When I think of the places I’ve been and the things that I’ve done. The army, the mountains and the travel, it’s funny to think that my first big adventure was being allowed to paddle in the sea in my wellies without needing to ask my Mum.
When I was seven years old my Mum bought a caravan on the rugged West Coast of Scotland. Full of rockpools to guddle through and explore nature, a lagoon like sandy beach to swim from and flanked by spectacular cliffs, this place was paradise for any young boy. Remembering my time here, I often refer to my childhood as the childhood of a prince.
For me and my two brothers, Abel and Kevin, the adventures started as small as our frames. Naming rocks; the Ship Rock, The Tank, Moss Rock and The Grand Canyon and starting to climb some of the smaller ones. The weekend before we first visited, someone had tragically fallen to their death from the cliffs past the south end of the caravan site. We were well warned and equally terrified of those cliffs, that year at least.
We loved the place from first sight and our Mum loved it equally. Soon, we were spending as much time as we could in that place just south of Lendalfoot on the Ferry Route to Stranraer. An hours drive and a million light years from the South Side of Glasgow that we called home. I eagerly took every chance in class to tell everyone what we had been doing at the caravan. Over the school term of Primary 4 every rock, patch of seaweed and piece of driftwood along the 7 miles of coast between Lendalfoot and Ballantrae was transferred from the shore to the Nature Table in my classroom in Glasgow.
The first step up in adventure was the conquest of a large fishing rock that jutted out into the sea. It was split in two by a narrow crack isolating it’s seaward side from the shore. The waves used to thunder into this crack and fountain out over the rock. It was a death trap and, as such, a magnet to young explorers such as us. The defining moment in our lives at that time was leaping that crack and fishing off of the seaward edge of the rock.
One of my abiding memories of that rock was yelling at my Mum in a temper when my fishing line got snagged and then being amazed and terrified at how quickly she climbed on top that rock and bounded over the ‘leap of death’ as if it wasn’t there. She was on me in seconds and I was left in no doubt about minding my manners and not losing my temper.
The climbs got higher, the swims got further and our thirst for adventure and love of nature grew as we did. We learnt to fish, learnt about fish and my Mother walked us for miles along the coast and into the surrounding hills.
I’ll never forget seeing the dorsal fin of a 32ft long Baskin Shark break the surface of the water less than a hundred yards from shore. At first I thought there were two of them as a second fin broke the water close behind. When I realized that was the tail I was convinced this was actually a whale. I was eight. Not far off half a century ago now, yet I can still feel the awe inspiring, jaw dropping raw beauty of that moment. I quickly pulled my fishing line out of the wee rock pool I was perched beside, naively worried in case I caught the shark.
We formed a gang of boys that rivalled a gang of girls and created noise and mayhem during those early childhood summers. The adults never seemed to be there as our imaginations flourished and our adventures rolled on yet they were always among us in seconds if anything went wrong. As the summers passed the boy and girl gangs became boy and girl awkwardness and occasional, hesitant, boy and girl friends.
Like all good things must come to an end, the caravan era finally came to pass. I came home from school with my head full of career plans and exam prep and saw all the things from the caravan spread out in the hall like driftwood washed up on the beach. In my final summer there, now fifteen, I crammed in as much as I could. I finally went into the hermit’s cave. Snib was a hermit who used to come the beaches at that time and he lived in a huge cave in a cliff right beside the shore. I swam to the island of rocks, a wee group of rocks nestled about half a mile out to sea. Terrified and screaming at my brother in our rubber boat as a curious seal decided to swim around us.
By that summer we had all climbed the cliff that guy had fallen to his death from the year we first went to the caravan. My wee brother Kevin was first to reach the top. Clutching handholds of grass as he stepped out onto the final few feet of the ascent. There was a 60ft sheer drop onto the rocks below if the grass pulled out. It held. For him and for Abel and then me as we followed. We were early teens and, like all teens, we thought we were adults and never really appreciated how lucky we were.
Although we may be physically apart, we’re always close in spirit and in heart.