Island Children

As a primary school teacher I’ve taught boys named after the isles of Harris and Lewis. I’ve taught an Ailsa (Craig), a (North) Rona, a Tara (nsay), a Summer (Isles) and a (Stac) Lee. And not so long ago I taught a girl called Skye. I’m bearing in mind that when teaching some of these nippers have told me that they often canna do something…but that’s another story.

In my present class of P6’s, I have a boy called Arran. And in my opinion it is far more acceptable to name your child after a Scottish island than a model of car (Mercedes) or brand of wine (Chardonnay). Especially when you consider how beautiful and peaceful our coastal archipelagos are.

Last Saturday I had a glorious looking weather window with warm and sunny days promised and clear visibility. Beinn Tarsuinn and Cir Mhor are a pair of Arran corbetts that I’d been eyeing up for a long time and so I boarded the 7am ferry to explore these igneous monoliths and then later, camp in Glen Rosa.


The weather forecaster did his job and the climate was warm, sunny and still. Even at sea the breeze was light and as we docked my route became clear very quickly. You can see Glen Rosa from the shore and that was where I headed, passing the big wooden house and the heritage museum. The sun lit up the whole glen to Beinn Nuis on the horizon and I set up camp ready for my no-doubt tired return later.


I’ve always had a hankering to live on an island. The feeling of serenity that drapes herself over me changes my thought processes, slows them to a light whir. And I can think with greater clarity. Add some mountains to the mix and the reset button is well and truly punched.

So feeling already more refreshed, I walked up the valley to the footbridge, swung a left uphill and after a couple of hours hiking had reached Beinn Nuis. The view towards Brodick and Holy Isle were stunning.


Passing over the snow-covered Beinn Tarsuinn was in itself a joy with the Paps of Jura and army helicopters vying for airspace. The ridge over to Cir Mhor looked incredibly inviting but I took the bypass route around the base and appeared to see the corrie and tors of Caisteal Abhail on my left and Cir Mhor ahead.


I followed the snowy path to the top of Cir Mhor and from their I could almost touch the top of Goat Fell. The deep, blue sea all around was licked by the spring sunshine and was blinding at points. But that blindness couldn’t have hidden the beauty of the views all around.


I could have stayed forever. It also reminded me of something I’ve long known. I should have been an island child.

A Hole Lot of Wonder

Q. What equipment do you need to go caving?

I only ask because if a Trivial Pursuit victory depended on my knowledge of potholing, I would be left floundering with 5/6s of a pie. The very idea of exploring the depths of middle earth excites me but scares the bejesus out of me, probably because I saw The Descent. I’m no caver, not for me the dark, creepy and ever decreasing holes in the ground where my larger frame would be constantly screaming “diet!”. But I do like the idea of natural howffs or shelters, which give you a genuine sense of protection from the wind, rain and snow, cut into or made of rock such as Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Cave near Elgol on Skye.

I recently heard about a cave in Glen Almond near Amulree. Not a deep cave. And no evil creatures apparently. Thieves Cave (Thiefs Cave on OS maps) can be found at the back-wall of Coire Chultrain. There isn’t much information online, but it’s link to reivers and catarans (and no mention of Neil Marshall) made it sound worthy of a expedition.

As it turned out, the cave has mostly collapsed, leaving a pile of particularly large, slabby boulders. It was at least a lovely, snowy walk up from the bridge at Sma Glen, but what really made the trip was that some enterprising soul has placed a geocache on the site. And a well stocked one at that.

I swapped trinkets. However, my new helicopter wasn’t quite big enough to fly me out of the corrie.

Continuing my search for dark places, yesterday I went looking for Cave number two of the week. Balnamoon’s Cave can be found in Glen Mark, near Edzell. The hiding place of a Jacobean laird on the run, I was hoping for better luck this time, something I could clamber inside and get a sense of protection from the wilderness.

After a mornings walking through light snow and then an hours rock hopping around the hillside looking for the tell-tale vertical slit, I was in luck.

Water streaming down the back wall like a fountain, but roomy and with two heather single beds already created by some expert howffers, it inspired some ¬†mixed thoughts along the lines of “Who last slept here?” and “I’d like to give that springy bed a shot”, which I duly did.

But actually, I was well chuffed with my find. More than big enough to hold a crowd, lots of protection from the elements and a feeling of stepping back in time, the cave was just deep enough to be a shelter, but close enough to the sunshine to escape any strange predators that Hollywood might create.

Sitting under one 500 tonne rock was scary. So to ask my initial question again, what equipment to you need to go caving deep under ground? The answer is simple. You don’t need ropes, rucksack or even a helmet. You need balls. Big ones.

Lost in Song

Driving to work the other day I was listening to the radio. Amongst the news stories about Trump, TTIP and terrorism, and songs like Walking in Memphis, I Left My Heart in San Francisco and New York State of Mind, the wavelengths took an easterly turn on the compass:
“I was sick and tired of everything, when I called you last night from Glasgow”. Super Trouper – ABBA

How many popular songs from the last 50 years have you heard with Glasgow mentioned in the title or the lyrics? Not many I’d imagine, none probably. I’ve known this particular ABBA song for years and never noticed the Scottish link.

I put my thinking cap on. Letter from America by The Proclaimers is almost universally known for its mention of what seems like every Scottish town between Wick and Stranraer and Johnny Cash did the same in the US with I’ve Been Everywhere.

Kurt Cobain penned a song celebrating the the Northern city of Aberdeen. But it was the North American city of the same name in Washington state which inspired said tune.

Mark E. Smith was an Edinburgh Man (but actually Mancunian), Hue and Cry sang of Mother Glasgow (a lovely image for a title for a song about “Billys and Tims”) and Snow Patrol wrote a song about Dundee, where they formed.

California wasn’t written about the sleepy mining village near Falkirk. Bon Iver sang about Perth, Australia rather than Perth, Scotland. No one has written about Lebanon in the Middle East, or Lebanon in Fife. At least not that I know of.

Scottish cities seem largely forgotten by musicians, no muse to be found presumably and perhaps little in the way of royalties to be made. Which is unsurprising when you take any well known name dropped song song and replace the town or city; Walking in Greenock? I Left My Heart in Kirkintilloch? Bathgate State of Mind? There are songs that take you on a journey, inspire you, make it all feel better or just make you walk a little taller. Would your heart skip a beat when hearing Galashiels Express for the first time?

For Scots we either know there’s no great redeeming features about these places or assume there are none. The Tenderloin or Fishermans Wharf in San Francisco is as rough as any Scottish estate. But the sunshine sure does make it look exotic and a place to aspire to. I wonder if Americans feel the same about Musselburgh or Dundee.

And as for ABBA’s Super Trouper, wouldn’t it make a far better lyric to be called by someone staying in New York or Memphis? Why Glasgow?

That’s a story I’d like to hear from Benny and the crew. Were they lost?

My top 5 “Place Names in Songs” (note the lack of Scottish entries):

1. Streets of London by Ralph McTell

2. Calgary by Bon Iver

3. Don’t go Back to Rockville by REM

4. New York, New York by Ryan Adams

5. Streets of Philadelphia by Bruce Springsteen