A Travellerspoint blog

Girvan - Friday, 15 April 2011

Girvan

Off to Girvan today to find Lorna's final resting place. Bought some lovely pink roses at Morrisons, the supermarkert over the road from our B&B.

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Lorna Cooke was our father's cousin. She was the daughter of our grandfather's sister, Aunty Meg. I don't remember Aunty Meg much at all, just the adults in our family speaking about her. I don't remember much about Lorna either, except I have a photo of Lorna and I in our back yard, taken when I was about five or six. Lorna and Aunty Meg lived in Brisbane in the early 50s, Aunty Meg's brother and his daughter came out to Australia to visit Meg and Lorna. The brother and sister got on so well together, that when the brother went back home to Girvan, Ayrshire, Scotland he wrote to his sister, Aunty Meg and asked her and Lorna to come to Scotland and live with them, which they did. Can you imagine leaving sub tropical Brisbane in the early 1950s and moving to Scotland! Anyway, they all lived there happily until one by one they died, and there was only Lorna left.

Ever since I was a little girl, I had always been fascinated by our relative who lived in Scotland. She used to send Christmas cards to Mum and Dad and came to visit them in Toowoomba in October 1979 (a day before Dad dropped dead at the age of 61!!) Of course, I had long left home by then and didn't get to see her.

When my husband and I were planning a trip to the UK in 1998, I contacted Lorna and we spent a few days with her in Girvan. It was just lovely and so was she. The weird thing was that we had many of the same mannerisms. After our return to Australia, I corresponded with her and we phoned her several times as well. After a while, we noticed that during some of the phone conversations, that she was sounding a bit vague, so we wrote to her local minister and asked him to let us know if and when Lorna passed away.

Then began a correspondence with Anne Pitt, a friend of Lornas. She wrote one day to tell me that Lorna had been admitted to a nursing home in Girvan, with advanced stages of dementia and would keep in touch a couple of times a year, just to let me know how Lorna was going. I kept writing to Lorna and sending her photographs.

Anne wrote to tell me that on 16 August 2008, aged 92, Lorna had passed away. A couple of weeks later, a big brown envelope arrived from a solicitor in Girvan, enclosing a copy of Lorna's will, advising that after several gifts to friends and the church, Lorna's estate was to be divided three ways, between three families in Australia. What a totally unexpected surprise this was! As Lorna had never married, I suppose we were her only relatives. As I was the only known contact, I provided the names and addresses of the others to the solicitor and after about a year, the will was finalised.

So, now that I was actually in Girvan in April 2011, I had planned to visit Lorna's grave; take Anne Pitt to lunch to thank her for all her kindness; and drop in on the solicitor, just to say hello and thanks for all his work.

First of all, after several letters to Anne, with no reply, finally before we left Australia, I received a letter from Anne's niece-in-law, to say that she had passed away very unexpectedly only a few months prior. How very disappointed I was as I had really wanted to meet her.

So, Peter and I drove to Girvan, which is about 20 miles from Ayr. It is not a very big town at all and while driving down the main street, I noticed the solicitor's office and made a note to call in to see him after we had been to the cemetery. The cemetery was down by the water and as there was a funeral just about to start, the funeral director pointed us in the direction of Lorna's grave, which probably would have taken us quite a long time to find. We found her, in with Aunty Meg, plus four from the McGarva family, who must be related to Meg and Lorna somehow. The pink roses looked lovely. We spent quite a long time at the cemetery and then decided to call in on the solicitor, Peter Sharp, before having some lunch and driving back to Ayr.

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Peter Sharp was also the Real Estate Agent in Girvan. I introduced myself to the girl at the front desk by saying, "Hello, I'm Wendy Button from Australia and I have been dealing with Peter Sharp over Lorna Cooke's will, and I would just like to say hello and thank you". Just reiterating here - I said I was from Australia NOT down the road in Ayr. It was 10 to 12 noon, and she said that he had some clients coming at 12. Well, at this stage they weren't in the office. I said that I just wanted to say hello so she went upstairs to see him. After a while she came back down and said that he was seeing clients at 12 noon (still not in the office yet!), then he would be having lunch from 1 to 2, so could we come back at 2pm!! What a jerk! There was nothing to do in Girvan for two hours, so we hopped in the car, and I showed Peter where Lorna's house was, took a couple of photos and then drove back to Ayr.

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We called into Turnbury for lunch. Mum was always chastising Peter about his sweet tooth, so I took a photo of his dessert just to tease him.

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This is something he DEFINITELY would not eat - haggis in a butcher's window.

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We drove to Alloway on the outskirts of Ayr to see Robbie Burn's house. Lorna said we were descendents of his, but I think everyone in Scotland says that!

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We also visited Culzean Castle on the way back to Ayr too. In 1998, Phil and I had visited the castle with Lorna, so it was nice to walk around the grounds again and reminise of our visit there with her. It is a lovely castle.

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Went back to our B&B and wrote some post cards. Peter walked into town and had a couple of bets on the races and won 80 Scottish Pounds. He is SO tinny. He just picks the horses by their names. He bought back some fish and chips, which we ate in our room. We both had a very good night's sleep.

Posted by gaddingabout 04:30 Archived in Scotland Comments (0)

London to Ayr, Scotland - Thursday, 14 April 2011

London to Ayr, Scotland

Checked out of the Clarence Hotel, Windsor today but left "the hat in the hat box" there because we are coming back after our "Scottish Dream Tour". We wheeled our bags through Windsor streets to the railway station and caught the train into Euston, where we were then going by train to Ayr, via Glasgow. 4 1/2 hrs from Euston, London to Glasgow and 45 minutes from Glasgow to Ayr. Just getting on the train was a bit tricky because we had to change trains several times before we got to Euston and of course, some British Railway Stations don't have escalators or lifts, so I proceeded to drag my bag up hundreds of steps. It was very nice to have a "well mannered brother" with me, but by the time he had taken his bag to the top of the stairs, some very nice Englishman would have picked up my bag and carried it to the top for me! I am very glad that I have grey hair!!

Before we left Australia, we had purchased a Brit Rail Pass, First Class and while I can't remember how much they were, (and they weren't that expensive), they were worth every cent. The trip from London to Glasgow was total luxury (well, as luxurious as a train can be!) There were only three of us in our carriage and we were offered FREE food and drinks all the time, all the way to Glasgow. Train travel is a wonderfully relaxing way to travel. When we arrived in Glasgow, I asked which platform to catch the train to Ayr from, and luckily for us, I got chatting with the girl in the ticket box and she booked some seats for us on the train back to London from Edinburgh on Sunday, 24 April 2011. Apparently, it was a long weekend or something and the trains were quite full already, so we were very lucky to get a seat.

We haven't been gone from Australia very long, but we are finding that everyone is asking us where we are from and what are we doing here and can they help us. It is really nice.

We had also arranged to hire a car for the three days we were in Ayr and did that before we left Australia. The hire car guy was waiting for us at the Ayr Railway Station and drove us to his office to collect our little car.

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We finally arrived at the Castlehill B&B at about 6.00 pm. What a fantastic surprise. It is fresh, clean and new and just gorgeous. It is run by John Doolan and his wife. I should explain here why I was so surprised.

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When I tried to book accommodation in Ayr, there were literally thousands and thousands of B&Bs on the internet. What a job to choose one. Well, after several attempts, I discovered to my dismay that every one was booked! What's going on here? Well it turned out that the Scottish Grand National was being run in Ayr on Saturday, 16 April 2011 and everything was booked on Friday and Saturday nights. We wanted accommodation on Thursday and Friday nights - Thursday was available but not Friday. Then, out of the blue up popped the Castlehill B&B, available for Thursday AND Friday nights, so I booked it then and there, grateful to have a bed, but not really sure how good it would be. So what a relief it was to discover this gem of a place, in a good position and moderately priced.

We went for a long walk around Ayr. It is a lovely Scottish town. It was quite fresh and not many people around. But the B&B is warm and snuggly. Great bed and shower.

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A funny little story about food and the Scottish accent. When we were ordering breakfast, John asked Peter if he would like a full breakfast. Yes he said, what does it consist of? Eggs, bacon, sausages, baked beans etc and black pudding. What is black pudding Peter asked? Blood, oats and fart. Fart! What is that? We looked at each other with quizical frowns and then it suddenly dawned on me - "fart" is "fat" with a Scottish accent! We laughed and laughed. I think I love being in Scotland very much!

Posted by gaddingabout 04:52 Archived in Scotland Comments (0)

RVO Church Svc/Recpt at Windsor Castle - Wed, 13 April 2011

The big day - the Royal Victorian Order Church Service and Reception at St George's Chapel, Windsor. The reason I came to London/Windsor in the first place!

This blog will be quite a long monologue, with not many photos, because cameras aren't allowed in the Palace. However, we did have a few photos taken before we left our hotel - no laughing at the hats!

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The big day had finally arrived. Maria, Guy and me, resplendent in our finery (hats and medals), accompanied by my brother, walked through Windsor shopping centre towards the palace. A young girl was opening up the local hair dressing salon, and as she saw us approaching, curtsied. We all laughed and laughed.

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The front gate at the castle was abuzz. 1200 people arriving - we were all herded in like sheep and were security screened and had to show photo ID and then, in a very long queue, slowly walked the long way around to the chapel. It wasn't freezing, but it wasn't too warm either. Finally, we entered the chapel and imagine our surprise and delight to find ourselves sitting in the front row. There were 14 Australians all together and we were very happy.

After a little while, the procession commenced - the Knights, the Clergy and the Choir, the Dukes and Duchesses etc and finally the Royal Family - Her Royal Highness Princess Alexandra; His Royal Highness Prince Michael of Kent; The Earl and Countess of Wessex; His Royal Highness Prince Andrew; The Grand Master of the Royal Victorian Order Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal and Vice Admiral Timothy Laurence; followed by The Duke of Edinburgh and finally Her Majesty The Queen.

We saw Prince Philip enter the chapel, and we waited and waited BUT NO QUEEN. They closed the doors - AND STILL NO QUEEN. We couldn't believe it. We were so disappointed - we had come all this way AND NO QUEEN!

Later at the reception, we were told that The Queen had been slightly unwell and that had prevented her attendance at the church service but she would be making an appearance at the reception. Great, but how would we ever be able to speak with her, seeing there were 1200 guests. So we immersed ourselves in the delicious Champagne and nibbles.

Then out of nowhere Her Majesty appeared, all on her own, just standing at the entrance to our room - looking quite lost. Now, it probably wasn't the correct protocol to approach The Queen, however, if I missed by chance to pass on General Jeffery's best wishes, I probably would have been sacked on my return to Australia (only joking), and after all, I was an invited quest, so I introduced myself to The Queen and passed on General and Mrs Jeffery's best wishes. They were gladly received by Her Majesty. We chatted and I was about to tell her that General Jeffery was currently undergoing an arthroscopy on his knee at this very moment, but I was suddenly overcome by the moment and thought better of it. I mean, after a couple of champagnes, standing there chatting to The Queen, how could I possibly get my tongue around "arthroscopy". We wandered over to the other Aussies and she chatted with them and then went on her way.

Yes! we thought. Our goal has been achieved. We'd come all this way from Australia and got to speak with The Queen. During the course of the reception, we chatted with the Duke of Edinburgh, Princess Anne and Princess Alexandra.

I chatted at length with Princess Anne about the Royal Victorian Order and our Church Service and Luncheon that we hold in Canberra every year in June. She is the Grand Master of the Order, following the death of Her Royal Highness, The Queen Mother.

We chatted with Prince Philip and as he was leaving I said, "Happy 90th birthday for June", to which he replied in a gruff voice, "That's a contradiction!" But the day was saved by my friend Lori Morris who piped up and said, "Well, it's better than the alternative". "Mmmmm", he agreed, "I suppose it is".

As the rooms were now starting to thin out, we decided to go "Royal hunting" and came across the lovely Princess Alexandra, tall and slim in a beautiful powder blue suit. I told her that when I was a little girl, I stood on my street corner in Toowoomba and waved as she went past. "And how old were you?" she asked. "Well, I'm not sure", I said, "maybe 10". "Well", she said right off the top of her head, "that was 1959". "Well, then I was 12", I said. What a memory she had!

At this point, I must comment on the standard of royal nibbles. They were truly delicious and the Palace staff seemed to radiate towards us, so we certainly had our fair share, if not more. The little chocolate cakes, with gold leaf trimming were a great hit, not to mention the passionfruit filled truffles. And the champagne - well, need I go on!

However, all good things eventually must come to an end. The crowd was starting to thin out, so reluctantly we thought it was probably time for us to leave. Up to this point, I must say that we had all been very well behaved. However, as we were walking down a magnificent staircase and then into a long hall, where the staff were handing back coats to the guests, we noticed they were being given a gold plastic bag with "Windsor Castle" on it. Now we hadn't checked in any coats but we asked the staff if we could please have a "show bag". They laughed and said, "Oh you Australians!" and handed over a gold plastic shopping bag to the four of us and we happily went on our way, our gold plastic shopping bags blowing in the breeze. We even had our photos taken at the front gate, with our shopping bags - such colonials!!

We raced back to our hotel, changed our clothes and went into London to see the musical "Queen - We Will Rock You" - you know - Freddie Mercury and Queen, the rock band from the sixties. Look, unless you were a teenager in the sixties, you won't have a clue who I am speaking about. Peter and I had purchased our tickets on the Internet from Australia and we paid 73.80 English pounds for our two tickets. Maria decided to accompany us into town, have dinner with us and try to get a ticket at the door, because she had just had some news that her friend had passed away from cancer, and she needed some company. She taught us how to catch the train, which was a good thing. Maria is a single lady and a very competent and seasoned traveller. We had a lovely meal together, raised a glass of red to her departed friend and Maria was able to buy a ticket although hers cost 60 English pounds, which was quite outrageous considering that our two only cost 73.80!

The show was fantastic. We all loved it but English audiences are crazy! The minute the lights dimmed and the curtain rose, they just screamed and screamed. At half time, when I was buying a drink, the girl behind the bar said "Oh, you're from Australia. Are you enjoying the show?" "Yes", I said, "but English audiences are crazy. We would never behave like that in Australia!" Then she told me that sometimes they are so bad, they have to stop the show and tell them to shut up before they can continue! Anyway, I'm almost ashamed to admit, that by the end of the evening, we were screaming and yelling just as much as our English cousins! When in Rome ...!

Home and into bed by 12.30 am. Suffice to say, it was a fabulous day - one I will never forget - but two Queens in one day was quite enough!

Posted by gaddingabout 05:51 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

Total Tour of London - Tuesday, 12 April 2011

"Total London" Tour

Up at 4.45 am to catch the bus into Victoria Coach Station. We had to meet our tour at 8.15 am and the only bus from Windsor that was suitable time-wise, got us in there at 7.00 am (and this is supposed to be a holiday!) The bus left Windsor at 5.47 am. We decided to catch the bus as we would have to change trains a couple of times and we didn't want to be mucking around at that time of the morning. Besides, we just hadn't had time to work out the train system yet, so best to stick with the bus.

Met up with our Tour Guide, David Jordon and the rest of the group and did a "Total London" Tour. David our guide was very entertaining, but quite weird and very passionate. He was a school teacher on school holidays and in two years would be turning 70 and because he was South African, wouldn't get an English pension, so was trying to become a tour guide. He was very good and knew his facts but could sometimes be quite rude if he didn't think he had everyone's full attention. At one stage he verbally abused some kids who weren't paying attention and told them they were wasting their parent's money and if they weren't going to listen, then just go away. He had a point but I believe that some people had complained about David's attitude to the Tour Company and that he was skating on thin ice. It would be a shame if they sacked him, because as I said, he was a very passionate and good tour guide. David's motto - Live intensely!

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We visited the Tower of London and saw the Crown Jewels, the Ravens, the Beefeaters and all the historic memoribilia;

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we went to Buckingham Palace and saw the Changing of the Guard;

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we cruised up the River Thames;

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we went to a London Pub for a great lunch;

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then toured through St Paul's Cathedral and climbed right to the very top of the Dome. Amazing - a bit scarey but really fantastic views.

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Then we finished our tour with a ride on the London Eye. Great.

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We raced against time to get back to the bus station to catch the bus back to Windsor in time for dinner with Maria and Guy Bagot, LVO from Queensland, who was moving into the Clarence Hotel for the night, so he could accompany us to the RVO Church Service and Reception the next day. (Now would have been a good time to know about catching the train to Windsor, as we went past several stations on our way to the bus.) Trying to read the map, we took a wrong turn, got lost, missed the bus we needed to catch and consequently got back to Windsor too late for dinner. So we had a quick dinner at an Italian Restaurant in Windsor and then home to bed after a long day.

I should point out here that I usually travel with my husband, who takes control of EVERYTHING, and I just follow along and go where I'm told. Because this was my brother's first time overseas, it was up to me to orchestrate the whole thing from organising all the tours, so he would see as much as he could in the time we were there, to reading the map and finding our way (at which I am hopeless). Peter is also a very easy going type of person, so nothing phases him, as you will get to hear in later blogs!

Posted by gaddingabout 05:42 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

Windsor Castle, Stonehenge and Bath - Monday, 11 April 2011

Windsor Castle, Stonehenge and Bath

We were booked on a tour of Windsor Castle, Stonehenge and Bath. The tour company in Australia expected us to travel for an hour into London to meet the group and then come back out to Windsor, where the tour started - no way! After a lot of argy-bargy in Australia, they agreed to let us meet the tour group at Windsor as long as we found them ourselves. They wouldn't come looking for us. We hooked up okay and the tour guide told us to meet her at 11.15 am in front of St George's Chapel, at the end of the Windsor Castle leg of the tour. We waited and waited and she was no where to be seen and we couldn't recognize anyone else off the bus, because we hadn't been on it from London to Windsor. Eventually, some Americans came along and we followed them to the bus, which by the way, was parked behind the Windsor Railway Station. We would never have found the bus on our own and the tour guide certainly wasn't coming to look for us. She (Mary) had a very good commentary, but was useless on admin and paperwork. It's amazing she didn't lose anyone on the tour!

Windsor Castle was great. So much history and we saw the changing of the guard and went through all the reception rooms, of which I was very glad, so Peter could see where I would be on Wednesday at the RVO Church Service and Reception.

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We had lunch at "The Bell", an English Pub on the way to Stonehenge. My burger was disgusting - just a meat pattie on a bun - no butter, no nothing - some chips and a bit of salad on the side. Yuk!

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The trip to Stonehenge was fraught. There were a lot of road closures due to road works, which slowed the trip down and at one stage, the bus driver went through a "road closed" sign and after several miles discovered that the road really was closed (!), so had to turn around and go back. Consequently, we didn't have much time at Stonehenge at all - just enough time to walk around and take photos. It was freezing and the wind was ferocious. But still, it is an amazing place.

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I actually took a photo of these girls because I couldn't believe anyone could dress like that in this weather.

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Back on the bus and onto Bath. To our surprise our ticket included a guided tour (with champagne) of the Roman Baths. I had been to beautiful Bath before but had never been into the Roman Baths, so this was a bonus. They were stunning and so easy to imagine Romans lolling around the edges of the pools. But time was limited and we had a quick walk around the town and back on the bus for the two hour drive back to London. I think all that in one day was a bit ambitious.

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While we were strolling through Bath, I received a phone call from Tracey Watkins at the Central Chancery to say that she was coming out to Windsor on Tuesday and would leave our tickets for Wednesday at the front gate. Maria had kindly agreed to collect them as Peter and I had another full day of touring on Tuesday.

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Got dropped off in London and walked a few blocks back to the Victoria Coach Station and caught the bus back to Windsor. The bus didn't stop at the parish church (where we had got on in the morning, and we didn't know we had to push a button to stop the bus) and it went right through Windsor to the hospital, where we jumped off and had a long walk back but half way there, we glanced to our right down a street and there was our hotel. I've never been so glad to see a place in all my life.

We'd had a long day and late to bed.

Posted by gaddingabout 05:16 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

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