MEMORIES OF PORTSOY
by Gillian Vance (Rowan)
For my family, the Portsoy experience started in summer of 1965 and continues to this day. The local insurance man had mentioned to my mum and dad (Jack and Iris Vance) a lovely wee village way up north of Scotland that is beautiful and, more importantly, was affordable to take your family to.
Packing for a family that at that time consisted of four boys under 10 must have been difficult. But pack everything they did, and off the Vance family went to start a journey that would take hours and hours and included many stops, but took them from East Kilbride to the most gorgeous place: Portsoy.
The hotel they had been told about lived up to its name. The Boyne Hotel, run by George and Helen Christie and staffed by the locals, was fabulous and Billy the barman a true legend. I also remember young George, Sylvia and Gary all working away over the years.
My parents could not believe the wonderful food – the hotel was that busy there were two sittings for breakfast, lunch and high tea (with fabulous Leslie Forrest cakes and fizzy juice on the table), and a supper in the TV room at night. It was always a race to see who Mrs Christie would let ring the gong in the stairwell to indicate the meals were ready! My mum says she could easily put on over a stone in a fortnight!!
Turns out the insurance man told lots of people about Portsoy . . . Lots of families from East Kilbride made their way up in the local Glasgow Fair fortnight, and made some special friendships that have lasted for decades. Some years we stayed in the hotel, some years we were boarded out to local houses, one of which, I remember, was number 10, just down the hill from the Boyne.
We tried camping too but the Boyne was too good to miss, and I always looked forward to my dad writing his letter to Mrs Christie during the first week of the New Year to book our rooms for that coming summer.
I was born in 1966, and so my mum and dad, my four brothers and me as a baby would be crammed into a car – usually one boy on my mum’s knee and me in the back on a brother’s knee – and we would be back again in Portsoy for a well earned rest for my parents. My mum and dad used to send a trunk on the train filled to the brim with duffel coats, wellie boots, shorts and jumpers for the boys, to cope with all weathers. Mr Christie used to collect this and have it ready for the family arriving, then send it back down again after the holiday!
Every Glasgow Fair holiday we would go to Portsoy – nowhere else would be considered, we all wanted to go. The boys had the freedom to fish off the harbour, go to the swimming pool, play at the links, and get up to all sorts of mischief, no doubt, whilst my parents enjoyed spending time with old friends, and new friends who had also heard about this wonderful haven.
After the first week of the Glasgow holidays it is the start of the Dundee fortnight holidays. And so, east met west, and again, new friendships were formed with families from East Kilbride, Glasgow and its surrounding towns meeting families from Dundee, Blairgowrie, Edinburgh etc. Families like the Woodrows, Shields, Clarks, Maddocks, Milligans and Davies meeting the McGills, Petries and Spences. This was important to me, as one Glasgow family, who had four girls and one boy, as opposed to four boys and one girl in my family, became close, and my friendship with Marie Davie from Glasgow was formed.
A Dundonian girl from the Spence family was on holiday our second week, and thus a friendship was formed with Gillian Spence, Marie Davie and Gillian Vance – a bond that still finds us solid friends with a love of Portsoy. We still visit, maybe every second year, for a weekend never to be forgotten (as many locals will testify!!).
We loved arriving in Portsoy to find the flags out in the street – always wished they were for us but they were for the Gala Days!!
I have early memories of the 70s in Portsoy of going to the Chemist, Riddoch’s or Nix’s to buy my orange fishing line and a pail, and off we would go to hang off the harbour or the rocks trying to catch fish! We had freedom to roam free and make friends with other holidaymakers, and locals, who still are friends today.
Although we were full board in the Boyne we still managed a Mrs Mair’s ice cream every day! She had a fantastic jukebox and pinball machine – and made the best chips!! Iris would also have afternoon tea with Mrs Philip or Muriel Gray and her mum! Even enjoyed ice cream floats and cakes in the Post Office tearoom!
And my love of Moray Cup was born!
I remember Salvation Army bands playing at the New Harbour and Church summer schools that we could all attend, playing table tennis on a wet day in the church hall or enjoying organised treasure hunts by the links. My dad would often have a few of us doing a ghost walk that ended with scary stories in the wishing well at the cemetery.
A walk to the swimming pool, admiring quaint cottage type houses – the like I’d never seen, for I lived in a New Town. There was the smell of coal or wood fires burning, and people who said “good morning” or “fit like quine” every time you passed was amazing: no-one would say that in East Kilbride, where you keep yourself to yourself!
I would love shouting on the geese that lived in one of the houses on the way to the pool, and down they would come, squawking loudly and making me run off!
In 1975, I was Portsoy FC Mascot when they won some cup – got a great photo, with Syd and Kippers being my two favourite Portsoy boys then (I was 9!!).
These holiday times were carefree, and as each year passed, our friendships grew. Sometimes, Gillian and I would get to share a room in the Boyne and Marie could sneak in too, to get a break from her sister! One year we were in the annexe and what freedom we had then – aged 13 and 14!!!
Our parents also had fantastic times. I can remember many a lock-in at the Boyne with fabulous singsongs going on into the wee small hours! Some great (and not so great) bands playing in a packed Boyne – Bigfoot, Barfit’n’Broke, to name a couple. Then a few of the mums and dads would get up to sing, and so another lock-in would happen!
Once the new bowling club was opened my dad quickly got involved with setting up a league for holiday makers versus locals – this not only involved bowls, but also dominoes and darts!
There were league charts everywhere, and the night before we left for home there would a presentation dance. This became an annual occurrence, and other nights would be arranged at the bowling club – fancy dress parties, bingo, anything to get everyone mixing and having a good time. This allowed us kids to have the freedom to enjoy a night on the town, eyeing up the local talent who were trying to impress us with their souped-up cars and fancy motorbikes! We would go out on the loch on the boats and lose oars all the time! Without naming names, there were a few romances abound! It was normally my brother Alastair’s birthday when we were up in the summer and he’d be chucked in the loch – once for every year!
A great friendship circle formed and many a night we would be in the Boyne with Linda and Helen Ferguson, Charlie and Linda, Flukes, Kitty, Muriel Gray, Charlotte, Dianne MacBain, Gladys, Michael Bowie, and loads more – all friends with my brothers. Our friends had some great laughs too – Colin Murray, Derek Smith, Bandy, Neil Lemmon, Frankie Smith, Keith Murray, Allan Robertson, Gary Christie, Olwen McIntosh, Myles Murray, Jake, Neil George, Kenny McKenzie – just everyone your age made you feel welcome and part of the community.
During the 80s there were some fabulous discos in the Commercial and great pubcrawls from the Boyne, Shore, Commercial, Station, Park and back to the Boyne! Making friends for two weeks with other holidaymakers and locals could end up with huge card games in the Boyne, with the large black sofas around a couple of tables and a few of the lads perched on the tiny stools we could pass a few hours easily! A great jukebox that took sixpences, brilliant broth and mince toasties – the Boyne had it all!
There were walks to Sandend, with shouts of “how much longer?” answered with “not long now”, and then you saw the beautiful golden sand in the huge bay – still an amazing sight.
Sometimes we went to Tarlair pool – never ever warm! Banff swimming pool was always good to go to, and again, meet new people there. A trip to Whitehills to visit the garden with hundreds of gnomes was another annual trip!
Once we were 16, we could come to Portsoy and stay on our own. Gillian and her then boyfriend had their own caravan by then. Marie, Graham Clark and I used to hire our caravan and we had some great times then . . . the poor warden at the time must have been frustrated with us, but not all the noise was our fault (honest!).
We would visit for a long weekend in September and Easter too, and spent a fabulous New Year party in Sylvia and Ashley’s house by the loch – they made us so welcome.
What I love is how friendly everyone has always been, not just from 1965, but even this year we made new friends and are always made to feel welcome and included.
Although the Christie’s no longer run the Boyne it is pleasing to see the crockery is still the same, as is the wallpaper in the hallways! Going ‘en-suite’ was a real treat, after queuing up for baths along the corridors and sometimes jumping in front of someone who had ran a bath and then, perhaps, went to their room for something! We never stayed anywhere else during our family holidays, but lately have stayed at the Station a few times with our friends and enjoyed the hospitality of Euan and Susan.
Marie, Gillian and I haven’t visited a boat festival either, but my brother and mum have and say it’s fantastic! I’m a bit greedy and wouldn’t like to share Portsoy with so many other people!
I am always delighted when someone I perhaps don’t recognise approaches me and says they remember either myself and my brothers or my mum and dad from visiting Portsoy over the years.
We have watched a movie being made down by the old harbour, Marie’s sister Karen swam from one harbour to the next, my brother John nearly drowned and was saved in the new harbour, my right knee has a huge scar from slipping on a rock . . . The memories flow, and my most proudest one was when my mum and dad were presented with a beautiful Portsoy Pottery plate from the RNLI to mark 25 years of them holidaying in Portsoy – 25 years, every Glasgow fortnight!
Now I can take a walk round Portsoy anytime I want: I just log on to the Portsoy Past and Present Facebook page to look at some of the wonderful photographs and stories, and in my head I am there.
As that old rocker Rod Stewart would say: (Portsoy), you’re in my heart and in my soul.
See you soon!