Annfield Park, Stirling

When I first saw Annfield Park in the early 1970s, I thought it was a factory. In my defence I was 6 years old and all I saw was a crowd of miserable looking people walking away from a brick building. Annfield Park was, of course, home of Stirling Albion FC, an old stadium whose record crowd was 26,400.

My first visit inside the ground was on a sunny day in September 1976 and it was brilliant. Firstly, my pals were on the pitch getting autographs before the game and secondly Stirling Albion came from 2 down to get a draw against Meadowbank. Both goals saw a mini pitch invasion of teenage fans. I was hooked !

That 76/77 season, Stirling Albion were on fire. I went to almost all home games as we, yes we, beat everyone including Stenhousemuir in front of 1700 fans. One game v Clyde was memorable, winning 3-2 with many pitch invasions from both sets of fans. We won the league at Stranraer (too far away for 9 year old me) but celebrated the title win at Annfield on the last game of the season.

The players had great names too. Big Dave Steedman,Rab Duffin, ‘Louis’ Armstrong, Matty McPhee and supersub Billy Steele.

The next season saw us off to a flyer, winning at Dundee before a 2-1 win v Kilmarnock at Annfield, when I witnessed a Killie fan next to us pull a huge knife (fuck knows what happened after that as my auld man scooped me up and away to safety). Presumably he never told my mum as we were back 2 weeks later to witness a 1-1 draw v Alloa. This time I heard a polis swearing (“what a fuckin’ strike”) as Stirling netted a sublime equaliser. You didn’t get an education like this at Dunblane Primary School I thought to myself.

One Saturday, Hearts came visiting with 6,728 fans at Annfield and we took the lead in the first minute, a freak goal from a Matty McPhee cross. In the 2nd half though, Hearts were shooting down the slope and ran riot, winning 4-2. I was at the hospital end of the ground so the goals were flying in at the wrong end for me. Each goal, the ball would hit the net, the scorer would wheel away celebrating and then this roar would hit me. I’d never seen, or heard, anything like it.

The Annfield slope was famous. When Stirling were shooting down the slope, with the home fans in ‘the shed’ behind the goal, you always fancied them to score. Even after they levelled the pitch in ’87 and laid astroturf , that mentality was still there.

In the late 80s we had sold Charlie Gibson to Dumbarton for £50,000. He returned with his new team and Dumbarton were winning 1-0 at half time, with Charlie getting pelters. He ran out in the second half to jeers and cries of “Charlie, Charlie, get tae fuck”. Unperturbed, he turned and smiled at us, holding up his fingers to signal the score.

Well , he forgot about the slope mentality. And he forgot Stirling were shooting down the ‘slope’. It ended up 4-1 for Stirling with Charlie wishing he’d never returned to Annfield.

The greatest result I saw at Annfield?Beating Celtic 1-0 in the league cup one night in 1980. Couldnae believe it. I remember Celtic fans ruffling my hair outside the ground and joking with my dad about lifting me over the turnstile. I doubt they were as cheerful 2 hours later.

Within a year of that highlight, Stirling had got relegated and gone 20 games without scoring a goal. 20 fuckin games! Oh the shame. I got slagged at school relentlessly. I remember we missed a penalty at the shed end and another time a shot hit the post and rolled along the goalline before being cleared. When we finally scored it was a penalty (at the shed end obv).

Annfield was demolished in 1993 I think and the club moved to a shiny new stadium with no atmosphere (not even a slope ffs). Its never been the same for me. And they built houses on the hallowed turf of Annfield Park.

Perhaps because of this, I like to visit old stadia, the more decrepit the better. Pittodrie was impressive with its peeling paintwork, San Paulo in Naples charmingly crumbling but the prize must go to Boness Uniteds Newtown ground it really is a dump. I love it.

PS Just discovered Boness are getting astroturf laid.

Loch Dochard

Last weekend I managed to go wild camping. This was one of my new year resolutions which looked doomed after Covid-19 kicked off. However, once lockdown was relaxed, I dug out the tent and rucksack and hit the road.

Sadly, I didn’t hit the road early enough and there were tailbacks at Callander, Crianlarich and Tyndrum. Weegies queued for ice cream in Callander, campervans crept up Glen Ogle, motorbikes whizzed past me and tourists swarmed around the Green Welly Stop in Tyndrum.

I turned off at Bridge of Orchy, and drove past tents and bikers at the old bridge. At the Inveroran Inn, there were maybe another dozen tents and I managed to park on the grass verge just beyond them. Grabbing my 12kg heavy rucksack, I strode off westwards with Shitzu in tow.

I took the right of way to Loch Etive, the track going through Caledonian pines before following the Abhainn Shira. Visibility was good with sun coming out occasionally and a nice breeze from the north. The mountains formed a craggy skyline in the distance with Stob Coire’ an Albannaich prominent. Its name means the peak of the corrie of the Scotsmen (not sure why).

I had only gone 2 km when I spotted two stags up ahead about to cross the river. I stopped, waited and got a nice photo of them midstream. Pleased with myself, I wandered on and had to ford the river and some burns, jumping across from boulder to boulder, Shitzu amazingly keeping dry too. One false move and I would have wet feet for the next 24 hours which would be disastrous.

I passed an ideal camp site by the river after 4km but it was too soon, not ‘wild’ enough. Heading on, the track climbed past a waterfall and then I saw Loch Dochard ahead. It looked perfect and when I reached the shore there was an obvious camping spot.

And what a spot. Right by the loch looking across at Stob Ghabhar, Meall nan Eun, Stob Coire’ an Albannaich and Ben Starav. It was late afternoon and the midges were out though so I got the tent up pronto, flung the mat and sleeping back inside and kept walking west along the track. Sadly after another 3km, the track dropped into the head of Glen Finglas and the munro I had hoped to climb, Beinn nan Aighenan, looked a beast with no path visible, just bog and rocky outcrops.

Using the Shitzu as an excuse, I deemed it too late to climb the hill and we wandered back to the tent. There were two tents pitched further along the shore and a boat out in the loch when we got back to the tent. The sound of muffled voices carried across the water and I got the impression it was father and son camping and fishing. Later on they had a fire going.

After walking 12km with a rucksack that day, it was an early night (dark by 9pm). I didn’t sleep too well, the ground was hard despite my mat and the midges put me off going out to look at the stars. I must have slept though because I woke up to daylight at 7am.

I was dreading dropping the tent because of the midges but they werenae too bad, possibly it was too cold for them. It was almost September and we were 225 metres above sea level in the mountains. I guessed it was 5 degrees and the tent was wet with dew.

However, it was just a 6km walk downstream back to the car at Inveroran and by 10am I was driving past Bridge of Orchy Hotel, laughing at hungover looking folk setting off on the next leg of the West Highland Way, probably heading to Kingshouse Hotel in Glencoe. I stopped for a coffee and ham roll in the wee spar at Tyndrum and was home for high noon.

And that was my first ever ‘wild camp’ and although it wasn’t exactly Scott of the Antarctic stuff, its given me confidence that I can carry the load and camp without a disaster. Maybe next year I can head into the Rough Bounds of Knoydart or something.

To be continued…..

Pabbay and The Sound of Harris

Pabbay is an island in the Sound of Harris. Its a lovely island with a history perhaps all too familiar in Scotland, an island where once over two hundred people lived and now only sheep and deer roam. From South Harris, especially Northton beach, it is unmistakable, a pyramid shaped island floating in the Sound. And its also the reason our wee hoose is called Pabbay Cottage…..but thats not important right now.

Theres lots of wee islands in the Sound of Harris and the ferry from Berneray has to zigzag its way across the water enroute to Leverburgh. If you climb Roinebhal on Harris you get an amazing view of all the islands. I’ve been lucky enough to be taken out in a boat by a local, once to drop a shepherd on an island and another time to let a man dive for scallops.

Both trips were an education for a mainlander. I sat there as a local crofter steered the boat in and out all the rocks and skerries. He had to take the boat in close to an island to allow the shepherd to jump onto the rocks. He then threw the sheepdog in the sea and the shepherd fished it out with his crook. Poor dog but probably safest way to get it onshore.

The scallop diver, in a wetsuit on the other hand, went under for a good ten minutes and came back up with a fair haul. We waited a while for his body to readjust before he could dive and again he resurfaced (gasping) with a netful of scallops. These were sold to a local hotel for £1.10 each I was told. It was a privilege to watch both the island shepherd and scallop diver.

My third trip in the Sound was to Pabbay. It was brilliant, an experience I’ll not forget. That morning in May, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the Sound was like a pond. It was like being in the Mediterranean and visibility was perfect.

Perhaps it was because I knew the history of Pabbay, but I found it very atmospheric. The outlines of the houses are there, almost 175 years after they were abandoned, grass grown over the thick stone walls. On the island, the grass was short, reminding me of a links golf course and sheep wandered around. We spotted a bird of prey, sitting on a boulder nearby. It looked huge but I was assured that it was a just a young sea eagle.

The ruined temple is still standing and I had a good wander around it. The views back towards Harris and also south to Berneray and North Uist are incredible. You also have to remember in the 1800s, living on an island was not a disadvantage: boat travel was easier than crossing the rocky terrain of the Western Isles. Pabbay was therefore a great place to live, especially as its fertile soil was good for growing crops.

And that’s where it went wrong. The islanders grew barley and used it to distill illicit whisky. The story goes that whenever the exciseman visited in the 1840s, the ferryman would hoist a flag as a warning. Except one time he forgot. The islanders were then evicted and many settled on Harris.

We believe that’s when the house at No. 2 Obbe was built, around 1846. We believe it was built by a Pabbach, in an elevated position up the glen above Obbe (Leverburgh), so that they could see their former homeland.

So it was fitting that when we renovated the blackhouse, which had become a ruin, we called it Pabbay Cottage. Every day’s a school day, eh !

PS Tomorrow is the 90th anniversary of the St Kilda evacuation and theres an online commemorative event. The difference here being the islanders requested to be evacuated.

Interrail 1988: Athens to Alps

On 18 June 1988, I had arrived in Athens by train after a 36 hour journey from Austria and despite tiredness and scorching heat, I headed out with my new pals, 3 London coppers. We visited the Acropolis and then found a bar to watch England lose to Russia in Euro ’88. I found this highly amusing and the lads took it well. Day turned to night and we drank ouzo on the roof of the hostel til 3am.

Next day went got the train to Patras for the ferry to Corfu, crossing the famous Corinth canal en-route. One of the policemen, Plug, had forgotten his passport and had to return to Athens. We got the overnight ferry and slept on deck under the stars.

Corfu was lovely and a mellow week was spent on the beach, in the sea and in the bars at a quiet resort. We hired mopeds and zoomed around bareheaded idiots. One night we went to the beach to see dozens of turtles and another night a storm nearly blew the tent away.

After a week, we got an early morning ferry (8 hour crossing) to Brindisi, Italy and then an overnight train onwards to arrive in Naples at 5am. Neds had stolen gear from two of the polis guys who had stayed in first class whilst we in second class were fine. After reporting this to local police we visited Pompeii. We were all shattered though and Pompeii was underwhelming, the highlight being Plug stood on a lizard and immediately another lizard ran up and ate it.

We headed to Rome where we parted company. After whizzing around Rome for 4 hours and seeing the Colosseum and Vatican, I caught the 8.05pm train to Foligno then walked miles to find my hostel. That day sums up my interrailing tour, zooming around trying to see everything (overnight train to Naples, Pompeii, Rome then two hour train to Foligno presumably for cheap digs before visiting Assisi next day).

So after a good sleep in a hostel, I visited Assisi. Sadly I wasn’t allowed in the Basilica of St Francis ‘coz I’m wearing shorts’ but Assisi was ‘nice wi hunners o’ wee streets on a hill’. (Lucky I kept a diary with these gems of information huh).

I continued whizzing about Italy like a madman for the next three days, visiting Florence (nice), Venice(if it sinks, I’ll no’ miss it), Bologna and Rimini before getting an overnight train to Interlaken in Switzerland. After the busy Italian cities it was a refreshing change to be in the Alps. Got the cog railway from Wengen up into the Bernese Oberland then walked up see the Jungfrau and the north face of the Eiger. It was amazing postcard scenery.

Back in Interlaken I didn’t have enough money for the hostel so I camped by the lakeside where two young lads befriended me and brought me coffee and sandwiches. I lit a fire and all was good after my frantic five days in Italy.

Next day , 2 July, it was onwards to Annecy in the French Alps then overnight train to Barcelona as my crazy European adventure continues…

Day 250

*As an introduction, today is Day 250. I have not touched alcohol in 250 days. I’m still aff it.

I had that dream again last night. In it, I wake up with a drooth and the realisation I had a swally the night before. Ah shite. I count the empty bottles….

Last nights dream had me camping in Harris. The empty bottles were littered around the tent in the morning. I clear up the debris. I go to the wee wooden shop, more like a shed, and by chance I meet Willie. I’ve not seen him since before lockdown. Should I shake his hand ? But he hugs me, it feels good and I hear myself say lets have a dram tonight. Just like that I fall off the wagon…..

When I wake up I am relieved. Just a dream, albeit a strange Covid-19 alcohol anxiety related dream.

Its a good feeling being aff it. Good for the soul. Losing a bit of weight gave me the confidence to go up the hills again. A year ago my hip was sore and in darker moments I thought my hillwalking days were over. An x-ray revealed osteoarthritis. I even bought walking poles as a last resort. Since then I’ve lost a stone in weight and my hip feels fine.

I’ve also started running again, after an absence of 15 years. I’d forgotten the buzz that comes with running. And this Strava thing on my phone means I can see my exact route, altitude climbed, timings for each km ran. Its amazing the technology. Today I ran a 5km in 26 min 5 secs.

And so on our recent holiday to North Uist, I experienced a new sensation. Sobriety each evening meant I could drive to the nearby beach, walk the dogs and watch the sun go down. My wife and daughter came along, sharing a bottle of cider, and we had a great time.

I also twice went for a run in the morning, again a novelty, especially when I got stuck behind a herd of cows on the road. My presence seemed to spur on the cattle into a jog and the crofter even shouted over to me ‘are you looking for a job?’ The second time I ended up on the beach and before I knew it I was in the Atlantic for a quick swim!

The downsides? I feel the cold more, probably because I’ve lost a bit body fat. Need to get thermals before winter. Had this been a normal, non global pandemic year, I would probably miss the pub too but I am in no rush to sit in a pub. Not now.

Which reminds me, see at the start of lockdown when everyone was saying ‘when this is all over we’re gonnae have some party!’

You don’t hear anyone say that anymore. How naive we were !

Braeriach

A big day on the hills you cannae beat it. Just a man and his dug and one simple goal : climb the 3rd highest mountain in Scotland. At 4,252 feet above sea level its a beast but the weathers glorious (I never go out on a miserable day, whats the point..soaking wet, nae views..).

Left the house at 6.45am and set off from the Sugar Bowl car park at 9am. I even paid the £2 for parking. The walk follows a lovely path over a burn by a wooden bridge then up past the shelter where the ranger was feeding the reindeer. You don’t see that in Dunblane, I comment to the Shitzu who looks on, astonished.

In Dunblane, you don’t see snow in July either but here in the Cairngorms you can see snow fields high up in the north facing corries. You forget how cold it can be up there and too often I forget to pack hat and gloves because the forecast is scorchio and 20 degrees.

We walk on past isolated pine trees and the heather (which really is purple). Past another burn, jump across the boulders, stoop to get a drink. The water tastes of snow I swear. Is that possible? In winter, folk say theres snow in the air so it must be possible. Plus it probably is meltwater.

We then enter the Chalamain Gap which is like something out of Lord of the Rings. A giants boulder field fills the gorge, the path stops abruptly as if theres been a massive rockfall the night before. I clamber over slanting boulders, jump down crouching, pull myself up onto another rock and turn round to see the Shitzu following. Shes fae Tibet. This is a doddle if you’re fae Tibet.

We finally reach the head of the gorge and the view is amazing. The path lies ahead and below us, dropping into the Lairig Ghru and then up the shoulder of Braeriach which is a huge mountain, with scalloped corries and snow fields. We breakfast in the Lairig Ghru beside the burn. The water is so clear and the air Alpine.

And then we climb…and climb. An hours solid work takes us onto the plateau, an arctic tundra where we cross occasional boulder fields before dropping down and one final slog and we’re on top of the world, 4 hours after leaving the car park. Theres not a breath of wind on the summit. Total silence.

Others walkers are there too and we nod to each other. Its like visiting a sacred site (a mosque?): nobody wants to break the silence and ruin the moment. I put a stone on the cairn and think of my folks and also, of my old football coach who died in a mountain bike accident the day before.

Two men are talking in hushed tones, pointing to distant peaks. Can you see the Paps of Jura, I joke, bringing down the tone. Wry smiles show no offence taken. No but see that there, over the shoulder of Cairn Toul, theres two peaks…see them ? Thats the Lomond Hills in Fife. Must be 60 miles away, adds the other. We look into the distance. 60 miles. Silence. Turning round I can see the Moray Firth and hills beyond and in the east the flat line of the North Sea. Out west theres a line of jagged peaks I can’t identify.

We retrace our steps. Its a long haul and this time I carry the Shitzu through the Chalamain Gap. Four legs better than two? Not here. 3 hours later we arrive back, tired but happy, at the car park. Loch Morlich then Aviemore are mobbed as folk revel in the relaxation of lockdown rules so no chippy but we stop in Kingussie for food and picnic below the shell of Ruthven barracks.

We arrive home after 8, about 14 hours after leaving the house. I proudly write in my munro book and literally tick off Braeriach on my munro map. I’ve now completed 124 out of 282 but its a lifetime project (although the Inaccessible Pinnacle on Skye is unlikely with my acrophobia).

Strangely the next day I have no sore muscles but its days before I get my energy levels back to normal. None of us are getting younger haha.

Scottish Islands

There is something magical about going on holiday to a Scottish island. Maybe its in the blood (Viking blood?). My mum certainly had all her summer holidays on Bute as a girl. Doon the watter. We, on the other hand, have gone a bit further…..

Over the years, as the kids have been growing up, we have been to Mull, Barra, Tiree, Skye, Islay,Harris and Lewis. Each holiday starts with a drive out west (to Oban, Kennacraig or Uig) then dive into the bowels of the Calmac ferry, whilst the car satnav wifie wails “caution…ferry!”

You then squeeze out the car and clamber up the steep metal stairs. Kuro hates these. She waits for ages as we cajole then threaten and then finally she shoots up them like a rat up a drainpipe. We then find comfy seats in the dog friendly area and I head up on deck to watch the pier recede as we head out into the Minch (North Uist,Harris or Lewis journeys anyway). 30 minutes later I return, windswept but happy, down to the lounge deck and shout “whos wantin a Calmac curry?!”

After the traditional Calmac curry (Calmacaroni optional), its back up on deck to watch for dolphins and to look for our destination. When we first arrived in Harris, we thought we’d landed on the moon ! It was so rocky. As the boat docks, you head down to the dimly lit car deck, squeeze into your car and wait. Eventually the ramp is lowered, light floods in and you drive out blinking into the dazzling sunlight/drizzle*(delete as appropriate).

And it really is like being abroad. Maybe its the gaelic road signs, the sheep walking up the main street or the narrow roads with passing places but you definitely know you are not on the mainland.

And then you get out the car. The breeze is constant. Its exhilarating. You remark on this to your partner but they can’t hear you. “What?” they shout at you and you just laugh. And the air, the air tastes of salt.

The first beach you come to its ‘stop the car , stop the car!’. We tumble out, laughing, pulling on our jackets. The dogs shoot past us as we run/stumble across the machair towards the white sands. Its magic. The Atlantic crashing on the beach and you stupidly get caught by a wave, because you are a naive mainlander. Now your feet are soaking but who cares.

Back to the car, dogs trailing sand into the back seat and then the final drive to the holiday house. When the kids were tiny, they would sit on my lap and ‘drive’ the final mile to the house.

Our first family island holiday was Calgary Bay in Mull in 1999 to a remote croft. It was lovely but Mull was too busy and the locals were often eccentric Englishmen. One shopkeeper lectured me that milk was not a luxury after I bought two pints.

So, onto Barra in August 2001. Again a remote croft and the corncrake chorus at night was amazing. The locals were so friendly. They are all McNeils I think or so it seemed. Beautiful empty beaches and paddling in the turquoise sea on Vatersay, followed by crab sandwiches and chips in the Castlebay Hotel are great memories.

Anyway thats my memories of island holidays and soon we are off to a new destination. North Uist in August and the Calmac ferry from Uig to Lochmaddy. Hopefully we can get the dogs on the beach, fly a kite, eat lobster and scallop pizza (yes it is a thing) and get shellfish off the boats at the pier. Cannae wait!

PS Apologies for omitting the following islands but Tiree was very flat and very windy, Skye is now too busy and Islay is bad for your liver.

Dunblane Lockdown Walks

My usual dog walks from the hoose in Dunblane are as follows: oot to Hillside Farm, past Wanderwrang Cottage then along Tinkers Loan and back. Along to Anchorscross, into the big field, through the skinny woods and back. Over the bridge to the grass football pitches/Greenyards Farm and back.Great walks, nice and quiet. Maybe see the occasional bod.

And then lockdoon started! And aw these peepil started appearing on my walks! Bastards. ‘Fuck off oot o ma walks’ I wanted tae shout, especially at the start when folks were very nervous aboot social distancing.

So when we were allowed the 5 mile radius travel I started to drive a wee bitty then go for a walk. The golf course is brilliant, the dogs love it as theres so much space – until they ruined it aw and let golfers back on. The walk across the moor at Sherrifmuir is great too, a good path, tremendous views and you hear skylarks above. Out to Argaty and the old railway walk…too busy grrrr. Out to Kilbryde, lovely walk to the wee old church that turns out to be a mausoleum hiding under the 170 year old sycamore. Spooky even on a sunny day!

Further afield, Doune Castle is a brilliant wander down by the river. Always takes me back to pre season training when we flung Willie our trainer in the river. This year there were alot of folk wild swimming. I also ‘discovered’ Waltersmuir reservoir up Sherrifmuir. I think they dammed the Wharry Burn. Who knew? Its a braw spot though a bit of a hike to get there. Second time I visited I could hear shouts and splashing before I got there. Neds, I thought, turning round to head home. Last I heard its closed off due to vandalism. Typical. I’d just discovered it too.

Then theres The Ochils. Wanting to avoid the crowds I climbed Dumyat from the north side. Nice walk along a track towards Menstrie past a reservoir then climb steeply up to the summit before you know it. Sadly Ochils Mountain Rescue guys were filling bags with rubbish left by covidiots.

Finally, I climbed Blairdenon starting from above Greenloaning. Great walk with views west and north to at least 10 Munro peaks. Also saw the poignant memorial at the crash site of a Tiger Moth near the summit in 1957.

So, for all its been a torrid time for some and a boring time for others, COVID-19 has made us explore our own backyard as never before. I’ll certainly be going on these walks again in the future.

PS I forgot Gallows Hill at Park of Keir, the Laighills (how could I?) and the hill path up Glentye above Sherrifmuir Inn. And the Gathering Stone from Rylands Lodge, Ochlochy Park, walk across field to Ashfield…and so forth.

Istanbul

We went to Istanbul in June 2016. We flew direct from Glasgow to Istanbul with Turkish Airlines, best airline I’ve been on. Istanbul was amazing and full of surprises.

First thing was Ramadan. I was completely ignorant about Ramadan I must admit. Each night crowds would gather in Sultanahmet, whole families, and have a picnic after sunset in front of the Blue Mosque. In Ramadam, Muslims do not eat or drink during daylight hours. So families gathered after sunset to ‘break the fast’. I was fascinated. I couldn’t help compare it with George Square : if crowds gathered there at night it would be a huge swally, descending into carnage, bottles flung, polis arrive, horses charging in the fuckin lot. Not here though. Peaceful picnics, music and laughter as people watched the light show.

And that was the next surprise. Turks were very friendly and likeable, not like the volatile football fans I’d seen on TV with the infamous “Welcome to Hell” banner. Young men would sit in cafes each night, drinking tea. Families would stroll around the squares and markets. It was lovely.

And then there was the weather. I was worried the heat would be stifling but, because it’s on the Bosphorus, Istanbul had a lovely sea breeze. Each morning we had breakfast in the near empty restaurant, looking out across the tiled rooftops to the ships in the Bosphorus. Apparently Russia was boycotting Turkey so the numbers of tourists was tiny. It was great.

We walked for hours, visited the mosques and temples. The Grand Bazaar was incredible, the scents, colours and noise, constant bartering, haggling – “hey you, you English?” One stretch in particular was like going in a Turkish pinball machine. I was launched into the fray, buffeted, shouted at, tugged and cajoled until, 5 minutes later, I was spat out on the pavement, clutching a bag of spices, wondering what the fuck just happened. Then I wanted another go !

We took a boat trip across the Bosphorus to Asia. For a couple of hours we were on a different continent! We also visited Topkapi Palace and the iconic Byzantine Hagia Sofia with its 6th century dome. We had to take shoes off and wash our feet outside, then don a strange garb. Inside it was incredible and we were in awe, until an Iranian woman told us the mosques in Iran were better. Did ye, aye?

We climbed up to a mosque temple thing on a hill. It was lunchtime and we had a picnic in the sun. Just then there came the strange wailing from mosques all over the city : the call to prayer. It was quite an experience, the strange voices of the muezzins floating across the city.

Kebabs were the order of the day and the food was very cheap, the drink not so, alcohol being disapproved of in Turkey. There were also Turkish Delight shops and you could get free samples before buying. That was good fun. Also plenty of spices , saffron from Iran etc.

There was one strange quirk, maybe a Turkish thing : there seemed to be ‘council dogs’ wandering around. Dogs that had ear tags and lazed in the city parks and squares. Very odd.

On our last night we went to a rooftop restaurant on top of a 12 storey building. It was an incredible setting, looking across to the Sultan Ahmet blue mosque but it was gieing me the heebees, acrophobia setting in and there was only a silly glass balustrade at the edges…. and then a fuckin seagull buzzed me ! I lasted 5 minutes up there. Later that night we saw on the news there had been a suicide bombing at Istanbul Atatűrk airport. It took a while to sink in : later we found out 48 people died plus 3 bombers.

Next morning we went to Atatűrk airport with much trepidation…and it was fine. No sign of the horrific suicide bombing, only media and camera crews. It had literally been mopped up (apologies for the image). The flight was on time and almost empty and we sprawled out across the seats. At Glasgow airport, the woman at passport check said we were very brave to fly home. Only 50 of us boarded the flight out of 187 seats booked she said. In hindsight, I should have asked for a second meal.

So, despite the suicide bombing and stray dogs, Istanbul is amazing, folks. Go there!

Next stop, Iran !

Dad

Fathers Day Tribute:

My dad was George Campbell, born 26 February 1932 in Glasgow I think and brought up in the Gorbals. He and mum married in 1960. I was born in 1967, the ‘bairn’ of the family. The story is Dad caught the train up to Dunblane in 1966, walked up to the new street called Murdoch Terrace and, for £3300, bought Number 28. They had been living in Linden Avenue,Stirling prior to that.

My first memory of Dad is of him smoking his pipe. Whenever we went camping he would blow smoke in the tent to get rid of the midges. He would have a cigar on Christmas Day tho as a special treat.

He drove a pale blue Morris Oxford and on one famous occasion he took 11 of us in it to Doune to play football. Its possibly some kind of record. Dads folks had moved to Ardrossan and I remember visiting them in their tenement flat and weirdly I recall we got a flat tyre on the Dumbarton road coming home (no motorway in early ’70s?).

He first took me to watch Stirling Albion in 1978 at the old Annfield ground, lifting a 10 year old me over the turnstile. I would go on the pitch for autographs with my pals and he would chat with work colleagues. He was head surveyor at central regional council in Viewfield next door.

Football in ’78 was a tough environment. My mum wasnae happy as violence was prevalent and on one occasion a Kilmarnock fan behind us pulled out a huge knife. It was like something out of Crocodile Dundee ! Next thing dad whisked me up, over the hoardings and we’re on the pitch it was crazy. Dad telt me not to mention this when we got home.

Dad took me to Wembley in ’79 for the auld enemy clash. I’d had my 6 front teeth removed and been put under using gas at the dentist in Dunblane high street. When I awoke dad was telling mum not to worry and that he would take me to Wembley as a treat. Given mums fear of football violence I’m not sure that went down too well.

We spent many Sundays together golfing at Muthill. Dad was not the best golfer and many a swear word was heard. In fact his finest moment came when he threw a golf club to prevent a weasel from killing a rabbit. He was dead chuffed about that. After golf we would go to the Commercial Hotel for a ginger beer and a pint.

Dad enjoyed the bools at Dunblane Bowling Club and am told he was in his element with a drink and good company. He also attended a speakers club and I remember being proud as he gave an excellent speech at my sisters wedding.

I think Dad was happiest in the garden. I remember my pals gently taking the mickey when we were playing football in the school field opposite because he would whistle away to himself, something I do. He was also an early riser. On holidays in Carnoustie and he would come back to the holiday house with a newspaper and some rolls and some news of what the locals were doing.

Sadly Dad had a heart attack aged just 55 and suffered from angina for years after. He loved the grandchildren though and I’m glad he spent his final year seeing our Sean who born 1 June 1997. Dad died on 1 May 1998.

A final story which typifies Dads dry sense of humour. His brother Ian told me this one a few years ago. They were at a funeral in St Blanes Church (I think it was my mums mothers) and Dad said to Ian to look behind him. Ian turned round to see an ageing congregation. “Look at them” Dad said “theres nae point in half of them going home”. Ian just managed to keep his composure.

And that was my Dad. Every time I climb a munro I put a stone on the cairn for him. Hopefully this week I’ll get up Ben Vorlich, a mountain we climbed together in 1982.

Just don’t tell Nicola.