From Newcastle I took the train to Carlisle to look at Georigana’s letters, which are held in the Carlisle Archive Centre. I needed to get to Helensburgh by the weekend, so I could only spend a day here, before returning the following week. I’ll write about Carlisle in the next post.
When Georgiana’s mother and sister became intolerable, she stayed with her friends the Dunlops at Keppoch House, and later with Helen Storey, who married the minister at Roseneath. I needed to get a sense of the environment through she moved, so as to compare it to her experiences in Australia. I also wanted to look at Keppoch House.
I’d only been to Scotland once before, when H & I went to Edinburgh to see his pal Guy Hollingworth perform at the Fringe Festival. So I was delighted when we crossed the border and the train driver, in his Scottish accent, called over the P.A. ‘Welcome to Scotland!’ and he told us he’d grown up in a town nearby. I had to change very quickly at Glasgow, without having a clear idea of where I was going, but still took two seconds in the square to listen to a man playing bagpipes.
From Glasgow the second train travelled west through the suburbs, then parallel to the River Clyde until it reached Helensburgh. I dragged my suitcase up to the AirBnB place where I was staying. The town was very quiet, with streets sloping down to the sea, and the sky was so close it seemed I could touch it.
In the afternoon I walked along the water to look at Roseneath Bay, on which a number of boats bobbed. When Georgiana lived there, boats were the main way of getting about as the roads were pretty rudimentary.
I’d arranged to have a look around Keppoch House, and after some discussion with the bus driver we worked out where I was to get off. The owner of the house was a smart and jovial man who had worked as a commodities trader, and he offered me coffee in his kitchen. Outside, the sunshine was brilliant and very warm. ‘This weather,’ he pronounced, ‘is a lie.’ After our chat, I walked through the trees surrounding the house, which had views sloping down to the water, and saw a fox slipping into the greenery. I also wandered through the walled garden, but I wasn’t one hundred percent sure if it was the same garden as when Georgiana had stayed there. I had met the gatekeeper’s wife as I walked up the drive and I thought she said it had been in a different place, but being deaf I wasn’t entirely sure. If I get back to Scotland I'll try to see if there are any plans in the archives.
What struck me most was the proximity of the water and the size of the house. Georgiana wrote in her diary about being very cold in winter, and I wondered if the house was hard to heat (I had turned the heaters on in my accommodation in the summer evenings! But I am a thin-skinned Queenslander). And the water was everywhere – to me it suggested promise and a sense of possibility, for Georgiana would eventually sail on that sea to Australia, where her life changed dramatically.
The next day I caught a bus to Kilcreggran, passing Rosneath, where Georgiana had stayed with her friend Helen Story, who had married the minister there (alas the original church had been replaced). From Kilcreggan I caught a ferry to Greenoch. The sunlight was absolutely dazzling and the vistas were incredible, at least for someone who had grown up in inland Australia. The space between sea and sky seemed very small, the land rising abruptly from the ocean.
I got talking to a young fellow on the boat. Perhaps he heard my accent when I spoke to the man selling tickets, or perhaps he was just friendly, and he asked, ‘Where are you from?’
‘Australia! What are you doing here?’
‘I’m researching a woman who used to live here.’ I explained about her life, but he was incredulous that I’d given up the weather in Australia to come to Scotland. When we got off the boat he pointed me in the direction of the main street, which was helpful as it wasn’t immediately apparent to me where I should go.
I had a coffee in a café and read a newspaper, watching a film crew busying themselves across the road, then wandered along West Bay. Here, the afternoon sunlight was absolutely dazzling, and I wished I could have stayed there for longer but I was getting pretty tired. Being deaf means I have to be very alert in new places to take in information, & I had to strain to hear the Scottish accents, so I was a bit worn out. After a wander I caught the ferry back. It was about 5pm and people were finishing up work, and I wondered about their lives, if they were happy in a small place, boating back and forth the way Alexander Dunlop had nearly two hundred years before.
At the Kilcreggan jetty where the boat docked, the boat master’s dog was sitting on a post. He was so pretty I patted him as I went past, & wished I could have a dog like him. And then it was back to my accommodation on the bus, passing the Garelochhead Military Training Camp and the Faslane Peace Camp which protests against nuclear weapons. The lady at the AirBnB told me that the lochs were so deep that submarines docked in them, which to me – again used to the arid inland – was incredible.
I regretted that I didn’t have the time or energy to see the lochs. I was still working on the latest iteration of my memoir and that took up my spare time. But I’m pretty sure another visit will be on the cards at some stage, as the scenery was just stunning, and it would be good to see what it’s like when the sun isn’t shining as strongly, as Georgiana’s experience of the weather influenced her moods, and vice versa. It would be impossible for it not to, given its grandeur and presence.