MASON Sheila PDF Print E-mail
Mrs Sheila MASON (nee Spooner), resident of both Australia and New Zealand writing to the Website Editor in May 2008 with her memories of visits to Auchencairn.Image 

Dear Editor,

I read with interest your forum about what we call in New Zealand, ‘Swallows’ – holiday makers with part-time homes which are empty for long periods of time.  We have one of those, which we use for ourselves and friends to come and visit.  Here in New Zealand, the locals probably regard us all as a bit eccentric, but we love their company and they ours.  Some probably look forward to us going home!  Home for us is Queensland, Australia.

However, back to my past.  I was born in 1942 – a war baby – and cannot remember the first time I went to Auchencairn with my family, but it was an annual occurrence, sometimes bi-annual.  My earliest recollection was leaving our home in Derbyshire in the dark – presumably before dawn – with my father manoeuvring a large travelling trunk through our front door, and out to a taxi.

My mother, father, brother and I used to travel by train, and the route became more and more familiar as the years went by and the excitement  of the trip mounted as we  went over the Yorkshire viaduct, over the moors, into Carlisle, then Gretna Green and Annan, followed by more stops at places I’ve forgotten, until we reached Dumfries.

Further on we were at last pulling into Dalbeattie.  There was always a car waiting for us at the station – I can’t imagine how long it must have taken my father to arrange all this, with no telephones -  just letters going back and forth. Safely in the car, we eagerly looked through the windows to see if the tide was in or out, as we drove past the sandy deep-cut lanes at Palnackie.

The travelling trunk contained bedding – enough for all of us for the duration of our stay.  Our stay was at the holiday home of Dr Rankin – Fernlea - mentioned in Charlotte’s memoirs.  I assume from her story that the house was bought by Dr Rankin from her grandmother.  Dr Rankin, although a practising GP in Derbyshire, where my father did his accounts, came originally from Edinburgh.

For me, the holidays spent there were magical times. We would go at Easter in the school holidays, and again in the summer.  Getting to the house through the small side wrought-iron gate from the rough lane which led to the smithy and round to the front door on the crunching pebble pathway. For me, as a small child, the imposing double front doors painted green looked huge. I seem to remember, that it had a very large brass knob in the middle.  I can feel the coolness of that doorknob now, me trying to get my hand right round it, and the facets around its heavy bulk.

The garden was laid out quite formally with box hedges that my father used to trim.  Oh, those box hedges – that musky smell of damp box even now brings back such strong memories of Fernlea.  There were some apple trees in the garden. A stone wall divided it from the field next door, which my older brother and my father used to walk through to woods across the other side, in search of rabbits.  I remember the fine green turf and what seemed like thousands of rabbit holes ready to turn your ankle or trip you up.

My brother and I also used to walk through the field to get to the recreation area at the bottom of the village – ‘The Rec’. There was I remember a see-saw.  During our early years the blacksmith was busy and the smithy next door was fully operational. We’d go and watch him shoe horses (mostly cart horses) and hear the sizzle as he attached the hot shoe, and smelled the acrid smoke.  We would pump up the tyres of the bicycles and ride down Shore Road. I learned how to ride a bike in Auchencairn!

Fernlea at that time had a red white and black tiled hallway with a staircase at the far end. The living-room, with fireplace (the fire was always lit for us when we arrived), was to the left of the hall. There was a bedroom behind it and to the side, and to the right was the dining room, kitchen, bathroom and scullery.  The back yard was completely enclosed by a stone wall, with an iron water pump and an outside toilet.  There was a door into the yard from the lane between the Post Office and Fernlea. Upstairs therewere two bedrooms. I had one and my brother had the other. I’ll never forget those dormer windows, looking out towards Hestan island to the side and at night seeing the flashing of the lighthouse and how, as I grew up, it used to conjure up for me images of smugglers, contraband and Famous-Five adventures.

The housekeeper lived next door and if memory serves me right, her name was Mrs Clark.  She had a son, or two sons, one of whom I think went to live in Canada.  On a later visit to Auchencairn when I went alone, just after my father died in 1989, I rented Mrs Clark’s house, next door to Fernlea.  The past flooded back when I made contact with an old lady in the village (can’t remember her name) who had or could get a key to the house, and she took me into it.  It had not changed much from the 1950s!  She opened a small corner cupboard in the kitchen and inside I was amazed to see the same crockery!

At that time, I also met the person who lived in what used to be the Post Office.  I cannot remember her name, but I think she was about to marry the school headmaster.  The old lady remembered my father, when I described him as tall, slim and straight, with darkish hair. I re-visited all the places we used to go to, in particular Red Haven Bay – still through the field with the cows following, and over the style.  The boulders on the beach looked strangely familiar! I have a photograph of me at the age of about three sitting on a rock in my knitted bathing suit. I swear that the rock was still there, I was never allowed to go to Hestan Island with my father and brother, but I have dreamed about doing so ever since.

I walked down Shore Road when I went back, and was pleasantly surprised at how little it had all changed. My parents used to play tennis at the tennis courts, and father played bowls.  My old photograph album has black and white pictures of us all tramping down the road on a Sunday afternoon with turned-down wellies and raincoats!  Then to alternate we would do the circuit up through the village, passed the school and cemetery, down along the burn side and back over the bridge.  At one time I recall there was a tea room on the left hand side at the bottom of the village where we used to stop and have strawberry cream teas.  Indelible in my mind is the ride by bus to Castle Douglas.  I recall the bus company was based at the garage down the hill. What was the name? The buses were green and cream and if we caught the early one, the driver would deliver papers to all en route by flinging them out of the bus window into their gardens!

Those were the days. I have so many happy memories which I call upon from time to time like father catching (or, trying to catch) eels in the burn, walking across the fields to Red Haven bay and being chased by a bull, watching the fishing nets being drawn up the shore and the wonderful bread at the bakery. I used to be sent to buy it hot, and they would bake it in long loaves and tear it apart whilst still hot, leaving what my father used to call the ‘pappy’, end.
Our family are now in Australia, and my parents, Annie (Nancy) and Herbert (Bert) Spooner, passed away years ago.  Top of my list of places to go to is Auchencairn.  In my more sentimental moments, I have even thought about asking for my ashes to be scattered at Red Haven Bay when I die – but in reality, that will not be possible!  Perhaps, though, I might get to go to Hestan Island, at last!

Sheila Mason (nee Spooner) May, 2008.

Note: In June 2008 Sheila and husband Peter did come to the UK and visited Auchencairn. They stayed for a few days at the Balcary Bay Hotel, did plenty of nostalgic sightseeing and met with Marian Makins, George Makins, Dennis Binns, Madeline Maxwell and Brian Maxwell to discuss times past and present. Sheila didn’t get to Red Ha’en or Heston this time. We have a feeling that she just might be back.