The Annabelle Summer
The pre-war years in the Highlands suffered from an economic
depression. With everyone keen to earn every penny they could, most
farmers in our village who had a spare room would rent it out.
Bothies and byres were converted into living space, and if the
conditions were cramped, if sanitary arrangements were primitive and
privacy almost non-existent – well – that all added rural charm to the
holiday, in those simpler times.
Father was not slow to jump on the band wagon, and was quick to
convert a small cottage just down a way from our farmhouse into the
sort of rural idyll with flowers around the door that was the stuff of
dreams to the weary city folk who rented it out. Doubly blessed by
being not only a farm but also within easy distance of the sea, we
were never short of visitors. We had a writer once, come all the way
from London, to stop the winter.
Our most faithful tenants though, were an Edinburgh surgeon, his wife
and their daughter, who rented the cottage for three months every
summer for 9 years. I was little more than a babe but I remember
clearly the last of Annabelle’s childhood visits. I was around 4 or
5, which means she must have been around 13 or 14. That was the last
year they came as I learned later, because they took up with foreign
travel for a few years, before the war broke out.
They had all arrived late the night before, in a shiny car, the likes
of which I had never seen. I should have been in bed, but was
watching from my attic window as they arrived and were made welcome.
I remember lusting after that car, with it’s elegant lines and high
The next morning I was up with the lark as always. It was one of
those balmy summer days when the sun is a hazy globe and the sky was
an untarnished blue. It was early in the morning still, but Father
was away up the hill with the cattle and mother, having given me some
breakfast, had turned me out of doors as it was a washing day. I was
throwing a stick for our dog Bess, when Annabelle appeared.
Putting a finger to her lips she took my hand and told me we were
going on an adventure. I knew I should not leave the farmyard without
Mother’s permission, but Annabelle berated me for being a baby and
threatened to go adventuring alone, and so grasping her hand and
disguising my trepidation I set off with her.
We walked out of the farmyard and ran down the steep hill to the road
which was the boundary of our farm, my little legs pumping hard to
keep up with Annabelle. I had never been this far before without a
grown-up. Annabelle held my hand as we crossed the road. Suddenly I
was exhilarated – thrilled to be so free. Filled with the reckless
exuberance of youth, we ran across the grassy downs to the sand dunes
beyond – and shining there we saw the sea!
We raced onto the sands and into the waves, splashing at each other
until we were thoroughly soaked. The beach curved around in a
graceful arc, and it belonged to us – we were the only people there.
Leaping into the waves we sputtered saltwater and rejoiced in the
sheer bliss of it all. We built sandcastles with moats and to my
ever-lasting admiration, Annabelle turned cartwheels in the sand, her
skirts flying in the breese.
Finally realising we were ravenous, Annabelle decreed we should return
home once more, but we should take the longer way around the beach to
where the rock pools were, to see if we could find anything
The north end of the beach was full of rocks – some massive volcano
and earthquake in pre-history given birth to these steep hills then
torn these massive boulders from them, creating a landscape that was
wild and savagely beautiful. We looked in the pools, but there was
nothing of great interest – a few seashells, a few pebbles, but no
crabs or anemones or scallops.
And it was here that disaster struck. As we scrambled along the
rocks, I stepped on a patch of seaweed and slipped, wrenching my foot
in the process. I burst into tears at the pain, and not even
Annabelle’s exhortations could silence me. Hauling me to my feet was
of no avail – I could not put any weight on my hurt foot. Annabelle
suggested leaving me to go and fetch help, but that only served ot
make me cry the louder.
Nothing daunted, Annabelle proceeded to manoeuvre me onto a higher
rock and instructed me to slide down until I was sitting piggy-back on
her hips. In retrospect, it was quite an ordeal for her, as I was a
sturdy chap, but nonetheless, Annabelle painstakingly made her way
towards the road. By now the sun was high in the sky, and I was
whining that I was hungry and thirsty. Annabelle snapped at me, being
hungry and thirsty herself and doubtless having remembered that once
across the road there was half a mile up a steep hill still to go.
In the event, as we reached the road, we were met by both of our
fathers, who had spent the past hour searching for us. We were to
learn later that Mother had not missed me until around 10, when
Annabelle’s mother came in search of her. She and Mother searched
around the farmyard and house and called for us for an hour. When
their search proved fruitless, Mother had rung the bell for Father.
This was an old ship’s bell which Father had bought at a sale, and it
hung by the kitchen door to call Father and the men in from the fields
when it was time for dinner, or if Mother needed something.
Father was not pleased at being called away from his work, and was
even less pleased when he heard of the reason. Whilst he doubted we
had come to any harm, there was always the worry that we *had*.
Having searched the outlying fields for us in vain, the two men walked
down the hill, where they finally met us coming along.
Lifting me off Annabelle’s back, Father checked me over ascertaining
that I was safe and well other than a hurt foot. Feeling it carefully
he decreed that it was wrenched but not broken, then gave me a long
hug. Lifting me up in his arms, he scolded me for having left the
farmyard without letting Mother know. He strode up the hill as he
scolded, and all the way up till we reached the farmhouse, every now
and then he landed a smack to the seat of my damp shorts. I wept at
the indignity of it, and in sorrow for having made Mother worry over
me, and not least for the very sore backside I had by the time we
It was half-a-mile up that hill, and every few yards Father would
think of something else to say, and then deliver another smack to my
“What should I have said to your puir mither, lad, if I had found you
drownded?” And without giving me a chance to reply his hand would
crash down. What reply could I possibly have made. I whimpered, I
snivelled and yelled. Father’s hands were big and tough from all the
hard work around the farm. I was only a wee laddy and his hand
covered the whole of my behind, lighting a fire the likes of which I
had never felt before.
More words, and another stinging blow, and promises of good behaviour
– angelic behaviour, if only Father would forgive me. The only
distraction offered to me on that long half-mile road was that the way
he held me, I was facing backwards, and this gave me a grandstand view
of Annabelle and her father.
Annabelle followed behind us, her father also scolding her for leading
me astray, for bringing me into harm’s way, and having cut a switch,
he followed Annabelle, urging her on in our strange little procession.
She wailed and sobbed as that stinging switch struck her damp legs and
bum. It seemed that for every smack Father laid on me, Annabelle’s
father struck her twice with the switch.
A scolding from Father, then a smack that brought the tears to my
eyes, then a scolding to Annabelle followed by a brisk ‘swish, swish’
and sobbing yelps as the switch did its work, impressing on her the
error of her ways.
There is no doubt whatsoever that we were two very sorry children by
the time we reached home.
Not much is left to relate. Once we were back, and our respective
mothers were assured we were indeed hale and hearty other than sore
backsides and a wrenched foot. Bath, bed and thankfully some food
brought to an end the best and the worst day of my life so far.