Last week I was away from the Borders and even my – still – temporary office across the Tweed in Berwick. For a number of years now I have been sent – seconded sounds better – to assist on this title’s sister papers – The Galloway Gazette and The Carrick Gazette.
The Galloway has readership in, as you would expect, Galloway, although is quaintly but stubbornly split between the Machars and the Rhinns. The Machars is the kind of top end and the Rhinns the bottom and more easterly. That’s a bit simplified and not very geographically-correct.
The Carrick is based in the seaside town of Girvan and covers the southern bit of Ayrshire known, strangely enough, as Carrick.
Both areas are wonderful with some fantastic scenery – rolling hills, a few peaks, the wonderful Solway Firth and the bottom end of the Firth of Clyde from which sprouts Aisla Craig, sometimes known as Paddy’s Milestone.
Last year I spent two weeks working on The Carrick and my hotel’s website proclaimed that from my bedroom window I would have a fantastic view of this rock which has produced granite for the world’s curling stones. I could see Ailsa from my bedroom window. Well some of it.
For almost the entire two weeks the top was shrouded in mist. This peak – shaped not unlike the Maidens Paps between Hawick and Copshaw – refused to reveal to me her true beauty. On my second last day she did. And, although I had gazed in wonder before, the unveiling was worth the wait.
A few weeks after my stint in Girvan I returned with our skiffle band, The Bogie’s Close Stompers, for the Girvan Music Festival at which we had been booked – yes, booked – to play. The heavens opened and a fierce, storm-force wind blew in from the Irish Sea. Ailsa was in hiding once again – but the festival was grand. We’ll miss it this year because we are playing at the Galashiels wedding of my Southern colleague Kevin Janiak and his fiancé, June. We have been promised home-made hooch, so we are fair looking forward to it.
Newton Stewart stands by the banks of the River Cree. Now this is a river. It is tidal and sweeps down the edge of the Galloway Forest. It flows behind our office in Victoria Street and has, on occasion, lapped our back door. It is pretty awesome standing by the multi-arched bridge that links Newton Stewart with Minnigaff as this mighty waterway powers onwards to empty itself into the Solway just opposite Creetown.
Newton Stewart is an old market town – and the market still exists. A few Border herds and farmers have fallen foul of the hospitality in the three hotels in Queen Street opposite the sales ring. Eh, Dennis.
But I base myself at The Galloway Arms – directly opposite the office. It claims to be the oldest inhabited building in the town. Owner Gordon decrees it’s haunted (but secretly tells you he made it up), however, he is adamant that Burns never visited because he had a falling out with one of the Earls of Galloway who owned the hostelry.
It also has a picture house, saved by the one-time owner of The Galloway Gazette, one Ian Brown. The power of the press.
I’ll be back in the summer, not for work, but pleasure.