31 May 2022

In a Strange Room by Damon Galgut

 In a Strange Room by Damon Galgut was shortlisted for the 2010 Booker Prize. 

A young man takes three journeys, through Greece, India and Africa. He travels lightly, simply. To those who travel with him and those whom he meets on the way - including a handsome, enigmatic stranger, a group of careless backpackers and a woman on the edge - he is the Follower, the Lover and the Guardian. Yet, despite the man's best intentions, each journey ends in disaster. Together, these three journeys will change his whole life. A novel of longing and thwarted desire, rage and compassion, "In a Strange Room" is the hauntingly beautiful evocation of one man's search for love, and a place to call home. (Good Reads)

Nothing to do with the book, but a photo from The Wood Memorial Hall in The Common Room

The book is in three parts, The Follower, The Lover and The Guardian.  Damon a South African writer goes backpacking, I am not sure if this is the author, but the book does read like a memoir.

In The Follower, Damon has been on a tour of Europe and in Greece, he meets Reiner, a German, they visit the area for a few days together before separating.  Damon returns to South Africa and two years later, after they had been writing to each other, Reiner goes to South Africa. They go travelling together around Africa, but their time together does not go well. 

Next, The Lover, two years later the writer decides to go travelling again and meets a Frenchman, Christian, Swiss twins Jerome and Alice and Roderigo, a Chilean.  And the third, The Guardian is about a trip he makes with a friend, Anna to India.  All three trips end badly for different reasons. 

I do not think the three chapters are linked to make a complete story, they appear to be each a short story with the link being the narrator and his dreams or troubles. Again the book does not have much punctuation and the paragraphs are short. The stories are told mostly in the third person, but occasionally in the first person, which I did find strange but also it kept me on my toes and I had to concentrate on the story, not a bad thing as I do have a tendency to skip sentences if I am bored with the book.πŸ˜‰

I did like the book and read it over a couple of days, it only has 170 pages and it was raining so could not go out and do anything in the garden. I was not so put off by the writing style, maybe I am getting used to it, but also I was interested in the characters and story and wanted to see what happened.

This is one of the books I borrowed from the mobile library last week. I think I requested this after reading The Promise and thought I would like to read another of his books.

30 May 2022

Annie Lauder and a trip to Balfron

Today is the 150th anniversary of the birth of my great grandmother Annie Lauder.  She was born on 30 May 1872 in Brocketsbrae, Lesmahagow, Lanarkshire.  The youngest child of William Lauder, with his second wife Janet Colthart.  Annie had a full brother and sister and five half-siblings.  On her birth certificate, William gives his occupation as a flesher, (butcher).

At the time of the 1881 census, the family were living in Turfholm, Lesmahagow, by 1891 the family had moved to a farm, Balgray, at Crawfordjohn. On 17 December 1896, Annie married Alexander Ritchie, a local shepherd at Balgray. They lived firstly in the village before moving by the 1901 census to Kipps Farm at Torphichen in West Lothian, where my grandfather, their second son, was born.  

By 1911 they had moved to Overton in Killearn, Stirlingshire and Alexander was a farm overseer.  They then moved to Hill of Balgair in Balfron, where my grandparents also lived after their marriage. Annie died there in September 1924, shortly after my grandparent's marriage and is buried in Balfron churchyard.

      These are the only photographers I have of her, a cousin of my fathers gave me copies years ago.

This one is Annie with her husband Alexander and three sons, 
I am not sure which is my grandfather.

Over the years, Yamini had mentioned that her sister was doing a course in Balfron and I always thought I would like to make a trip up there to see if I could see where my great grandmother was buried and maybe find the farms too.  

Back in April when I visited Yamini for her birthday she said that Anne and her classmates would be having a graduation show in the next few months in Balfron. She then found out it was to be last weekend,  so I investigated travelling there and found it was 140 miles away but would take nearly three hours to drive there. I thought I could manage that in a day, it was a Sunday, to see the show, but if I wanted to do some family history too, I thought it may be a bit much.  

I then looked into getting some accommodation to stay overnight, but the nearest I could get was a 45mins drive south near Glasgow. I thought if I did that I would not go back north again the following day so it was not worth doing it. So I rang Yamini.

Well, she said, how about going to hers and staying a couple of nights and then we could go to Balfron together and she could see the show and her sister too. So a plan was put into action. 

I drove to Dunoon on the Saturday and we then had a long discussion about which way to go to Balfron the following day, on the ferry and then Erskine Bridge or north then south along Loch Lomand.  

It depended on the weather, but we decided on the latter longer route as I wanted to stop at a place called The Rest and be Thankful.  I have often heard this mentioned on the travel news on the BBC news.   That's the blue route on the map above.  The Rest and be Thankful viewing point is just below the kink in the road after the first roadworks sign. 

This is the start of the Old Military Road, which starts at the viewing point, it can be seen weaving along in the distance, and the main road is above it. That road is used as an alternative route when the main road is closed, mainly as a result of landslides but also snow.  Yamini has written more about the problems with the road and about the show on her blog. Oh yes, and there was a geocache to get there too.  We made another couple of stops arriving at Balfron just after midday.  


We soon found the hall where the show was being held.  

We had a look at all the exhibits and found Anne's near the end, where we also saw Yamini's youngest sister and a cousin too.  So quite a family reunion. We spent about an hour there before deciding to move on, (after finding another couple of caches at the hall), to find the church and do my family history and we were getting hungry too.  

History of the hall. (from the geocache site)

The Hall is at the corner of Buchannan Street and Dunmore Street, The McLintock Hall – more correctly, the John McLintock Hall, is described as the ‘social heart of the community.

The Hall opened on 13th June 1923. 

In the early 1900’s The Trustees saw the need for radical changes and set about the ambitious refurbishment which incorporated the social and recreational aspects of the hall. 

Not all the necessary work could be afforded at that time and in 2004 funds were available to re-slate the roof, install a lift to improve access to the first floor and general redecoration of the halls

When we found a parking place (at the golf club!!) next to the church, my hunger went away as I was too excited about looking for the headstone. Yamini was fading away with hunger but I managed to satisfy her hunger with a banana!!

But first, there was geocache to find. 

The old Clachan Oak, which stands on the common green outside the Church of Scotland at the top of the village; around this spot the old Balfron village originally grew. The oak (now the symbol of the Community Council) was recorded in 1867 as being in a “flourishing condition”, but its short trunk is now completely hollow, and held together by 3 iron hoops.  These were not an early form of tree surgery – they had a more sinister purpose, for until the end of the 18th century petty criminals were chained to the tree with an iron neck collar, where they were subjected to public ridicule.

The tree has undergone extensive work to improve its condition and ensure that it remains the living emblem of Balfron for many years to come. In 2014 the tree came third in Scotland’s Tree of the Year competition. There's a long-standing debate as to whether it was William Wallace or Rob Roy who sheltered under the tree, but both had local connections. (Geocache site).

As we walked to the church there were a couple of cars parked outside the door and we asked one of the men there if the church was open, he said it is not normally open for visitors but as he was there we could have a look inside.  It turned out he was the Session Clerk (the person who takes minutes of the Session and maintains all the church's ledgers of membership, births, baptisms, deaths and elders).

We spent about 20-30 mins in the church.  It was a privilege to be able to see inside such a wonderful building and maybe I walked in the footsteps of my great-grandparents. 

We moved out to the churchyard to begin our search for the headstone.  The weather had taken a turn for the better in Balfron so we were able to take our time and even sit on a bench to bask in the sunshine for a while. 

We found itπŸ˜πŸ˜€ (Sorry I look so scruffy in the photo).  

The memorial to my great grandparents Annie Lauder and Alexander Ritchie and 
also to their daughter in law Catherine Horn.

I was so pleased to find the headstone and spent a few minutes there, with them, before returning to the car and our much needed packed lunch.  We made a brief return to the Hall to say goodbye to the girls and then made our way back over the bridge and ferry to Dunoon.

A tiring day, but well worth the trip to see Yamini's sisters, especially Anne's work and to find the memorial to my ancestors (oh yes and to find some caches).πŸ˜€

28 May 2022

May Mobile Library Books

I haven't had any books from the mobile library for the last two months, at the end of March the driver was on holiday and the one at the end of April I was away.  So earlier this week I picked up nine books.

Some of them I have had on request for the last two months and I cannot remember why I wanted to read them.

As I read them ad write a review I will add the link to the titles here. 
 In a Strange Room by Damon Galgut
False Witness by Karin Slaughter
Iced by Felix Francis
The Heron's Cry by Ann Cleeves
Many Rivers to Cross by Peter Robinson
The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

I had to return the George V one in June as it was reserved by someone else. 

27 May 2022

Blairmore Red Telephone Box

Today is the last post about Blairmore. I hope you have enjoyed the little tour.

Red telephone boxes are rarely used for making phone calls nowadays.  Some have defibrillators in them and I have seen lots that are used as book exchanges.  The one at Blairmore is a book exchange and an art installation.  The artwork was carried out by Frank Stephenson. 

In 2008, with the decline in usage of red telephone boxes, BT started an 'Adopt a Kiosk' scheme.  Parish or town councils, charities and individuals who had a phone box on their land could adopt one for £1. Over 6,600 have been adopted all over the country and even the one in Ambridge on the BBC Radio 4 serial The Archers has been adopted too.

A couple of closeups of the village hall and the road sign.

 While looking for more info on the telephone box and Frank Stephenson, I found a page about the Cowal Open Studios.  They have an art trail that runs from May-August, so that is something else I will have to investigate for my next visit to Dunoon.

26 May 2022

Blairmore Village Hall

The Village Hall at Blairmore is opposite the pier in the centre of the village, with the Community Garden on its right and The Blairmore on the left.  It was the former waiting room for the Pier and is a Group 3 listed building.

Views of the Hall from near the top of the Community Garden. 

Several groups meet regularly in the hall including: the Shore Art Club, Kilmun Bridge Club, the Blairmore Carpet Bowlers and Blairmore Scottish Country Dancers.  They have a website here.

25 May 2022

The Blairmore Community Garden geocache

During 2013/2014 the village was given the opportunity to buy the site and make it into an area that would have a positive impact on the village and the outcome is the Blairmore Community Garden. There are two reports on line, one for December 2013 and another from February 2014.  They are pretty similar, but both have lots of lovely photos. It is amazing to read that the village had the opportunity to create this area and for so many people to take part in the process. 

It is a pretty steep area, but there are plenty of seats and benches and things to look at. There are several areas for flowers and wildlife to grow and insects, a butterfly garden etc. There are info boards explaining each area and why they have been created.  There is also lots for children to do.

This is the description from the geocaching page for the cache in the garden:

The Blairmore Community Garden is now owned by the community and was a former stop for drovers from the west as well as being visited by picnic parties who disembarked from steamers calling at the nearby pier. The pier itself is privately owned but open to the public, and still attracts visits from the paddle-steamer Waverley during the summer months. The garden is still a good spot to enjoy a picnic and there are views of the Firth of Clyde from the top of the hill. Note the nearby “parliament of owls”

This is where the cache was hidden, a very large bug house:

View over the  Loch towards Firth of Clyde, with the village hall on the right.  This was the path I walked up it was very steep and I was glad it was dry as it would have been very slippy if it had been raining. I did find a not so steep path to get back down.

Bluebell Cottage and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The set was gifted to Blairmore to live in the garden.  They are part of a vintage set, made in the 1940s in the USA. Lots of American servicemen and families lived in the area from the 1960's and it is thought that is when they arrived in Scotland.

Here are the parliament of owls.  After doing some searching online I think they were made by a local chainsaw carver. They are amazing and worth going to Blairmore just to see them.

On the way back we stopped off at Eachaig Bridge to get another cache and this is the description from the geocaching site:

Eachaig Bridge, a single-span wrought iron double warren lattice truss bridge was built in 1885 to replace an earlier timber bridge and accommodate heavier traffic. There is an increasing rarity of unaltered wrought iron bridges, of which this is a good example, with interesting details. The bridge also reflects the late 19th century increase in road traffic, as scenic excursions from Dunoon north became more popular.

It is only used by pedestrians and maybe cyclists nowadays. 

24 May 2022

Blairmore EarthCache

There are two geocaches at Blairmore and the first was an EarthCache.  What is an EarthCache you may ask? Well, they tell the visitor about the rocks and geology of the area.

This is the info from the cache page:

Loch Long, in the west of the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park, forms a sea loch extending 20 miles from the Firth of Clyde at its southwestern end. The loch forms a long indent with the coast of the Cowal Peninsula on one side and the entire western coastline of the Rosneath Peninsula on the other side.

This EarthCache will help you learn about Dalriadian rocks, which can be seen on the shores of Loch Long.

Dalradian is a geological term describing a series of metamorphic rocks. It was named after the old Celtic region of DΓ‘l Riata (Dalriada) by the geologist, Sir A Geikie, in 1891, and the term now covers a range of metamorphic rocks from slates, phylites and schists, to quartzites, gneisses, amphibolites and marbles.

Metamorphic rocks started out as some other type of rock, but have been substantially changed from their original igneous, sedimentary, or earlier metamorphic form. Metamorphic rocks form when rocks are subjected to high heat, high pressure, hot mineral-rich fluids or, more commonly, some combination of these factors. Conditions like these are found deep within the Earth.

Process of Metamorphism:

The process of metamorphism does not melt the rocks, but instead transforms them into denser, more compact rocks. New minerals are created either by rearrangement of mineral components or by reactions with fluids that enter the rocks. Pressure or temperature can even change previously metamorphosed rocks into new types. Metamorphic rocks are often squished, smeared out, and folded. Despite these uncomfortable conditions, metamorphic rocks do not get hot enough to melt, or they would become igneous rocks.

The rocks that result from these processes often have ribbon-like layers and may have shiny crystals.

Here are some examples:

Foliated metamorphic rocks such as gneiss, phyllite, schist, and slate have a layered or banded appearance that is produced by exposure to heat and directed pressure. Non-foliated metamorphic rocks such as hornfels, marble, quartzite, and novaculite do not have a layered or banded appearance. Metamorphic rocks are usually harder and denser than other rocks because of the intense heat and pressure they are placed under. We can also look for bands and foliations in the rocks. The thicker the band, the more pressure the rock was under when it was being formed.

 Then the cacher has to answer some questions to claim the cache, these are the ones for this one:

1. Describe the rocks that you can see at the side of the pier.

2. Having read the information above, do you think the rocks are foliated or non-foliated?

3. Please provide a photo of yourself or a personal item near GZ.

I described the rocks: On the left hand side, they appear to be rounder with some layering, but the ones on the right were differently layered.

And I said the rocks were The ones on the right appear to be foliated and maybe some on the left too

And a selfie of me on the pier. 

I do enjoy EarthCaches as the owner has put a lot of work into preparing them and I find it so interesting to learn a bit more about the features at the locations. 

23 May 2022

The Blairmore, the Pier, the Old Post Office and the Old Ticket Office

During my trip to Dunoon at the end of April, we made a trip to Blairmore, on the shores of Loch Long, mainly to have lunch at The Blairmore but also to find some geocaches. In this week's blogs, I'll write about our visit. Although we were only there for the afternoon, there was a lot to see and do.

Today I'll talk about the buildings and then later in the week, I'll write about the village hall and the geocachers and finally the phone box.  

The Blairmore, a tearoom/take away is on the right of this block of buildings.  We had a drink and a sandwich to takeaway.  Very good and the service was excellent. 

The Old Blairmore Post Office is now partly, on the ground floor, a holiday let studio. The Post Office ran from 1859-1966. Next door there is a second-hand bric-a-brac shop, but there was a notice on the window saying it was closed, not sure if it is closed for good or will ever open again. The separate building on the right is the village hall.

Across the road is The Pier. 

The Pier at Blairmore was built in 1855 by Mr Boyd of Paisley to the designs of G Smith, engineer, and was extended in 1873. It is a Grade C Listed Building. The pier cost £300 to build and was built on land owned by Mr Campbell of Monzie who also gave £100 towards the cost.

This Mr Campbell was Alexander Campbell (1814-1869) the only son of General Alexander Campbell.  Alexander the younger was at one time the MP for Argyll. He joined the army in 1828 and left in 1835 to manage his estate at Monzie.  

Here is a webpage with some wonderful photos and the history of the pier and steamers using it.

The pier closed in the mid 1970s and became derelict, until 2005 when Agnes bought the pier.  And now the Paddle Steamer Waverley calls there in the summer, there is a website about the Waverley too. (Sorry about all the links, but there are some great photos and descriptions, so if you have the time please take a look). 

The Old Ticket Office at Blairmore is now a self catering holiday cottage.  I thought it was someone's home so didn't like to take any closer photos of it.  It was a lovely looking place and it would be a great place to stay.

21 May 2022

A spring day Trip to Edinburgh - Part 1

In April National Rail, had an offer of half-price train tickets, the idea behind that was to get people back travelling by train.  I booked several trips this month to go to Newcastle, £2.90 return, the car park at the station cost £3!! 

I also booked a trip to Edinburgh for a day trip to go to some galleries or museums and do some geocaching. That ticket cost £7.40 and only £1.50 at the car park at the station. Cheaper than going by car on my own. 

The Berwick Upon Tweed viaduct from the train sorry about the reflection.  The Royal Border Bridge was built between 1847 and 1850, to designs by Robert Stevenson, (the son of George).  There are 28 arches, I only got 24 in my photo.  

The weather was not so good here, so took a big coat with me, once I got to Edinburgh the sun was shining, but a bit windy, as I think it usually is on Princes Street. Thank goodness I had a rucksack so was able to put my coat in there for the day.  

My first stop was at the City Art Centre, which is at the back of the train station. Unfortunately, they were in the middle of changing their main exhibition so they only had one open, Incoming: New Acquisitions at the City Art Centre
There are a few images of the artwork on the link above, but I did notice a painted called 'Suffolk Meadow.' I took a photo of it and also the label beside it, but then I saw there were 'no photograph' signs so I do not think I should put it up here, I have looked online and cannot see it anywhere, but think the label will be ok. 

I then moved onto the gardens on Princes Street to do some Adventure Lab Caches and earth caches. I do not think I have explained what they do, but it's a new part of Geocaching, but in this one there are usually five to get to an area and each one has a clue and you have to answer a question when you get to the spot. There are no physical caches, more detail here. For instance, there is one called War Memorials of Princes Street Gardens, and I had to visit five war memorials in the garden and answer a question once I was there.  These were all in the West Gardens.

First, The Royal Scots Monument.

This main stone has listed on it all the battles the Royal Scots were involved in from Tangier in 1680 to Burma in 1943-7.

Each of the monoliths has an image of the uniforms of the regiment through the years.

Next, The Royal Scots Greys Monument commemorates those lost in the Boer War.

Third, The Call Monument and the Falklands War Memorial Garden.

The Scottish American Memorial or The Call 1914 commemorates Scottish troops lost in the First World War. 

The memorial garden for the Falklands War is opposite The Call.

Fourth, was to remember Wojtek a bear who was adopted by Polish Troops during World Two. 

He helped carry ammunition at the Battle of Monte Cassino.  After the war, he came to Scotland and ended his days at Edinburgh Zoo.

As part of another cache, also set at this monument I had to take a photo of Wojtek and me.

Finally the Norweigan Memorial Stone
The inscription on it reads:

During the War years 1940-1945
The Norwegian Brigade and other army units 
were raised and trained in Scotland
Hee we found hospitality, Friendship
And hope during dark years of Exile
In Grateful Memory of our friends and allies
On these Isles this stone was erected
In the year 1978

And on the back is this:
This boulder was brought here from Norway
Where it was worn and shaped for thousands of years
by forces of nature -frost, running water, rock sand and ice
until it obtained its present shape

The person that set the Adventreu Lab said it would only take about 30mins to find the memorials and answer the questions, but he urged people to stop and remember how each representation is different to the next.  Which I did, I couldn't help but do so.

Edinburgh Castle from the Gardens

And at the end of the Gardens was this fountain.  I walked all the way around it and could not find anything to tell me about it.  So I had to wait until I was home to do a Google search.

It is the Ross Fountain. It was sculpted by Jean-Baptiste Jules Klagmann from cast iron. A Scottish gun maker, Daniel Ross saw the fountain at the Great Exhibition of 1862.  He bought the fountain for £2000 as a gift to Edinburgh in 1869.  It has recently been restored, it was painted to restore its colour to the original and also to get the water running again.

I am pleased to say I managed to get a total of 16 caches in Edinburgh. More on the rest of my day another time.