Great Cumbrae

The gorse smells like coconut.....
Photo taken by myself or B in Scotland, we were returning from a hike with our church to the waterfalls above Largs. (I curse the day that the red date on the camera was ever invented! Gah! I can't get it off! I don't even know what 3 11:57 means!) Anyway, focus instead on the yellow & incongrously coconut- smelling gorse on the left, and the mossy green hillside above it. Can you feel the wind and smell the dampness in the air? Across the water (the Firth of Clyde) lies the magic isle of Great Cumbrae.

Great Cumbrae

Great Cumbrae is one of my very favourite places on the west coast of Scotland (and that's saying something). It is so close to the mainland (20 minute ferry) that B and I were riding the Caledonia MacBrayne ferry over as often as we could. We spent a fabulous weekend there at the smallest cathedral in the British Isles, Cathedral of the Isles. The cathedral once boasted the College of the Holy Spirit, an Episcopalian seminary, now turned into a B&B, (think lots of dark wood and breakfast in the original refectory). All the guest rooms are named after virtues, ours was called Fortitude. Not very romantic. We ate heaps and heaps of curry and naan at Spice Island that night and then realized that we forgot our toothbrushes and toothpaste back on the mainland. Whoops! And a full Scottish breakfast the next morning and then church with many L.O.L.s (little old ladies) who got very close and asked us about America. Yech. Also not very romantic. But hilarious, as our life often is.

I once climbed the bell tower and sat in the ringing chamber, ala The Five Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers. So many memories. I think we were over at Cumbrae a good 6 or seven times in the year we were living at Seamill.
We took Jill to a Palm Sunday service there and we sang as we processed from the Lady Chapel to the main sanctuary, carrying wispy palm crosses and following Alastair Campbell (!) the organist, who was clad in a billowy white robe (surplice?) To my liturgy-starved ears it was glorious. The teaching that day was even openly Christian, with teachings from the Bible, which I've always appreciated when I'm at church.....
Wee Cumbrae
Great Cumbrae received it's exalted moniker based on it's proximity to another, smaller island, you guessed it: Wee Cumbrae, which is currently on the market for a cool 2.5 million pounds. It sits a wee bit south of Great Cumbrae, and is uninhabited at the present. But it's got a 13th century keep, a lighthouse and a 'King of Wee Cumbrae' T-shirt to the lucky new owner.
Ulex and the Ritz
But Great Cumbrae is tiny as well; it can easily by walked across in the space of an hour, past farmyards, Highland cattle, sheep upon sheep, and boggy spots of bracken. There's gorse also, which the Irish call whin and the botanists call Ulex europaeus. The apex of the island looks out on a jaw-dropping view looking up the Firth of Clyde into the murky shadows of the beginnings of the Highlands: the great Argyll Forest. Cumbrae boasts only one town, Millport, of the dying British seaside amusements variety.
B and I ate many a retro meal at the phenomenal local 60's diner, the Ritz. All the waitresses are old like they've worked there since they were in ponytails and kilts, and a bowl of soup and a roll costs a little over a quid. B, ever the novelty eater/sweet tooth would order a Knickerbocker Glory (a variation on a sundae)and I would blissfully order my favourite comfort food in the free world, the cheese and tomato toastie. They sell a whole lot of sweeties, (the Scots seem to have a penchant for sweets in an uber- sugar, hummingbird feeder sort of way....) Helping to substantiate this theory are glaring pieces of evidence such as
1) Rock, a hard baton of sugar, which is sold at all British seasides (that's actually a sign for 'ROCK SOLD HERE' on the front of the Ritz)
2) Irn-Bru, a nasty rust-coloured soda
3) Millionaire's shortbread: shortbread topped with thick piles of caramel and chocolate
4) fried Mars Bars -the Scottish legend. Ask for it by name at your neighborhood chippy.
All the same, they have greatly contributed to the desserts of the world: let's hear it for banoffee pie! (banana/toffee: surprisingly good.)

Can you tell I am a little attached to this place? It's funny how much there is to tell about this wee island, much more than I have recorded here. I can't wait to go back, G in tow, to once again hike to the Glaidstone, to marvel at the intricate Nouveau needlework on the altarcloth in the Lady Chapel, to eat toasies while we wait for the bus to take us the ferry, gazing out from Millport across to the Isle of Arran, G's middle name-sake.

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Read Your Way Through the Garden: Choice Tomes From Garden Literature

  • A Book of Salvias by Betsy Clebsch
  • Botany for Gardeners by Brian Capon
  • Making Bentwood Trellises by Jim Long
  • RHS Encyclopedia of Plants & Flowers
  • Rose Primer: An Organic Approach to Rose Selection & Care by Orin Martin
  • Start With the Soil by Grace Gershuny
  • Sunset Western Garden Book
  • Sunset Western Landscaping Book
  • The Book of Garden Secrets by Patent & Bilderback
  • The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Botany
  • the Gardener's Table: A Guide to Natural Vegetable Growing and Cooking by Richard Merrill & Joe Ortiz
  • The Gardener's Year by Karel Capek
  • The Hutchinson Dictionary of Plant Names: Common & Botanical
  • We Made A Garden by Margaret Fish

lotsa latin: rosa's botanical & etymological ruminations

  • vespertinus: flowers in the evening
  • vernalis:spring
  • veni vidi nates calcalvi: we came, we saw, we kicked butt. This was printed on a T shirt I bought at Abbot's Thrift many years ago. It encircled the NEA symbol. I wish I knew why.
  • superciliaris: shaped like an eyebrow ex: sturnella superciliaris, the White-browed Blackbird
  • rosa-sinensis: species of Hibiscus: Hibiscus rosa-sinensis. Lit. Rosa of China, so named by British plant hunters.
  • placentiformis: shaped like a cake ex: discocactus placentiformis
  • nudiflorus: flowers before leaves show ex: flowering quince, magnolia
  • nivalis: growing in or near snow ex: galanthus nivalis (common snowdrop)
  • muralis: growing on walls
  • mirabilis: marvellous, wonderful
  • formosa: beautiful ex: dicentra formosa, a.k.a.western bleeding heart/dutchman's breeches/lady in a bath
  • carpe vitam: get a life
  • Carolus Linnaeus: Latinized name of Carl von Linne (1707-1778), Swedish naturalist considered the father of plant taxonomy. Whatta guy.