About two weeks ago, my partner, Neil asked me what I wanted to do on my birthday. I said, half -jokingly, “go to Arran”.
I wasn’t completely serious because visiting the Island of Arran, on the west coast of Scotland, was something I had been talking about ever since I returned from Cyprus in 1997. It remained one of those tantalising future events – I would go there ‘one day’.
When I was young, about six or seven, I used to go to Arran on holiday with my two aunts – Cathy and Mamie. We always went to Machrie, a small village on the west side of the island.
I had always wanted to go back and look for the small white cottage where we used to stay. But, I never went - until 10 days ago.
So, on the day before my birthday, we took two trains and a ferry, and landed on the beautiful Island of Arran. We were met by blazing sunshine.
We stayed overnight in the Rosaburn Guest House (I can recommend it!) and next day hired a car and headed off down the coast to Machrie to look for ‘the cottage’.
I had no idea where it was. All I remembered was that it was in Machrie and the bus from Brodick used to drop me and my aunts at the bottom of a steep, winding track which we then had to climb to reach the cottage.
After driving up tracks and stopping for coffee (of course), we found the cottage. At least, I think we found it, although it looked smaller than I remember. Childhood memories always make things seem much bigger.
We drove up a winding road, past the Machrie Standing Stones. So far, so good. When we reached a cluster of houses, we parked on a grass verge and got out of the car. The wind had got up by this time and nearly blew us back down the hill.
Then I saw them - 3 white cottages in a row, now joined together to form one long low house. I looked at the middle section, trying to conjure up some sort of memory, anything, that would suddenly hit me. It didn’t.
Was this the cottage? I wanted it to be, but was it? It looked too white, too tidy, too new, with its gleaming stonework and brown painted windows.
I needed a sign.
There was the sound of running water coming from behind the house. I remembered the burn where, with my little pail, I used to go to fetch water every morning.
I closed my eyes and tried to get my bearings. There was the cottage and behind it the burn, and to the right was the big house where Miss Robertson, the old lady, had lived.
It had to be the place.
After a last look from the top of the hill, I got into the car and we drove back down the hill.
Arran is small and beautiful, and you can easily drive round it in less than a day, and we spent the rest of the day exploring the island.
In the evening, we celebrated my birthday in Creelers restaurant in Brodick. It’s owned by the same people who have Creelers in Edinburgh. Both restaurants specialise in seafood which is caught fresh, every day, on the island.
I had grilled Queenies -small scallops – with lemon butter, followed by grilled seabass with garlic sauce.
Neil had mackerel pate and Arran oatcakes, followed by grilled hake in a chunky tomato sauce.
We accompanied all this with chilled Vouvray and didn’t have any room left for pudding. Shame.
I like to think I found the cottage, finally, after all those years. I think I did.
What did I learn from my trip? To stop talking about ‘one day’ and just do it; oh, and to get out more!