Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Back to Scotland 1930's

I had so many helpful responses to my last post about felt leaves, that I've now got a fair bit of sewing to do as a result!   Thanks everyone for their very helpful input.    So .... to keep you occupied while I toil over the steam-powered Singer, I'm posting another extract (a long one, I've got a lot to do!) from my dad's memoirs.   Intermingled are some sad photos of his home of those days, tragically allowed to fall into ruins and nature is reclaiming her territory.  

"Two rough, single-track, gravelled roads enabled the big, wide, outside world to keep in touch physically with Auchenglen had it so desired. One led steeply up out of the valley on the north side to the main Lanark/Carluke highway, beyond which the rest of humanity lived, worked and had their being. The continuation of that road westwards led all the way down the valley to the village of Crossford on the banks of the River Clyde. There were also two public rights of way in the form of footpaths. One wandered steeply up through the woods to the south on to a road leading from Crossford to Nemphlar Village and was never very busy. The other was the well-trodden path leading to Braidwood Village. Every part of those roads and paths had its own special name, by which we natives could identify to each other with pinpoint accuracy the spot we wished to refer to, but which would not have meant a great deal to outsiders.


Every journey from Auchenglen began by going down to the Bridge over the burn and then up to the Black Tree. This stunted specimen of the noble Douglas fir, truncated in times gone by, presumably by a gale or perhaps a lightning strike, had all the girth of its species but not the height of a fully mature tree. However, its branches were long and strong and spaced in such a way that even when my brothers and I were quite young we were able to climb with ease and safety all the way to the top, some thirty feet above ground level. The trunk at lower levels was black and rough and gnarled but it smoothed out with height where it was covered with blisters of sweet-smelling resin. In summer, if they were touched or brushed against, they would exude a clear sticky fluid like golden syrup which instantly turned black on contact with our hands and knees.

Having reached the Black Tree and negotiated the tight hairpin to the right, (called, reasonably enough, the Black Tree Corner) you now had a decision to make. You could climb over a five-barred gate into the Lanark Field, which would be full of cows peacefully grazing. A footpath that was the hypotenuse of a rough triangle would lead you up across the field to rejoin the road at the Foot of the Big Hill. Alternatively, you could continue on the road from the Black Tree Corner and go along the Level to the Butler’s Lodge where you had to turn left through ninety degrees and climb to the Foot of the Big Hill thus completing the other two sides of the triangle. The Big Hill itself was steep and covered with a canopy of large beech trees. Panting, you reach the Top of the Big Hill and co-incidentally, the Foot of the Hedges. These were very high beech hedges that were trimmed at roadside height but then allowed to grow until they met to form an arch some twenty feet up. Still climbing this gently twisting and turning part of the road known, not surprisingly, as the Hedges you arrive at the Top Level with only a couple of hundred yards to go to reach the main road at Head’s Toll. There, Alex McLaren, the local roadman, and his wife lived in a tiny little white-painted cottage that had once been the building where road tolls were collected.

The job of roadman when I was young was an occupation well-known to country folk. He was employed by the council and was given responsibility for the maintenance of a stretch of country road several miles long. He had to keep the roadside ditches clear so that surface water could drain away. He had to keep down excessive growth of grass and weeds and trim the hedges. Any holes which developed in the rough road surface had to be filled in to prevent the formation of puddles. He was invariably a reliable worker and his progress could be followed day by day as his stretch of road reflected the pride which he displayed in his job by its neatness and cleanliness.

Head’s Toll was on the main Lanark to Glasgow SMT (Scottish Motor Traction) bus route. Buses ran every twenty minutes and it cost 2d to travel to Carluke and 4d for the five mile journey to Lanark.

Now, let’s go back to the Black Tree. If you were not going to Lanark or Carluke, clearly you were going to either Crossford or Braidwood and that would mostly depend on whether you were going to church or school. If to church, you would go down past the Top of the Wee Pad, over the Crossford Bridge and up to the Top of the Glen. The Glen looked as though it had been formed centuries ago by a landslip down towards the Mashock Burn. It was now overgrown with nettles, thistles, brambles, bracken and willow herb through which young birch trees grew silvery, slender and straight. Intertwined with all the undergrowth were wild raspberry bushes that produced the most juicy, tasty berries imaginable for jam making. Every summer the family would spend several evenings profitably harvesting this bounty of nature while being eaten alive by midges and stung into blisters by nettles and wasps. But the jam was lovely!

Following round the half-moon contour at the Top of the Glen you came to the Top of the Damsons. Now the road twisted quite steeply downhill through orchards for a couple of hundred yards or so. There were damson trees lining both sides of the road and in the autumn, on our way home from church on Sunday mornings we would all fill our pockets with the ripe fruit lying thickly scattered on the grassy banks at the sides of the road. Mum would convert these to delicious damson jelly to store away in the cupboard.

Continuing downhill we passed two farm labourers’ cottages called by us the Auld Hooses; farther down came Birkhill Farm occupied by Mr and Mrs Greenshields, their son Andrew and their daughter Etta. Down, down and still farther down through more damson-lined orchards, called the Bottom Damsons, until eventually the land flattens out and clearly becomes more cultivated as you reach the river level of the Clyde Valley. On a normal Sunday morning if you reach the Crossford to Braidwood Road before the church bell starts tolling its welcoming summons you know, with a quarter of a mile still to go, that you will arrive at the church in good time.

The road leading into the village of Crossford passes over a long but narrow, multi-arched, stone bridge over the Clyde providing a picturesque view of the river and the meadows and orchards on its banks as well as providing a meeting place where some of the village worthies would gather for a gossip of a summer’s evening. Trout and otters could sometimes be seen in the Clyde's pellucid water.

Now we go back to our starting position again. This time we are going to school. Set off down the Crossford Road but only for a hundred yards or so until you reach the Top of the Wee Pad. Then go down the footpath, past the beds of wild hyacinths forming clouds of sweet-scented blueness in the woods to the left, and the hollow where the spring rises with its cold, clear water. Watch out for the pastel-tinted foxgloves rising above the delicate green ferns and for the bed of marsh marigolds that brightens up the dark corner by the water’s edge as though pinpointed by a single ray of golden sunshine. You will hear, in the distance, the splash of the March Burn as it cascades over the Chapel Falls into the Fiddler Burn. Just above the waterfall there is a steep bank covered with bright, yellow, wild sunflowers in summer. Round the corner you will find a tiny footbridge (known, of course, as the Wee Brig) made with railway sleepers mounted on steel rails crossing the Fiddler Burn.

One night when I was about nine we, as a family, were returning home from a school concert in Braidwood. (It just might have been a performance of ‘The Wedding of the Painted Doll’ in which I played a leading part although not, I hasten to add, the Painted Doll herself.) It was a fine night but pitch dark with only the glow of the myriad stars in the Milky Way to guide our steps. Dad, who was carrying my youngest brother on his shoulders, missed his footing on the bridge and, as there was no handrail, plunged into the rock-strewn bed of the burn. Dan came to no harm but Dad sustained several broken ribs and severe bruising.

Now we are ready to climb up the steep path out of the valley through the orchards and past the Chapel Road End from where a short avenue lined with cypress trees leads to St Oswald’s Chapel Farm. The farm building itself is a dwelling house reputed by some to have been built on a site that had a connection with monks in time long gone. I suppose it must have some history about it to earn such a name but I don’t know it. In my school days it was a fruit farm with old, neglected, unkempt fruit trees in its orchards and was owned by two old spinster sisters, Maggie and Minnie Craig. Keep climbing steeply upwards to reach Hamperhill, another fruit farm, but watch out for the dog. Jessie Steel, a spinster who owned the orchards, kept a huge German shepherd called Rex that defended its territory by barking with a deafeningly loud and angry roar at every passer-by.  Now we have reached the end of the path and we’ve joined the road that leads to the Braidwood Village. We have three sets of tomato houses and two farms still to pass but we’ll soon be there and the going is now level almost all the way.

It was in the peace and tranquility of this idyllic, secluded setting, far distant from the urgent hustle of towns and even the bustle of the fast track of village life that I was born, the oldest of three brothers, on 12th March, 1925 and it was there that I spent my first eighteen years. Part of me still belongs in that serene, picturesque valley and its beguiling surroundings. Its wonderful sounds and sights and smells were the fabric of my childhood and they still linger alluringly."


AeFondKis said...

What a lovely writer your Dad was in his memories recalling his life you have a cherished
set of writings to keep and read to remind you of his sharp observations!


How wonderful that you have your Dad's beautifully written memoirs to treasure forever

Anonymous said...

Hi Chrissie! Love reading your Dad's memoir... the wild raspberries, damsons...mmm! And my stomach lurched at his father's and brother's fall from the bridge, that must have been terrifying. And I'd love to have known Maggie and Minnie Craig... what great names they had. Thanks for sharing x

Anonymous said...

Well, when I saw how long your Dad's piece was Chrissie, I thought I'd better wait until I had time to read without rushing. I'm glad I did - it brought a nostaglic tear to my eye as memories of my own childhood flooded back. I just wish I could remember things in as much detail as your Dad and with as much clarity. But what a treat to read! Thank you for sharing.

ger said...

I liked to read that - it´s so unhurried, and it speaks of a kind of childhood that doesn´t seem to be possible any more...

Chrissie said...

Glad you all enjoyed this - and thank you so much for taking the time to say so!

florcita said...

what a fantastic recount... such vivid details, so colorful. I love this! Is it a book Chrissie??

Uta said...

What a treat to read. Thanks for sharing Chrissie.

Chrissie said...

Thanks for your comments Uta and Marian - It's lovely to be able to share my dad's writing - we're hoping he'll make a book - just working on the photos at the moment.

Dug said...

What a surprise!

I happen to live in Nemphlar, a tiny hamlet which is very close to Auchenglen farm. I have walked down the footpath your father describes many times and instantly recognised the ruins in the photographs. Do you know why the farm house has fallen into ruin? Who owns it now? I thought it would be the baron of the lee (the castle further down the valley) but I can't understand why he would let it go to ruin?

Thanks again for sharing.

Maria said...

Hello, we did the walk from Crossford upto Auchenglen ruin today (which i have done before)with my parents and my 12 year old daughter. We stood by the ruin admiring the setting and wondering what sort of history it had, and who had lived there. My daughter came home and looked it up on the internet and we were delighted to have read the extracts from your dad. We would be very interested in his book as we have very fond memories of living in this area. Thankyou so much for sharing a part of your history with us.

Anonymous said...

Yep, Just come back from Auchenglen today on a big explore-type-walk. Been several times before. I live in Kirkfieldbank, Took lots of pictures inbetween the rain.

I find the ruin really sad, and would like to hear how it fell into disuse, and yes, who owns it now?

Anniemay said...

I live on Auchenglen road, walking daily in the roads your dad walked. Fascinating account and brought the history of the area to life for me.

David Jack said...

Loved reading what your Dad has written. Do you know if the Carluke Historical Society has heard of or read any of your father memoirs?

I too spend a lot of time walking about this area during the Summer and I am now keen to do so with this extract in hand so I can identify many of the locations.

Here is a bit more information about the Fiddlers burn if anyone is interested.

On The Fiddle

David Jack said...

Also which other posts contain excerts from your Fathers memoirs? I would love to read them.