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Sunday, 20 December 2015

On The Way To Maidens From The Wheelhouse Door 2015

The vibrant memories I held of our last trip after the exhilarating steam down the Kilbrannan Sound were at odds with my feelings when we arrived on deck, Shemaron was chilled and damp and seemed a little down at heart. We had left her quite suddenly after our trip home from Tarbert a couple of weeks earlier and I think she had missed our company. We did our best to coax a lightening of spirits, we lit the stove and the fo'c'sle began to smile at the dancing flames. We pulled the mattresses out from the bunks and propped them by the fire to warm them a little. Shemaron appeared happy with our unexpected arrival, but despite the fire she couldn’t quite throw off the dampness that seeped through the oak hull. When I got into my bunk ready to sleep I could not bring an end to the day, the noise from the ferry on the other side of the harbour thrummed constantly and the slightly wet blankets prickled when I moved. Eventually warmth reached into my bunk, I was sure I felt it, the exact moment when the air became warm and dry,the wheezy planks breathed freely, and we all began to relax. I remember thinking that I am never quite sure if Shemaron travels all the way back from the past when we get together, or, if we eventually meet someplace near the middle of past years … I responded to the warmth by drifting off to sleep. The three of us slept comfortably for what remained of the night and woke re-united.

Maidens Harbour Gala day was on Saturday which gave us a day to make preparations. I was relieved we were not venturing far, lack of sleep had left me feeling groggy. We spent the day re-fuelling, polishing, re-stocking the lockers with food and generally getting to grips with life back onboard an old fishing boat. It was sunny in the harbour and with no boats alongside us we looked forward to an easy departure the following morning. We had no deadlines to keep to and we achieved everything in a gentle manner then strolled along Low Askomill that evening to meet friends for dinner. We sat at a table overlooking Campbeltown loch, wine and conversation flowed gently while the voice of Dougie Maclean sang from the cd player. The evening was tinged with a sense of goodbye, our next stop after Maidens was Clyde Marina where Shemaron was booked in to be taken out of the water for a check over. We didn't know what this might highlight and therefore had no certain date for our return. The weather looked settled enough, and we were happy with our decision to go over to Maidens, we have to be entirely flexible on these trips, we can’t decide on a course of action fully until we are sure we have considered all aspects, probabilities and possibilities!

Chris had spoken to the harbour master at Maidens who had arranged for an escort to guide us through the safe channel into the harbour. The channel is narrow and shallow and runs between Maidens bay and a string of rocks that obscures the harbour entrance. The Clyde cruising guide advises that entry should not be attempted without local knowledge so this arrangement was well appreciated.

Shemaron remained free from visiting boats during the night so all was as we had hoped the following morning when we had an uncomplicated departure from the quay. The risk is heightened when we travel without company resulting in a slight edge to our voyages. Sensible precautions can decrease hazard but we travel with the knowledge that should anything go wrong we only have each other to rely on, it can be a sobering thought but I can't say it doesn't add to the sense of adventure. As we passed Davaar island the sea was grey and flat, it appeared that we would enjoy a calm crossing. After our sighting of the Minke whale from the ferry on our way to Campbeltown a couple of days earlier, we thought to head towards Pladda Island in case there were more whales in the area. However in the event we had to change course quite soon because out to sea Shemaron began rolling from side to  side in a way that bordered on the unpleasant. During conditions like this we are both safer in the wheelhouse and I took up my favourite perch sitting in the wheelhouse doorway. There were times when it looked as though our gunnel's would dip into the sea, below deck I could hear our carefully assembled display board crashing around the fish hold. I have been assured on many an occasion that Shemaron will not roll over and I chose then to pitch my confidence there, on that thought. A little fright stayed stubbornly with me though, and I thought it might be prudent to spend more time trying to understand the nature of the sea. Tucked securely in the wheel house doorway, watching gulls and gannets hover over the rolling tide, my feelings were alleviated somewhat. Shemaron careened towards the Aryshire coast.

Our route was taking us side on into the waves, we estimated a further ten minutes travelling in this direction would allow us to turn and have a steadier run towards Maidens.

To be continued ...

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Shemaron: A Beautiful Endeavour

Shemaron : A Beautiful Endeavour Available here

The turbulent and intimate interaction between fishermen and the sea is often considered alongside personal observations made from the deck of the ring net boat Shemaron. Poetical prose and historical interludes are woven into accounts of voyages undertaken on this historical boat.
Alone on the sea while the dawn laid claim to the day, I felt the magic, I felt my place and it was very small, an indiscernible speck on the face of time. Yet within my head, heart and soul, the recognition of myself as that speck was immense and timeless.”
Available here

Friday, 4 December 2015

We Stood In The Coral Light of the Fading Sun.

At approximately 18:00 hours on 13th August 2015 an adult minke whale was swimming off the southern shores of Arran. As it swam it broke the surface of the water, a couple of seconds later I turned to look out over the stern of the ferry and caught sight of its flanks as it re-submerged. We stood in the coral light of the fading sun, under the electric lights behind the doors of the ferry cafe the sound of conversation mingled with the smell of hot food. Outside, the whale rolled twice more, the wild crossed paths with the civilised and nobody saw. A coral coloured wake frothed over the sea marking a disappearing path as the whale crossed horizontally, pushing through the bubbles with its great belly. Each time it rose the sea streamed pastel pink from it's shining back. The whale swam on under the dying rays of the sun, it was a privilege to encounter this creature of the wild, the scene was surreal and I thought it would have happily graced an illustration page of a child's book. I wondered if the whale was aware of the sunset, if it had come up specially to see the the colours at the end of the day and feel the bubbles of ferry wake across its belly. I watched for a while longer unable to turn away in case it rose again but it had gone on its way and the sunset pulled the ferry onward.

We were crossing from Ardossan to Campbeltown, the evening was preciously still and ahead of us the sun was setting. It can be lovely to watch a sunset in the countryside, when the sun drops behind the horizon turning the sky to orange with a final hint of warmth. It can be quite a different experience seeing this happen on the sea with no clouds and horizons that are flat and far away. Our view in all directions was suffused with delicate shades of coral and salmon pink, the sea reflected the sky. There was a strong sense that the ferry was actually travelling in two dimensions, moving under its own steam whilst being pulled forward by the power of the setting sun. It was as though the sun had cast out over the sea, caught the unsuspecting ferry, passengers and all, to take with it as it fell ever lower behind the hills of Kintyre. We stayed on deck for most of the crossing to catch the changing light and watch the lines of the of the land alter as we approached Campbeltown. When we passed Davaar island at the entrance to Campbeltown Loch a strong scent of ferns rolled across the water followed by a slighter but unmistakable smell of earth.

We had left the car in Ardrossan and boarded the ferry as foot passengers. That evening we were the last ones to disembark, having become disorientated, we went to collect our luggage from the wrong side of the boat! We arrived in Campbeltown with our sandwich board in tow, it had been set up to display information about the boat Shemaron and her time as Wistaria. This was the first stage of a plan to take Shemaron to Maidens which relied on so many complexities coming together (not least the weather) in order to bear us safely to Maidens harbour. We walked to the other side of the quay rather awkwardly weighed down with rucksacks and sandwich board and eventually alighted onto Shemaron’s deck.

Friday, 27 November 2015

Winds From The South-east

I can’t remember a summer when the wind played so much havoc with our plans. This summer of 2015 was plagued with south-easterly winds, we constantly monitored the weather forecasts which often predicted good weather. Our joyful anticipation would take a dip however, when nearly every weekend the forecast changed and a strong south-easterly wind would  blow up again. In the end we decided to make the journey to Scotland and stay on board Shemaron regardless of the wind, this meant that we were able to get out of harbour whenever it abated and arrive at our destinations by stopping in sheltered spots along the way. I don’t recall any long sultry days, the type that invite a tendency to sit around or lie on the deck listening to the sea lap and glug against the hull. But between the winds there were some serenely peaceful times, these still times were heavy and soundless, moisture settled like a veil in the air. On the evenings of days like this the other side of Loch Fyne was hazy, and every now and again eddies of mist moved across the creek outlets where they rumbled over stones into the sea. Of course the sun did shine during the summer months, though it seemed that when this happened there was an edge to it, an interruption to its power, an agitation in its rays that stopped summer from truly settling in.

 On our next journey to Scotland we needed to take the car. Unpredictable weather patterns meant that we could not be sure of where we might end up at the final stage of our boating trip. We thought we might not make it back to Campbeltown in time to catch the ferry over to Ardrossan, and back to home and work. We took Shemaron to the Tarbert Traditional Boat Festival, an account of which is written here  Our youngest daughter joined us for a time, remembering the lonely hollow feeling  in my chest when she left us in Tarbert for her own home in Manchester has set my mind to Afton Villa again.

Great great grandmother Jessie Paterson was married to James MacKenzie who like his father before him was involved in the coal mining industry. The couple moved from New Cumnock to Ranugunge in India where James MacKenzie worked as the manager of a coal mine. My granny spent the early years of her life in Ranugunge with her brother and sister. In this circumstance, at that time, it was customary when children reached the right age, for parents to send them back to the UK to begin their education. Flying was in its infancy so long sea voyages were necessary to get back to the UK; quite a feat at such a tender age. In our case (as in my family) the young children were looked after by members of our very large ancestral family. In this way my granny and her brother and sister lived together, separated from their parents by continents, in New Cumnock, Scotland. Here I am at that tender point of leaving again. It seems to me that this fact of being left, being sent away from ones mother and father has created fear of loneliness that has persisted through the generations of our family. This is my personal interpretation based on these stories and what I know about the lives of my granny and her sister. I have only ever heard the MacKenzie children speak of their parents with much love and respect, however my heart contracts when I think about their situation during those years.

I have always been fascinated by our family stories not only those told about India but also those based round Finlaggan farm on Islay where my two times great Aunt Elizabeth Paterson lived upon her marriage to Mr Alex Weir. (Finlaggan blog post). When we motored through the Ayrshire countryside or steamed over the sea to Islay insights to local histories brought some sort of perspective to my ancestors. It lifted names from pages and elevated them to a state of individual and particular characteristics that meandered in bodily shapes around Afton Villa. It was special to me to recognise place names and house names as my husband and I travelled to and from Ardrossan, and across the water on Shemaron. 

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Afton Villa

After what has seemed like an endless flow of work that filled my time so full to the brim that I scarcely felt able to heave a sigh, I have at last, a breathing space. Outside the day is grim, autumn has come on, ill at ease with the unseasonable short warm days and mild misty mornings. It is mid afternoon, inside the house one or two lights are on, the heating is also on low, more to ward off the damp than for any real need of heat.

I have been looking through a pile of family records noting dates and trying to put an order to the jumble of stories that have passed down through generations, although they have ended with me they are without any true perspective. I am surprised that many of them are actually backed up with evidence, newspaper cuttings, photographs and even a wedding invitation dated 1904 which still has a lucky four leaved clover pressed between the yellowing card. The invitation is small maybe 10cm x 7cm, its pages are tied together with matching yellowing ribbon and inside the address Afton Villa, New Cumnock, is printed in delicate silver print. I believe the invitation was sent by my great great grandmother to her daughter Jessie Paterson upon the marriage of one of her sisters Maggie Paterson to a Mr. Potts. Jessie was my great grandmother and in 1904 the Paterson family resided at Afton Villa.

I have known about Afton Villa for some time but what made it particularly poignant this year was the fact that our trips to Campbeltown took a change
when we decided, one summer evening, to take the Calmac Ferry across from Ardrossan. It was one of the few occasions during the summer when we actually managed the trip on two wheels and was particularly exhilarating because of it. No blasting up the motorway, instead we took the A76 which twists and turns running north westerly between the Galloway Forest and the Borders.  
This route took us through the villages of Thornhill, Sanquhar, and New Cumnock. As we passed through New Cumnock, approaching the small roundabout, I looked to my right and noted again Afton Villa. It is a small terraced house which stands close to the road and is built of red sandstone.
We pass the house in a flash but the thoughts it provokes always stay with me for a few miles along the road. Today a children's nursery has been built in the small space between it and the river Afton, when my ancestors Paterson lived there the small two house terrace would have stood with the river just outside its garden. Afton water runs from Alwhat Hill North through the Carsphairn and Scaur hills before joining the River Nith at New Cumnock. So my ancestors Paterson lived by the “Sweet Afton” the river that so inspired Robbie Burns:

“How lofty, sweet Afton, thy neighbouring hills,
Far mark’d with the courses of clear, winding rills;
There daily I wander as noon rises high,
My flocks and my Mary’s sweet cot in my eye.”

There is another connection between the name of Afton Waters and myself and because I find these sorts of associations intriguing I will share it with you. We have been deeply involved for some time with a lovely old boat named Shemaron (the destination of our journey). Shemaron is an old ring net boat and in an effort to re-equip her closely to her original state she has on board a fending off pole which came from another old ring net boat called Evelyn originally named Afton Waters.

I remember all this every time we pass through New Cumnock, tip round the small roundabout and continue on our way towards the ferry terminal at Ardrossan. The summer as usual was full of trips to Scotland, on that occasion we stayed a week before catching the ferry back and re-tracing our route by Afton Villa and the small villages leading eventually to the Sloway Firth. Making the trip by bike is always a heightened experience there is a raw onslaught to the senses that is muted in a car. It is something I brace against and am energised by all at once. There is a real sense of passing through and being part of the environment.

On our way home that evening long summer shadows stretched across the road and slipped away into green fields and fragrant meadows. A fading blue sky tumbled before us and the clouds that hung above were coloured russet and plum in the lowering sun, bruised remnants of a storm that had broken over in the east. As we by-passed Dumfries the temperature dropped, beyond the distant shores of the Solway Firth darkness waited on the horizon, brooding in the north lake hills.  We had crossed over Afton Waters, and the rivers Annan and Esk making our way back to Northumberland. As we passed by the old roman ruins on the north stretches of the river Tyne the smell of damp stone welled onto the road. The engine purred on whining through the night, when the headlights reached over to the waysides they brought darkness closer. A few miles further on I looked up after watching insects that were caught and dazzled in the bike headlight, mist was creeping over the road. It came stealthily from under the trees hiding beneath the leafy covering along the shady riverbeds and rose up onto the tarmac swallowing our tyres. Up on the hill-tops the day lingered, trees were silhouetted, but the grass was still green. I wondered if it tasted different at night, for the grazing cows and sheep, with no warm sun to mature its flavour.

We turned eventually into the black cobbled lane that runs behind our house and seconds later switched off the engine by the street-light that stands beside our back gate; we were stiff and chilled but exhilarated by our journey. It was the beginning of the summer and our change in route to see Shemaron had energised us. We made more trips by bike throughout the summer, I learned a little more about New Cumnock each time we passed through and stories from Afton Villa slowly came to 
life as I became more familiar with the people who once lived there and the area they inhabited.

To be continued…

Friday, 4 September 2015

After The Summer Storm (From the Wheelhouse Door 2015)

I had slept soundly through the stormy night despite the deluge and we had been encouraged by the number pf people who visited Shemaron during the festival. When we left Tarbert the harbour was shinning like glass, we paused in the still water close to the spot where the Fairlie built ringer Golden West used to anchor. Our crew Alan and Bob Colquhoun took a quiet moment to remember their father, the late Bob Colquhoun, skipper and owner of the Golden West. 

Once out of the harbour we turned towards Arran with the sea on an easy ride, behind us the sea and sky met in a blur of grey, it wasn’t difficult to surmise that it was raining further up Loch Fyne. Ahead the sky changed from dark grey to white and sometimes to blue, this was easily the preferred direction of travel. The wind had an edge of winter to it, a trait that had dominated our excursion. Every now and again a gannet flew by, bright white against the grey backdrop of sky or the low slung hills of Skipness. I stood port side of the wheel house, tousled in the spindrift, caught on feathers brought up from the sea. Two worlds were vaulted by birds and scattered in droplets across the wind. My head was swept clean, clear of dreams, I was living on heartbeats and pulses. When I am out on Shemaron the experience fills me up so completely there is no room for the worries (necessary or otherwise) that the normal trundle of life elicits. It is at once both all consuming and a totally refreshing experience.

Travelling with crew, the Colquhoun brothers, was an  uncommon luxury. The chance to travel on board Shemaron with someone else at the wheel and two extra pairs of hands in case of trouble is a rare occurrence and was most welcome. Free from the restraint and once more in her natural element Shemaron revelled in the swell. As our journey progressed the wind picked up proving the weather forecast wrong yet again but under the competent hands of Alan and Bob we held a steady course towards Campbeltown. The easy wit that always distinguishes these brothers was soon in full flow. A comical repertoire of feigned guile and gullibility gathered pace. Certain bizarre and hitherto unheard of aspects of Scottish maritime law were explained to us, by which means, Shemaron, would become forfeit to the two brothers! This jesting kept us laughing for most of the journey.

All the boys were periodically doused as our bow hit the waves and spray showered the deck, this added even more to the jovial mood on board and we laughed louder in the happy sunshine. My nostalgia was completely forgotten by this time. I thought it was such a good thing that we had enough of  the child within us to ever grow too serious.

We arrived in Campbeltown feeling like the sea had somehow breathed through us, and in doing so imparted a small measure of its energy. Exhilarated we nudged in between two boats, disembarked hastily and piled into the car needing to get back on the road and make for home.

With the Ring Net Heritage Trust

Friday, 28 August 2015

From The Wheelhouse Door - The Lovely Bay at Stonefield

Mist settled low over the Kyles of Bute and the entrance to Loch Fyne covering the rocky shore with a blanket of tiny water droplets. It was the calm before the storm, everything was intensely still, a change was coming to the area of low pressure that had predominated over the west coast during the previous few days. We reached Tarbert in the late afternoon, after three days on board Shemaron we were looking forward to hot showers and laundry facilities. It was also time for our daughter to return to work, she needed to travel to London the following day.

I have two daughters they recently left home within a few weeks of each other. Whilst I was of course happy and excited for them as they embarked on their new life courses, I couldn’t stop myself from looking back, vivid images from their childhood kept coming to me. Nostalgia crept closer with the thought of our family being separated once more. Suddenly it was about saying goodbye all over again. I remembered the train station in Newcastle after saying goodbye to our eldest daughter. We parted with emotions high, the train pulled out towards the river Tyne in a torrent of noise and motion that obliterated all other sounds. My husband and I stood in the still silent space that welled between buffers and track, suddenly empty where we had been full. We turned to leave as the regular noise of the station filtered back. Our world had adjusted. When I stood with my husband and watched the bus carrying our younger daughter manoeuvre onto the road in Tarbert I felt the familiar wrench. We didn’t know if she could see us but we waved anyway, then walked back to Shemaron hand in hand looking for something to fill the emptiness.

There was of course plenty of work to do on board in preparation for the forth coming Tarbert Traditional Boat Festival but my heart really wasn’t in it just then. That evening we took a mooring in Stonefield Bay. The last rays of the sun shone bright on the mollusc topped rocks but in the distance a fine mist had settled once again on the other side of the loch. The hills rolled down to the sea in the evening haze, the day was breathing its last, night was bringing the chill of autumn even though it was still summer. I watched the shadows rise slowly over the rocks and upward over the trees and wondered if my daughter had arrived safely in London. I resisted the urge to call her, it seemed somehow a redundant instinct. Instead I silently wished my girls well and re-turned my attention to my present surroundings. The lonely loch seemed to echo my contemplative mood. Soon only the tallest Scots Pine on the hill caught the sun, I watched as the sea settled then settled some more turning peach a reflection of the dying day. A gannet flew by,  shilouetted black against the rosy sky, it dived, bobbed up in the water like a cork and flew off.

I put a couple more bricks of peat in the stove before retiring to bed. When I turned off the light flames lept high behind the glass, they shone on the floor and danced across my bunk. I had meant to read but instead closed my eyes and gave myself up to the delicious magic of everything, imagining how the sky looked above deck as Shemaron melted into the night.

There was no time for self indulgence the next day and we made haste back to Tarbert. It was a fine morning but a storm was coming; on the pontoons other boats had arrived ahead of the bad weather. I looked up during the afternoon to see Brain Ward coming along the pontoon on his way to Golden View. There is something exciting about meeting up at these events, everyone has to make such a determined effort to get to them, the point of arrival marks a safe haven and a chance to relax.  Later  more friends arrived, the Colquhoun brothers Bob and Alan. We had met all these people in Tarbert a few years ago and we were enjoying our re-union despite the fact that the first drops of rain had begun to fall. Bob and Alan have Christina II in Charleston Harbour on the Firth of Forth, they had kindly responded to our worries about taking Shemaron back to Campbeltown in unpredictable weather by offering to help crew.

We could hear the rain falling heavily on the deck and closed the hatch and skylight – changing for dinner that night meant putting on waterproofs and stout footwear. After our meal during which our waterproofs never came off and everyone in the cafe dripped puddles on the floor we all returned to Shemaron. By this time Brian’s friend Roland had joined us so now there were six of us dripping and wet sitting below deck. It must have been a long while since six people sat out a storm in Shemaron’s fo’c’lse. I was glad that I didn’t have to go back outside, the storm was raging full blast and a couple of dark blue patches were spreading surely across our recently acquired curtains. Even so, Chris and I were confident in our prediction that we would remain dry and after our guests left we battened down the hatches and prepared for the night.

About the Tarbert Traditional Boat Festival 2015
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