A Journey into Scotland … Part 19
Back in the youth hostel there is a jovial mood. It’s half full and everyone is contented enough on their own but a young travelling couple from New Zealand are enlivening proceedings. They have that gift of involving everybody in everybody else’s conversations. I’m a largely solitary fellow who is happy to sit and watch but even I am drawn into the banter. It creates something of a party spirit in the member’s kitchen as we all attempt to serve ourselves something nice from a tin. I had beans but had found a local butcher, just before closing, who sold me a few rashers of Ayrshire bacon and a slice or two of white pudding. White pudding is popular in Scotland, Northern Ireland and anywhere where Scottish people have settled. It is similar to black pudding but doesn’t contain the blood that gives that delicacy it’s distinctive taste and appearance. White pudding is made form pork meat, fat, suet, bread and (being Scottish) oatmeal. It is a fabulous treat and only requires a few minutes in the fry pan.
“What’s that ye got there then?” asks the male native of Aukland.
I told him what it was and how the warden at Haworth Youth Hostel had always brought back these items as treats and proof of the superiority of Scottish produce to serve to his minions.
“D’ye mind if I have a bit.” I proffer sample and he tastes. “Hey Louise. You ought to have some of this. Real Ayrshire produce. It’s good.” Louise comes over and she has some.
“That’s much nicer than I expected. Has anyone else had this white pudding before?” I’m happy to share. It really is a pleasant atmosphere and sharing is happening all over the room.
Things settle into general banter.
“Where’ve you been then?” asks my new found friend from the southern hemisphere.
I tell him about paying a visit on Robert Burns. I pass over a copy of the selected poems and invite him to read Tam O’Shanter. I tell him he could drink and walk the route of the poem later on if he wished. To be fair he takes the book quietly into a corner and reads the piece stopping only to read out favourite bits to the assembled kitchen.
“Oh, I don’t know too much about poetry but I wouldn’t mind being chased by the witches. Shall we take a walk out there later on Lou? Care to join us?”
I say I’m happy to join them for the beer end of the journey in Ayr itself.
“The words are easier to understand when you read them out.” he said. “Maybe Shakespeare’s like that. Never was much cop at Shakespeare at school. We’re off to Stratford on Saturday.”
I explained a literary theory that the way Shakespeare spoke was probably more like the accents of the New World. That early seventeenth century pronunciation had been better preserved in America and Australia and that one scholar had said that Shakespeare’s way of speaking was probably a cross between modern New Zealand and South Africa.
“Did you hear that Lou. Shakespeare was a bloody Kiwi!”
Our friendship was sealed.
I did join them for a beer at the Tam O’Shanter pub. It’s lively with an open fire and a number of locals holding forth and “getting fou and unco happy”(Burn’s speak for legless). The Kiwi was in his element and they were soon giving as good as they got. I left them there and wandered down the banks of the Ayr River and photographed the ‘twa brigs of Ayr’. (photo mislaid some years ago) and walked down to the river mouth and watched a rather beautiful sunset over the sea and the distant Isle of Arran.
The following day I set off along the coast. Past Prestwick airport where the planes came in to land practically over my head and past signs to Troon and Ardrossan. I was very tempted to take an extra day and catch a ferry to the Isle of Arran but I was expected. It’s the only night on the journey when I am going to be staying in a house. Nicky was a drama student, and a darned good one, who’d persuaded me to act in her examination pieces while at St Luke’s in Exeter. Her parents lived in Kilmacolm and when I told her of my plans she got me an invitation to spend the night. I was also looking forward to getting a parcel from T who had used their address as a post restante.
My memories are of a very windy ride along main roads heading past Irvine and then further inland. I called into a pub at Lochwinnoch to ask directions. I didn’t want to arrive at a friend’s parents house with beer on my breath. The pub did me a nice pot of tea.
“Aye, you’re on the right road but you’ll be wanting something a bit stronger before you go to Kilmacolm. Has nobody told you that it’s a dry town.”
“A dry town?”
“Aye. There’s nay pubs in Kilmacolm.”
I filed the information under interesting but non problematic. “Is it far?” I asked.
The old man looked at me with the same rolling eyes that John Laurie used to such good effect throughout his acting career. Punctuating his speech hugely with pauses and quizzical looks as if to say that I was largely out of my mind to even think about attempting the journey; but being already out of my mind may as well be given the information I require.
“Well. I’d say that Kilmacolm would be about ten miles if you’re walking. Five if you’re running.”
I finish my tea and thank them. “Are ye sure you’ll not be having a pint of beer before ye go. It’ll be your last chance today. There’s no beer where your going.”
The weather was changing. Well, this was Scotland. That is what the weather does up here. Rainbows signposted my route and it was nice to be on a quieter road. I’d let them know that I’d be arriving about five. I was in plenty of time. The ride was now thoroughly rural; the road took me between fields of shaggy pasture where dairy cows grazed. I was a little disappointed that there were no Ayrshire cattle. It was 1987 and the English dairy herd had become almost exclusively Holstein-Friesian at that time. One of the happy sights in the English countryside since then has been the re-emergence of mixed herds with other breeds, which at one time seemed to be being consigned to history, taking their places in our fields.
I pass from Ayrshire into InverClyde. The sun is shining on fields and hedgerows and spinneys. The road takes me up and down enough to keep me honest but doesn’t over challenge. It’s a very good stretch of road to be in no hurry. No sooner has the sun come out than another shower crosses. I take shelter under some low growing trees and take out the primus stove. I’m glad I had the presence of mind to take a photograph of my little picnic spot. The shower quickly passed over and I stayed there for an hour of more quietly reading. It was a very special hour. One that has stayed with me through the years. Nothing much happened. But it happened very nicely and at exactly the right pace.