Monday, September 14, 2015

Day 24 - Mull to Cumnock via The Hill House and East Ayrshire Villages

We’re away early today. We’re getting the early ferry across to Oban and moving on to East Ayrshire.  Helen’s concerned we’re not wanting brekky before we head out and insists on packing us a picnic pack. We’ve had such a lovely stay at Brockville. Helen is a wonderful hostess, so lovely, funny and considerate. Last night when we got home, teddy was sitting on the chair with a box of tissues, dabbing his eyes. We are sad to be leaving too. We can only hope we’ll come back one day.
The drive from Tobermory to Craignure is just mesmerising, looking down the Sound of Mull to the daily morning light show. Now that this is the last time we’re taking this drive I’m trying to capture all the things we’ve taken for granted over the past few days. The wiggly road edges, the church at Salen, the timber loading pier by the water. We want to remember it all. 
In Craignure I go into the Tourist Information centre to pick up our tickets and settle in for the wait to board, once again marvelling at the skill with which the captain and crew bring the ferry in and the lifting of the prow exposing the vehicle deck. Happily settled onboard catching up on some journaling, I notice that having brekky on the ferry is a very popular option. It looks good and smells good too.
We stop again in Oban for fuel, this time Billy tells us to go to Tesco which gives us an opportunity for one of Hubby’s errands. He wants more Maryland cookies with hazelnut to take home.
On the road again we are travelling along wood lined roads. The trees are tall suggesting deep, fertile soil. The road is fun, with just the right amount of turns and bends, peppered with pretty little villages. 
The manifesto notes a number of enticing options we could choose today considering all we’ve done over past days and our need to check in by 6pm we decide to limit the stops. None-the-less our route is down via Kilmartin and around to Inverary and along Loch Lomond to Helensburgh. We munch on our cheese roll and cheese and tomato roll for breakfast as we drive away from Oban.
Other than the more wooded and fertile impression the other big difference is that we start seeing Greater Willow-herb by the road in swathes along Loch Fyne rather than the smaller more intensely coloured Rosebay Willow-herb.  
I’m glad to be getting some use out of the flower guide I picked up at a National Trust for Scotland shop and equally glad that the flowers enticed me to stop and photograph the Loch!! Momentary laziness on the day is something I will inevitably rue when I go to do the book version of the journal over coming months.
Oh it’s so frustrating driving on through the gorgeous little villages and Inverary, wow, it is so architecturally coherent and nicely maintained in dapper black and white, it just begs us to stop. Especially when I get a look at the castle as we go by. It looks brilliant. We press on, hearts of stone.  We want a relaxed arrival at our destination without rushing and stress. Our dreams of a return to this beautiful country gain potency as the morning progresses.
Tarbet presents really well to the road as we pass through and turn to head down the A82 as it runs along Loch Lomond. The sky is grey and the loch is sulking sullenly. Most of the way is wooded between the loch and the road, which is a bit of a surprise but no doubt protects the scenic value of this world famous beauty spot.  We’re assured we can’t have seen Luss. We turn off the at the sign saying Luss and soon come to a most unenticing spot which gives the impression of a highway roadstop. We move on and find ourselves travelling a lovely shaded road that eventually swings us back onto the A82. We press on.
Not long after we turn inland and cross a patchwork of productive farmland heading to visit another National Trust for Scotland property – The Hill House by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. This mansion is in a very attractive area with other listed buildings around it, albeit perhaps in need of renovation. We have no difficulty parking and wander down to the house. I have to admit the outside doesn’t really make my heart race. The inside is another matter entirely. 
A little ticket lady is stationed immediately inside the front door, which we’ve photographed on the way in. There’s no photos allowed inside the house, a neat way to get us to buy the guide book.
The Hill House is a stunning house. Hubby observes that it is so modern, even today, and it is. It is not at all hard to imagine the family here because it is such a brilliant family home. I think one of my favourite features was a little raised sitting area in the hallway that was large enough for the children to use it as a stage to put on plays for their parents. They stored their “disguises” in the storage space under the seats on either side. The grown ups would apparently sit in the comfortable sofa that is positioned along the wall opposite.
There’s a few different exhibitions within the house. Some rooms are used for displaying artworks, another is for looking at design. The house has been restored to how it would have looked when it was first built. The only false note is the carpet, which was put in before they got confirmation that the original colour was actually a silvery green. That was good to know because it is all a bit monotone at the moment but the green would look a lot better and bring out the highlights in the wall pattern.
We’re having a week for it. We are still completely puzzled how this could be but we’re all agog oohing and aahing and interestedly exploring and reading when Hubby went to go to the next room where a model of the house is set up. He turns when he gets through the doorway and is confronted by a woman of about 60 in the process of pulling her pants down!  What the! She’ll probably be dining out on that with her girlfriends for years, but what on earth was she thinking? This place is really busy today. Hubby of course has been deeply traumatised, unprepared as he was for visions of flabby bare arse and retreating underware. Well, at least we now have gender equality in the bum crack wars.
We browse the gift shop. The NTS is doing well out of us that’s for sure. Then it’s time to hit the road and we’re back on our way just before 1 PM.  I fall down on the journey recording and rouse as we’re crossing the Clyde. May as well not have bothered because we can’t see a thing over the sides of the bridge we’re on. Motorway driving for a while and then my attention is well and truly grabbed as we pass through Mauchline. What the frig is that? An impressive tower is piercing the sky and seems so different from the village around it. 
Then we notice the most adorable little row of stone houses. Scotland does a wonderful line in stone houses large and small but these are really something special. We turn around and head back for a better look. What we’re looking at is, of course, the Robert Burns Memorial. It’s closed now and open by appointment, run by the local council. We’ll no have time for tha’. But we’re super glad we stopped. The little cottages lose nothing in closer examination. Digging a bit later I find that these cottages were built at the end of the 19th Century to provide accommodation for elderly people who have fallen on hard times, as a useful memorial to Burns that is consistent with his “sympathy for the genuinely unfortunate”. They are beautiful indeed, what a wonderful way to celebrate the poet’s life and work. Brilliant. I wonder how candidates for the cottages are chosen these days, with only 18 homes and so much need, living in one of these must seem like a real stroke of luck. Residents have the opportunity to do some gardening if they want to and are able and I admire one cottage whose garden is well tended and pretty. It complements the beautiful cottage so nicely.
Mauchline sits at the top of a hill and the memorial and cottages look out over the rolling countryside of pretty agricultural pastures. This part of Ayrshire, and indeed the country we’ve been driving through to get here from Glasgow is that calm sort of steady scenery of rural productivity, in a patchwork shaded in green, gold and brown, dotted with sheep and cattle. We’re seeing more in the way of obvious dairying activity in the presence of the Holstein-Friesian cows.
We head on and it now being on about 3:30 PM, I direct Billy to take us to look around the villages where the dead rellies are known to have lived or celebrated significant life events. Looking at our map Catrine seems to be a sensible first candidate. It’s tricky looking around places that are not tourist destinations, you want to capture the feel of the village without intruding on the privacy of the people going about their daily lives. I’m not sure how I’d feel picking up the kids from school and having some random car drive past and photograph us. Actually that’s not true. I’m sure I wouldn’t like it. This limits subject selection for our photos.  Catrine seems to have a mix of housing. Some older properties in stone and an estate of apparently newer buildings that, while neat and tidy, seem to be doing it a bit harder and collectively seem a bit bleak. I think this is primarily due to a general lack of gardening activity.
When I think we have the general gist of Catrine, we head over to Sorn and find a very pretty little village nestled around the River Ayr. We admire the old mill and the award winning kirkyard. It’s very pretty here, deep shade, babbling burn, and there’s a general air of middle class comfort and stability.
I’m conscious of the time but we still have plenty available and we make for Auchinleck and in particular, Auchinleck kirkyard – my main priority in this area. Heading in from Sorn the Auchinleck Academy, which we presume is the local high school, looks grim and uninspiring. We drive along Main Street, pleased to find a long avenue of stone buildings that seem to be wearing pretty well.  We keep on, looking for the burial ground and one of the only memorial stones anywhere in my family. They were early and enthusiastic adopters of cremation when it became available and before that also very good breeders with other priorities for their money.
Pass the Railway Hotel next door to which my forebear John Russell lived when working as a carter in the mid-19th Century.
My 2nd great grandparents, John's son James Russell and his wife Susan Morton emigrated from this area, along with a couple of James’s brothers, to Dunedin New Zealand in about 1875-6. James was the son of John Russell, the carter and his wife Janet Aird.  Susan Morton was the grand-daughter of the Inn Keeper of the Black Bull Inn, and was named for her grandmother, Susannah Peden. James and Susan’s families roots dig deep in this part of the world and their names carry on down the line as was traditional in those days. My name is Susan so I feel a particular affinity with Susan Morton, even though I know that the naming in this case was a coincidence. The photographs reveal a strong family resemblance between my Susan Morton and her granddaughter who is my paternal grandmother. When you’re young so many generations seem so far in the past. Time shrank to nothing when I found that my own granddaughter is the spitting image of the photos taken of my grandmother as a little girl, her 2nd great grandmother. Our forebears truly do not leave us. They are literally part of our human fabric.

We arrive at the cemetery not realising we’re in the right place and keep looking around with the assistance of Dr Google until we find the mausoleum described on the maps I’ve brought with me.  The first of the gravestones I’m looking for is a Morton. I find the well worn slab lying flat in the earth virtually unreadable and other Morton graves immediately adjacent. Then we’re off trying to find the memorial erected by John Russell to his mother Janet Harkness, presumably on her death in 1861 and later with additions noting the death of others including my 2nd great grandfather in Dunedin in 1885. Literally rock solid proof that we have the right people and this is where at least some of them lie. We turn the map and orient ourselves to the mausoleum and here it is, really very close to the church and not at all difficult to find. Since the photograph I was sent was taken the moss and lichen have made inroads and I brush it away gently with my fingertips to try to read the incised lettering. I make some progress but there’s a lot of script on this stone and I don’t persevere for all of it. My fingers will be ripped to shreds. We need to have some maintenance done on this stone. I’m not in a hurry to leave and we hang around in light rain soaking up the atmosphere and just communing with the dead and trying to be sure and take adequate photographs. Most of the old gravestones in the cemetery are leaning and look like they will inevitably topple over. At least our memorial stone seems fairly upright.
We head back to the car intent on making our way to Dumfries House Lodge just out of nearby Cumnock. Feeling thoughtful and contemplating the process and cost involved in having some maintenance done on the gravestone. We photograph the contact information for the cemetery as we leave for later reference.
It’s not a long drive across to Dumfries House Lodge, where we are staying for the next few days. We park and knock on the door and are greeted warmly. It’s a very simple sign in process, I’m given a tour and a key and a recommendation for dinner along with an offer to make a booking for us.  I head out to the car and Hubby while the staff get back to whatever it is going on here. There seems to be some sort of hospitality being offered around. The place is abuzz with people as we bring up our overnight bags. We don’t hang about. We test the couch and the bed. Oh so comfy and snuggly. 
We check out the ensuite. Ooh la la. We have authentic Thomas Crapper porcelain in toilet and wash basin. We resolve to head straight out and get dinner and get back to relax luxury as soon as we can. Never mind a booking we’ll just rock up.
We’re headed to the Dumfries Arms Hotel in Cumnock. Plenty of parking and it’s a pretty swanky looking establishment that seems to have had a fairly recent high quality make-over. We’re shown through to the restaurant and seated with the appropriate courtesy. There’s a mix of ages here and it seems to be doing reasonable trade for a week night, fairly early.
Hubby starts with a Tennents Lager and comments that he can understand why it’s so popular. I have my first experience with J2O which is an orange and passionfruit drink. Nice.
Hubby makes his bid in our friendly competition with the Spanish King Prawn Sizzler served with Chorizo, fresh chilli, garlic and fresh herbs £6.95, which arrived very much a-sizzle; followed by Slow cooked shoulder of beef which is served with Ayrshire bacon mash, roasted vegetable and chestnut mushroom sauce, £10.95.
I’m playing it safe with Atlantic prawn cocktail served with a dressed citrus salad and grissini sticks, 5.95; followed by Home-made steak and sausage pie served with creamed mash and seasonal veg. £10.95.
Hubby won the first course, not that there was anything wrong with mine. Probably a draw on the main course. Both nice although the pie is a cheat’s effort with basically a stew served with a piece of cooked puff pastry. We’ve discussed the iniquities of that approach before.
Dessert: Hubby goes for Banoffee Parfait the details of which we forget to write down and I succumb to apple mania and choose the Warm Apple crumble with vanilla ice cream and butterscotch sauce which was expensive at £4.95.  Hubby wins again. It’s a cheat’s apple crumble too. It’s a dish of apple with some sort of crumbs sprinkled on top. Hmmph. Edible but fairly ordinary. The ice cream was nice and creamy.

Now I have to make a comment on the service. We are served at every stage by young Scottish lads and lasses. The service is fine and I’m loving hearing the Scottish accents all around, not with-standing that I sometimes don’t catch all of what’s said. Brilliant. I love Scottish accents and I feel like I’m in Scotland. J

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