Holidays to Cairndow – at Granny and Grandpa’s Cuil Cottage
Isabelle Brodie 2014
But for people holidaying to Loch Fyneside I don’t suppose I would exist – my great grandfather James Conway met my Great Grandmother Kate Luke on a Glasgow Fair cycling holiday, sometime in the 1890’s. He had cycled from Gourock to Cairndow with a friend.
When I think of holidays to Cairndow in the summer I think of how green it was – trees dripping with leaves, bracken, flowers. Round about Cuil Cottage there was a heavy scent of azaleas. When it rained – and if it was mild – it could feel a little like the jungle. That sense was enhanced by the outbreaks of midges in such weather. Even as I write this I can sense them crawling all over me – and the urgent need to retreat inside. The ground floor of the house had thick walls and was cool in the summer; upstairs it was very hot indeed.
In fact, water – or the lack of it – features strongly in my memories. Even in the 1980’s and 90’s, Cuil Cottage had a private water supply and the question of whether there would be water or not was always on everyone’s minds as we travelled to Cairndow from the Borders. If there wasn’t, then summer holidays involved a lot of water being left in basins to be reused and the carrying of buckets from the loch and the well. It sounds exotic but, for the adults at least, was a kind of purgatory. I remember being small and being conscious of being quite grubby but not minding too much. There was also the irony, somehow, of living next to a loch and yet being unable to turn on the tap.
The loch was there, though, and we spent a lot of time playing beside it, which we always enjoyed. As a very small child I can remember climbing on the bigger rocks and finding that very exciting, and that venturing to a part of the shore I hadn’t gone to before felt like a huge adventure. Occasionally something new would wash up that would mean a new game to play. As I grew older I liked to take books and drawing things to the shore, and my sister and I would plan these expeditions long before the holidays. We were able to play on the shore on our own, but the road was so busy that someone always had to take us and bring us back again – I suppose that is one of the big differences between my memories of the loch and those who remember more traffic free days.
We had a rowing boat and my Dad – or in earlier memories my Granny and Grandpa – would take us out in it. The rules about sitting quietly and not moving around had been impressed on us so strongly that I was always slightly worried that I would move around too much and get into trouble. I also have a vivid – now rather funny – memory of my great Aunt taking my sister and I out in the boat (I would have been about seven or eight). My sister (aged six) was in a bad mood, Auntie Jenny (aged about 66) was cross with my sister, and I was stuck in the middle. They argued incessantly for the entire trip. We paddled but – even though I first learned to swim in the loch – didn’t actually swim very often. I think my Granny thought that a poor show – she would tell us how they had gone swimming daily when she was young, and that she had always especially liked swimming in the loch when it was raining.
My Dad and Grandpa fished from the shore and from the boat, so sometimes there would be fish. There is a photo of me with my first sea-trout. I think my sister and I had limited concentration on the fishing front, but I remember helping hit the fish with a stone – and I liked eating them, a trout or a salmon was a big treat. I find it interesting, given the current craze for sea food that the notion of finding prawns and so on in the loch never occurred.
In the garden at Cuil there were lots of blackcurrant bushes, and in the 1970’s my Granny had picked and sold these at the roadside. The picking of the blackcurrants was always a major summer project and everyone had to help. It was the kind of job that initially seemed great fun but the attraction tended to pall (if you haven’t done it, picking blackcurrants on a large scale is a rather scratchy business). If we weren’t picking outside we were picking the berries over so they could be made into jam.
The selling of the blackcurrants was linked, crucially, to the coming of the tourists. The cars, caravans and people changed what was a fairly empty and predictable landscape during the winter. People talked about the tourists a lot – sometimes a bit patronisingly because of their ‘town’ behaviour and things they didn’t know (like the midges); sometimes with interest because it had given rise to a conversation and a meeting with someone friendly – but also with gratitude because everyone was conscious that, if the tourists didn’t come, Inveraray and the surrounding area would suffer economically. But the summer also just felt more exciting – you never knew if a visitor might turn up, for example. In Inveraray itself there was The Exhibition (at the Church) – which as a child I thought was one of the most exciting things ever!