How the East was Won

In 2006, I became manager of Doune Castle Ams. The previous manager had won almost everything and taken the club into the Caledonian League so it was a bit daunting. Doune however, had never won a national trophy, having lost the Scottish Amateur Cup Final in 1970 in extra time (a sore one as Doune had led 1-0 at Hampden with a minute to go).

The main aim was to perform well in the Caley Premier League (we finished 5th) but it was the East of Scotland Cup run that took the biscuit. The early rounds were all won easily and the quarter final was a home tie against Blackridge Ams.

On a dreich Saturday in March 2007, with the score 1-1, Blackridge took the lead late on. The ref however disallowed it for some unknown reason. Doune have always prided themselves on fitness (ever since that Hampden defeat in extra time) and we won 4-1 in extra time. I have to admit that I can’t even remember who scored that day at Moray Park.

The semi final was at Saughton Sports Complex on a midweek night against a physical Edinburgh side (cannae remember their name). We had been warned about them and it came to a head in the last minute. It was 1-1 when our Richie received a throw in and was assaulted from behind. The guy got a straight red and Richie, we discovered later, got a broken arm!

So I’m thinking rationally – ‘we’ve got an extra man here, we’re heading into extra time lets stay calm’. Big Stevie our sub had other ideas. Richies still lying on the ground and Stevies in my face “are you putting me on?” Actually I dont think he was asking.

So big Stevie went on and we put the free kick into the box. The ball wasn’t cleared and next thing its smashed into the roof of the net and heres big Stevie running towards us in celebration. His one and only touch of the match it was incredible!

We ended up in the wee nightclub behind the Meadowpark Hotel that night… the lads were buzzing.

The final was on 26 April 2007 at Almondvale Stadium in Livingston against a very good young side called Redhall Star. We had a team bus but it got stuck in rush hour traffic at Newbridge so we ended up arriving just 40 minutes before kick off. Redhall Star were already on the pitch warming up.

With a crowd of maybe 400 watching, we were lucky to go in level at half time and had our keeper to thank. Big McGirr still reminds people to this day. I simply told the lads to stay calm and stick at it. Sure enough a mistake let Hammy in to give us the lead after an hour and it was backs to the wall after that. We soaked up the pressure and, with two minutes left, hit them on the counter but struck the underside of the bar and it was cleared.

Redhall went straight up the park and created a great chance. I remember an auld boy behind me saying “aw naw, not again!”. Well big McGirr saved the day, launched the ball down the park and who else but big Stevie made it 2-0. Big celebrations followed and it was great getting my Sean on the pitch for the team photos. We ended up back in the Highland til yon time (and on a school night tae).

I always remember in the pub big Davie Eccles came over to me. “Well done, Tabs” he said in that deep voice of his “but you’re gonnae have to sort that midfield out”.

The following Saturday we hosted Drumchapel Ams in the league. They applauded us onto the pitch before we beat them 5-2. They were good times.

A final note : I never did find out who said “aw naw , not again” but I reckon it was an auld boy remembering how Doune had conceded a last minute equaliser at Hampden 37 years before. And thats football for you!

RIP Davie Eccles

Ben Venue:In Memory of Kuro

The Man Who Walks is driving north. After Doune, the mist is down and he has the headlights on. Passing through Callander its surprisingly quiet but then it is 8am. Suddenly he can see Ben Ledi above the mist, clear blue skies beyond. He smiles to himself.

He turns left, passes the Lade Inn then over the stone bridge as the road curves up and into the heart of the Trossachs. Loch Venacher on his left now, smooth as glass. The road is like a rollercoaster, blind summits and tight curves but hes in no rush.

He passes the wee church at Brig O’ Turk, remembers his friend got married there… what…20 years ago..which means probably 25 he thinks. The guests had a few pints in the Golden Lion in Stirling before the bus took them up and by the time they arrived he was dying for a pee. He chuckles as he remembers asking the meenister if there was a toilet in the tiny kirk. Oh the relief !

Finally he sets off walking through the ancient Caledonian pine forest, crossing a wooden arched bridge over the Achray Water. He climbs through the trees on a soft path and then up the glen. Above the trees, the suns out now and he sits down to rest, looking back over the mist to Ben Ledi.

When reaches the bealach between the two summits, the view takes his breath away. Below the mist still hangs over Loch Katrine and to the northwest he can pick out all the mountains hes climbed over the years : Ben Lui, Ben Cruachan, Ben More, The Arrochar Alps.

The last time he climbed Ben Venue was with the BBs, Dunblane 25th company. He can remember an officer joking. ‘Hey Alan’ he said pointing to Loch Katrine 700m below, ‘go and get me a drink of water’. Loch Katrine is Glasgows water supply after all.

Today, he can see the Sir Walter Scott steamboat leaving the pier, a V shaped wake in its trail. He can even hear the tour guide burble for the tourists – ‘on your left is the island that Rob Roy was born… oh yes…he was raised by wolves’. The tourists gaze in awe at the wooded island.

The Man Who Walks looks around for a stone, spots a white quartz rock the size of your fist. Perfect, he thinks, picking it up and heading up over rock strewn mountain top. At the summit, he takes a moment to remember Kuro, his companion for 13 years, a beautiful black lab who had passed away that week. They had climbed countless hills together, including a dozen Munros. He places the quartz rock on the cairn, a lump in his throat.

Theres three walkers eating their piece near the summit, looking down over Loch Katrine. Its very peaceful here, he thinks, Kuro would love this, she loved being outdoors, on the hill… and she loved food. Oh she loved food.

Suddenly all hell breaks loose. The walkers are up on their feet, shouting and waving their arms. Theres a young black lab hoovering up their pieces! ‘Shoo shoo’ shouts the women whilst the older man looks angrily towards the summit… but The Man Who Walks is no longer there. The Angry Man tries to catch the black lab but she dodges him, snatches an entire packet of jaffa cakes and runs off.

The Man Who Walks is heading back down the rocky slopes. He’s content now, he’s made his journey and said goodbye in his own way. A tear trickles down his cheek. The black lab trots along beside him. He looks down, sees the jaffa cakes and laughs through his tears.

‘Fucks sake, Kuro’, he laughs ‘you’re gonnae have to stop doing that’.

RIP Kuro , a total legend ❤

Sherrifmuir

After ten days self isolating then straight back into a hectic week at work, I was ready to get outdoors yesterday. The heavy rain had gone and the sun was trying to come out as I drove up and across the moor to the Sherrifmuir Inn (not an inn now, its a bit like the famous sign up north, you know the one – ‘Stromeferry: no ferry’). It will always be the Sherrifmuir Inn tho….

Just past the inn, I parked at a group of Caledonian pine trees. The shitzu immediately jumped onto my lap, staring out the window, trembling with excitement. “Calm doon” I say, before adding “ya wee dick”. Luckily she doesn’t understand and as I open the door, she shoots out.

We head off along a path through the trees. Theres one tree which has been struck by lightning, leaving a huge charred spike sticking up, reminding me of a song* – “Its a bang on landscape, with a burnout tree, where the lightning struck not once, not twice, more like repeatedly”. Some of the trees are leaning at a angle, years of constant wind taking their toll.

A picnic bench with small stone circles nearby tell me this is a spot for camping, maybe a young team sitting round the fire, clutching cans of lager, passing round the bottle. And the stories would begin, faces lit by the fire, the trees creaking around them with the wind. Ghost stories hopefully.

But today the suns coming out and we wander on past the woods and across the open moor, the Shitzu zooming ahead, startling a grouse. Not sure who got the bigger fright, Shitzu or the bird. I had seen a tiny figure on the hill earlier and here shes coming towards us, a runner, all spittle and snotters. I stand to one side, pulling my jacket up to act as a mask. We give each other a silent wave as she passes, a complicit tight lipped covid wave.

Am I paranoid? Ten days self isolating is enough and I don’t want another dreaded text fae NHS. Tho how they would trace me I dont know. I imagine The Woman Who Runs telling the NHS track and trace guy “oh and there was this guy up Sherrifmuir…and he had a Shitzu…a really ugly Shitzu”. The NHS guy nods thoughtfully, rubbing his chin before murmuring to himself “The Man Who Walks eh”. The Women Who Runs doesn’t hear this however, she shakes her head as if to dislodge an image. “So ugly” she whispers to herself.

Meanwhile, I spot a wee path following a burn downstream. We follow that to a beautiful tiny waterfall. This would be a cracking spot for a picnic next summer, I say to the Shitzu who is now frantically chasing my shadow.

We climb up the sodden path, feet squelching. My walking boots were maybe £39, I’m thinking, but they are definately waterproof. “Aye, but what about thae £59 trainers ye bought the same day, they’re made ae cardboard”. This too is true.

A mouse! A wee mouse shoots across the path in front of me. This happens several times on the walk. Once when we were in a wee cottage at Sligachan on Skye, we were sat drinking, blethering rubbish when this wee mouse shot across the room right past Kuros nose. We were like ‘did that just happen?’ Kuro just slept on, totally oblivious.

On the way down, we pass the Atlantic Wall. This is a long hideous concrete wall and was used to train soldiers in the second world war on how to attack a defended position, either by air or by foot. They also say it was in preparation for the Normandy landings but I dont see how a defensive wall on a Scottish moor can replicate a beach in France.

We reach the road at the junction for Greenloaning and walk back up it towards the car, meeting another guy with his spaniel. We stand talking and discover we have a mutual friend in Harris , proving again that its a wee world.

The Shitzu is shivering by now so we jog the last wee bit, jump in the car and head home past the inn. Good to get out, I tell the Shitzu as I turn up the heating. Shes asleep before we reach the fourways roundabout.

*”Walter de la Nightmare”- King Creosote

October Holidays

Over the last 20 years as the tots were growing up, our October holidays would be a wee cottage up north. The three criteria were as follows: must allow dogs, be near a pub and have a real fire.

However, when the tots were tiny (and we were skint) we went in a caravan for four nights. I think it was a £9.50 Sun special offer thing. The best one was in 2000 :Grannies Hielan’ Hame at Dornoch. Right on the beach is always a winner, sandcastles and kite flying too. The kids club at night was great: we got them in their pajamas and they zoomed about the place wi their new wee pals. One tiny bairn was asked to tell a joke on stage and it went like this. Knock knock .. whos there? .. Brazil .. Brazil who? … Brazil keep your boobs up.

I mind of watching Scotland get a draw away to Croatia in the bar, celebrating with my new pals (weegies/jaikies) and suddenly two tots appear in their pajamas. Think Elaine sent them through to chase me up aha. The gemmes a bogey!

We also went to Seton Sands (nice) and Wooler (dead town with nothing open don’t go there ever). In fact, the Wooler experience put us off caravans forever.

After that, we got a cottage every October. First time we went to Lairg, a great wee stone cottage at the top of the village. Lairg was great for day trips in the car : north to Tongue, east to Helmsdale or west to Scourie. I forget now but I think Sean learned to ride a bike down the grassy hill below the house and Amy lost her first tooth there so it was maybe 2003. That was the first time we had marshmallows on an open fire too and we saw salmon jumping at Falls of Shin nearby so it was a lovely week.

Another October was Craigellachie on Speyside. Its a beautiful area especially in Autumn, plus theres lots of distilleries! Also the Craigellachie Hotel has a whisky room which is like a library with bottles! Then there was an old farm steading near Rosehall in Strath Oykel which had an Aga (we made pancakes) and a real fire. There was also a hatch through the stone wall from the kitchen to the living room. The kids loved that. That house was perfect except the bedrooms were damp and the local pub was shut.

Little Garve was a wee stone house by the Blackwater. Again it was great with a real fire and the stars at night were amazing. The Garve Hotel was nearby but it had no atmosphere (we had to switch on the lights in the pool room). It was a perfect base for day trips to Applecross, Gairloch and Ullapool tho.

From 2009-2013 we went to Pabbay Cottage in Harris which of course has a woodburner plus underfloor heating but The Anchorage was only open Friday and Saturday nights in October. A Friday night lock in before an 8 hour trip home (ferry included) next day is not a good idea … but that’s another story.

In 2014, we went to Tomintoul which after Harris was a shock, especially on the Sunday. We went a lunchtime walk and the village was busy wi tourists, shops were open and there was a whisky shop giving out samples. That was a good day. We had a lazy week, baking cakes, toasting marshmallows and going nice walks. Tomintoul had two pubs but they were completely dead all week : it was like a retirement village.

Recently we went to Gardenstown which is a great fishermans village with steep cobbled lanes (no cars). The pub was 20 seconds walk away, olde worlde too if only they’d lit the fire grrrr. We got fish (wrasse) on the pier from a local and baked it (wrapped in newspaper) that night it was delicious, esp with a dram. That’s what a holiday is all about : doing things you would never do at home.

So thats been our October holidays. This year sadly we are not getting away but, judging from social media, plenty folk are still getting up north to enjoy Scotland in its autumn colours. Just don’t go south to Wooler.

The Man Who Walks

The Man Who Walks lives in a small town. When he tells people where he lives, they pause. This can go two ways he knows. They will either mention the bad thing or the good thing. Yin and Yang. Hes ready for this and agrees yes it was terrible or agrees that yes we are very proud of him. We’ve even got a golden postbox now, he adds.

The town is not in the Highlands nor is it in the Lowlands. When he walks up to the park near his house, he can see the hills to the north, beyond the Highland Boundary Fault. The first snow should be on the tops soon, he thinks. He’s climbed every hill the eye can see. When he turns round he can see the flatlands of the Carse to the south, the castle and the monument.

The Man Who Walks takes his dogs out whatever the weather. The big black lab trundles along behind him whilst the small white yappy dog shoots ahead. Yin and yang. He takes quick steps forward then stops to look back, cajoling the old dog. C’mon, ya old goat, he mutters.

At night, when he takes the dogs up the park for a final walk , he can see the orange glow of the city lights to the south and even a plane circling over the Campsies before landing in Glasgow. The stars can be amazing too , if only he could identify them. Sometimes a full moon gives him a shadow and once just once he saw the northern lights , the dancing men.

Looking across the glen, he can see the Hydro lit up and far below that, the cathedral. He stands still, trying to listen for the dogs who have disappeared in the dark. Depending on the wind, he can hear the cars on the bypass. When he was wee, before the bypass, he could sometimes hear the lions roaring in the safari park.

This morning, The Man Who Walks is in the kitchen, looking out the window. Once the rain stops I’ll get the dogs up the park he thinks. Then he remembers. The NHS Scotland text message was clear, he’s not to leave the house until next weekend.

Until then, he is The Man Who Self Isolates. He puts the kettle on.

Dunblane Auld Yins

Its the auld yins I feel for just now. Stuck in the house, cannae even have visitors, they just want a doorstep blether. My first delivery one day, the auld biddy had her arm in a sling. ‘Been in the wars, missus?’ Her dog had pulled her off her feet. Didnae surprise me in the least, that poor dug stuck in most of the day. But you can understand why she keeps it : for the company (tho perhaps a budgie would be better).

The auld yins are resilient tho, always got a quip. ‘You no’ found a rich widow yet, son?’ That had me chuckling back to the van. Another yin up in Braco opened the door, smile disappearing. ‘Aw, I was expecting the carpet fitter’. ‘Haha, you dont want me fitting your carpets – be like the Himalayas’.

And then I delivered to a 100 year old lady. Born in 1920 imagine that ! Just after the Great War and Spanish flu pandemic, 1920 was the original baby boom. She would have been 19 when the second world war started. Shes seen history (also needing to write a book I’ll tell her next time I see her). Theres another Cailleach by the Laighills she told me shes seen Cruyff play for Ajax. Total respect.

A couple of times different folk have talked to me about the war. Both said the same thing : the war was easier than Covid-19. Why? Because they could go out, meet other people, talk to them and maybe hug them. Aye that got me too. You walk away from a chat like that with a lump in your throat.

I saw this week that Dementia Friendly Dunblane had delivered 28 fish suppers to Hanover Court auld yins. Thats community, looking after folks. Well done them.

Anyway, the 100 year old lady had made an impression on me and I told them at the pharmacy. They were equally impressed.

‘Wow, do you think she got given…. ach you know…’

‘What? The dumps? I hope no’

How we laughed. Then got back to work.

October Night in Dunblane

Needing some munchies , I took the car down to the co-op tonight. The lads were stacking shelves but spotted me standing at the counter, a slab of diet Irn Bru under my arm. Hows it goin? Ach we been mobbed the day – still catching up. I try a different tact : Never mind,at least its Friday. Aye well, I’m in again the morra.

I put the drink in the boot of the car then open the passenger door. The Shitzu jumps out, ready for a walk. Its a calm mild night and we go down the dark wee steps next to Tilli Tearoom, the underground burn beneath us. This is a favourite short cut for locals, especially for punters leaving the Tappit to get a cairry oot fae the co-op.

Walking across the cobbles, I mind of an old teammate who said he honed his football skills in this courtyard whilst his auld man worked as the barman in The Chimes. A ball and a wall. Simpler times. As I walk through the archway, I can hear the punters in The Tappit Hen, the traditional sound of happy chatter.

Someones been out for a smoke, maybe a cigar even. I peer through the window, it looks like an advert for a pub, folk chatting, laughing, the barman pouring an ale. You cannae go in anyway, I tell myself, you’ve no’ booked a table. Covid rules. Capacity of 37 is the rumour. Complicated times.

Folk are looking at me now, my face pressed against the window haha. Back in January, the football team went back to the pub after a home tie. Thirty of us surged in the door, pressing in against the rugby crowd who were watching Scotland on tv. The place was rammed, John Hills steak pies all round. We sold the card, a local winning £100 ( I’d better no’ name them coz I doubt the missus ever knew!).

I walk on, crossing Kirk Street and into the Cathedral graveyard. The cathedral is in darkness, towering above me. Its ancient. They say the English stole lead offof the roof in 1304 during the wars of independence. I should learn more about this ancient place, I tell myself.

Wheres Shitzu? I’ve lost the Shitzu. I peer across the graveyard. Theres an opaque full moon rising above Old Churches House. Its a classic spooky graveyard tonight. I imagine a drunk coming out the pub, walking unsteadily across the graveyard, mumbling to himself. Suddenly, a spooky white shape shoots past him. He shites it ! But its just the Shitzu running to catch up with me.

We walk along The Haining, the river below us, swollen by the recent rain. I deliver meds around here and theres an elderly couple who play dominoes, the auld boy hunched over the table. He always see me coming and gives me a wave.

Walking back to the car, we pass the Tappit again. Maybe I’ll go in one day. Heading up the narrow Sinclair Street, we turn right to pass St Blanes church then down the hill to the car. That’ll do Shitzu, I say, that’ll do.

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.