Caithness KW3 6BN
21 August 2009
As I write our time here in the bonnie county of Caithness is rapidly drawing to a close.
It is quite sad really, but time, that ever-rolling stream, is tidal, and the tide is on the ebb.
We have had a busy week, mainly on all the last minute things that need to attending to before the march-out scheduled for 0800 hrs this coming Monday.
Last Monday afternoon we went out to Dunbeath Care Centre, had a cuppa with the oldies and a good chat, then drove into Wick to get some provisions.
It was that morning that I had an unexpected phone call from Mr George Bethune, inviting me to conduct a service… an unusual service, as it turned out. As he spoke my mouth was forming the words “No.. sorry – can’t do. We leave here on Monday morning………..”
What I actually said was, “When IS the service?”
”Sunday afternoon,” he told me.
Well, that put a whole new complexion on things. “What sort of a service is it, George?”
I then heard a fascinating story….
On 25 August 1942 (wartime of course) shortly after 1.30pm, a big four-engined RAF flying boat, a Sunderland with an Australian pilot and 15 other crew members, crashed into a hillside in heavy fog near Dunbeath. Fifteen of the sixteen were killed instantly. The tail gunner was thrown clear when the aircraft flipped, and survived, although badly burnt.
George Bethune’s father was one of the first on the scene. People in the district had heard the crash and the explosion. They had quite a job, finding the aircraft in the remote hills and in the heavy fog.
When they were examining the bodies, looking for possible survivors, someone exclaimed in horror “Cor lummy – here’s the king!”
It turned out to be, not the king but the king’s brother, the Duke of Kent, who was on some sort of a secret mission but all that has been cloaked in secrecy ever since.
It seems he resembled his brother, King George V1. No one is quite sure where the aircraft was heading, but it is thought Iceland.
The tail gunner was sworn to secrecy and carried anything he knew to the grave a few years ago.
George, the son of Will Bethune who was one of the first on the scene has written a small booklet of the incident, a copy of which he gave me. The fact that the Duke of Kent had been killed made it of course a story of great international interest. George said the propellers of the aircraft were at full pitch, meaning the pilot must have suddenly spotted the hill in the dense fog. Had he had another fifty feet or so of height, he probably would have cleared it, it is generally believed.
In time a memorial cross was erected at the site and each year there has been a brief service there on the nearest Sunday to 25 August.
It was a request to conduct that service that I was rung and I agreed to do it.
The other day we were in Wick where I decided to get a haircut. There are two barbers in Wick. Both are female. I have been to both. Both are about the same in the skill department. This time I decided to go to Jenny. She’s a funny girl. I was the only one in the shop. I asked for “a tidy up and a trim” for my hair was a bit wild. I should have been there a fortnight ago. “OK,” said Louise.
It was an hour later that I walked out of Louise’s shop with a small thatch of hair on the very top of my head. Jenny talks, and obviously thinks she’s not doing her job unless she continues to cut. I am fascinated, listening to her, for she has a very pronounced Caithness accent.
A couple of times I said nervously, “That looks fine, Jenny.”
“OK,” she’d reply, “I’ll just give it a wee trim here” (snip-snip snipsnipsnip..).
Oh well, I won’t need another haircut for months. I must say it is a very good haircut anyway.
We went back to Dunbeath Care Centre at their invitation in the afternoon where I discovered that I was on as the entertainment! It wasn’t hard… talked about Australia, got them talking about their experiences, told them of my part time jobs as a crocodile wrestler and funnelweb spider milker, done to extract the venom to make anti-venene.. the time soon passed, with a lot of hearty laughter all round. A couple almost believed my crocodile and spider stories…
It was a sad but at the same time funny farewell to all those delightful folk, and then we went to the Dunbeath school where we farewelled the children there.
On Thursday, on one of my calls, I dropped in on dear old John and Bella.
They are both elderly, and very gracious and lovely folk. Bella never misses church at Dunbeath. John is a retired shepherd, but at 87 still runs a croft and works like a 50 year-old.
John has his hobby of making shepherd’s crooks, which the shepherd also uses as a ‘walking’ stick or more accurately, a “walker’s stick” to help him over ditches, up hills, down dales and through bogs and burns. They double as crooks for the sheep.
He carefully fashions the handles out of ram’s horns and carves a little Scotch thistle on it.
Months ago he had offered me one as a gift, and refused my offer to pay for it.
Today John said, “Your stick is ready for you,” and handed it to me. It is lovely! I was utterly delighted. Then John said “And here’s one for Janet” – and handed me another.
Well, I was overwhelmed. I tried to pay f or it, said I couldn’t take it, but again he was insistent. I had to take it. I knew it would be the last time I would ever see John and Bella, and my heart was heavy when I left, but the crooks will be treasured.
Didn’t Janet get a surprise when I handed her HER OWN walker’s stick!
I wish I could thank John and Bella enough, but all I can do is keep in touch, and I did give them a very nice card when Janet and I called in today. Janet wanted to thank them personally.
It was last night (Thur) that we had our farewell in the Lybster Bowling Club.
Most who attended were Kirk folk, from either our Church of Scotland or the Free Church of Scotland. There are no other denominations around here anyway.
I was nervous about it all day, but it turned out to be completely informal; a bit of a greeting from Pauline the session clerk, a brief word of thanks from me, then everyone got stuck into the mountain of tucker that the ladies including Janet provided.
There were two presentations. I was given a handsome Caithness tartan tie, and Janet was given a very beautiful and elegant Scottish silver brooch. She loves it, and I will wear my tie with pride. Stewart handed me a very fine poem that he had written for me. I was quite touched.
By coincidence he and I were both wearing our SAS ties. I was given one at my farewell as the SAS chaplain, Campbell Barracks, Swanbourne WA in 1989. Stewart is former SAS.
When they left, Sandy and Lyn also gave me a tie of which I am very proud: pure Caithness wool and authorised by Prince Charles, available at the Castle of Mey here in Caithness.
During the week I took Janet to see a couple who live on a property well out of Dunbeath. Alan is a retired sea captain. He and his wife Margaret live alone with their gorgeous little dog Sam. We had a most pleasant time with them, and when we were leaving, which is the last time I suspect we will see them, Alan, insisted on giving me a bottle of fine Scotch whisky and giving Janet a bottle of Bailey’s.
The kindness and generosity of folk around here never ceases to amaze and humble us.
At 1.45pm we were at the Lybster school, for the Assembly, where we were farewelled by the children. Mrs Grant met us at the door and we were brought in, to see all the smiling little faces looking up at us.
It was for only about half an hour. I had to tell them a bit of where we were going, and again they had question after question about Australia. They also sang three songs.
I have never heard children sing like these. They sang “He’s got the whole world..’ and my favourite “Spring Chicken” (we told them it would be springtime in Australia in a few days) and another Christian song. Then Mrs Grant asked me if I would like to say a prayer, which I did. I am amazed each time I go to that school. All the teachers join the children in the Christian songs and there’s a lovely air of reverence. All the children are present.
We were then handed a lovely “Thank You” card, which had been signed by the teachers and all the children. I’ll be putting that away as a great keepsake!
Janet and were asked to stand at the door of the school and shake the hand of each student as he or she left. We came home feeling quite uplifted, but again sad as our leaving draws closer.
We took an hour off, grabbed our walker’s sticks and walked up into the hill above the harbour, where the heather is really starting to make a show. Our sticks were really handy, for the way up was on a narrow path, somewhat waterlogged with all the recent rain, and the bracken grew to the very edge.
It was so lovely up there, among the heather, and not another soul in sight and above us a great wide Caithness sky, for the rain had cleared. Despite my walking stick I did manage to fall once when I accidentally stepped into a ditch hidden in the grass and ended up with my ‘ooter in the ‘eather.
On the way down the path, I saw a black and white flash further down, and what eventually should heave into sight but Ben, a border collie we know, stick in mouth.
Down a bit further we met John and Dorothy, so we chatted with them for a while, chucking the stick occasionally to an ever-waiting Ben before going back to the harbour and having one last cappuccino at “Waterlines”, the little heritage museum run by the locals which has a little cafeteria attached. Just offshore I saw a fishing boat making its way in against a rising sea, for the wind was picking up again.
Sunday 23 August:
9.30pm, and Janet and I are drained, after an emotionally charged morning and an afternoon of exertion in the wild and remote hills above Dunbeath.
Both services at Dunbeath and Lybster this morning were so sad, with some tears, which of course had a powerful effect on Janet and me, and we too felt somewhat overwhelmed by it all. I only just managed the benediction at Dunbeath.
Several pressed numerous gifts and cards and tokens of affection upon us. I was silly enough to choose as a final hymn in each service “Blest Be the Tie” and that really was the clincher to moisten eyes. Pauline the session clerk spoke movingly of our work here. After 12 years of vacancy, she told the folk, they now know what it is to have a parish minister of their very own, and they know they need one. They certainly deserve the best.
Janet and I rushed in from the second service, climbed into walking clobber (I left on my clerical collar), grabbed our beautiful walker’s sticks and headed off back to Dunbeath, to the heritage centre.
There we met George Bethune and a few others. Some ladies had prepared sandwiches, and after a quick bite and a cuppa we jumped into the cars and headed into the hills. We went with George. We drove for a couple of miles before parking the cars and then headed off into the hills. The further we went, the wilder became the country. The ground underfoot was wet and somewhat treacherous in many places with bogs and burns hidden in the deep grass.
We climbed hills of heather and peat, heading into remoter country. Before us great, clouded hills rose into the sky, while below were valleys sheltering silvered streams. It was quite breathtakingly magnificent. We passed the quiet waters of loch Borgue.
Walking through heather is not easy, for it clings and does not want to let go. Our wonderful walker’s sticks came into their own, and several times mine saved me from falls – once from falling into quite a deep bog.
For an hour George and a couple of others led us through the trackless heather, up hills and down glens and moors of peat and long grass, until finally, high up a hill, we could see it… a large white cross.
Finally we were there. It is a tragic place – easy to see that if the pilot could have managed a few more feet, that heavily laden Sunderland, with full crew, bombs and depth chargers, would have cleared the top. A hundred yards from the crash site a cement slab, suitably inscribed, marks the spot where the body of the Duke of Kent was found.
As we arrived, a kilted Roy Gunn was playing his pipes. It was spine tingling, high up on the hills, with the deep valley below, the hills around us, and the mist and the rain sweeping in, to see that lonely piper and hear the sweet skirl of the pipes.
The eighteen present gathered around the memorial cross, with the names and ranks of the dead engraved on its base, and I commenced the service.
I had John Tunnah read out the names of the dead. Janet read Psalm 46, and I did the rest. At the end, George and I placed roses at the foot of the cross. Roy then played the haunting lament, “Flowers of the Forest.”
The benediction followed and the service, which took no more than about ten minutes, was over.
At once backpacks were opened, and to my surprise, bottles of whisky appeared and the dead were honoured with an informal toast. It’s firewater to me. Janet and I politely declined several offers.
Roy Gunn the piper, who is about 80, who has been playing at the site for a few years now, was too old to make the journey across that difficult terrain, so he was brought up in an eight-wheeled, small ATV. It’s an amazing machine. It can traverse almost any terrain and can float across rivers. The fat tyres with special treads propel the vehicle on water – or an outboard can be fitted to it! It is ideal for the type of country we were in. It will hold four. Janet came up to me. “Jimmy the gamekeeper who is driving the ATV has offered to take us down,” she said. I guiltily agreed after Jimmy told me he was going to go back for some of the older folk. We were keen to return to our packing. It was our last day in Caithness.
It was an extremely rough ride, and a couple of times I thought it was going to tip over backwards up some of those hills, but finally we were back at the cars.
The ladies back at the Dunbeath Heritage Centre were waiting for us with a cuppa and sandwich, which was most welcome, for we were quite soaked up to the knees.
Finally we were away, came back here to the manse, then went off to see a couple of final folk, then came back to pack. I was instructed to finish writing and pack the study.
So here I am, work finished at last, but the events of the day and the week are on my mind.
Travel Lodge Hotel
27 August 2009
We are now a long way from the lovely hills of bonnie Caithness, and a great quantity of the river Wick has passed under its handsome bridge.
Early on Monday morning we were on our way south in our faithful little VW Golf. As we passed each village we would call out a farewell to those we knew there, (not that they heard, of course), until the last village in the peaceful parish of Latheron was lost among the hills.
A couple of hours or so later we arrived at Inverness where we handed back the car at the car rental place. The car was in pristine condition, for a couple of days previously we’d gone to a garage in Wick where we’d thoroughly cleaned it and vacuumed it; something we’d done on other occasions.
Janet cannot stand dirt or untidiness, despite being married to me.
We caught a taxi to the Inverness bus terminus and an hour later were on a Glasgow- bound bus. The scenery on the way down was glorious. We passed great hills, some with burns tumbling in white cascades down their sides, past shining lochs, and banks and braes and hills adorned with purple heather. We crossed quiet rivers and forests of stately fir, occasionally stopping at a village to pick up or set down.
Until Perth we hardly saw a house. After Perth the country flattened out. The closer to Glasgow, the heavier the traffic until in the end we were crawling along, stopping and starting in a snarl of traffic and ugly roadworks.
Finally we were at the bus depot in Glasgow. After the quiet beauty of Caithness, our first impression was that Glasgow was horrible.
At the bus station we struggled to a taxi rank and were taken to the hotel.
There was no phone in the room, and no public phone, which I discovered when I asked at the lobby.
“There’s no public phone here, but there is one down the street,” I was told.
I walked and walked but couldn’t see it anywhere. Finally I spied a policeman, so asked him.
“See that wee red box aboot fifty metres in front of you sir? If you walk to that, you will find a telephone inside it.”
I thanked him, feeling a little foolish. “Och, that’s no trouble sir,” he replied politely, “we always like tae make allowances for you Australians.”
The swine of a phone didn’t work anyway.
I walked and walked until I found another and made the call. When I walked out of the booth I discovered I was completely lost. I had no idea where I was; whether to turn left or right. Nothing was familiar.
I wandered here, I lingered there, ‘till I was fit to drop..’ (as Banjo Paterson wrote).
I asked people. They gave me complicated directions which didn’t go where they said they would.
I began to feel like someone who has dementia, who gets lost in his own home.
It’s quite an unnerving experience.
It was a young chap in a Tescos shop who finally gave me directions I could follow, so finally, a couple of hours after leaving the hotel, I tottered thankfully into the room. Janet had been wondering what had happened to me.
Time and again I have discovered that the Scots (by and large) have an unusual way of giving directions. It may be an over-supply of information. Even the young woman at the hotel counter, who gave us a map of Glasgow and marked the position of the hotel on it, marked it on the wrong end of the street, so when we left it to go for a walk, following the map, we walked into the wrong street and were utterly confused.
(Not that I can talk. I failed map reading in my direct entry officers’ course when I joined the Army and there is an old adage among soldiers: “If you want to get lost, hand the map to an officer”).
The following day we went for a wander, and discovered some of Glasgow’s beautiful buildings. Among them are St Columba’s Church, where Gaelic services are held, with its great steeple, and also St Stephen’s, also with a steeple that seemed to touch the clouds scudding high above. “That’s making me dizzy!” Janet said, peering up. “It looks as if the steeple is moving but of course it’s the clouds.”
What a nice little sermon illustration, I thought.
It was St James who wrote “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.” (James 4:14) while God, as the hymn tells us, “endures unchanging on.”
St Stephen’s was open, so we walked in an were met by two charming ladies, who showed us around the lovely interior. There is also a bright and airy café attached to the church, so we went in for a coffee. While we enjoying it, both the minister, Rev Peter Gardner and his assistant, Sandy Forsyth, wandered in, learned who we were and introduced themselves. They are very nice and we did say we hoped to see them on Sunday.
We were hopelessly overweight with our luggage. We just seemed to have accumulated things, and have been given many gifts by those wonderful folk in Latheron. We went to the post office where we learned that we could post 10 kilos surface mail for £111 but not to expect to see it any time in the near future.
We decided the only way was to contact Transglobal, the courier firm that took our 25 kilo bag a few weeks ago. (Door to door for £97 including insurance, delivery in 3-4 days).
\Next, we found the magnificent Mitchell Library, with its beautiful Victorian architecture. It is so impressive and is huge. It also has free internet access for its members, and it costs nothing to join, so of course I joined. I am now a card carrying member of the Wick Highlands library, Glasgow library and Shetland library!
We found the Transglobal website, filled in the paperwork, paid online and printed out the forms. It was such a relief to have our luggage worries taken off our hands.
You will have trouble believing what British Airways charges for overweight baggage. We were quoted £55 a KILO.
Wednesday 26 August: The Edinburgh Military Tattoo
We had booked a hotel room in Edinburgh where we could spend the night after attending the Tattoo. It meant we had to vacate the Glasgow room overnight, so this morning we transferred a veritable mountain of luggage down to the bus depot in a taxi and deposited it there, for £4 an item, to be stored overnight. The chap behind the counter took pity on us and did not charge us for the walker’s sticks or for a small bag Janet had bought at the one pound shop, into which we had thrown some paperwork and bits and piece.
We boarded a bus there for Edinburgh and were there in not much over an hour. “Auld Reekie” is the ancient name given Edinburgh I believe, made mention, if memory serves me right, in a poem by the Scots poet Robert Fergusson (born 1750 in Edinburgh. Died in Bedlam lunatic asylum, in 1774, unhappy man).
A taxi took us to our hotel just off the Royal Mile. As soon as we were settled in, we went for a walk – and were greeted by an amazing sight. As we entered the Royal Mile, we were confronted by a teeming horde of people of such that no one could number, stretching away out of sight. As we moved further along, we heard spoken just about every language under the sun. Edinburgh at this time of the year is a veritable Babel. (Genesis 11:9).
We discovered that not only is it the month of the Military Tattoo; it is also the month of the annual Edinburgh Festival.
As well as all that, this year of 2009 is also the 250th birthday of the Scotland’s most famous bard, Robert Burns.
Walking along, we observed countless numbers of entertainers, all trotting their stuff in the open air, for the weather was fine… jugglers a-juggling comedians entertaining, sword swallowers a-swallowing, beggars a-begging, pipers merrily a-piping, street painters a-painting, and much more.. one fellow was standing on his head, which ws enclosed in a bucket. The Church was there too, for I saw a couple of open air evangelists, and spoke to them, and took their photo. I tell thee, never did we see the like afore. We stood and stared in wonder, like the Irishman from the mountains of Mourne who went to London, and sang of it. We stood there, mouths agape, and several times I was forced to mutter, ‘Well, we ain’t got nuthin’ like this back in dead dawg Creek, Australia!”
I was keen to go to the Church of Scotland head office, 121 George St to see what was there, and also to browse again in the Church Store where all things pertaining to clergy and items clerical could be obtained, from books to raiment. It was just over eleven years ago that Rev Jim Reid and I were there and both of us purchased a clerical shirt from a “half price” display. I still have mine.
We were there briefly, discovered that the church stores shop is no longer there (“all done online these days”) and spent the rest of the day exploring the central part of old Edinburgh. We walked for miles and miles. We discovered the unfortunately ugly new Scottish parliament house, from where one can see the lovely, elegant towers of Holyrood castle.
At 8.15pm Janet said, “It’s time we were off.”
We set off back into the Royal Mile and made our way up towards Edinburgh Castle.
We found ourselves part of a living, breathing, multi-coloured conveyor belt, edging its way into the castle grounds, amid an air of great excitement.
Finally we were in, and seated, right at the very top of the North Stand. The view was superb. The stands were all crammed with people, with views down to the central square (which at other times is the castle car park). As we waited for the Military Tattoo to start (our tickets courtesy of the generosity of the Hewsons) the MC read out several announcements. We listened idly, and then were astonished to hear “Also with us tonight are Tony and Janet Lang, from Australia…” Janet started yelling excitedly “Did you hear that? That’s US!!” I remonstrated with her at once of course, for her poor grammar, telling her to shout “We are the ones (of whom he speaks!)” but she took no notice.
We have no idea who put forward our names, but deep suspicion must fall upon the heads of the Hewsons! Anyway, we were much excited.
I can’t go into all the details of the Tattoo itself for too much is involved, except to say it was utterly enthralling, colourful, spectacular, and we were proud to see the Australian Federal Police Pipe Band. We knew that among them was the nephew of Peggy, from St John’s Mayfield NSW, and wished we could have picked him out.
Also there were Australian dancers who performed a dance based on Robert Burns’s poem “Tam o’ Shanter.” It was brilliantly done.
To my way of thinking, the most entertaining was the Tongan Military Band. They were so funny! They really put on quite a show, and played and sang (and danced) so entertainingly, but every performance was special, unique, memorable.
It was nearing 11pm when we made our way back, again in the midst of the human conveyor belt, down the Royal Mile towards our hotel.
We were exhausted, for it was 08.40 by the time we even awoke the following morning, but we hurried about, hurried on foot to the bus station and were on a bus back to Glasgow by 9.30am.
I was keen to be back by 11.30, because if we were later than that, we would have to pay for another 24 hours storage on our bags, despite being possibly minutes overdue.
The bus was full. Janet was on one side of the aisle and I was on the other. I was seated next to a pleasant young lass who is a student at Edinburgh University and is Irish. She told me all about her family, skiing holidays with her family in Canada (Whistler) and family trips to New York and so forth.
She did not know who I was, for I have learned over many years to be coy. Some folk have a strange reaction when finding themselves seated next to a minister. There was that occasion on the train to Newcastle where I had a man crying on my shoulder – literally crying. It was a guilt thing I seem to recall and he decided it was confession time.
Others like to ramble on about their particular philosophy of life: “I’m not religious, but….” is the usual opening line. I sit there, offering the occasional grunt because I do not want to be involved in their ramblings.
Others have thrown me a cunning glance and come up with something like:
“Now here’s a question I’ll bet you parsons have never thought of…. Who made God??? Gotcha, haven’t I?”
I have learned to be quiet. Anyway, my travelling companion this day was pleasant, and the time soon passed.
We were back in plenty of time to collect our baggage, which I did at the desk while Janet found a taxi.
In the afternoon Janet decided to separate all that was going with Transglobal Couriers and put it in one bag, ready to go. She had not long started when suddenly she exclaimed “There’s a bag missing! When you picked up the bags, you missed one!” It was the very one without a tag. I went off to fetch it – a small cheap bag, like a shopping bag with a zip top she’d bought in Glasgow. I walked to the bus depot and asked for it. “It’s blue and white striped,” I told the man at the desk.
He came back. “I can’t find it. Hold on – I’ll look again” and disappeared.
When he returned he was shaking his head. “Sorry – can’t find it. If you can’t find it at home, come back and I’ll get the supervisor.”
I wasn’t too worried. I remembered it seemed full of books and papers.
When I gave Janet the news she practically had hysterics. “Tony – that bag has all the paperwork for the courier – the most important papers of all – he can’t take the bag without them!” Major panic, believe me.
“You sent them on a wild goose chase,” she told me; “it’s not a blue and white striped bag at all – it’s a red and green checked bag!”
She sent me back. The man behind the counter took me back into the storage room and sure enough, he found it in two ups. He picked it up, looked at it, went pale, dropped it and stuttered, “Th – there’s a bomb in there!”
Just as he had his mouth open to yell ‘BOMB – RUN!” or something similar, which would have transformed the vast Glasgow bus station into a sea of confusion and terror, I realised what it was and called “It’s not a bomb!”
When we’d thrown papers and things into the cheap plastic bag, I’d discovered I’d left my cordless mouse out of the main bag, so threw that in. When the mouse is turned upside down it emits a red, flashing light from underneath, which I suppose has something to do with what makes it operate cordlessly. I could see the flashing light through the thin plastic. It’s a wonder the battery hadn’t gone flat. Taking the bag from the hand of the still shaking and pale-faced young man, I fled….
That’s the second time I’ve done that. The first time was some years ago, on a small local ferry. I’d inadvertently left my lunch box on the ferry when I had disembarked. The new laws about bags left in public places had just come in.
In accordance with the new rules, the ferry was evacuated, the police came and eventually the bomb squad took the little lunch box and blew up my cheese and pickle sandwich…. (So I discovered later).
We spent Saturday 29 August on the hop on, hop off bus and came to have a deeper appreciation of Glasgow and its long, fascinating history. There are many magnificent buildings and interesting sites. I have wanted to go to ‘The Barras” for years. It’s an old fashioned market, dating back to the time when people flogged all sorts of items for sale from barrows. We wandered around the barras, a rather down at heel part of Glasgow, but interesting nonetheless.
We loved the timeless elegance of “The people’s palace” which is a museum of the social history of Glasgow. Behind it is a beautiful “wintergarden” containing a cafe and grounds full of tropical plants, some of which grow in our garden here at Wangi.
Most impressive of all is Kelvingrove museum, which we were told is the most visited museum in Britain. The building that houses the museum is an architectural gem.
We discovered that Glasgow is a city of culture: home to the arts and music. Every week there are 137 different music and drama performances around the city. Its parks and gardens are plentiful and lovely. Outside the highlands and the islands, it has the largest Gaelic speaking population in Scotland.
The grand Glasgow Cathedral (St Mungo’s) dates back to the 13th century and is open to visitors daily. The Church of Scotland holds services there weekly.
We came to be quite fond of the charming and cosmopolitan city of Glasgow, with its friendly inhabitants, and all the time I was conscious of the fact that so many of my relatives are buried there. I am sure I have living relatives there if I knew where to find them. On our last, brief visit here in 1998 we found the house in Langside where my mother lived.
Sunday August 30: The Last Day
This morning we went to the lovely St Stephen’s church in Bath Street Glasgow, where we were made very welcome. It was an uplifting service and afterwards we met many of the congregation over a cuppa in the hall.
The rest of the day is a bit of a blur… at 3.30pm we were at Glasgow airport.
At 6pm we were in a BA A319 Air Bus bound for Heathrow.
The nightmare that is Heathrow followed. By 9pm however we were aboard a BA Boeing 777, Sydney bound.
We hit the tarmac at Sydney airport at 5.15am on Tuesday 1 September…
Days have passed… days spent with family and friends… days and nights overcoming the uncomfortable strain of jet lag during which I have not had the energy to write much.
Our amazing neighbours have watched over our house, “Puddleby on Sea”, have tended to lawns and shrubs. It is much the same as when we left it. We can never repay them.
In the garden is a ripening bunch of bananas.
I sometimes have a strange sensation that those wonderful months spent in the parish of Latheron, in beautiful Caithness, were part of a lovely dream – but there are smiling faces in my dreams, and braes and burns and heather-sweet hills and people and adventures too real to be dreams.
Looking down at me from a shelf above my desk is a teddy bear, wearing a cheerful tartan bow tie, arms open in a welcome. It was sitting on the desk in the manse at Lybster when we arrived, thoughtfully put there by one of those gracious people we have come to know and love, and it kept me company all those days.
Each time I look at the bear I think of them.