Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Day 16 - Scotland West Coast - Largs - Vikings, Scottish accents and Robert Burns recording

Largs (click on name to see on my Google Map) is a mid-sized town (it will take you five minutes to drive from one end to the other - stopping at red lights), on the edge of the Firth of Clyde (a Firth is what the Scots call a large inlet of sea water that was carved out by glaciers in the last ice age), which links Glasgow to the Atlantic. The town itself isn't much to get excited about. There's a sea promenade, some unsuited mini-theme park attractions, and a few restaurants.

Ice cream booth in Largs, with seagulls.

Ladies of Largs...

"Can you take our picture?" - the girls of Largs

But eventhough Largs is still in the lowlands, you do get a sense of Scotland's famed highlands, looking west and north. Across the Firth, the hills rise quickly into semi-mountainous lands - the beginning of the territories of clans? Despite summer, clouds were grey and heavy. To me, the weather wasn't out of place. I've always thought of Scotland as wild and stormy, my imagination formed from movies like Braveheart, Highlander and various TV documentaries on clan wars and Viking invasions.

And Largs does have one must-do attraction, if you are interested in the country's sword-bearing past. The Vikingar experience, just back from the sea front, is a retelling of how the Vikings were instrumental in the development of Scotland. For instance, in 1263, Largs was the site of the last official invasion of Scotland by the Norse raiders from Scandinavia. The Vikingar centre is like a museum that's come to life, where costumed story tellers explain the influence that these invaders had on the region.

Largs was also the place of my first encounter with "real" (?) Scottish folk, the compatriots of my great grandfather who grew up in Elgin on the north coast.

I stayed at South Whittlieburn Farm, a few kilometres into the Brisbane valley away from town. I may as well been on a different planet. Verdant hills, spotted with sheep, pockets of oak trees, and a farmhouse with the front door wide open to guests. (Above the gate to the property is written "Ceud Mile Failte"...which is Scottish Gaelic for "A Hundred Thousand Welcomes".

As soon as owners Tom and Mary Watson start talking, you realise they are quite clearly Scottish. They are the first people I have met on my trip who are culturally tied to the land on which they grew up. Tom grew up in Selkirk. Mary grew up in Garbhaltt on the Cowal peninsula near St Catherines (where I am staying tomorrow night). Her family came from Tighnabruaich, further south on the peninsula (don't ask me how to pronounce that...). For me, the couple epitomise what I've dreamt up in my head about what Scottish folk are all about - especially the accent, which is beautiful to listen to.

Mary told me how I should visit Castle Lachlan on my way north to St Catherines...at first I didn't know what she was talking about, describing it like this:

"You should visit MacLachlan of MacLachlan, Castle Lachlan in Strath Lachlan", all in a strong Scottish accent...fantastic.

And I've recorded Tom reading a Robert Burns poem, the famous Scottish poet. Give it a listen, and then play it again. It's only an audio recording (no video).

The audio recording of Robert Burns' Red, Red Rose, read by Tom Watson.

Tom Watson, of South Whittlieburn Farm, on which he farms Scottish black-faced ewes, crossed with blue-faced Leicester rams.


  1. Scott,
    this comment somehow got attached to the wrong post....


    as local councillor for Largs and the surrounding area, I may be biased, but you do Largs no justice at all.

    It's a lovely place, with a beautiful seafront, good walks by the sea or at the back of the town, nice parks, sailing as the home of the Scottish Sailing Institute. It will host a number of pre-Olympic regattas in 2010 and 2011.

    It's also the home of the Sportscotland National Sports Centre at Inverclyde with facilities for all sports up to professional level and a sailing offshoot on Cumbrae.

    And it's home of the most famous cafe in Scotland.. Nardini's on the seafront.

    There are also a number of good eating places...Woodies, Brisbane Hotel, Nardinis, Lounge and the also famous Green Shutter tearoom and Regattas at the Marina.

    It is the home of celbrities Sam Torrance and Bob Torrance(golf) Daniella Nardini (acting)Bennie Gallagher and Graham Lyle (music), Lou Macari (football).

    As the site of the last skirmish fought between the mainland Scots and the Vikings, it is an important historical site. The battle, of 1263, is commemorated every year at the week-long Largs Viking Festival, website here


    So you see, there is more to Largs than you saw.

    You should return some day and spend more time and take a proper look.

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