now in the care of Historic Environment Scotland. After a period of dereliction Aberdour House was developed for residential use in the early 1990s.
St Fillan’s Church
Nearby is St Fillan’s Church and one of the best-preserved of all the 12 century churches in Scotland.
Aberdour railway station, is a beautifully kept and cared for example of a traditional station, and anyone of my generation will remember all railway station were much like this.
The Shore Road will lead you to the West Sands and the Harbour. We as children would, on occasion, travel to the Silver Sands for a day out, it would be the highlight of our week, and still seems as much an attraction for youngsters and old alike today.
At Hawkcraig pier there is still the old Radio Hut where radio controlled torpedoes were being developed and tested during World War One.
Aberdour obelisk was built by Lord Morton on his departure to take up residence in Edinburgh, it was built so that he could see his former hometown from his new abode, he must have had powerful binoculars.
In the 12th century the monks of Dunfermline were the owners of the harbour and surrounding lands, the settlement was known as Wester Kinghorn and developed as a fishing hamlet to provide food for the inhabitants of Rossend Castle. The harbour was sold to James V by the abbots of Dunfermline Abbey in exchange for a parcel of land.
The land was granted royal burgh status by James V in 1541. The status was confirmed in 1586 giving the settlement independence from the barony of Kinghorn and was renamed at that time Burntisland. The town became so well established that a new Burntisland Parish Church, know as St Columba’s was built in 1592, the first parish church to be built in Scotland after the Reformation.
St Columba’s is unique being square with a central tower upheld on pillars, and lined all round with galleries to allow the greatest number of people to be reached by the minister’s words during the service. Inside is a rare collection of 17th and early 18th century woodwork and painting. In 1601 King James V1 chose the town as an alternative site for the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. This was when a new translation of the bible was first discussed, a project which James brought to fruition a decade later in the King James Bible.
The town was part of the land of Dunfermline belonging to Ann of Denmark. In April 1615 there was a riot against one of her legal officers by a crowd of over a hundred women who took his letters and threw stones at him. The rioters were “Of the bangster Amasone kind” led the wife of Baillie of Burntisland according to the Chancellor Alexander Seton, 1st Earl of Dunfermline, who supposed the women were acting at the instigation of the townsmen including the minister Mr William Watson.
Burntisland developed as a seaport, being second only to Leith in the Forth, and shipbuilding became an important industry in the town. In 1622 a leaking Spanish ship entered the harbour and promptly sunk. The crew said they were whalers, and they had whaling equipment, but the town baillies were suspicious and imprisoned the officers in the tolbooth and put the rest under house arrest, under suspicion of piracy. The lawyer Thomas Hamilton arranged their release, arguing they had committed no crime and there was peace with Spain at the time.
In 1633 a barge, the Blessing of Burntisland, carrying Charles 1 and his entourage’s baggage for Burntisland to Leith sunk with the loss of Charles’ treasure.
Burntisland was held by the Jacobite army for over two months during the rising Known as the Fifteen. The jacobites first of all raided the port on the 2nd October 1715, capturing several hundred weapons, then occupied in on 9th October. They held it until it was recaptured by the Government on the19th December.
In September 1844 a new pier was completed to form a ferry link to the new harbour at Granton Edinburgh. I have actually crossed the Forth on that ferry with my dad. This was still a time of herring and coal and Burntisland played its part in that trade.
1847 saw the opening of the Edinburgh and Northern Railway opened from Burntisland north to Lindores and Cupar. By 1850 the world’s first roll-on-roll-off rail ferry service was crossing the Forth, between Burntisland and Granton, enabling goods wagons to travel between Edinburgh and Dundee , without the need for unloading and re-loading at the ferries, (passengers however had to disembark and use a separate passenger ferries). Teh ferry was in operation until 1890 when the Forth Bridge opened. In the late 19th century, the area experienced a short-lived boom in oil shale mining and processing at the Binnend Works.
In 1918 shipbuilding was founded at the West Dock as an emergency shipyard for the First World War, specialising in cargo ships. In 1929 the yard introduced the “Burntisland Economy” steamship, which designed to maximise fuel economy. The popularity of the design helped the yard to survive the Great depression.
During the Second World War the yard contained to concentrate on economy ships but also built three Loch Class frigates HMS Loch Killin, HMS Loch Fyne and HMS Loch Glendhu. By 1961 the shipyard had 1,000 workers but in 1969 the shipyard closed and sold to Robb Caledon of Leith.
Robb Caledon was able to secure orders to the yard to build modules for the North Sea Oil and natural gas industry, and formed Burntisland Engineering Fabricators. Towards the end of the 1970s these orders too declined and in 1978 Robb Caledon was nationalised as part of British Shipbuilders and in 1979 Burntisland yard was closed.
In 1990 and under new management Burntisland West Dock resumed production of major offshore oil and gas fabrications. A buy out by management in 2001 as Burntisland Fabrications or BiFab opening sites on the West Coast of Scotland and at Methil, Fife. Now again in trouble for the lack of orders.
I did not stop at Aberdour or Burntisland but pushed on only stopping off to take a picture of Monument that marks the place that Alexander 111 fell from his horse. This part of the journey is a wee bit lumpy but Suzi Quatro was doing a great job of keeping a good cadence with me.
I was feeling peckish so I pulled over near the harbour at Kirkcaldy and bought a sports orange drink, and since I deserved a wee prize for such sterling work, “Give than man a coconut – no coconuts, then a Bounty – he Bounty like them”. I retired to the harbour for lunch, the drink was nectar. I ate one of the two bars in the pack and put the other in my saddlebag for after “I wish it was after”.
Kirkcaldy – The Lang Toun
The main street in Kirkcaldy is 6.4 Km long and why it was given the title Lang Toun (or long town). The main street actually connects the old settlements of Linktown, Pathhead, Sinclairtown and Gallatown. In 1930 the formerly separate burgh of Dysart was also absorbed into Kirkcaldy.
Kirkcaldy has Bronze Age burial sites dating back to 2500BC and 500BC discovered in close proximity to the East Burn and north and west of the Tiel (west) Burn. Four dating form around 4000BC have also been found around the site of the unmarked Bogely or Dysart Standing Stone, (to the east of the present A92). Although there is little evidence of Roman occupation in Fife, a Roman camp was known to have existed at Carberry Farm on the outskirts of the town. with the first documentation referring to it as a town are from 1075, when Malcolm 111 granted the settlement to the church of Dunfermline. David 1 later gave the burgh to Dunfermline Abbey, Dunfermline Abbey succeed the church and officially recognised by Robert 1 (the Bruce) in 1327. In 1644, Charles 1 gave it independence from the abbey when he created Kirkcaldy as a royal burgh.
When the harbour was built at the East Bum the town quickly expanded as an important trading port. Trade at the time was salt, coal, mining and nail making, and by 1672 it was also manufacturing linen. What Kirkcaldy is most famous for was its floorcloth, than later in 1877 Michael Nairn went into producing Linoleum.
Anyone that remembers Kirkcaldy at that time will remember the pall that hung over the town, a smell you could not escape no matter where you were. M.R. Smith wrote the poem, Boy in the Train, the last line said it all. I ken m’se’l by the queer like smell that the next stops Kirkcaldy. By the 1960 linoleum had gone out of fashion, and the town went into decline, a decline that it never really recovered from and is now a shadow of its formal self.
Kirkcaldy’s favourite son was Adam Smith, social philosopher and economist, he wrote magnum opus, The Wealth of Nations, at the time he lived in the town.
It is a long climb out of Kirkcaldy and over to Dysart, but an even harder climb up from Dysart harbour and back onto the main road, but I was still peddling well, I seemed to be getting stronger as the day progressed.
There has been much speculation over the years about the origins of the towns name, according to the parish minister of 1793 and 1836 it was from the Gaelic “Dus-ard” meaning ‘the temple of the most high’ but the name may have derived form a word meaning a desert or place of solitude, and there is a cave near the church (now in the grounds of a Carmelite nunnery) which is traditionally associated with St Serf.
The coastal fringes of Fife were amongst the richer areas of Scotland, at one time, the churches that were still being built in Fife right up until the time of the reformation were highly ambitious buildings, and the church complex (now ruinous) here at Dysart fits that bill. The most impressive feature of the church was a tower, still standing, that rises through eight storeys to a remarkable height of 22.5 metres. In the top storey, a fireplace, so must have been habitable which is unusual for a church. A clue might be that the tower was originally designed to be defensible, having shot-holes for hand-held guns, very similar to those found at the nearby Ravenscraig Castle, both believed to have been built around the same time. Ravenscraig Castle was started in 1460, for James 11 and Queen Mary of Guelders. 1460
The small port is said to date back to 1450, exporting coal and salt, to the Low Countries. A man-mad harbour was eventually built, with limited space. The harbour was rebuilt in 1829-31 with the assistance of Robert Stephenson to include an inner basin with a nearby quarry at the harbour head and an extension of the east pier which would be raised and pointed southwards.
Salt had always supported Dysart, even during the bad times of the 17th century, (during the occupation by Oliver Cromwell (1651-1656), when many skippers were lost to the wars of covenanting, required for keeping fish fresh and exporting to the Netherlands and the Baltic Countries. The town had two nicknames, Salt Burgh and Little Holland, one because of the salt industry the other because of Dutch influence in Dysart’s buildings.
An 11 million pound scheme started by The Townscape Heritage Initiative and Conservation Area Grants scheme to regenerate Dysart’s Dutch influenced houses on the Pan Ha’, the six story St Serf’s Church Tower, Dysart Tolbooth was completed in 2014, all well worthy of a visit.
A few miles further on and we come into East Wemyss, one of the many coal mining communities along the coast and (the place of my birth in Williams Street). I remember the pit bing of the Michael as a boy, with the track running up its slopping side and a row of lamps like street lights heading up to heaven. A fire, that took the life of nine men, saw the pit closed in 1967, they say, that underground the fires still burn to this day.
The old ruins of Mac Duff Castle, would have been my playground, once home to the Earl of Fife the most powerful family in the area in the middle ages and only yards from my house. Also exploring the caves on the seashore below the castle. Some of the caves show Pictish carvings, I believe Fife Council made a film about the caves to be show on their website.
One other memory from that time was the horse and cart that plied up and down the shore collecting sea coal, to burn in the gasworks at the Buckhaven end of the bay. When the ice-cold east winds blow, that would be the best time to gather the best sea coal on the beach, but you needed to be well wrapped up. The east winds were amongst the laziest of all the winds that blow around Fife, so lazy were they that they did not bother to go around you.
It was after 5 O’clock when I pulled into Leven.
Leven was the Pictish word for Flood and refers to Loch Leven nearby as a flood plane, and the River Leven that flows from it. There was a Pictish church (the scoyne) here on the Scoonie Brae. During the mid-11th century, Bishop Tuadal of St Andrews gifted the village along with the church to Bishop Robert of St Andrews following the decline of caldeen faith.
The first time we see mention of the town is in the 15th century, there are two separate records referring to the town of Levynnis-Mouth, today Levenmouth. Mostly it refers to how urgent repairs are required at the monastery and Georgie durie, the local estate owner becoming the keeper at the harbour.
In 1854 a spur line was built linking Leven and Thornton Junction on the Edinburgh – Aberdeen main line. This was instrumental in making Leven a tourist and day tripper haven. I certainly remember it as such in the 1950s, mostly visitors from the west coast, in particular Glasgow. The British Rail loop linking Thornton Junction and Leuchars Junction via St Andrews. The railway from Leven to St Andrews was closed down 1969 under cuts by the Westminster government, the link from Leven and Thornton Junction was closed to freight in 1966 and passengers in 1969. and greatly contributing to the demise of the town, turning it into a backwater. The line is still in place from Leven and Thornton Junction and there are plans in place to reopen the line.
A heritage railway has also been established near the Burnmill industrial estate, alongside the now disused Leven and Thornton branch line. Trains run along the track for half a mile, between April and October with Santa special in mid-December. The Fife Heritage Railway is the first of its kind, since the closure of Lochty Private Railway in 1992.
I sat on a seat in the car park next to the bus station, lots of new work going on. Should I press on or have I done enough, I was still feeling good and could easily have pushed on for a while yet, but it was getting late and clouds were gathering so when the Dundee bus appeared, my mind was made up for me, bus to Dairsie and short cycle home. I put my mask back on and went over to the station, bike in the boot of the bus and climb on board, only two others on the bus, must be costing the government a fortune to run empty buses around the country.
One thing I did not expect to see this early in the year was a combine working in a field, it was harvesting wheat. Back in the 1950s when I was a lad, farmers still used reapers and binders, we would walk behind, or close to the machine with a Hokey stick or something similar and when the rabbits ran from cover we would whack them with the stick, I loved Rabbit, sad that they started to spread Myxomatosis a virus that spread amongst the rabbit population at alarming speed. Dad would say “What goes around – comes around” maybe the rabbits are getting their own back on humans – coronavirus.
It was a sprint home along the cycle track, under the shower. It was not until I was sitting down with a cup of tea that the tiredness hit me, or is it old age? If the undertaker lets me I will take the X60 over to Leven and do the second stage of the trip, after today that will be a breeze.
Much of the research was done weeks ago, the photographs were all taken on the trip today, (a bit rushed), The truth is it takes much longer to write this stuff than do the actual ride, but I hope it adds to the interest of the reader, I certainly get a lot of pleasure from doing the homework. Keep safe.
“Jimmy, Jimmy, wake up Jimmy”. Jimmy was in a right mood, first day in a new job and he had been shaken awake to be told that the alarm hadn’t gone off, and he was late for work. Quickly he dressed and headed out across the shunter yard and in the back gate of the dock, so he would not have to pass the Harbour-masters office.
The job looked as if it could be a good permanent job, keeping the dock free from silt, the boat fitted with a steam-driven crane and clam bucket, was used to scoop up silt into the boats hold and deposit it out in the river.
Jumping down onto the deck, brought Laurimer out from below deck.
“Where have you been, we really need to get up steam and the big pumps working, the holds are flooded, I’ve been cranking that pump since I came on board with little success” Laurimer not one to panic was clearly anxious now.
The tide was on the turn and as the first waves broke broadside against the unstable craft it started to list alarmingly. Both men dived for the safety of the dock, Laurimer the steel ladder, Jimmy jumped for a large ring, dangling now as the deck slipped away from under him. Both now safely ashore looked back in disbelief the boat had turned turtle in the harbour.
“Thank God you were late” is all that Laurimer could think to say, “I would have been trapped below”, his face now white as a sheet.
“Maybe we should tell the Harbour-master?” Jimmy asked since he really was having difficulty understanding what had just happened.
The harbor-master on hearing their news raised his glasses and looked from the window to where he expected to see the dredger. “We should maybe go and see the divers, have them do an inspection of the boat,” he said aloud but really to himself.
The Divers were employed around the dock to patch minor repairs to harbour walls or remove flotsam and jetsam from the harbour. There was always something falling off ships that clog up sea screens. On reaching the diver’s boat the Harbour-master called down for them to come up on deck. When the diver did so the diver was informed that the old dredgers had sunk and the Harbour-master wanted the diver to bring their boat around and do a dive and try to ascertain why the dredger may have sunk.
“I can’t do that” replied the diver, “my mate is off today so there is no one to work the air pump”.
“Can’t you use these two lads to work the pump?” asked the Harbour-master.
“Have any of you lads worked with a diver before?” to which Laurimer quickly answered “Yes”.
Jimmy and Laurimer climbed on board the diver boat and sailed it around to where the dredger had sunk, now only its keel showing above water at what was by now almost full tide, they set about preparing the diver for his decent. Jimmy helped him into a suit, so old, patched, and dilapidated it would have put a patchwork quilt to shame. Then came the heavy helmet, lowered and screwed down onto the shoulder plate. Jimmy could not help but notice that although Laurimer was quick to get us the job, as a divers assistant, he was less willing to get involved in anything to do with the diver, and spent a lot of his time meticulously inspecting every inch of the air pump. Before the glass was screwed into place the diver again went through the signals on the safety line, as he ran through the signals Jimmy would nod at each instruction as if he really did understand. Now ready the diver was helped from the stool and clumped his way to the stern and descended the ladder and was soon out of sight, only a stream of bubble remained as he disappeared into the murky depth of the harbour. Jimmy paid out hose and line as Laurimer gave a slow, steady cadence on the pump. The diver had been down a long time now and Jimmy was getting a bit concerned over his safety
“We are just about out of hose and line, do you think he is OK down there?” he asked.
Laurimer having no more idea than Jimmy, asked, “Has he given you any signals on the line?”
“No” Jimmy answered
“Then he must be fine” suggested Laurimer.
Unknown to the two would be diver assistants, the Harbour-master had telephoned down to Leith asking for a salvage team to be sent up to Grangemouth to remove the dredger from the harbour. As the salvage barge arrived the skipper called over to Jimmy, still standing at the stern of the craft paying out line and hose.
“Have you lads got a diver down?” he hailed
“Yes” Jimmy answered.
“Then you better get him in, he is floating half way down the Forth”
It turned out that the diver had been caught by the turning tide and had been pulling desperately on the safety line to be hauled in, but had only been feed more line and hose. He closed the valve on his helmet, inflating his suit and floating to the surface, where he would be spotted by his team. He had floated to the surface alright but was missed by the two seamen and floated all the out the harbour on the ebbing tide. As the glass was removed, Jimmy and Laurimer’s were admonished in the most colourful of language. Excitement over it was back down to the Crown, tomorrow they would head down to the Seaman’s Union.
The race was wide open now Scales with the narrowest of leads. Could Russell regain his crown? Would Bellamy be the dark horse? It all started quietly enough until Stan Jones touched a kerb and punctured, dropping off the back to make repairs.
In Stockton a stray dog intervened, Thomas swerving to avoid the dog, Greenfield to avoid Thomas, Thomas went down. Two of the BSA team Procter and Newman stopped to help their team-mate.
With the BSA men concentrated elsewhere, Russell seized his chance, and off he went like a greyhound out of the trap. At the Back Brow climb, he kicked once more and increased the pressure on the four riders that had gone whit him. By the summit, he was all on his lonesome moving fast and strong. In the main bunch Maitland, the only remaining BSA man watched Steel closely. A lapse of concentration on Maitland’s part and Ian steel was off down the road and out of sight. Minute by minute he overhauls Russell’s dropped tail first Matthew, then Van Den Doorn. Pottier, finally overtaking fourth man Trevor Fenwick who jumped on Steel’s back wheel. Soon they united with Russell and all three worked together opening up their lead on the chasing group. Trevor Fenwick dropped off, the pace Russell and Steel set was too hot for him, covering two miles in just three minutes at one point. This was superhuman stuff from these two. The enthusiastic crowd that packed the finish in Scarborough saw the two race wheel-for-wheel for the line. Ken Russell crossing the line with a bike length to spare over Ian Steel and five minutes ahead of the main bunch. Ken regained his Maillot Jaune, Ian Steel’s effort moving him up into sixth place overall. The time three hours, twelve minutes, and forty-five seconds. (average very close to a mile ever two minutes).
Monday is my allotted time in the laundry, so my rest day from the bike. Still, not a day to loiter for tomorrow would be my ‘Big Ride Out’, along the coast following the north shore of the River Forth.
Washing safely in the machine, it was off up to Aldi, home again, breakfast then out to the van, bike out, ready for a good wash down and checking over. I never like to fill my pannier bag with “Just in case” equipment, I only take essentials, for tomorrow’s trip that will include my cycling cape, Elie Weather tells me I could experience the odd shower. I learned a long time ago, when deciding, what to take on a journey should always start by me asking myself this question, “Who will have to carry it?”, anyway on this trip I have my “Get you home service” in my wallet, my OAP bus pass.
With my knickers drawer once more fully stocked I am happy. Well, I might have an accident. Mum would be black affronted if the doctor was to take her aside to tell her, “Your son will be fine Mrs Hamilton, but, much as it grieves me to tell you, he hadn’t changed his knickers”.
Trees devoid of leaves now, looking rather forlorn,
Casualties of frost and winter’s storm,
But one tree remains for us to delight,
Leaves, evergreen as emeralds,
Red berries shining bright,
A little ray of sunlight,
That sends long dark days to flight.
The timber carriers
The timber we had brought over from Finland was hanging off our port rail, the North Sea had tested our little boat, it had been a rough passage, now however all that was behind us as we listed our way up and into the shelter of the River Forth and the port of Grangemouth. It was a Friday morning and by noon we would be paid-off, at least until the timber was unloaded, that would be Monday at the earliest.
In the Crown that evening, Laurimer suggested they take a job unloading the timber over the weekend, give us beer money if nothing else.
“Have you seen the size of those timbers, or felt the weight of them?” Jimmy was not so sure that this was such a good idea, but Laurimer could be very persuasive, so the next day they both reported for duty down the docks. Now unloading timber was mostly left to women and these girls were no wimps. Within an hour both men’s shoulders and necks were raw, even the old coat no longer seemed to gave any protection from the rough cut 6X4 timbers they carried from deck to the lumber yard, each trip becoming more and more a marathon.
“Maybe stacking the timber would be easier than carrying it?” said Laurimer. On their next trip, they started a new stack and soon found themselves snowed under with planks of wood, being dumped by the women at the bottom of their fast-growing tower. The stack was climbing fast, but not all that straight, Jimmy up on top, Laurimer passing up batons and giving guidance, “A wee bit more to the left Jimmy” or we bit the other way. It was not long before the foreman came over and told them that if at any time he needed a couple of good stackers, he would let them know. In the Crown, not much later, it was unanimous, they would not be going back carrying timber.
Stage ten would decide the king of the mountains competition, the last prime point of the race would be decided over Carter Bar, sixty-four miles south of Edinburgh, on the Scottish English border. One point separated Procter and Greenfield, whichever of these two men could broach the summit within the first five leading cyclists, would be crowned King of the Mountains.
Thirty-three miles into the race proper in the little town of Galashiels the first successful breakaway come. Bob Maitland rapidly drew clear of the peloton taking Yeaman and Scales with him. Within ten miles, they had managed to open up a three point-five minute lead over the chasing pack, by twenty miles, they had doubled that to seven minutes. Carter bar did nothing to slow the trio, they were still gaining time over the peloton.
This was no longer about the stage win, the BSA team wanted the Maillot Jaune, either man Maitland or Scales could take it so close were they in calcification, only one point separating the two men. Yeaman made the summit first with a short sprint to take the prime point, whereupon the trio regrouped and went back to work consolidating their lead.
The peloton left Procter and Greenfield to fight it out for the fourth place over the mountain. It was Procter on the day that found that little extra and crossed the line giving him the two points and the title King of the Mountains 1952.
Despite the peloton’s efforts, they could not close the breakaway down, the finish when it came was breathtaking as each rider, in turn, tried to get his wheel in front of the other. Right to the line it went, Scales the victor on the day. This changed much in the classification as Bob Maitland now moved up into second place and Ken Russell, who only managed to finish five minutes behind in the main bunch dropped to third overall, still with Bellamy biting at his heels in fourth. Les Scales’s time was four hours thirty-two minutes and twenty-seven seconds.
Climbing, swooping, clowning, high above the tree,
I’m thankful of the time allocated to me,
Watching nature unfolding, so wild, so free.
The next morning with sillar in pockets they headed for the Seaman’s Union, there was berth for both, on a ship sailing from Southampton, but not until the end of the week. Still, the lads were in much better fettle when they boarded a train for Southampton and booked themselves into the Seaman’s Mission. On reading the noticeboard they found a card, offering work in nearby fields picking peas. So with time to kill, both set out the next day for the pea fields.
On reaching the fields, that stretched from horizon to horizon, a bunch of men was loitering around waiting for the farmer, when he arrived each was told to take a sack and given rows to pick. The work was backbreaking stooped low over the crop. In adjoining rows, the two young men chatted away as they went. Without warning the sound of cars pulling up near the fence line halted their conversation. As they look on half a dozen men jumped from the cars. They quickly climbed the fence, fanned out, and set off hot-footing it into the field. Jimmy and Laurimer looked around them, they could not at first understand why a field, that only minutes before had been alive with pickers was now deserted, that is until one of the men running past said,
“I take it, you two are not signing on?”.
Laurimer, never one to miss a trick started up the row filling his sack from all the others that had been abandon. “Two full bags each should be enough for one-day picking, what do you say Jimmy?” as Jimmy quickly joined his fellow shipmate, filling the own sack.
The same wind that had brought them speeding into Dundee was their adversary on the road south, sapping at their strength with every turn of the pedals. It would not be until beyond Kincardine Bridge when their road would take then east towards Edinburgh, would they find any respite from the relentless wind. It was the Belgian rider Michaux along with Howarth and Wood that made the first break, some fifteen miles out of Dundee. Ian steel, a tough campaigner in these conditions chased them down, forging forward into the teeth of the gale. His size making him an ideal windbreak caused the two Manchester riders to follow close on his wheel, tow others joined in, soon Ian was towing a chain gang of four behind him, taking four miles to make contact with the breakaway. Clark, one of the two Manchester riders, who had gone off with Steel won the prime point beyond Aberdalgie when he burst past Procter on the summit. Ian led the front nine riders over the Kincardine Bridge, picking up speed as he did so. As they sped along the long straight into Winchburgh, the huge crowd that had gathered along its length chanted “Ian, Ian, Ian” in loud voice and multiples there off. (I know for I had persuaded my father to take me over there on the back of his motorcycle to see them pass, I was so delighted to see my hero lead the race, it lasted but seconds really but they were unforgeable seconds). Ian responded by pilling on the coals. It was impossible to believe that one man could hold the front of such a group of athletes as these over such a distance, forcing the pace and never tiring almost all the way out of Dundee. Eight men swung into Marbury Road for the final sprint, what a finish as rider after rider tried to gain a lead. Ian Steel would not be robbed of victory after such a herculean effort and throw himself at the line. Ian crossed the line inches ahead of Don Wilson and Bevis Wood, Ken Russell finished in the second group some two and a half minutes down. Ken had again done enough to retain his overall lead, however, his coat was now hanging on a shaky nail. Ian Steel’s time, thee hours fifty-nine minutes and thirty-three seconds.
“Let’s get cleaned up and go for a pint”, it was Laurimer, six-three, and had, what can only be described as a hungry look. Laurimer grow up in a musical family his father, an accordion player, was registered blind, so would along with a sighted war veteran, travel around the large towns and cities, busking and playing at local dances at the weekend for the rent money. Laurimer, for he never used his first name, so as not to be confused with his old man, left school at the age of fourteen, like most young lads at that time and went straight down the pit, then as Jimmy had done, at the aged of sixteen, went off to war both joined the Royal Navy, serving three in the colour – three in reserve. On demobilization, it was down the pit or go to sea, both eventually ended up in the Merchant Navy.
“What wi’ buttons, we won’t get a penny until we sign off” Jimmy retorted, not a little grumpy, he hatted the insecurity of the depression.
“How much have you in your pocket?” Laurimer asked.
“That’ll be enough, get your glad rags on, Folkestone awaits” and before Jimmy could agree or disagree Laurimer was off down the companionway.
They had looked in four pubs now but had not found what they were looking for, one with a piano, then they struck gold. “This is the place” Jimmy was assured, by an ever effervescent Laurimer. “You get a couple of half-pints whilst I go to work”.
Laurimer was a good pub pianist, and he only needed to hear a tune once before he was able to sit down at the piano and bash it out, so knew all the hot numbers of the time. Settled at the piano he started playing a medley of the latest chart-toppers. Just as people were starting to pay attention, and glum souls were reawakening from their gloomy thoughts, down went the lid of the piano, and Laurimer joined Jimmy at the bar.
“What did you stop for, the folks were enjoying your playing?” asked the barman.
“Well to tell the truth, and Laurimer went into his long sad tale. We have just docked and all we have is enough to buy a couple of half-pints, when these are finished, we’re finished” Laurimer had the glib tong of the Irish, and although Jimmy knew him well enough by now, he almost had a tear in his eye.
“Is that all, well get back to your piano and I’ll pull a couple of pints for you both” was the bartender’s retort. Laurimer once more seated at the piano with Jimmy giving a wee bit song and soft shoe snuffle alongside. On their homeward voyage, back to the ship, their wake was making every letter in the alphabet.
In the first miles, many attempted a breakaway but quickly brought back, the peloton was having none of it. Then came the long hard climb over Forteviot Hill, a trio made up of Ian Greenfield, Peter Procter and Bob Maitland forced their way clear. They fought it out for the day’s prime point and it was in that order they went over the summit. Greenfield taking it by five lengths over Procter, Maitland squeezed out on the line. Easing slightly to catch their breath opened the door for Gordon Tomas who took off like a scalded cat chased by a small group of nine who eventually joined up with him all now riding like demons. Ken Russell determined to regain his Yellow Jersey went with them and struggled for fifteen miles to get in touch with the leaders. Along the Esplanade, Ian steel made an extraordinary effort in order to cross the line first but went too early, he blew, allowing Scales, Tomas, and Russell to shot around him finishing in that order and all within a wheel’s length of one another. Ken’s third placing and bonus reinstated him in the Maillot Jaune, Scales time, three hours eleven minutes and twenty-nine seconds. No, let up to the overall average speed, in excess of twenty-five miles per hour.
Only nine miles to the Scottish Border, the race was on from the flag for the prize, first to cross over into Scotland. All rose from their saddles, bum-up, heads down they headed for Gretna. The peloton held tight all the way, within fifty yards of the gold a Romford cyclist Tony Smith, opened up a small gap and won the keystane o’ the brig, carrying off the prize money. Eleven riders formed a fast-moving breakaway after Lockerbie battling it out for the prime over Beattock Summit. At over one thousand feet it is a grueling climb, still, this tight bunch kept the speed high, Gordon Thomas, the victor on the climb. As the long day of wind and drizzle drew to a close, Ian steel put in a big effort to be the first into his native city. Towing six men in his wake he caught up with the twenty-one breakaway front-runners on the outskirts of the city, but it was not to be for Ian, or the thousands of Glaswegians that had braved the elements in order to see him lead the tour into Glasgow. The Belgian Van Den Dooren was the man of the hour, he sat in the slack air of big Ian then sprinted over the line in three hours fifty-eight minutes and nineteen seconds.
I set out along the cycle path for Guardbridge safe in the knowledge that if you do not know where you are going, all roads lead you there.
At Guardbridge I decided to turn right for Leuchars, I passed up by the old RAF station, Lightning aircraft in my day, 23 Squadron. The Bears would leave Russia and travel down the North Sea (always within international airspace) the Lightning would take off from Leuchars on reheat. Off up into the sky, they would go, almost in vertical flight. By the time they had reached their potential target, whose presences, direction and speed, had been known for hours, their progress would have been tracked all the way by the radar stations, from the Shetlands all the way down the coast. There was never any threat, it was all their little war game, big erections for those involved, with such big boy’s toys. These aircraft burned fuel at an astonishing rate, so bad was their flight duration that if they went up on reheat then they would be so low on fuel by the time they reached their potential target, they would have to fly on to Norway to refuel for their return flight home.
Tim and I were on a cycle/camping holiday over by the Market Weighton, travelling along the line of the Wolds. We came across an old RAF airfield, now a Depot, for EX military equipment. There behind the tall mesh fencing, almost lost amongst an array of drab green lorries, forklifts and cranes was a Lightning aircraft. I cycled up to the office and asked if I could have a look over the Lightning, “Yes, and it is for sale” the lad jested. Strange I remember them as being bigger. Returning to the reception, Tim worked his magic, and I was offered tea and biscuits, Tim, substituted tea for a bowl of water. Thankfully my window box would not accommodate a Lightning, aircraft as a garden ornament, so with our thanks ringing in the lad’s ears we pressed on.
Reminiscing over, I cycled on to St Michaels where I turned back on myself for Dairsie (A92). The road was not as busy as I had expected, possibly the late hour, all those going somewhere were already there. As I passed Middlefield Farm entrance, two girls, possibly sisters (possibly twins) waited with bicycles for the road to clear so they could enter, onto it. On each rear carries was large flat boxes, dead give away, electrical assisted. Instantly the image of a Bingo caller came into my head “88” he called, provoking an instant reaction from the audience, “two *** ladies” such things are not politically correct now. Were we really that insensitive to the feeling of others or have we maybe just become a little too thin-skinned?
Electrically assisted bicycles and conversion kits for bicycles seems to be a growth market If you are struggling to make a living from your wee High Street boutique shop, more so after coronavirus, turn it into an electric-assisted bicycle, and conversion to electric, bike shop. However, remember the secret of a successful business lies “In allowing your customers – or potential customers – to be involved in any design of your sales and service decisions”. (Marketing jargon for ‘Market Research’). Keep well, and save.