Springtime in Scotland

If you are visiting Scotland from abroad then late Spring is a good time to consider. The weather is on the cold side, but we usually get some beautiful sunny days. 

A Day Out from Glasgow– Yesterday was such a day, so we put off the tasks needing done in our garden to take a one hour drive from our home in Glasgow to the Ayrshire Coast on the Firth of Clyde. 

The long sandy beach at Ayr was quiet, with a few hardy souls being tempted to go into the sea to ‘paddle’ their feet, and there were a number of folks walking their dogs. We were heading to the south end of Ayr as we had in mind a visit to Greenan Castle, which as you will notice from the photographs sits precariously on the edge of a cliff! It’s a lovely walk from the car park along the beach to the castle, or if it is high tide there is a rough footpath amid the sand dunes. The castle has an intriguing history going back to the mid 16th century, with stories of betrayal and murder. The wind was fresh, the sand was firm for walking and I felt really invigorated when I returned to the car.

We next headed a few miles south along the coast to the village of Dunure. It’s a picturesque drive with lambs in the fields and views across the sea to the Isle of Arran. Dunure is a quaint village with a harbour, and we sat there to have our picnic lunch. Sitting at the harbour in the quietness with the sun shimmering on the water, and watching a local creel fisherman preparing his boat was a joy after some bleak winter days. And then of course there is Dunure Castle, the ancient seat of the Kennedy family, which dates back to the 14th century, although an earlier castle prior to the 13th century is said to have stood on the same site. 

Lastly we headed for the village of Maidens, along past ‘the electric brae’ and the famous ‘Culzean Castle’ estate run by the National Trust for Scotland. No time today to investigate its beautiful castle and grounds, but we did have time for a walk out the pier at Maidens. This sits just next to Turnberry golf course and hotel, now owned by a certain US President -Mr Donald Trump! Then there was a drive home in time to water the garden pot plants, after a few days without rain and lots of sunshine! 

This then is a glimpse of what a day out from Glasgow can look like. We are truly spoiled for choice when it comes to places of beauty to visit. Maybe it’s time to pay Scotland a visit?

I wish all my readers a very Happy Easter! If you missed my last blog, you can see my Easter video here: https://youtu.be/u5H5-rl4-sA

Scotland and Sugar!

This week my wife and I drove from the centre of Glasgow to the Clyde Estuary, stopping off at ‘Lyle Hill’ in Greenock. There I read one of the placards, giving a synopsis of the history of Greenock. It was interesting to read that it had the nickname ‘sugatown’! It’s not hard to understand why, for at the beginning of the last century 400 ships per year were bringing raw cane sugar from the West Indies and Central American sugar plantations into the port, to be refined in one of Greenock’s fourteen sugar refineries.  Mr Lyle was a local entrepreneur who invested heavily in sugar, and eventually joined with Mr Tate to form the world famous ‘Tate and Lyle’ sugar business.

All that brought memories flooding back to mind as I served my engineering apprenticeship in a heavy engineering works in Glasgow called Watson Laidlaw & Co Ltd who specialised in the manufacture of centrifugal machines for the Sugar Industry. I would later spend 20+ years working with A & W Smith & Co Ltd. (part of the Tate & Lyle group) who were manufacturers of all kind of equipment for the sugar industry, and were involved in the construction of complete Sugar Factories in some of the world’s remotest places.  

Glasgow and the Clyde basin actually became the key hub for the world manufacture of sugar machinery. The photographs of nine company adverts show the companies that were all operating in and around Glasgow when I was an apprentice.

Sadly Tate & Lyle closed its last Greenock refinery in 1997, and today not one refinery is operating in Greenock. Likewise not one engineering company is producing sugar machinery in Scotland, not since A & W Smith (which became Smith Mirrlees) closed its doors in the late 1980’s, the last survivor of Scotland’s sugar engineering companies.

I guess for most this story is just symbolic of the general demise of heavy engineering in the UK, which reached its peak during the Margaret Thatcher era. 

For me it is much more than that, because I invested half of my working life in the Sugar business, and it was a career that I really enjoyed, as the work was so varied and interesting. I first worked as a ‘hands-on’ engineering apprentice, then as a draughtsman, an estimator, chief estimator, and company buyer. This work took me to Mexico for a year with my family when we built the Tambaca Sugar Factory, and then to the northeast of Brazil (x 2), and to Thailand for a year with my wife and daughter, and on other shorter visit to factories at home and abroad.  

It spite of everyone’s best efforts however, the tide was turning against the Scottish industry, as more and more sugar producing countries set up their own engineering establishments. Shipping charges too had also soared in price, and competition became increasingly fierce. The refining side of the business took a great hit when we joined the European Union, as there already existed a sugar mountain in Europe, as farmers there were growers of sugar beet. So quotas were set, restricting the amount of raw cane sugar that could be imported. 

So slowly but surely, companies closed, and thousands of workers were made redundant including the undersigned.   It was great while it lasted, but I’m happy to say, that in retrospect God was leading me into a different sphere of work in the Christian Mission sector, which proved even more rewarding and fulfilling than my time in engineering. 

None-the-less I still keep a wee stash of items I can’t bring myself to throw out, as can be seen in the photographs. I guess they are of no interest to anyone else in this day of calculators and computers, but I enjoy taking a glance at them from time to time! My drawing instruments, notebooks, rulers and slide rulers, logarithm tables, ‘ready reckoners’, steam tables etc.  My wife says I’m a hoarder, and she is right, but to me they are an important memento to a big part of my life.

If you are interested to read more about the Sugar Industry in Scotland you can find more details here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenockor https://archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk/search/archives/e96cbd45-8bbc-3957-9484-832afe316ede

Now as a Christian I keep pressing forward as best I can with a number of activities, and like to keep in mind the words of Paul the Apostle, (who also dramatically changed course mid way through his life) when he said ‘I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.’ Phil. 3.14