Cumbrae Memories

By Bernie Bell

Pics by B Bell

I was watching ‘Antiques Road Trip’ – again – and Philip Serrell went over to Cumbrae on the ferry from Largs to Millport.

Millport – with Wee Cumbrae in the background – photo credit A. Burniston

In these times Largs is a quiet little town, but on the 2nd October 1263 AD it was the site of a battle between the kingdoms of Norway and Scotland. A storm at sea produced challenging conditions for the Norse fleet, which helped the outnumbered Scots forces, and though there wasn’t a clear victory at the time The Battle of Largs played a pivotal role in ending hundreds of years of Norse domination in Scotland.

Watching this episode of ‘Antiques Road Trip’ reminded me of a visit we made to Cumbrae in 1995.  Mike was having a marine sorta meeting at the Marine Station there. I went along with him, and while he talked of fishy things I roamed the island – and it’s a great little place.  A fine landscape with views across the sea to the Scottish Mainland and the islands of Bute, Arran and Ailsa Craig – if you’re lucky with the weather!

One day I was standing on the beach looking across to Goat Fell on Arran…..

…….when a man came and stood next to me and simply said ”Head cases”.  It was his opinion that folk who go up mountains for fun, are head-cases.  I said it keeps them out of mischief!  We had a talk about the human impulse to choose to go into danger, which neither of us understood.  My memory is of us then standing looking over at the mountains and, after a time of silent contemplation, the man repeated….”Head cases”.

And at the moment I’m reading ‘Mountains of the Mind’ by Robert MacFarlane, which is about just that – why folk risk life and limb to go up a mountain.

I have a memory of some big rocks here and there around the island which had things painted on them – not graffiti – but where the natural shape of the rock had been used to produce an image.  On ‘Antiques Road Trip’ I saw that the crocodile is still there….

And I remember there also being a rock which was known as The Lion – for obvious reasons….

I discovered a small bay in which the beach was covered in broken bits of crockery – some of which looked old – the images on them could be from…..maybe the late 18th Century?  It was like a shingle beach – of crockery – very strange to see, and interesting.  The crockery will gradually break down into something which resembles shingle even more – what is shingle, but broken up rock?

Some beaches around the world now look like they have a shingle of plastic.   I suppose the plastic will break down too, eventually, but crockery doesn’t float, and I don’t think that marine creatures tend to eat it.  That makes a big difference.

This isn’t Cumbrae!  Thank Goodness!

My memory is of a very pleasant visit – peaceful, much of interest, friendly folk.  I can well understand it being a popular place for day trips from Glasgow.


Ed’s note: related images from the Basel Convention

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3 replies »

  1. In 1971, fairly newly arrived in Scotland from Canada, I picked a pretty white flower on a cycle ride round Cumbrae (hire bikes available) and tucked it into my blouse (!). On the way home I began to feel somewhat nauseous from the smell. We stopped the Hillman Imp and dispatched the wilted flower – Wild Garlic. This ignorant incomer has learned a lot since and been so warmly welcomed. Here’s to all incomers/refugees making safe homes here. 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿

    • Rosie – I love Wild Garlic!!! Love it, love it, love it. Maybe not tucked into my blouse – but we have big clumps of it in the wild bits in our garden – the leaves are already up and some flowers are starting to appear – and the smell, on a sunny day – makes me hungry.

      It’s good to eat, too – chopped into things raw – for example added to butter – or used in cooking. Lovely stuff.

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