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.

St Kilda: Once in a Lifetime

St Kilda lies on the edge of the world. It has a mystical quality, romantic even. An island (actually a group of islands) often shrouded in mist, where they say the men went barefoot over the cliffs to collect gannets eggs. Even the fact that the dwindling population had to be evacuated in the 1930s adds to the romance.

St Kilda lies approx 40 miles west of Harris. I once climbed Ceapabhal on Harris and noted two things: I saw a golden eagle and I saw St Kilda, floating on the horizon. Eagles are impressive but St Kilda is legendary.

So when my wee wifie got me a ticket to visit St Kilda I was like “haud me back!” I booked with Kilda Cruises for Monday 10 June 2019 and set off from Dunblane on the Saturday before, a three hour drive to Mallaig then a three hour ferry to Lochboisdale, getting in at 8pm. A man on the roof of the hotel agreed I could pitch my tent nearby.

Tent pitched, I hit the public bar where six locals were watching Scotland v Cyprus on TV. As ever, the football united us as Scotland lost a late goal before scoring in the last minute to win 2-1. The man from the roof appeared behind the bar later on and it was good craic. I headed back to my tent at midnight in broad daylight.

On Sunday I headed north towards Harris, through South Uist, Benbecula and North Uist. Past beautiful beaches, peaty lochans, bus shelters in the middle of nowhere, signposts with otters on them and ‘crossroads lined with telegraph poles’. Welcome to the western isles!

At Berneray, there were dozens of cars for the ferry on the slipway. The cars in front crawled onto the wee ferry, wedged in like sardines. I overheard the ticket collector tell the driver of the volvo estate in front there was no room left. Disaster. Just then his walkie talkie crackled… “the wee white car might fit though”. I couldn’t believe my luck. It was such a tight fit on the ferry, I had to climb out the passenger side window.

The Berneray to Harris ferry is amazing. Firstly, the waters are crystal clear and the views to Skye are sensational. Secondly, it the wee ferry literally zigzags in and out between islands and skerries, seabirds perched on rocks eyeing you up. The skipper must know this water like the back of his hand.

In Leverburgh I pitched my tent beside The Anchorage, the local bar/restaurant then took the dog a walk at Northton beach. In the evening I visited some old friends before back to the tent for an early night. Next morning and I’m wide awake at 5am, partly due to daylight but mostly due to excitement.

After another beach walk , I drop the dog off at a friends then get a square sausage roll and a coffee on the Butty Bus, a local phenomenon. We get on board the boat for St Kilda, 12 of us in total plus the skipper and his mate. The weather is calm but overcast. I have taken my seasickness pills and am wearing a seasickness wristband.

We head out past the wee islands in the Sound of Harris , past Pabbay and soon we are out in the Atlantic, St. Kilda on the horizon, slowly growing. It takes three hours before we arrive in Village Bay and we jump into an open tender to be taken to the wee pier where we jump ashore. Its not for the faint hearted.

The ranger gives us a talk on the pier before we are allowed to wander off exploring. It was quite funny. Keep your eyes down as theres ground nesting birds (no natural predators), keep your eyes up as the bonxies will dive bomb you to protect their young and oh yes, try not to fall off a cliff (esp when taking selfies).

And then, we are free to wander (to be continued…)

Lockdown May 2020

So life under lockdown continues in Dunblane and if anything, I’m delivering more prescriptions than ever as people are reluctant to collect from the pharmacy. Don’t blame them. However, as I am full time now I am taking it all in my stride. Its become the ‘new normal’.

The number of prescriptions would have freaked me out just 6 months ago but now it all goes in the van. In fact , at the start of May I used it as a challenge and counted the deliveries as I went. The number rose from the 70s to the 80s per day and it became a running joke with the pharmacist as I chased the fabled 100.

The weather in May has helped its been lovely. So many folks were out sunbathing that most afternoons I started going round to the back gardens rather than chap the front door. In the sheltered housing at Hanover Court they all sit out in the courtyard in the middle. “Ah here he is…its the roadrunner!” Been called worse haha. “Is the bar open yet?” I shout back.

The auld yins have been great I get all the comments. “Thats you got a job for life now, son”. In another sheltered housing block that I frequent alot, its “you should get a season ticket here, son”. Another old boy, when I ask how hes doing, he pauses, thinks and says “well am still fuckin’ here!”. See, you cannae argue wi that logic.

However, its not all banter and sadly we lost two old dears. One was deputy headmistress at Dunblane Primary School when I was there in the 70s. She was lovely then and she was lovely when I reintroduced myself 18 months ago. Actually I didn’t need to – she somehow knew who I was and asked after my mum. Her and mum were the same age she told me. Her funeral was today. Sadly I only saw the hearse as it passed the foot of the Old Doune Road but there were still plenty mourners outside her house when I drove past*.

The other lady was a character and kept the pharmacy staff on their toes. She died in the house she was born in I was told. The morning of the funeral I witnessed a procession that I have never seen before (only ever seen a similar occasion on Harris once). She left her home on her final journey with a lone piper leading the way followed by the hearse. Both sides of the street were lined with friends. They must have been well over a hundred and not a dry eye to be found. It must have been a comfort to the family to see such a turnout.

A final tale : the day after the Clap for Binmen/Posties etc I was stuck behind a bin lorry in Well Place. Ach well they do a great job I’m thinking, they deserve our respect. Just then the bin lorry swallowed the bin and the wee guy jumps in after it, his mate shouting and running aboot like a daftie – it wiz like Laurel n Hardy!

And did I achieve the fabled 100? Thursday 21 May 2020 was the day and 106 deliveries was the number. I even told the wee auld biddy in Springbank Cresent that she was number 100. She looked at me doubtfully. “Ach well” she said “you’ll sleep tonight son”.

And I did.

PS Dunblane Health Centre really is in Well Place.

*For the record, under lockdown in Scotland only immediate family are allowed to attend the actual funeral. As a result friends would line the pavements near the home of the deceased and pay their respects as the hearse drove past. It feels to me like stepping back in time.

Interrail 1988: Paris to Athens

In June 1988, I had finished my final exams at Glasgow College and was offski. Overnight bus Dunblane to London, train to Dover then hovercraft to Calais and viola, je suis en France. Haud me back!

Got a bus (not train) to Paris by mistake but I remember being in awe at the sights. I bought a baguette and walked for miles on a hot sunny day. For a 20 year old from Dunblane it was amazing. The Eiffel Tower and later watching the sunset looking down the Champs Elysees to the Arch de Triomphe. My diary notes I then caught the 2310 overnight train to Amsterdam : the first use of my Interrail card.

It was a crazy start to my tour of Europe and 24 hours after leaving Dunblane, I was whizzing through French, then Belgian, countryside towards Amsterdam. I met Swedes and Canadians on the train,too excited to sleep, Brussels at 0400, then into sunny Amsterdam very early. We ate salami pieces beside a canal then did the first Heineken tour of the day. Again I was in awe. Amsterdam was beautiful although busy. I also got a close cropped haircut to celebrate my freedom then walked around the city, looking out for trams. I got a train to Haarlem too for some strange reason.

Overnight train again, this time to Basel. I had a couchette to myself but slept badly. Trains have a romantic image but when the loudspeakers announce your trains arrival at each station in the middle of the night and the guard is shouting at folk to hurry up…well, not so romantic!

Arrived Basel at 0700 then caught train to Luzern and climbed onto the city walls then had lunch by the river. Onto Zurich then, on a beautiful day, got the train to Chur then St Moritz through stunning Alpine scenery. I walked up into the mountains and took photos in the snow. St Moritz was/is? a famous ski resort but it was dead in the middle of June.

Couldn’t find a pub for the football and watched Holland beat England 3-1 in a shop window (Van Basten 3). Had beer in railway station bar and slept in a phone box it wiz freezin’. Looking back, St Moritz is 6000 feet above sea level so was going to be a tad chilly. Caught the 0600 train to Sargans (on border with Liechtenstein) on a cloudless morning and had breakfast on the platform surrounded by amazing scenery. Onto Bregenz and finally, finally I stayed in a hostel. After one night on a bus, two on a train and one in a phone box I was going to sleep in a bed!

Next day, after 8 hours sleep (noted in my diary) I took the train to a rainy Innsbruck where I stocked up for my marathon trip to Athens. I then started the 2000km journey with the train across the Austrian/Yugoslavia border to Ljubljana (now capital of Slovenia). Ljubljana station was mobbed with young Yugoslavs going to serve their one year national service in the army. They were all drinking outside the two bars on the platform. When they found out I was Scottish we had good craic.

A train came in around 2300 but it was so busy we never got on. More drink and merriment. We crammed onto a train at 0045 and the party continued on board with my new pal,a huge guy who looked like Mick Jagger, shouting ‘Slovenia’ out the window. He told me he considered himself more Italian than Yugoslav and resented the national service duty. Almost exactly three years later,on 25 June 1991, Slovenia declared independence.

The train continued through Yugoslavia all night and all the next day, going via Belgrade where I managed to squeeze into a 6 seat compartment. Onwards into the night through Macedonia then into Greece and Thessaloniki. I remember seeing fireflies out the window in the trees it was magical. Almost 48 hours after leaving Innsbruck, we arrived in Athens early in the morning. It was a helluva journey and many folks seem to have had money/luggage stolen or been fined by the guards for some obscure reason.

And that, incredibly, was my first week of Interrailing around Europe. A very hot and dusty Athens awaited !

Dumbarton Castle Wedding

Today is our 28th wedding anniversary. We got married on 23 May 1992 at Dumbarton Castle. Elaine had lived in Oxhill Road, Dumbarton for years before going to Stirling Uni where we first met (actually we first met in the DH or Dunblane Hotel).

We got engaged in September 1990 when I proposed to Elaine in the Lake District and had moved into a 2nd floor flat together in Cowane Street, Stirling in 1991. Elaine was working for Stirling Womens Aid at the time and I was working in Alloa as a QS.

Neither of us were religious but we still wanted an historic place for the wedding. Someone knew the keeper of the castle if I remember correctly so it was perfect. If the weather was poor we would be wed in the governor’s house otherwise it was outside in the terraced garden, overlooking the Clyde.

May 1992 was a scorcher, but there were thunderstorms during the week leading up to the wedding. The day itself dawned breezy with hazy sunshine which was fine. The wedding photos show ourselves, both sets of parents ,Elaines gran and papa, bridesmaids and best man all looking magnificently windswept.

The entrance to the castle is up stone steps and through an archway.The guests had their photos taken at the foot of the steps and then walked up through the archway where a glass of bubbly awaited in the governors house.

The ceremony was held outside in a natural area surrounded by ancient stone walls/rock face. The breeze was causing amusement and at the altar dresses,kilts and veils were held down with trembling hands. Above us towered Dumbarton Castle and below was the Clyde: it was a perfect setting. Rev Ian Miller conducted the service impeccably and that was it, we were married!

I later found out Elaines lateness was not only due to tradition but also due to her dad. Sandy had their driver stop the car at a crossroads near the castle and told Elaine they could still turn back. Luckily Elaine said drive on!

We had the reception at the Cladhan Hotel (now the Abbotsford) and it was a lovely afternoon and evening. The first dance was hilarious as myself and Elaine were carefully trying not to stand on toes, then Scott and Diane joined in going at 100 mile an hour, zooming around us on the dancefloor. The first dance was “Could I have this dance (for the rest of my life)”.

I was summoned through to the lounge at one point and told by some senior members of the Watson clan that I’d better look after my new wife. Failure to do so would have unpleasant consequences. Then we all had a dram!

We left around midnight in a taxi and spent the night at the brand new Lodge on the Loch (on Loch Lomond). We even had a sauna in the suite and a great view onto the loch. We had a second night there before getting the sleeper to London then off to honeymoon in Egypt with a cruise on the Nile then a Red Sea safari.

And that was our wedding. The End.

PS I’d better get Elaine breakfast in bed today haha.

Oor Andy

We first became aware of Andy Murray when we were camping at Ballater in 2005. We had popped into the Balmoral Bar early evening and were chatting to some locals. Someone had asked if we were from Dunblane. Yes we replied, expecting the usual sympathetic comment that goes with our hometown. Instead he pointed at the TV, ‘That guys fae Dunblane’.

And there he was. Andy Murray. A big skinny guy not just from Scotland but from Dunblane, playing at Wimbledon. And winning. He was actually winning. We all watched, rooting for this guy we’d never heard of. But he was ours now. Oor Andy.

We had to leave the bar to go for a meal and sadly when we returned later, we found out he’d lost. We were scunnered. When we left he was on fire and 2 sets up but he had lost. ‘Aye his fitness let him down’ explained an unfeasibly fat guy at the bar.

And with that withering criticism, Scotland became a nation of tennis experts. Years later, in the Dunblane Hotel public bar, we crammed in as Andy lost the first set of a Wimbledon semi final. ‘Ach he’ll be fine’ explained a pot bellied pig next to me, ‘as long as he wins the next frame’. The television crew positioned in the corner of the pub missed a trick there – they should have interviewed that guy.

Another time, Andy was playing a crucial Wimbledon match. Fuck it was tense he was a baw hair away fae going oot. I retreated to the kitchen to do the dishes. My wife was up off her seat ‘c’mon Andy!’ alternating wi ‘for fucks sake Andy’ and finally just a wailing sort of ‘awww come on!’ I crept back thru to watch. And then finally…finally he won. Oooft we were shattered. Elaine turns to me and says ‘is this what its like when you watch Scotland?’ Speechless, I nodded.It was a rare moment between us.

Thanks to Andy. Oor Andy.

PS Happy 33rd birthday to Andy when it comes on Friday. Guys a legend and we in Dunblane owe him bigly for everything hes done. A further blog may follow….