A Day Out In Cromarty/Achcraggan

I have been remiss in not adding anything new to this blog for a while, but after a lovely day out in Cromarty last weekend (the Achcraggan of the My Friend series of novels), it would be a sin not to share some of the pictures taken on my phone.

Once in the town we parked up and headed along the narrow streets toward the shore. It was a lovely sunny day and the view out to the Sutors of Cromarty was beautiful (appropriately called The Cobblers in the novels, a soutar being the Scottish term for a cobbler).

The Sutors of Cromarty

The view towards the fabrication yard at Nigg, on the other side of the firth, was quite different. Not sure what these structures are going to be but we suspect they may become North Sea wind turbines.

Giant yellow structures over at Nigg

After a spot of lunch we had a wander round the streets, and although we have visited it many times, we had to pop inside Cromarty Courthouse which houses the town’s museum. The old courtroom is set up with animatronic figures and audio, where they recreate a court hearing from a very long time ago. I did take a short film but sadly can’t seem to upload it here. I do have some pictures of the rooms inside the building however and of the jail cell itself. On a sunny day it didn’t look too foreboding but in the depths of winter it must have been a dire place in which to be incarcerated.

Finally, we had a wander along to the Royal Hotel which looked sparkling white in the sunshine. I’ve never quite worked out which public house Jane Duncan’s father and uncle might have frequented, but possibly an amalgam of a few hostelries of the time, this one included. As long as her grandmother didn’t find out about it, all would have been well!

Thanks for accompanying me on my trip to Cromarty. I shall return soon with more Jane Duncan-related blog posts.


The Day I Bumped Into ‘Duncan’, One of the Hungry Generation!

Had a lovely trip across the Kessock Bridge to the Black Isle yesterday afternoon. It was a glorious autumn day, so after skirting the water’s edge on the south side as far as Rosemarkie, we then took the road that leads inland towards the Cromarty Firth on the north side. The plan was to visit the cemetery where Jane Duncan is buried and then head towards Jemimaville, where she lived for many years with Uncle George, in the house she built by the shore.

The gravestone behind her own, marks the place where her brother is buried. Their stones face directly across Udale Bay towards Jemimaville, and to the place on the hill that always remained her ‘spiritual home’ wherever else in the world she lived, the Reachfar of her novels.

We had just wandered down one of Jemimaville’s side lanes to visit Jane’s old house, when we spotted some people doing a spot of gardening, no doubt ‘the big tidy-up’ ahead of winter. Conscious of the fact travel restrictions are in place around the country at the moment, I wanted to reassure them we were local, so stopped for a wee chat. It turned out it was Neil, Jane’s nephew, who became immortalised in her books as one of ‘The Hungry Generation’. He and his lovely wife now live in the village, and were happy for me to take a picture.

Neil aka ‘Duncan’, with his wife

For someone who has a whole blog dedicated to Jane Duncan and her books, this was quite something, and an encounter I hadn’t expected when we headed off that fine day. Once home I revisited My Friends the Hungry Generation and remembered it had been signed by Neil and his siblings at the wonderful centenary event in 2010. Here is that book with its beautiful cover by Virginia Smith. I will also share the page from the booklet written for the event, which had pictures of the family, before finishing with an extract from the book, the scene when Janet meets the oldest three children for the first time when on a visit home from the Caribbean. Enjoy.

Pictures of The Hungry Generation in the booklet written to accompany the 2010 centenary event

On the occasion of Janet’s first meeting with Liz, Duncan and Gee, 1956.

(Extracted from My Friends the Hungry Generation by Jane Duncan)

‘Stand by for boarders,’ my brother said suddenly. ‘Here comes the Hungry Generation.’

In 1951, when I had last seen my niece, she had been an entrancing three-year-old who was just beginning to read and when the door opened now I was quite unprepared for the leggy coltish eight-year-old dressed in navy shorts and a very dirty white shirt. She had long, light brown pigtails and large eyes, shaped and darkly lashed like the eyes of her mother but, in colour, the brilliant blue of her father’s. The two boys, who stood on either side of her in the doorway, I had never seen before, of course. Duncan, called after my father, was five and seemed to have no connection with his mother at all, for he had bright red-gold curly hair and blue eyes and looked exactly as my bother had at that age, but George, aged four and called after his mother’s father, had been obliging enough to go entirely her side of the family and was, I was told, very like the grandfather whose name he bore, with his dark grey eyes and straight jet-black hair.

A Sunday Drive to Cromarty (aka Achcraggan)

This afternoon was dreich and drizzly but as I intend to start updating this blog more often, I decided we should have a casual drive through to Cromarty, the Achcraggan of the My Friend… series of books.

The firth is chock-a-block with oil rigs and platforms in the process of being decommissioned at the moment, but the town itself is the same as ever, the Fishertown houses gable end to the sea and the massive old town houses standing proud off the main streets.

Heading past the Old Brewery, we climbed the steep brae that leads out of town and spotted this strange creature in a field.

Once we got closer we realised it was a sculpture, and not the real thing, although many a child is probably convinced otherwise. It made more sense when we discovered it was standing in the grounds of a revamped stable block that now houses a Creative Arts hub. No horses nowadays but rather sculptors and printmakers. It seems they like to play fantastical tricks on unsuspecting passers-by!


An Unsavoury Scene and How Janet is Relieved of the Burden

On the accidental witnessing of Jamie “taking advantage” of Miss Violet and how George and Tom relieve Janet of the burden – Voiced by Uncle George, Tom and the eight-year-old Janet, 1918

(Extracted from My Friends the Miss Boyds by Jane Duncan)

But it was not any member of my family that came over the green rim of the basin.  It was that Miss Iris Boyd and that son of the cattleman at Whitemills that was on leave from the Army, and he had his arm around her waist and she had her head on his shoulder and was giggling in a way so silly that I was red hot all over and rooted to the ground with shame for her.   Before Fly and I could feel calm enough to move, they suddenly sat down right beside the clump of broom that held us, and he began to pull at the front of her blouse and she was saying: “Now don’t Jamie!” and giggling, and then again: “Jamie you mustn’t!” and not really meaning it at all, and his face was looking sly and his eyes were bright and his mouth was open and the lips wet and slobbery.  And always from Miss Iris there would come that silly ineffectual guilty furtive giggle and the “Now don’t Jamie!  You mustn’t take advantage!”  After what seemed a very long time of this she suddenly sprang to her feet and ran clumsily like a crab but giggling all the time, across the grass by the pool but I saw Jamie catch up with her and they threw themselves down by another clump of broom and I could see only their feet and his hand now pushing the skirts up from her skinny legs with the black stockings and the pink garters below the knees.  Fly and I crawled out, silent and unseen on to the path, then took to our heels and left Miss Iris and Jamie wrestling in the quarry. …

It was all Dreadful, dreadful in a way I could not describe, for my brain would not think about it without having red sparks of shame, and my stomach felt sick.  And I was afraid to go home, not just because the broom bushes had torn my hair ribbons, but because I felt that some of the hideous, sly guilt of Jamie’s slobbery mouth was somewhere on me and that my family would see it.  I felt that, for the first time in my life, I had been in contact with Real, Awful Sin and it was my fault for going to the quarry where my Friend Tom and my Friend George had told me I must not go.

Several days later:

“Here come now,” said George in a voice more like my father than my clown of an uncle.  “Sit up now and tell Tom and me about this.”

“That Miss Boyd and that man –

I told them.  I told them everything – black stockings, pink garters, “Don’t take advantage” and all.  They listened in rigid silence and when I had finished I looked from one of them to the other.

“For myself,” said George, “I am hard put till it not to be laughing!” and suddenly he rolled over on the grass towards Tom, caught him around the neck and said: “Come on, Tom, dearie, give me a nice kiss, now!”

“Now, now, Geordie!” said Tom with squeaky refinement, “Don’t be taking advantage!”

They began to roll about on the grass together until I could hardly believe that they hadn’t seen the whole episode for themselves.  The longer it went on the funnier it became, and by the time Tom sprang up and began to run, giggling away, with his toes turned out, his hands holding up his trouser legs as Miss Iris had held her skirt, I was holding my aching sides as I laughed, and the dogs were barking their delight and jumping around in circles.

“Was that the way it was, at all?” George asked, after they had sat down again and caught their breath.

“Yes, but not funny like that,” I told him.

“No.  That was because they weren’t doing it for pure foolishness like Tom and me.  But it was just foolishness that was in them, a-all the same although that Miss Boyd is too foolish to know when she’s being foolish, like.” 

“That’s just the way of it,” said Tom.  “But man George we’ll have to sort it out so that they will not be at their foolishness at the old quarry.  The lady might be getting mud on her pink garters!”  They both began to laugh as though they would burst and somehow my Burden of Sin had now disappeared.

Disappointment, and How Best to Deal With It

The disappointment of there being no Harvest Home – Voiced by Uncle George and the eight-year-old Janet, 1918

(Extracted from My Friends the Miss Boyds by Jane Duncan)

“I don’t think there is going to be a Harvest Home this year,” George said.

“That’s foolishness, George Sandison!” I was indignant. “There is always a Harvest Home. Why isn’t there going to be one.”

George leaned on his rake and stared away at the Ben in that searching way, and Tom said: “Well, ye see, since the War things is not the same. Apples and raisins and things is very, very dear, and your father says the Laird kind of feels that he canna afford it like he used to.”

“But we don’t have to have raisin dumpling! We could sing and dance—“

“Listen,” George said. “I don’t think we should be speaking about it. If Sir Torquil feels he canna afford it, to be speaking about it and showing that a person is disappointed will chust make things worse for him. For me, I am just going to go on as usual as if I had never heard o’ such a thing as a Harvest Home.”

“But you are disappointed all the same, George?”

“Och aye, surely. But when a person’s disappointed it’s better to be disappointed in to yourself and not be bawling about it at people. That only makes it worse …. Man, Tom, I wish I had a sweetie! You wouldna have a black-strippit ball about you?”


The Old Brewery, Cromarty

I have just returned from a Weekend Residential held in the village of Cromarty, the Achcraggan of the My Friend… series of books. For only the second time since I started my Creative Writing course at college last September, I met up with my classmates in a non-virtual fashion, so it was a great chance to catch up. Courses like ours are mainly done online nowadays, with lectures being given via Video Conference. ‘Tis the times, but the weekend was a resounding success so more will follow no doubt.

The centre where we stayed is an old brewery, so what better name for this quite fabulous centre for the arts than, The Old Brewery. I am local-ish, so know the village well, and my husband’s very first job was at the local pottery (it is a very artsy place), but for people who have never visited before, it really is quite something – Almost a time capsule from the 18th century when Cromarty was one of the most prosperous places in Scotland because of trade with Northern Europe, and because of the vast shoals of silver darlings (herring to you and I) that were caught off its shores.

I did say it was almost an 18th century time capsule however, and that would be because if you look west along the firth, the view is something like this. I went out for an evening walk amongst the quaint streets of the old fishertown, but when I joined the shore road, I was quite mesmerised by the scale of the lit-up structures attached to the oil fabrication yard on the north side of the firth.

Drilling rigs are parked up in the Cromarty Firth near Invergordon, Scotland

The Oil Fabrication Yard at Nigg

However, in the morning, I woke up to this – What a weird mix of old and new, but strangely alluring too, as it brings a modern-day sharpness to the quaint and slightly twee village.


The quaint village of Cromarty

Over the course of the weekend, an invitation went out to give readings of either your own work, or that of a favourite author. Of course for me it was simple, as what better to read when in Cromarty, but a couple of excerpts from My Friends the Miss Boyds. The two I chose have already featured in this blog, The Freedom of the Individual and The Difference between Townsfolk and Countryfolk.

I think they both went down quite well.


The Difference between Townsfolk and Countryfolk

Discussing the ineptitude of townsfolk on Red Cross collection day – Voiced by Tom and the eight-year-old Janet, 1918

(Extracted from My Friends the Miss Boyds by Jane Duncan)


So down Tom and I went to the village on Friday afternoon, both in very good form behind Dulcie, who was spanking along, as if she thought it a fine thing to be alive and so it was. Everybody knew us, of course, and stopped to speak to us, and Doctor Mackay put a threepenny piece in the box on the shore road “just for luck” he said. The butter, eggs and honey we had with us would be delivered at the houses that had ordered them, and some would be exchanged for our groceries and butcher-meat through accounts that had been going on for years but the wild raspberries I had picked and the pigeons Tom had shot, were for our Red Cross.

“And we have this new call to make the-day, on the Miss Boyds,” said Tom. “Should we be keeping a pair of Red Cross pigeons for them, do you think?”

“Maybe they couldn’t pluck them, Tom,” I said. “They are awful handless-looking, somehow.”

“Maybe you’re right,” Tom agreed. It’s them being from the town, the poor craiturs. People from the town is very inclined to be useless in a lot of ways. They’ll be buying their pigeons from a mannie that plucks them all ready for the pot, so they never get a chance to learn a thing for themselves. Aye. We’ll just chust sell the pigeons as usual and maybe they’ll be putting a penny in the boxie whateffer.”

Pictures of The Old Store

I am very sorry, but I haven’t posted anything new on this blog for over a month. My poor mum is in hospital and won’t be able to go home, so I have to find a care home for her. This has been a massive challenge as there just don’t seem to be enough places for the number of old folk who require them.

The old folk of Reachfar of course would never have had to face that prospect as I doubt if care homes existed in the “Achcraggan” featured in the My Friend series. Families looked after their own and I know Jane Duncan herself looked after Uncle George at her house on the shore, until his death. I would have loved to be able to do the same for my mum but she needs 24 hour care so not really possible for modern day families who still have to work and have grown up children still living at home.

Whatever, all will sort itself out soon I’m sure, but in the meantime here are a few pictures of the house Jane Duncan converted from an old storehouse, down on the shore-line at Jemimaville. The people who live in it now are conscious of its history and we were lucky to be able to visit it a few years ago. I give you The Old Store (renamed Reachfar it seems).



“Achcraggan” Church

The East Church in “Achcraggan”

Had a lovely visit to Cromarty earlier on this year with a friend who was over from Australia. Amongst other things, we paid a visit to the East Church, which was very probably the inspiration for the Reverend Roderick’s church in the My Friend... novels.



Inside the East Church

The Harvest Moon

I have another blog, a music one, where I write posts about what is commonly known as “the tracks of my years”. I know Janet Sandison loved music too, but the tracks of her years would have been very different from mine, having been born 50 years earlier.

As the September full moon, the Harvest Moon, will appear in our skies tonight, I have just shared the song of the same name by Neil Young over on the other blog. I have a sneaking suspicion that Janet and Twice, who like Neil Young both felt a close bond with nature, might well have enjoyed it too.

All full moons have a name, given to them by the Native Americans who kept track of the months by the lunar calendar. The Harvest Moon can occur in either September or October, as it’s the name given to the full moon that lands closest to the autumnal equinox. This year we reached the equinox on Sunday the 23rd Sept, that pivot point in the year after which we can expect more hours of dark than light in our days. Had it not landed that way, it would have been called the Corn Moon.

Harvests were very important to the residents of Reachfar, both their own and the big, onerous harvests supervised by Janet’s father at Poyntdale. At the end of it however there was a celebration, a Harvest Home, to give thanks for the food that would be available for the coming year.

We sometimes forget to give thanks to those who are still responsible for the annual cycle of planting and harvesting, but as I look up at the Harvest Moon tonight, I promise to remember them.