Back to Blair

Hame Again?

Published: 30 January 2020

 Perth­shire and Angus

It's Been a Long While.

Blairgowrie in Perthshire – As a kid, I called it home. I lived there for about ten years full-time and maybe five or six more part-time. But, even now, more than half a century later, I answer with its name when asked, "Where are you from?" The Ma gave me "Blair" as a middle name, lest I forget.

My last visit was just a couple of days in 2009 with Karen. There were a few infrequent short visits for funerals and the like for three or four decades before that. I didn't know what to expect in 2019.

From Many Directions

I flew direct from Dulles to Edinburgh overnight in the last week of July. The flight was unremarkable. My daughter Lindsay's flight from Luton had arrived minutes earlier, so she was at the international gate to meet me. It was the first time I had seen her in person since Maine in 2017.

The plan was to pick up the rental and meet outside Blair with my other daughter, Victoria, and her boy, Will. They were flying into Glasgow from Southend.

Rendevous at An Old Haunt

The RV was the Meikleour Arms. It's in the village of the same name, four miles south of Blairgowrie. It was an hour's drive from the airport for us and ninety minutes for the other two. The last time I saw either of them in person was in 2013.

The Meiklour Arms
It is a beautiful bar with a great selection of beers and is dog-friendly, too!

We enjoyed a reunion lunch outside in the garden. When I was a callow youth, the pub was decrepit but fun. And it was a Mecca for underage drinkers. One got fueled up there before arriving up the road at the Saturday Night Dance in the Village Hall. Closing time was a random event. Seeing the place transformed and in such splendid form almost sixty years later was terrific. Check it out if you are ever up that way.

Finding someplace to stay

Blair always gets a fair share of tourists in the Summer. So, once we had decided to go, we had to move quickly to find someplace good to stay. We needed four bedrooms and a bunch of bathrooms to fit us all in comfortably. We looked through the listings on VRBO and Airbnb. I was pleasantly surprised at the enormous variety and often sheer originality.

Anyway, in the end, we settled for something prosaic and practical. We rented a holiday house in the Altamount Park development in Blair.

Altamount Park

A bedroom and ensuite each made for a happier co-existence. Also, it was conveniently close to the local Tesco and an excellent Fish and Chip shop. So it was a safe choice.

What Was Up - Berry Picking, Of Course!

The soft fruit picking season was in full swing in Blair while we were there. They grow raspberries, strawberries, gooseberries, blueberries, red currants, and cherries. Our day (the '50s) was almost exclusively the first two. Today, the land given over to soft fruit production is only twenty per cent of what it was back then. But they make extensive use of polytunnels now. So, yield and quality are much higher. The growing season now lasts from July through October.

Berry picking has drawn casual workers to the region for over a century.

Well Designed Advertisement for Pickers – from the '30s

We encountered lots of East Europeans. Poles and Czechs mostly, but some from the Baltic States too. My immediate assumption was that they were there to help with the berries. But an old friend set me straight; they were straight EU immigrants settled in Blair for the long term. I had been away for too long and was hopelessly out of touch. I was to learn that most pickers are Romas from Romania. The heat in the polytunnels is too much for the locals.

Dundee Visits

July 2019 Visit

During our stay in Blair, it seemed apt to make a trip to Dundee for old times' sake and see how the old girl was doing. The City featured large in my childhood and beyond. I'm still attached to it.

It was impossible not to be aware that the Media had labelled the City as the 'drug death capital of Europe.' Recently, from the Sunday Times

The £80 million V&A museum on Dundee’s waterfront projects an image the travel guides love: a rough diamond of a city on the brink of a new age of prosperity. A few hundred yards away, however, the picture is altogether different.

It’s a bleak winter evening in the drug-death capital of Europe. Outside the Wellgate shopping center, an endless parade of dealers trade “vallies” — the lethal street valium rife in the city. Discarded needles, a little metal cooker, and a litter of plastic bags, the residue of class-A drugs, are scattered over a nearby lane close to the city chambers ...

We could have dwelled on the darker aspects of the City, but we didn't. We took in the Law, the V&A (Dundee), and Discovery Point on a busy morning. All three were full of visitors but still exciting and worth visiting.

As a bonus, Sir Thomas John Woodward OBE (Tom Jones to you!) intended to perform in the open-air arena opposite the V&A that evening. As we gathered to make our way into the museum, the great man mounted the stage to make sound checks. We couldn't see him, but we could hear him. So could the several hundred Dundonians and others in the square. After the obligatory "Can you hear me," he belted out a couple of lines of 'Delilah,' and the several hundred of us joined in as one – great fun, leaving everyone wreathed in big grins.

The City was hectic on that beautiful sunny morning. So, we escaped up the coast to Carnoustie for lunch. It was peaceful there and a good move on our part.

More than a Drive Home

I rented a BMW Series 5 on arrival in Edinburgh because only that was available in the specified class. I had never been in a Beemer before, let alone driven one. However, getting accustomed to the controls and handling was a little chore.

We enjoyed driving it back to Blair from Carnoustie on a succession of quiet country roads through Strathmore farmland, avoiding Dundee altogether.

The day trip to Dundee & Carnoustie with the craftier returns to Blair (top of the loop on the map).

Nothing more significant than a hamlet lies along the way, and there is very little traffic. I used the route in the old days but juggled using a map with overtaking slow-moving farm vehicles on the narrow, winding roads. I had already left Blair when I owned my first car, so I had never learned the route by heart.

But, the BMW was outstanding. The car ate up the rural way back to Blair. The GPS was top-notch, and passing the occasional slower-moving vehicle ahead of us on the narrow back roads was a breeze. I was impressed, and this was to have a consequence.

A Celebration

We celebrated Vic's birthday with Sunday lunch at another former haunt. We used to go for a beer at the Kinloch House Hotel fifty years ago. It was always a pleasant place, and we would be on our best behaviour. The exterior still looks the same, but it is much changed inside. It's genteel in a comfortable and welcoming way now. It was lovely to see it all.

Dining Room – Comfortable and Genteel
Birthday Girl and the Boy Will

Lunch was splendid. They use local produce: smoked had­dock from Arbroath, beef and lamb from nearby farms, and vegetables from the hotel's kitchen garden outback. Ser­vice was terrific, attentive but not intrusive. All seven of us enjoyed it enormously. Set­tling the mod­er­ate bill did nothing to dimin­ish that either. It was a good deal all around.

My cousin Colin and Me. We Were Born in the same nursing home ten days apart.

Some Faux Pas and Some Regrets

I met up with old friends for a beer in the Angus Hotel. I hadn't seen them for forty years, so there was much catching up to do. Two beers into it, we were driven out by a band starting up and drowning conversation. Tesco was still open, and just around the corner, we decided to buy some beer and take it back to the house in Altamount. While browsing through the many brands, I tried to remember if Scottish beer was drinkable at room temperature. I felt like an aged nitwit having to ask my friend if it was. I ventured out towards Kirkmichael up the Glen one evening. The aim was to catch some good images in a good sunset. As the sun sank, it presented lots of opportunities. But I couldn't find any place to pull over. I had forgotten how narrow the country roads are around Blairgowrie. And that they are bound mainly by dry stone dykes that prevent pulling over. By sundown, I had taken a few half-hearted shots of a farm from a hurried vantage point. A little disappointed, I turned and headed back down the Glen in the dark to Blair. I had driven about seven miles when a startled motorist coming the other way told me I was on the wrong side of the road. Oops!

The best part of being back in Blair was, without a doubt, meeting up with old friends. I wish I had managed to do it earlier in the piece and more often. I was pleased to see old haunts like the Meikleour Arms and Kinloch House doing well. Also, it's sad to see others I have yet to mention stuck in a time warp of mediocrity.

The worst part was that I only had a week this time.

 Ye Wee Blogger

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