Walking with Rachael and Ryan Heddon on 5 April 2010

Dunoon Pier to Sandbank

I am walking with my niece and nephew, Rachael and Ryan. They live in Dunoon (though Rachael’s studying at Dundee University at the moment). I used to live in Dunoon. My brother Stew still lives in Dunoon.

We’re going to walk from Dunoon Pier (where the ferry comes in) to Sandbank (where they live). We’ll follow the esplanade round. It’s about three and a half miles. The weather is a bit damp and grey, but not quite raining. Before setting off, we fuel up from the Italian restaurant (a new addition since my day). We’re the only ones in the place. Then a short walk along Argyll Street – Dunoon’s high street. As always, I point to the Argyll Hotel, the imposing building standing sentry at the town’s entrance, and remind Rach and Ryan that I used to work there (waitress and chambermaid). I’ve got lots of warm memories of that time: people I met and worked with, reckless older women (Arlene and Helen – in their early 20s!) who looked out for this young school girl. Rach tells me that she worked there too, but could only stick it for a day.

We drift along Argyll Street. Some shops have closed down or moved sites. The carcass of Woolworths has been taken over by a Woolworths lookalike. I’m glad the bookshop next door has managed to survive, though Ryan tells me it did close for a bit. Rach points out the Clansman – the pub where she and her mates go when they’re having a night out. I’ve never been in the Clansman. I moved away when I was 17 so I didn’t really have a local pub. But I did have the Blue Lagoon, a night club down on the front. We’d go there at the weekend, using our fake IDs and memorised invented birth dates to get past the bouncer, Snakey (though I’m sure he knew). There was also Pier 69, on Argyll Street itself, where my boyfriend Pat used to be the DJ. When he put on the last record, always a slow song, he’d leave his DJ booth and come down and dance with me.

I don’t come back to Dunoon very often and whenever I do I get a rush of nostalgia. Rach is 20 and I think it’s already nostalgic for her too. And maybe even for Ryan – nostalgia for the younger people we used to be, and for what this place was for those younger people (places for working out our teenage years, for hanging out, for hiding out, for finding out…) As we walk along the front, Ryan points to spots where he used to drink Cider, out of view from adults. Rach confirms that those were her spots too, though her tipple of choice was Vodka. There’s a Victorian shelter in a square patch of grass where she and her pals would hang out if they were skiving.

As we stroll along, spray from the rough, choppy water splashes over the railings. It’s always windy along here; invigorating and freezing. Rach tells me that on really blustery days, getting wet from waves would be a fun past time. Not one I ever indulged in.

At Kirn, I point out the small, square bungalow (like a matchbox), perched on the steep hillside, where we used to live (mum, dad, me, two brothers). 5 Cherry Hill. It was the first house my parents had ever bought (in their late-30s I guess). What seemed quite luxurious back then looks tiny now.

We pause to go into the coffee shop where Ryan works at weekends: 3 hot chocolates (1 with whipped cream, 2 with strawberry flavoured whipped cream, all with marshmallows). We’ve earned these warming drinks. Walking through Kirn, the number of boarded up, abandoned shops is striking. The ornate wrought iron Victorian street furniture tells of better fortunes, when Dunoon and its environs were filled with the bustle of day trippers, arriving by paddle steamer to escape the grime of an expanding, industrialised Glasgow.

At the bottom of the steep hill that leads, eventually, to Dunoon Grammar School (demolished and rebuilt over the past two years), is Kirn Church. I remind Rach and Ryan that this is where my mum’s funeral service was held in December 1986. They never met their grandmother, June, but they’ve heard tales of her. I don’t remember much about that day, other than it was a packed church, I chose to wear a bright green blouse, and after the service we had to travel by the wee ferry over to the crematorium in Greenock.

A bit further on, we reach the infamous Jim Crow – a large stone, shaped like a crow, that’s been painted to look like one too, and named ‘Jim Crow’. Rach tells me that plans to remove the paint (given the unavoidable racist connections), had been met with such vociferous resistance that Jim Crow was saved.

At Hunters Quay, we encounter a sign on a lamp post: appeals for a lost Chicken (scared by a dog). I wonder whether it’s a remnant from April Fools Day, but the same sign, posted on another lamppost a little further on, proposes that it’s sincere. We don’t encounter any chickens on the walk.

Stopping at what Ryan informs me is Lazaretto’s point, we read the history board that tells us about the men from Sandbank killed in WWI and WWII. Then we walk on into Sandbank itself, where another history board shows pictures of the village in the nineteenth century – complete with a paddle steamer on the Holy Loch. When I lived in Dunoon, the Holy Loch was dominated by the monstrous US Navy ship (thankfully now gone). The commissariat, a site of exotic Americana (because open only to the US workers), remains but is now a Marina shed.

Our arrival in Sandbank coincides with increasingly darkening skies. It’s been a good walk, a dry walk, a walk filled with memories for all of us. Some of those memories are shared across the generations (we’ve all sought shelter for illicit drinking) and also literally shared aloud with each other. I’ve enjoyed spending a few hours simply walking and talking with my niece and nephew, now both adults who have their own deep histories attached to this place, their home.

2 Responses to “Walking with Rachael and Ryan Heddon on 5 April 2010”

  1. elspeth Says:

    a very great pleasure to read your ambulating prose. I like the way you dont use exclamation marks but give all your comments a due weight. Yesterday I spent at a reunion in the village with the head teacher and many of the pupils who were at primary school with my children, so back to 40 years ago (i’m tempted to use an ! mark). Nostalgia and delight and sadness all stirred up together. It was a very special time. Which your walk plays into as i think it all over. Elspeth

  2. Dee Heddon Says:

    Thanks Elspeth,

    Seems like paths are lining up again.


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