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A Wee Trip Down Memory Lane

Jul 24, 2023 | Road Trips, The Grand Adventure | 12 comments

When I was a kid, my parents would regularly take me and my two brothers up to Scotland for the annual family holiday. Mum would wake us all at 4 am, bundle us into the back of the car, still wrapped in our duvets, and we would start the long, long drive north, arriving in Argyll in time for supper. 

In the 1960s and 70s, we would drive from our home near Henley-on-Thames to join the newly opened M1 Motorway in Watford, just north of London. Then we’d whizz along for another hour before Dad would pull up at a motorway service station in Newport Pagnell, where we’d have a slap-up, full English breakfast, dripping in grease and HP Sauce, at the ‘Little Chef’ family restaurant.

Oh, the glamour of it all!

Back Then. . .

My younger brother, Patrick, was always assigned the middle position on the back seat because he was the youngest. It’s still a bone of contention with him, but Magnus and I saw it as a defendable quid pro quo.

You see, by the time Patrick was born, parenting lores had shifted from ‘Finish-your-greens-or-you-won’t-get-any-pudding’ (we didn’t) to ‘Let-the-little-darling-eat-what-he-wants’ (he did, and it was usually pudding). Relegating him to the worst seat in the car for 12 hours felt like just desserts, if you’ll excuse the pun.

In 1965, the M1 would take us just shy of Nottingham in the Midlands—about a quarter of the way to our destination. By 1975, we could get all the way to Leeds—halfway! Over the years, as the M1 snaked north, it gradually cut hours off the journey that was otherwise made on two-lane roads and the occasional dual carriageway.

Today, you can drive from Watford to Argyll in around 7.5 hours. I’d still suggest you don’t try it with three young children and no iPads.

Our entire journey—excluding breaks—was spent bickering across the backseat. Mum’s standard answer to ‘Are we nearly there yet?’, was ‘Just around the corner.’ Somehow, we always believed her, and it bought my parents another five minutes of peace.

Finally, finally, we would arrive!

The first stop was always at one of the two grand family homes in Cairndow, on the edge of Loch Fyne. We’d collect the key to our holiday cottage from one or another of Mum’s aunts, depending on which half of the estate we were staying on that year, and then start the bumpy ride along the one-lane track up Glen Fyne.

The next two weeks were spent fishing in the river, fishing on the loch, fishing with cousins, striding up the glen, and eating porridge. Strangely – one year around 1970 – we ended up dressed like a gang of Mexican bandits, and God knows why my mother was brandishing a gun, but at least we weren’t eating porridge.

Happy days!

I loved those holidays in Argyll. We’d often stay in an old crofter’s cottage called Inverchorachan, way up in the Glen.

That’s it in the photo—the small white house at the base of the hill—can you see it?

My brother, Magnus, is marching up the river to find a good fishing spot, fishing rod slung over his shoulder.

Inverchorachan had no power, but there was running water. I don’t think we were often convinced to take a bath, so maybe it was just cold running water. Was there even a bath? I can’t remember.

We’d collect our milk from Betty at the local dairy farm, Archadunan, and keep it in the burn (stream) near the cottage so it didn’t go off.

Some days, we’d take our cousins’ boat out on the loch to fish for mackerel, which we were taught to gut and then cook for breakfast—a blessed respite from porridge.

On others, we’d be taken out by the estate ghillie (a sort of Scottish gamekeeper) to fish for Salmon in the River Fyne. Archie, the ghillie, would smear us all over with pungent oil to keep the midgies at bay. To this day, the smell of citronella still whisks me back to the banks of the River Fyne.

And Now. . .

To a young tomboy like myself, our family holidays in Scotland were like a glorious, romantic Enid Blyton adventure, and I have always had a special place in my heart for Cairndow, Loch Fyne, and the Glen.

So much so, that Russell and I were married there in 1999, and it was one of the first places we visited after we moved to the UK.

Then, in July 2023, my brothers and I decided to take Mum back to Scotland for a brief family trip down memory lane, although, sadly, Inverchorachan wasn’t available for us to rent.

Mind you, I don’t think Mum’s memories of Inverchorachan are viewed through the same rose-tinted glasses as mine.

Let’s face it: a remote, self-catering cottage with no electricity perched on a windy Scottish hillside probably isn’t the ideal holiday destination for a mother of three young children who liked to gut fish and not take baths.

But Mum is nothing if not stoic, and we reckoned the idea of a road trip with her three (grown) children would outweigh any misgivings she might have, especially about the Scottish weather. We sweetened the deal with a side trip to Edinburgh to stay with her brother, Tim, and off we set.

This time we didn’t drive. We all flew, and I reckon it still took us roughly the same amount of time. Navigating the horrors of British airport security checks these days makes me almost yearn for 12 hours in the backseat of a car.

We arrived at Uncle Tim’s house in the late afternoon in time for a game of croquet (rained off) before dinner.

The next day, we visited the National Museum of Scotland, where we saw, amongst other things, a colourful exhibition of fashion (some pieces from Australia), and the famous cloned Sheep, Dolly. 

Exhausted from this unusual overdose of cultural pursuits, we walked through the Edinburgh sunshine to the Cafe Royal, the oldest oyster bar in the city (1826), where we parked ourselves for a well-deserved lunch.  

The next day, fortified by a splendid dinner on our last evening with Tim and Liz, we set off for Argyll in our hire car.

Magnus drove. Mum sat in the front, and—for old times’ sake—Patrick and I bickered across the back seat when he wasn’t watching the FIFA World Cup on his phone. This time, the journey from Edinburgh to Argyll was a bearable 2.5 hours.

We were staying at the Cairndow Stagecoach Inn on the banks of Loch Fyne. After dropping off our bags, we enjoyed a late afternoon walk through the village to Kilmorich Church, the local Church of Scotland kirk where Russell and I were married and most of Mum’s Scottish family are buried.

There’s an old wooden bench in the graveyard in memory of my father, who died in 1989.  He didn’t want to be buried, but he wanted to be remembered in his ‘happy place’, so we scattered his ashes in The Pot (his favourite fishing spot on the River Fyne), and engraved the bench.

That’s Dad in the picture, looking pleased as punch, having bagged a hefty-looking salmon, possibly from The Pot. I think he might even be standing outside Inverchorachan. He’s definitely in his happy place.

Our next stop was up the Glen to have drinks with our cousin Virginia and her husband Jon. They live in a lovely old house called The Lodge (originally a shooting lodge), which we once stayed in for a family holiday with my grandparents in the 1970s.  My Uncle Tim brought his then-new girlfriend, Liz, to meet the family, so we were quite a household.

My grandmother decided to assign chores for the kids. She declared that “Melanie will help her mother and me in the kitchen cooking the meals, laying the table, clearing the table, doing the washing and drying up, peeling the potatoes, gutting the fish, and preparing the porridge for breakfast.  Magnus will pour the wine.” 

There was an outcry of objections, mainly from me (aged about 13), but even Magnus railed against the injustice of our grandmother’s Victorian approach to a woman’s place in the home.

Jon installed a flagpole on the road outside The Lodge when they moved there in the late 1980s. He flies one of his many flags from around the world, depending—I guess—on the day, occasion, or his mood.

We were greeted by a huge, billowing Australian flag as we turned the corner and got our first glimpse of the house. It was a heartwarming sight in the middle of a Scottish Glen!

On the way back, we scooped up another cousin, Tuggy, to take her out for dinner. Tuggy lives a little way down the Glen at Achadunan Farm (the same farm we used to visit to collect our milk from Betty when we stayed at Inverchoracan). Tuggy and her gorgeous husband Jonny Delap moved to Achadunan in 2000 and created a very successful brewery – Fyne Ales – in the old farm buildings. The farm also has herds of highland cows, sheep, and red deer. These days, Tuggy runs the brewery and farm with her two sons, Jamie and Michael. 

She always says the brewery is, for the most part, a grain production facility for her animals.  The beer is just a byproduct. But I’ve never heard of a byproduct winning so many awards.

That’s Tuggy and Jonny in the photo outside the brewery at Achadunan in the early noughties. The lady on the bench outside the farmhouse is Betty, probably in the 1970s, just as I remember her. And that’s her again as a younger woman standing next to her milk delivery van, a bit before my time.

The following morning, Magnus took Mum to visit another cousin, Sarah.

Mum, Sarah, their mothers, aunts and siblings spent a chunk of the war together at Ardkinglas, a large house on the banks of Loch Fyne. In those days, it was owned by Sarah’s parents, John and Elizabeth Noble, who were the third generation to live at Ardkinglas after my Great-Great-Grandfather, Andrew Noble, built the house in 1907.

It’s been in the hands of the same family ever since, and today, it’s owned by Sarah’s son, David, who is also Virginia’s brother. I know—other people’s family trees can get very confusing.

I’m telling you all this because Ardkinglas is a bricks-and-mortar cornerstone in my life. It’s where my mother’s family branched out from, many of them remaining or returning to live in Cairndow or Glen Fyne at different times. Most of my childhood family holidays were spent in one cottage or another on the Ardkinglas estate and I have returned several times over the years to see my cousin Johnny Noble, who inherited the house in 1972.

In 1999, Johnny generously allowed Russell and me to hold our wedding reception in Ardkinglas on a surprisingly warm September evening.  It was an incredibly happy event—a culmination of treasured childhood memories. All the cousins I have written about were there, plus many more of their siblings, parents, spouses and offspring.  That’s another of my cousins, Rebecca, holding my veil.

And here I was again in July 2023.

While Mum and Sarah reminisced about their shared memories at Ardkinglas during the war, my brother Patrick and I took a long, gentle stroll along the loch.

It was good to be back.

Our next stop was Inveraray, the nearest town over the other side of the loch. We wandered the wide, whitewashed streets, had a cheesy family photo taken by an obliging stranger, and settled on Samphire Seafood Restaurant for lunch.

And so, our wee Scottish trip down memory lane came to an end. No one ate porridge. No-one dressed up like a Mexican bandit, caught a fish, or played hide-and-seek in the endless bedrooms of Ardkinglas. But we did the important stuff, like laughing at old childhood memories, bickering across the backseat of the car, and reconnecting with cousins.

And we did it with Mum.

12 Comments

  1. Aw, thanks, Trina. Everyone has an interesting life. And you’re a prime example of that!

  2. Yep, the M1 was quite an icon in the 60s and 70s

  3. Thanks, Leslie

  4. Thanks, Marie-ann. We all have our own childhood memories, and yours sound just as special. Loads of cousins, lots of creative play and everything outdoors. Those were the days!

  5. Childhood memories are some of the best we have when we get older. Thank you for sharing these with us Mel. My younger brother also suffered that “middle seat” treatment that my older brother and I both agreed he deserved. Very similar spoiling and no rules applied to him. I think the third child in nearly every family gets pay backs from siblings. What fantastic memories of your childhood holidays you have shared here.
    My family also had large gatherings as Mum’s older brother had 8 children! No tv in those days. Russell would have loved the kid’s theatre productions as in the uncle’s holiday beach house there were anything up to 15 kids involved and the parents would have to pay to attend. As we get older, we appreciate these wonderful experiences our parents provided for us. We really were a lucky generation growing up. You have some wonderful memories shared here…including the photo of the guns! I really think you should quiz your mother a bit more about that one! So looking forward to you and Russell returning to Australia.
    Love the HAPS

  6. Truly blessed Mel, such an idyllic childhood, your Scottish heritage is enviable.
    Thank you for sharing with us

  7. What a fabulous stroll down memory lane… The M1 brings back sooo many memories… we 2 adults 4 bickering kids, would rattle up there from London the day it opened.. our goal Hinckley Leicestershire and then later Blyth in Northumberland..

  8. Wow Melanie your family history is so interesting, a simply fabulous life.

    A beautiful read, in places I could hear the laughter, the bickering and the marching of little feet through the glen.

    The photos… the cover shot! Gee you haven’t changed at all.

    Thanks for sharing your family with us, especially the adventures, you bring a smile to my face everytime I read your blog.

    Love and big hugs

  9. Ha ha! Have another Crème Brûlée. It’ll help you get over it!😁

  10. I still think it’s unfair I had to sit in the middle.

  11. I was so glad you and Jill were there to share it with us, Suzie. What a great effort- the Miller sisters made it all the way from Sydney to Cairndow to be part of that joyful weekend. Thank you

  12. Oh I am in heaven reading this wonderful story Mel’s. Thank you so much for sharing it.
    I have such beautiful memories of your wedding.

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