A writer's memories of Scotland

A writer's memories of Scotland

I am not sure who first floated the idea, but I suspect it was  me. Wife Heather was working for a pharmaceutical company and I was writing mostly business stories, asking CEOs impertinent questions on why their companies were losing so much money. But we were restless, ready for a major adventure before really settling down.
Because my grandparents had been born in Scotland, we were eligible for work visas in Britain, so in the spring of 1989 we sold our house and loaded our few sticks of furniture onto a cargo ship bound for Liverpool. We had no jobs and no fixed address.
Undaunted, we crossed the Atlantic and after a quick scouting of possible locations, picked St. Andrews as our new hometown. And why wouldn't we? It looked and felt just like an ancient town should. It is dotted with castle and cathedral ruins, wrapped with beaches and lined with cobblestone streets and is home to one of the world's oldest universities. (The school would gain extra fame as the place where Prince William fell in love with Kate.) Mail was delivered twice a day and once on Saturday and each afternoon the kid from the fishmonger's shop weaved through the streets on his bicycle delivering whitefish that had been caught along the coast earlier that day.

Hopestreetflat  Strathkinnesshouse

Left: Ian and Heather stand outside their Hope Street flat. Right: Newtonlea, their 200-year-old farmhouse.

And, as every golfer knows, St. Andrews is the spot where some 700 years ago, a couple of local shepherds inverted their crooks and knocked sheep dung into rabbit holes, thereby inventing the royal and ancient game.
It was the people, though, that made the place. Our neighbours included Margaret Ryan, one of Britain's top children authors and my tennis pal, David Tunstall, a professor at the University, often brought his three kids to the courts, including daughter Katie. Today she bills herself as KT Tunstall and is a multi-million-selling singer/songwriter.
Because of the Old Course, celebrities often came to town. I saw Sean Connery about once a year. While the rest of the world idolized the original 007 and voted him “the world's sexiest man,” the Scots never let the Oscar winner get too big for his trousers. They wouldn't let him forget that he started out as a milkman in a working class Edinburgh neighbourhood, which was just fine with Connery.
About a year after landing in Scotland, life changed considerably with the arrival of son Andrew Hamish Cruickshank (now, like me, a regular writer for TraveLife). We quickly realized that our flat in St. Andrews was too small and we decided to buy our own place, a home named Newtonlea, a handsome sandstone house in the centre of Strathkinness, a village that straddles the high ground a couple of kilometres up the hill from St. Andrews. Known locally as Strath, it's mentioned in the history books as far back as 1200 and hasn't changed much since. The village had a pub and corner shop and was surrounded by rich fields of hay, oats and barley with the sweep of the North Sea on the horizon. The end of our road petered off into a country lane where the residents were mostly cows, sheep and horses. After dinner, we'd often wander down the road and feed sugar cubes and cut carrots to Lucky, a pony owned by a local farmer.

Andrewonwestsands  bluejayshatsstrathki...  oldcourseIan,Norm&Je...

Left: Andrew on a local beach. Centre: Still big Blue Jays fans. Right: Mom and day visiting from Canada.

We paid about $150,000 for Newtonlea (most homes in Strathkinness had formal names) and it dated back to at least 1800 with former owners ranging from a blacksmith to a golf club maker. We loved the house, especially in the spring when the daffodils and roses would rise in the walled garden and the sun would catch the bits of quartz in the sandstone, setting the house aglow. Of course, any home originally built when Napoleon was ruling Europe had its eccentricities. We inherited a coal man, who came every couple of weeks struggling under the weight of the huge bags of anthracite he humped on his back. The floor boards in our bedroom were so slanted that we couldn't keep change on our dresser — it would slide to the floor and on especially brisk mornings — you could see your breathe inside the house.
We had to stay warm, so it wasn't too long until our daughter Kate arrived.
The day she was born, I returned from the hospital about seven in the morning and met Roy, the shop owner who also doubled as the village's milkman. As he finished his rounds, Roy spread our good news throughout Strathkinness and by noon cards of congratulations were being pushed through out letter box.
A year later, with two young kids starting to talk with thick-as-oatmeal Scottish accents, we decided to head back to Canada.  But 30 years later, we still have a quiet dram and think often of our grand adventure and days in the Old World.






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