The Grand Tour: Fife and Beyond

Ramblings of an inveterate cyclist


Strange how you can read a line and it triggers all sorts of thoughts in your head. I had been reading a blog from a young cyclist in the Republic of Ireland, and reading between the lines somewhere in Munster, telling us about his time awheel.

I grow up towards the end of the Second World War, then came the depression, before things got better into the more affluent mid 1950. Cycling, too and from work was still the norm, and work was much more manual than it is in today’s world. The use of bicycles did not stop at commuter transport, bicycles for recreation was also commonplace. So in that way, we did not have to put in the effort or think too much about physical well-being, which happened naturally, and something we built up over the years.

My baby sister, on the other hand, was much more a child of the 1960s, she grew up with the motorcar. Once passed her test she bought her first car, you couldn’t get her out of it. She went everywhere in her car, in fact, if you removed the car from her life it would have been equivalent to removing her legs. She was one of the Grand Prix mums on the school run.

My baby sister had a quick mind, I never won an argument with Heather, so when she asked me to teach her to drive I knew it would not be that difficult a task.

I had taken heather out a few time over the weeks and on this occasion, she was visiting mum and dad. Hazel, a niece of one of my older sisters, was there too. I told dad I was taking Heather out for a driving lesson, dad was quite nonchalant about me using his car. We drove up and down the Cuddie Road a few times, then I suggested we might try reversing the car. No problem with the reversing.

“Now draw forward to where the white stop lines would normally be on the road” I told her “and stop.” again not a problem.

Looking left and right, there was a car coming from our left but it was a long way up the road.

“You will make it out before he gets anywhere near us” I assured her.

In gear, hand-brake off, big roar of the engine, clutch dropped, we shot across the narrow road like a bullet out of a gun. I did manage to grab the wheel and turn it but not quickly enough, the car slid sideways into the ditch. The car, that had been coming towards us stopped, and the two young men inside gave me a hand to pushed dad’s car from the ditch, no harm done, those little Morris Minors were hardy little animals.

When we were all settled back in the car, I turned to Hazel, still in the back seat, and said,

“Now don’t you tell your granddad that the car went into the ditch”, and received a firm assurance from, hazel that she would keep quiet about the incident.

Parking the car at the door, Hazel ran quickly from the car and into the house,

“Granddad, granddad”, she cried out, “Heather crashed your car” – never ask a woman to keep a secret, that’s my experience.  

I watching ‘The Bridge’ from behind the sofa, into the early hours of Sunday morning. This drama has possibly single-handedly ended tourism to both Sweden and Denmark. Not only the inhabitants of these countries but those working within the police force itself are certainly strange. This is real compulsive viewing, as compulsive as Reacher in a Lee Child book. The main character, (a female detective) makes Spok look postpositively human. What an actor this girl is, to pull this character off so well along with all her idiosyncrasies. And that is possibly why this drama is such a success, the characters are so real and believable, even if they are a bit off the wall. can’t wait until the final episodes next Saturday, then it will be withdrawal symptoms for weeks after that.

A beautiful day, clear blue skies from horizon to horizon, there was a chill in the air, and the winds were light and out of the west. September – October seems to shaping up to their reputation as very settled months, certainly we are blessed today. I set out with the intention of going over to Falkland Palace, a big favourite of Mary (Queen of Scots). First thing I noticed was the amount of traffic out on the roads, thankfully all Sunday drivers so giving cyclist plenty of time and courtesy, and there was a good few of us out today. As I approached Ceres I thought why not go via Scotstarvit Tower,

I did but the door was firmly bolted against me, does not bow well for Falkland Palace.

I dropped down onto the A914 and travelled through Pitlessie, Balmalcolm and Kettlebridge for the Muirhead round-about, then on the A912 for Falkland. As I came upon the Putin Hill road, I decided to head up onto East Lomond once an important Pictish fort and settlement.

The local cycle club use to run the Purin Hill, Hill Climb up here, so I turned off and headed for the top. The object of the exercise was not to break any records but just cycling all the way up without humiliating myself by having to get off and walk, so that was my goal, an achievement in itself, a gold-winning medal effort and no mistake.

Problem one; cars coming down, a constant stream on what is a very narrow road only a car width at best. Problem two; potholes, some that could swallow up my front wheel with room to spare.

You find this all over the country, money is found to construct car parks at places of interest, or natural beauty (East Lomond is both). Pretty information noticeboard erected and picnic area provided.

Then the once beauty spot becomes a victim of its own success, and falls foul of foot and vehicle traffic, (check out Skye). The roads leading there become potholed and all but unable to drive on with anything other than an all terrane vehicle.

Slowly but surely I twiddled my way towards the top. It is not that it is all that steep, it is just that it seems to go on forever, I was staring out the front wheel long before I made the summit. Give that man a coconut, sorry we are out of coconuts, you will have to have a Bounty, hey, you bounty like them. I sat overlooking the Forth Estuary and the lands below, well worth the climb for this view alone, drinking my energy drink and eating my Bounty bar, they are moist and sweet. Just what the doctor ordered.

A good number of people were climbing up the footpath to where the fort had once been, at the top of East Lomond, (424m above sea level, the A912 is at 50m above sea level) me I had done enough climbing for one day, so just soaked up the day. The hill at this level was covered in heather and just starting to colour up.

If Scotstarvit Tower, was closed Falkland Palace likewise would I’m sure be closed (or possibly only the gardens open to the public). On my return down to the A912 I turned right and not left and headed for home, this time via Cupar and Guardbridge. It was a fine day out, a journey of around 35 miles, in glorious weather, the only complaint, if there was one, was the heavy traffic, bring back the coronavirus lock-down, please.

Whilst in his third year of an apprenticeship a young electrician made a visit to the doctor with a chest complaint. The doctor after examining the lad diagnosed the problem as stemming from damp and dusty conditions, that he was being exposed to down the mine. The young lad went off to the chief electrician and asked if he could be transferred to the main workshop for health reasons, whereupon he was asked to put his request in writing.

He did, and his request was granted, he was transferred to the workshop.

Unfortunately, his condition returned and once again he made an appointment to see the doctor. This time the doctor’s diagnosed the problem as him having an allergy to a substance he used daily in his work.

Again the lads went to the chief electrician requesting that he be exempt from handling such a substance, and again the chief asked for him to put his request in writing. The lad wrote,

“The doctor told me that I should not work with *******” Obviously he meant to write aerosols.

Change is in the air,

If you were to ask me what is the biggest change I have seen in my lifetime, I would have to say women coming to the fore. I don’t know how many of you would have listened to Michelle Obama’s speech from Regina Mundi? Anyone who lived through the 1970s and listening to her speech would, like me have had the hairs on the back of their neck rise, it was both inspiring and inspirational.

I marched on the streets of London against apatite in South Africa and in support of those women who marched on the parliament buildings in Pretoria. There they stood, defiant.

“Hit a woman and you hit a stone” was their war cry.

These words have stuck with me from that day to this.

I thought Michelle Obama would have gone farther in political life, believing she could have been a voice for change, even president. I feel it is such a pity that we can not choose the person, rather than a party leader, that we would want to run our country and not the failed political system we have at present, that puts the power in the hands of a person so few actually voted for. (I believe even Maggie Thatcher only received something like 12% of the total vote, that gave her absolute power, turning her into a duly elected dictator).

In May 2021 Scotland will go to the polls to chose who will govern Scotland and will be asked the question, do you want Scotland to choose its own destiny or have a foreign country (England) making these decisions on your behalf? If Scotland chooses to be governed by people voted into office, and not people they did not vote for, then for the first time since Mary Queen of Scots, will Scotland have a woman as its head. Now there’s a thought.

“You should always keep the backside’s of your politicians as close to the toe of your boot as possible”.  

Painting by Wlodzimierz Kmieck foot and mouth artist.

Autumn is already spilling into early winter, the Holly tree in the garden is festooned with berries, they are now putting on their winter red coats.

The students are back in town, with the cloth hire shops doing a roaring trade, for yesterday evening I saw many in the street, dressed I formal highland dress.

“School days are the best years of our life”

I am not sure how the coronavirus will affect numbers coming to study in Scotland this year, and then of course we have the dreaded Brexit to contend with, putting a lot of foreign students off coming to study at St Andrews.

On board a runaway train going down the track,

A one-way ticket, and no way back.

We have had some very strong winds over the month of August so the miles peddled have been curtailed. However the weatherman tells us that things will improve by next week, I’m certainly looking forward to the still clear frosty mornings.

Autumn is indeed a magical time of the year, for as the days draw in and the nights lengthen we get strange dawns. In the poem Sea Fever, John Masefield, the poet tells us,

And the grey mist on the seas face,

And the grey down breaking.

He is talking about the false dawn, we have all seen it but often overlook its presence, it just happens, nothing to write home to mummy over.

But Maisfield did notice it for if you are at wheel of tiller of you boat you will know that time well, when you see objects but they are difficult to make out.

In The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, the poet speaks rather puzzling of ‘Wolf-and-Sheep-While, again he is talking about a false dawn, a time when it is hard to distinguish one from the other.

And in France they say entre chien et loup, (our dog and wolf).

This effect is caused by debris in the atmosphere, in the northern hemisphere we see it after sunset in spring and before dawn in autumn. ‘Red sky in the morning shepherd’s warning’ makes sense if you can not distinguish Wolf from Sheep. Thankfully we simply can just enjoy the majesty of the false dawn in autumn.

Awake! For Morning in the Bowl of Night,

Has flung the stone that puts the stars to Flight,

And Lo! The Hunter of the East has caught,

The Sultan’s Turret in a Noose of Light.

Soon we will be into November and the American Presidential elections, although from what I can see they never stop campaigning for some office or other in America. I read an article in the Times, way back in 2010, if memory serves, it was about people spending vast fortunes running for various offices. Meg Whitman was running for Governor of California and sunk 120 million dollars of her own money into her campaign, a campaign that cost 145 million dollars. She was unsuccessful. Maybe she would have been better saying to the people of California, “If you vote me into office I will put 120 million dollars into helping solve some of the problems in California”. Would have been a much better (win-win) outcome for both parties concerned.

Just returned from a walk along the West Sands at St Andrews, there was a strong onshore wind against an outgoing tide, turning the waters into a carpet of dancing white horses.

A ball of playful boisterous fur,

The pup runs after a lone seabird,

Kicking up such a joyful din,

Engaged in a game he can not win.

The dog jumps up high into the air,

To catch a gull no longer there,

having floated upon effortless wings,

To land only yards in front of him.

Keep safe and keep those peddles turning.

The Torch’

When I was out in America there was this advert for a torch, but this was no ordinary torch this was a super-duper torch. This torch had been dropped from an aircraft, run over by a truck, and taken to the ocean floor, yet still worked. This torch was indestructible, according to the manufacturers, and to back up their claim it came with a lifetime guarantee. Well not quite, in the small print it read, “The guarantee does not extend to babies under 18 months old”.

Turban Johnny,

Following hard on the heals of depression and two world wars the 1950s was an affluent time for my mother. With her husband home from the sea and in permanent employment in one of Fife’s coalfields, mum for the first time in her married life, had herself a new council house, a steady wage coming in and a disposable income, but, with eight of us still at home, all would need fed and watered there was no rest for mum.

As the girls grew up and went off to work and boyfriends started to come around the house, dress awareness became more important to them. Although none were making great wages as yet, they did want to look their best going out to the dancing.

Door to door salesmen were a common sight around the doors in the 1950s, they sold everything from, vacuum cleaners to encyclopaedias to assurance policies. One salesman, in particular, was a regular at number 48 Wardlaw Way, I never found out his name but dad always called him Turban Johnny. You see Johnny was as a Sekh, very tall, and I suppose he would have been called handsome, by grown-ups, with his neatly kept beard and looking very regal in his blue turban. He came up from Manchester once a month by train and bus to our village, carrying his wares in the biggest suitcase you can imagine. It bulged in every direction and was only prevented from exploding open by two thick leather straps around its girth. His line was ladies clothing. Johnny had arrived at our door just as we were coming in from school on that his first visit, he asked,

“Is mother at home?”, which was his salutation at each and every visit.

Mum invited him in and after showing her a selection of his clothing she suggested he come back when the girls were home from work. Twin sets were very much in vogue at that time, but these were cashmere and very expensive. Not a problem Jonny would offer them credit up to a set amount, they could pay him on each of his visits.

Johnny always managed to arrive when the girls were home, so our living room would them be transformed into an impromptu fashion show, and once the girls had made their choices, the plead would be,

“Can I have it mum?”

That was a signal for Johnny to take out his book and do the sums, the cost against any money still owed, my sisters would wait with bated breath, then the magic words would come,

“Your daughter will look very beautiful in that mother”.

Johnny would become a regular visitor to our house in those years, although he did not always get a sale, for these clothes were special, and not for every day ware, they were looked after, hand washed and laid flat on newspaper to dry, then folded away in tissue paper in a drawer.

At each and every visit his greeting to whoever answered the door would always be,

“Is mother at home?”

One day it was dad who had answered the door to Johnny, and dad being dad called back into the house.

“Maggie, your son’s at the door”. Mother was not amused.   

Christmas, it would seem gets earlier every year. Already the adverts are appearing, telling us about bargains for Christmas, or buy now and delivery guaranteed by Christmas. I have always been against the commercialisation of Christmas. now we have the dumbing down of Christmas. No Christmas decorations in the streets that promote Christmas as a Christian festival, that is somehow, not politically correct, for it is offensive to non-Christians in society. Yet go down to Bradford and you will see Moslem festivals and Hindu festivals taking place, no one seems to object, in fact, they are welcomed in our multicultural society. This wee story came from such thoughts.

The girl sat on a stool her class of wide-eyed children in a semicircle at her feet, she retold the narrative, passed on by countless Sunday school teachers down through the ages, how Mary and Joseph arrived at Bethlehem to find ‘No Vacancy’ signs at every inn. A sigh of disappointment went up from the children as their teacher closed her book and announced the story would have to be continued next week.

Tommy was the first through the door the following Sunday and stood before his teacher, fingers fidgeted nervously. The young girl looked down kindly at the small unkempt lad in front of her, before asking “Yes Tommy?

“Please Miss has that man got a hoose yet?”

A smile broadened across the girls face, “No” she replied “But don’t worry Tommy, it will all turns out well in the end”.

Despite her reassurances Tommy was first to arrive the following Sunday, and the next and the next, only to ask the same question of his teacher.

“Please Miss, has that man got a hoose yet?”

The girl was preparing for the arrival of her class when an excited, breathless Tommy burst in through the door and announced,

“Miss! Miss! That man’s got a hoose”.

“Slow down Tommy”, she implored the breathless boy, words gushing from his mouth like a noisy babbling brook. “Take a breath and tell me once more what you are trying to say?”

“Its one of those wee prefabs down Wardlaw Way Miss, I was passing and saw a big furniture van outside number 17, that’s next door to Mrs O’Rourke, and Mrs O’Rourke, she said to the man in the van, Christ have you come to bide here noo?”

What happened to Christmas?

Look Jean what I bought in the Christmas sale,

This hat with a ‘drop dead gorgeous’ veil.

Oh, Joan! You really have gone quite mad,

Ever since they gave you that new plastic card.

Jean! Why must you be so mean?

Just look outside at the Christmas scene.

Outside the cafe the Salvation Army band played,

Sung carols and the nativity tale relayed.

Jean, would you listen to that din,

Wouldn’t be so bad if they could sing,

Anyway, why do they have to bring religion into everything?

Russia, was an ally of the British during the Second World War. For the duration of the war they would have on loan, two warships form the British navy. In the early 1950s these ships were returned, and made their way up the River Forth, and anchored in the channel, just of Rosyth Royal Dockyard. Jimmy and Laurimer were both now serving with the Royal Naval Ancillary Fleet, and based down at Rosyth Dockyard. Having volunteered themselves for Fire Picket over the weekend the lads had been ferried out to one of the ships now swinging at anchor.

As soon as the barge left on its return for the dockyard the two set to work searching every nook and cranny of the ship. Their search proved fruitless, not even an old pair of boots did they find on board the ship.

“Have you ever seen a ship so devoid of plunder Jimmy, not even an oily rag in the subs store?”

“Aye, your right there Laurimer, all those Ruskies have left us is dust, lets try the bridge, we may have better luck up there”.

Up on the bridge, there was a cupboard with a padlock securing it closed. “This is looking better, hand me that jemmy, Laurimer, ill soon have this open” offered Jimmy, his mood lighter now at the prospect of something worth a few bob in the cupboard.

before either man was able to make a move, there came a loud cough form the companionway, both men turned to be confronted with a young naval officer.

Clearing his throat lightly, he said in his clear educated voice,

“Those who steel from the Navy are bloody roughs, those that don’t, are bloody fools”

and with that he vanished almost as quickly and silently as he had appeared.

The padlock was jimmied off the locker but just like the rest of the ship, there was no booty to be had.

Members of the Royal Navy were able to buy duty free cigarettes, commonly know as ‘Ticklers’. These cigarettes came in round tins of fifty and clearly marked ‘Not For Resale’ however they were freely bartered around the dockyard. The practice was illegal, but the dockyard police as a rule turned a bind eye, well, many were themselves complicit in the practice. There was however one policeman, John Brown, these were contraband and low betide anyone caught with ticklers in their possession.

Enfield was one of two boats used to discharge and reload ships with ammunition, from naval ships before and after refit at the dockyard. The crew of Enfield were sitting around the mess table chewing the fat when the alarm was raised, “Brown on board”. All headed off to their respective quarters to hide any contraband that may have been left in plane sight.

Big John entered the mess, and cast a keen eyes around its small, bare confines. Jimmy looked up from a paper, that he appeared to be deeply engrossed in only seconds before, he greeted Brown with a nod, neither man said a word. The policeman move out through the mess and into the sleeping quarters. Nothing to be found, he left. As the boys settled back around the mess table, Jimmy lifted his cap from the table and asked “Anyone for a fag?” there under his cap was an unopened tin of 50 ticklers.

One day whilst pottering around the deck of my old Folkboat, a boat I had bought a few years off retirement, and spent nearly two years renovating. I had managed to change one or two planks, sister a few ribs, re-corking and make her shipshape and seaworthy once more. The intention had been to move to France and live onboard. From there I planned, over time, travelling across the canals of Europe all the way to the Black Sea, for this I would have to find a like-minded crew member along the way.

It was then I was approached by Fred for the first time. Fred then told me he had purchased one of the boats for sale in the marina. There were always boats for sale around the marina, and had even managed to negotiate to keep the mooring it was on, so few would have even realised that it had in fact changed hands.

Fred had purchased the yacht as a retirement present to himself and wanted to know how to lower the mast to fix a problem he was having with the wind direction and speed indicator attached at the masthead.

“Why lower the mast?” I asked, “I have a roll-up ladder that fits in the mast’s sail grove, you simply haul it up on the mainsail halyard, tether the foot and climb on up, it’s there if you wish to borrow it”.

Fred was not keen on climbing the mast so I went along and we soon had the wayward instrument firmly reattached. He then asked if I would mind accompanying him out, on what would be a maiden voyage for him as the skipper of his new charge, made sense, you really needed at least one another crew member to take lines as you passed through the locks.

“Great, I would love too”, since it was a smart 27 footer with all the toys onboard, more a case of hold me back.

I notice that although Fred managed the boat well under power, navigating the harbour and locks with ease, possibly much better than I could have, once the sails were set he had no idea what was going on. That first trip was a short four hours trip, ‘in and out’ on the same tide and once made fast we retired to my boat, Maggie. I lit the stove and we sat and blethered, whilst lubricating our throats, first with a pot of tea, then a glasses or possibly three of the water of life. Somewhere in the conversation, we arranged a weekend sail over to Bridlington. Now since we were both recently retired it made sense to take one boat and share the expenses. I would phone ahead and book us into the sailing club for the following Friday night, the club’s accommodation although basic, charging a very basic tariff, three-pound per night, great value, a hot shower always appreciated at the end of a trick. Fred would buy the provisions and diesel; I would pay the harbour dues and our fee at the clubhouse in Bridlington, a rather wayward tricycle and I headed for home.

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With an early tide and a fair wind we were soon rounding the Chequers Buoy and out of the estuary and into Bridlington Bay. On leaving the river the boat danced a lively tune of North Sea swell and as the wind picked up our mast bent as the sails strained in the strengthening wind and the standing rigging sang a melancholy song, we would make good passage for Bridlington.

Fred spent the hours down in the cabin frequently sticking his head out of the companionway to ask if I wanted another cuppa, chicken sandwich, or was I ready for another bacon roll? The boat well-founded had all the modern equipment on board, I loved all the electronic gadgets and the one I wish I had on Maggie, was the one that gave relative wind so you could make the best of it. Happy as Larry I sat at the tiller the boat tooting along at a cracking pace, spray flying from her bow.

We managed Bridlington with enough water to enter the harbour and tied up for the night.

Being a Friday the club bar was doing good business. We found ourself in the company of a small mixed group, who had taken up residence in the far corner. I was in good voice and gave them my rendering of ‘And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda’, then to get everyone singing ‘The Wild Rover’ and that great anthem form Alabama. ‘We Shall Overcome’.

Norma, was pitit with bottle-blond hair, cut close to her head. she flirted with me in her tomboy playful way, that was very infectious and flattering to me.

“Crab-apple” I told her.

“What! What was that you just said?”

“Crab-apple, you washed your hair tonight and you used crab-apple shampoo, am I right?”

She did not answer but leaned over a little closer than she really needed too, and pretended to sniff. “Lifebuoy”, you smell nice too” she teased

“We are only here for the one night” I come back at her.

“I’m drinking as fast as I can” she replied, pretending to be coy.

“Will you be staying on board tonight?” she whispered, taking a liberty and nibbled my ear lobe as she did so.

“Oh no, I’m far to scared of the dark – now if I had company….”

“But I’m a good girl” she returns, again putting on that shy face that made her even more attractive.

The incoming tide slapped ourhull, rocking me awake, and as the tide lifted and righted the boat from the mud of the harbour, I tried to come to terms with the strange surroundings. My head fuzzy, my eyes still heavy from lack of sleep, it was then she moved and I heard her whispered,

“I told you I was good”.

Breakfast, was much later and a sombre affair, with heads still suffering Friday night’s jollities. Fred came on board around 10 am and made ready for our departure and clearly had no desire to take the tiller, so we travelled our homeward leg with me once more at the helm and Fred on galley duties.

The passage back across Bridlington Bay was against a foul tide and unhelpful wind, I had been on autopilot for the last two hours and the buoy that marked the Canada wreck was a welcome sight. When we once more entered the Humber River, east of the Binks and west of the Chequer Buoy, it was already dark, but the wind was much more favourable. I set the boat on a course just outside of the shipping lane’s marker buoys, and asked Fred to take the tiller; I was going below to put my head down for half an hour and asked him to wake me when we made the fort. “Just follow the buoys,” I said as I pointed out the a buoy over the bow and a more distant one over the stern, “If you loose sight of the buoy just keep her heading west, you will soon pick up the next one, but don’t stray into the shipping lane” I warned before disappearing below.

I was asleep before my head hit the bench cushion. I woke with the boat rocking violently and the sails flapping. On coming up on deck, the land had vanished from sight and glancing at the compass it was clear that we were far out in the estuary and heading, for as far as I could make out, Holland. Instead of holding the boat on course Fred had simply let the boat take control, whatever way the wind wanted to take her. I furled the headsail and started the engine and set us back on a westerly course before handed back the tiller, we would motor sail the rest of the way in. I curled up on the cockpit bench for the rest of our journey and dozed to the steady beat of our boat’s engine. The lines of a long-forgotten poem came into my head,

What know you of harbours,

Who sail not on the sea.

We did many more trips under sail in Fred’s boat, and for all the miles and hours at sea Ted never understood the principle of sailing. I would sit by him and tell him what was going on but Fred was always keen to disappear below deck and leave me with the helm, not that I was complaining. 

Only the names have been changed to protect the guilty.  


Knoydart, is a peninsular on the west coast of Scotland and east of Skye, separated from the island by the sound you can not hear, the Sound of Sleat. Knoydart is very remote but such a magical place, you really have to take time out in the long summer days to do it justice. The first time we visited it was winter and the days were short. We had organised a drop-off by landrover at Arnisdale, were we had arranged for a retired shepherd to take us in his small open boat to the other side of Loch Hourn. During our time away he would spend his time visiting with the folks at the Glen Arnisdale estate. The first time we visited the estate boasted a young unmarried gamekeeper. A forester, his wife and two children, and since there was no school a retired school teacher lived in a car-a-van in their garden. On the second visit, the young gamekeeper had taken a wife. Our over ambitious route that day would take us first up Ladhar Bheinn then on to Luinne Bheinn, but as the old shepherd was concerned about crossing the loch in darkness we only climbed Ladhar Bheinn, even then it was getting dark when we hit the shore, where the boat awaited our coming.

We crossed the loch without incident, arriving outside the shepherd’s cottage, he and his wife lived in one of the houses strung out in a row along the shore. His wife welcomed us in to the snug and warmth of her home, a big fire was burning in the grate and after tea and fresh-baked scones and fruit cake, my eyes were closing, the heat was getting to me it would not have taken much for me to drop off to sleep in the big armchair.

There were televisions in Scotland at that time but here in the highland getting any kind of signal was near impossible, so the radio was their ear on the world. I was asked where I was from and when I said Dunfermline, the old boy was able to tell me the name of every member of the Pars (Dunfermline Athletic) football team and certainly knew more about the outside world news than I did. Then he asked,

“Will any of you lads be going near a big town, you see I need a new valve for my radio, I’m lost without it?”.

“Are you sure that it is a valve?” I asked.

“Oh, yes” he assure me “They all light up but that one”.

I checked the radio over for him and jotted down the chassis number, when I returned to Kinloss I went to the stores and asked for two of each valve for that chassis packaged them up and sent them off to Arnisdale. When we were leaving we tried to press money into the old boy’s hand, but he would not hear of it, so instead, we left him with a five-gallon jerry can of petrol and a used 150-foot climbing rope for his boat, his face light up as if we had just told him he had won the football pools.

We did very little, in climbing terms, but that was an unforgettable day, a trip that will live with me for the rest of my life.