14 March 2016
Rhona Anderson shares her memories of travelling to her Isle of Bute school by ferry in the 1970s.
In August 1973, the day before the autumn school term began, I became a schoolgirl commuter on the Clyde. Being brought up on the Island of Arran, eighteen miles off the west coast of Scotland, I had attended four years of secondary school at Arran High School. From an early age, I lived with the knowledge that I would be leaving the island where I was born. It might have been different had my mother been an islander herself, but she was an ‘incomer’ and wanted to give her children the same choices as she’d had.
Off to Bute
So, with my clutch of Ordinary Grade certificates (they were very ordinary), I set off to study for Highers on the Island of Bute. With some 1970s Councillors’ incomprehensible logic, it had somehow seemed acceptable to send Arran children not to the mainland, but to another distant island to live in lodgings and finish their education in the Buteshire capital, the Royal Burgh of Rothesay.
So, my fellow scholars and I endured an hour-long queasy crossing on M.V. Caledonia then a fifty-minute rumble on a bus along the Ayrshire coast to Wemyss Bay. Nervous yet excited, I boarded MV Cowal for the second squeamish sea passage of the day, thirty minutes to Rothesay, where I met up with my landlady Mrs Martin, who cared for me as though I was family. Her birthday dumplings were legendary!
Time for adventure
Coming from a remote farm, travelling and being away from home for a month at a time meant adventure. Ferries held adult mysteries still to be discovered. First, The Bar. It was always below deck, down a flight of breakneck steps into the rolling bowels of the ship. Through the fug of smoke, we’d find the steward in his oddly formal, shiny but stained uniform. With our own school uniforms hidden, we’d order lager, but inevitably seasickness overcame me so I’d have to climb back out on deck for fresh air.
When we were not in The Bar, the no man’s land status of the ferry encouraged some of us (well, me at least) to try smoking. Feeling anonymous on dark evening crossings, I’d stroll on the open deck of the car-ferry smoking a Consulate cigarette, imagining I was a Bond film starlet. Sadly for me, my secret smoking cruises ended abruptly when my fags were discovered by Dad.
Journeys on the Firth of Clyde and along the Ayrshire coast afforded many opportunities for calamity. High winds, wrong tides and ferry-engine malfunctions meant that we spent countless hours stranded in draughty waiting rooms at Ardrossan or Wemyss Bay with only one bottle of Currie’s lemonade and a macaroon bar between us. Just as well teenagers are great at ‘hingin’ aboot’!
In 1975, Arran High School was upgraded for S5 and 6. I waved a fond goodbye to Mrs Martin at Rothesay Pier, as one of the last two Arran pupils ever to complete that island hopscotch education.
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