We Scots love a day out.
My gran used to regale me with tales of picnics in the mountains when the whole family, cousins, dogs and all would head off to explore with a flask, some pieces (sandwiches) and perhaps a guitar.
The weather is irrelevant to planning such a day. We Scots love to talk about the weather and having a dry sense of humour the more miserable it is, probably the better! I always remember the meaning of rhetorical question from Higher English by the teacher’s example “If someone walked in now like a drowned rat (this means really very wet) and you asked them ‘is it raining outside’ this would be a rhetorical question since you know the answer.” And the answer is that it is often raining!
My own day out included pieces and a flask. I set off from Airdrie and headed into “town”. Now going into “town” if you live in my area means going to Glasgow. I am not quite sure why heading out from my “town” into the nearest city is called going into “town” but for as long as I can remember it has been so. Everyone says this. The lady sitting next to me on the train called her partner stating “I am going into town, can I get you something in town while I am there”. If anyone knows the origin of this I would be pleased to know!
From Queen Street, I wandered down to Central Station and after a bit of a wait got on the train to Largs. I never really thought about whether the trains in Scotland were good or bad, however, recently, I had a travelling friend from Australia staying and we took some trains around and he was forever saying how nice they were – clean, warm, with actual conductors on them. He told me his train from his town North of Sydney into Sydney was horrid with people peeing (urinating) on it and no conductors to control anything. So, in Scotland indeed we are blessed to have good trains. It takes around an hour to reach Largs and the journey for the main part is through flatish landscape and some rather depressing looking “towns” until you reach Ardrossan which affords stunning views over to the Isle of Arran with, for now anyway, snow capped peaks.
At Largs I decided to take the ferry over to the Isle of Cumbrae or “Scotland’s most accessible island” as the local tourist pamphlet called it. It has been around 25 years since I’ve been to Cumbrae. We used to go each year on a trip with the Bible Class and cycle around, eat mini cheddars and barley sugars and my mate Lorna always seemed to have a nice piece of ginger cake which I fancied a bit of! Then the island seemed huge. It is quite big actually and as children we did well to cycle the 10 miles around. It always seemed to be nice weather then.
I decided to do exactly the same as I’d done before and rent a bicycle. The cycle shop was still in the same place and with the same owners though they had upgraded to mountain bikes rather than the rickety old ones we used to get.
It cost me about £4 for 2 hours. I set off with the same youthful excitement I had then and was not disappointed. The island is a little paradise complete with palm trees thanks to the Gulf Stream. There are very few cars and it is flat.
Once you are out of the main town, called Millport, it is very peaceful and quiet with only sea birds for company. The island is home to over 120 species of birds. I spotted oyster catchers, redshanks, lots of crows and some swans.
It is also home to a memorial to the Scots Antarctic Mission of 1902 which returned here in 1904 having explored the South Orkneys, eaten penguin stew, penguin soup and penguin curry, and having their own resident piper on board
It took me about an hour and a half to get round the island with a stop for pieces and the flask at the Tomont End Monument (in memory of two midshipmen who were drowned nearby).
- Once back, I dropped off my bike then went a walk to see the Garrison House built in 1745 by Captain Crawford to house himself and the crew of the Royal George Revenue Cutter and the Cathedral of the Isles. I hadn’t been to the Cathdral on my past trips and it was a revelation.
Designed by William Butterfield whose other works include Keble College, Oxford, All Saints Margaret Street, London and St Paul’s Cathedral Melbourne, it is the smallest cathedral in Britain. Inside it has beautiful coloured encaustic tiles (the colour is the product of the clay and not glazing) and lovely stained glass. I met a couple who run a bric a brac store attached to the Cathedral and as the Cathedral had closed already, we knocked on the door of the cloistered area and were allowed in for a look around. Inside was a Bosendorfer grand piano. The couple told me I’d missed the afternoon concert. The designs on the roof show local ferns and wild flowers though these are now hard to see as the smoke from the incense burning from 1851 on has had its effect on the woodwork. There is a lovely triptych of the Madonna and Child in the Lady Chapel which the nice couple told me was a depiction of the artist’s wife and child (by Donald Swan of Millport).
At six I decided to head back to the mainland for my 2 hour train journey back home but not before trying some Scottish street food, aka, chips from the Deep Sea Chipper. Warm, chunky, yellow chunks of fried potato with a spot of salt and vinegar – a classic Scottish snack and eaten by me on the Calmac Loch Shira ferry back to the mainland.
Back in Largs I wandered along the now deserted promenade with my bag full of souvenirs from my day out: my ferry ticket, I asked the ferryman for it as a souvenir, my map of Cumbrae and a couple of old books from the bric a brac shop. Not much had changed since the last time I’d visited here and I guess, for me, that was somehow nice.