Aith, Shetland: Tommy Tait 10th February 2016 & John Johnston 1913 – 1995 & Williamina Johnston 1910 – 2006

Some people will tell you there are no trees on Shetland, but take yourself to Michaelswood near Aith and you will soon realise this is not true.  Stroll among the young and vibrant woodland, with at least 60 different tree species over 12 acres and you realise that trees can grow this far north.  This woodland was planted in memory of Micahel Ferrie, a young musician from Aith, who died in 1996 from cancer when he was just 21 years old.  The woodland has interesting trails and intriguing features for all ages, including a Teddy Bear’s Picnic site, a library and sun room and Daisy the cow overlooking the Loch of Vaara and the rocky outcrop of Gurwil.  

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At the top of Michaelswood near Aith

I loved exploring this woodland that is packed with love and beauty.  At the top of the wood I found this bench to Tommy Tait, facing Daisy the cow and I enjoyed the view that Tommy Tait had chosen.  I don’t know how many people decide where their memorial bench is going to sit but I certainly appreciated knowing that Tommy Tait had been involved in the decision about the location of his memorial bench.

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Tommy Tait This bench is dedicated to the memory of Tommy who was born on this croft and who died on 10th February 2016.  He personally chose this site for a bench and often sat here to enjoy the view of Gurwil and the Loch of Vaara.

Being in Michaelswood was a magical experience.  I ducked under branches, spotted woodland flowers in the shelter of the trees, read the quotes on the philosophers trail and disturbed a hedgehog trundling along one of the paths among the newer trees.

Lower down in the wood was another memorial bench with the following dedication:

In Loving Memory of John Johnston 1913 – 1995 formerly of Ayres, Aith [&] Williamina Johnston (Nee Hay) 1910 – 2006 formerly of South Gardie, Aith

Moffat: Helen Maud Kidston 1894 – 1978

Moffat is pretty much our favourite place to stop at during our trips north to Scotland.  Cafe Ariete in the market square of this lovely small town is the perfect place to break a journey at any time of day.  They make excellent coffee, have cakes, lunches and breakfasts and even good ice-cream, all just ten minutes drive from the A74(M).  After eating we often like to take a stroll around Station Park, opposite the car park, to walk off the cake / lunch / ice-cream.

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Station Park in Moffat

On one of these walks I stumbled upon this slightly neglected memorial bench to Helen Maud Kidston.  I was intrigued by the inscription, describing her as an artist and craftswoman and wanted to know more.  Unfortunately, 1978 is the days before the internet and so my search for information about Helen Maud Kidston’s life gives only glimpses of her life.  I am sure there will be someone in Moffat that has a fuller story of this interesting woman and her life.

I did find that in 1912 Helen M Kidston, who was born on 17 September 1894, received a school leaving certificate from Govan Hillhead Laurel Bank School for Girls.  Further reference to Helen Kidston can be found in the self-published book, Somewhere in France: WW1 Letters of Lt Parr Hooper, American Pilot in the R.F.C./R.A.F, edited by Marian Sperberg-McQueen.  In this book Marian Sperberg-McQueen reproduces letters from Lt Parr Hooper, including one written in April 1918 from the Tarbet Hotel on Loch Lomond in Scotland.  He wrote, “That evening we had a fine dinner party at Mrs. Blackie’s. Besides Mrs. Blackie, Helen Kidston, and myself was a friend of Mrs. Blackie’s, a Miss Goodrow. Mrs. Blackie is a charming hostess and the dinner was great.”

Marian Sperberg-McQueen writes in her extensive footnotes, “I believe the family Parr met was that of James Burns Kidston, a Glasgow lawyer, and his wife, Alice Maud Kidston. Their eldest daughter, Helen Maud, who was about three years younger than Parr, had gone to school in Kent; and it was perhaps during her time in England that she came into contact with the Whitings. The Kidston family lived in Hillhead, the neighborhood around the University of Glasgow. The second daughter was Annabel Agnes Kidston, born in 1896; the third was Margaret Hedderwick Kidston, probably born in 1901.”

Looking for more information about Helen Kidston, who accompanied Lt Parr Hooper to the dinner, Marian Sperberg-McQueen goes on to tell readers that the youngest Kidston daughter, Agnes Annabel (1896 – 1981), “studied art in Glasgow and Paris, and at the Slade School in London. In 1936 she joined her sister Margaret in St. Andrews and became an active member of the arts and preservation communities there. She taught in a number of venues and exhibited her paintings and woodcuts in galleries and solo exhibitions. Additionally she created illustrations for various publishing undertakings ranging from poems by Matthew Arnold to the Chambers Encyclopedia.”

She adds that Helen Maud Kidston died on February 11 1978 but, ‘I have found no further information about the eldest Kidston daughter, beyond the fact that she, like both her sisters, was unmarried at the time of their mother’s death in 1934.’

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Agnes Annabel Kidston, the youngest of the sisters, was an accomplished artist and is still remembered in St Andrews.  She was the first president of the Art Committee of St Andrews and also a founder member of the St Andrews Preservation Trust.

The plaque on the memorial bench to Helen Maud Kidston tells us she lived in St Andrews, as well as Edinburgh and Glasgow, and it seems likely that perhaps she was there with her sisters Agnes and Margaret.  If so, she may have been there because of an interest in art and to learn new skills or she could have been inspired by the St Andrews artists to take up creative activities.  She then settled in Moffat for 25 years.


Bigton, Shetland: Kester Wigram 1959 – 2010

I have posted photographs and stories on this blog about 124 benches over the years.  Many of them have had stunning views but this has to be the best panorama of any bench I have recorded.  This memorial bench overlooks St Ninian’s Isle beach along the coast of Shetland.  At low tide walking across the sands to St Ninian’s Isle and following the path around the island is a popular day out and this is exactly why we were here during our holiday on these spectacular islands.  We had chosen a day when Shetland was sparkling in the sunshine and we wandered around the cliffs enjoying the varied vistas and spotting birds and seals.

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This memorial bench remembers Kester Wigram as a “free spirit.”  He was born in New Zealand and had lived in Shetland for 10 years with his family, working as a chemical engineer in the oil industry and also as a teacher for a short time.  The local newspaper reports that he was a popular man known for his “spirit of adventure.”  Kester Wigram took a kayak from St Ninian’s Isle beach in April 2010 and when he didn’t return he was reported as missing.  A major search for the experienced kayaker followed but it was over 12 months before his body was found.

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KESTER WIGRAM 1959 – 2010 “A free spirit”

A post from Stefan Janick in the Tayside Sea Kayak Club gives a sense of Kester Wigram’s  warm personality, “For many of us, Laurna and Kester’s were the first stop when arriving in Shetland. They lived just on the hill above the ferry terminal in Lerwick.  We had many a good feed and slide show there with our Norwegian paddling pals.”

As well as a memorial service on Shetland to commemorate Kester Wigram, his family and friends in New Zealand gathered at Pukerua Bay, where he grew up, to remember him.

Norland Moor, Sowerby Bridge: Eric Daniels 26.01.1930 – 01.96.2006

On a recent visit to Yorkshire, after a lovely walk along the canal and a pub lunch in Sowerby Bridge, we walked back to Elland over Norland Moor, a popular area for local walkers and an important fragment of upland heath.  Crisscrossed with footpaths, people like Norland Moor for the elevation, open views over to Halifax and the peace and quiet.  The highest point, with a trig point, is at 284 metres and nearby is a large rocky outcrop called The Ladstone, which some think was a place for Druid rituals.

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According to Calderdale Council there are 28 memorial benches on Norland Moor.  I don’t think we saw all of them but of the many we walked by on our walk I noticed this bench to Eric Daniels.  The plaque affectionately describes Eric Daniels as, ‘A man of boundless energy and enthusiasm, who gave so much and inspired so many.’

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Eric’s  Bench A place to sit and remember a man of boundless energy and enthusiasm, who gave so much and inspired so many 26.01.1930 Eric Daniels 01.06.2006

Eric’s bench was the perfect place to rest after the steep hill up to the moor.  I sat and enjoyed the view over the golf course, wishing I had met Eric Daniel’s.

Sheffield, Abbeydale: Mr Andrew Illingworth 1941 – 2018

I visited Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet in Sheffield as a child and have fond memories of the museum that were re-kindled when I looked around again this summer.  This rustic collection of workshops arranged around a cobbled courtyard and surrounded by trees takes you back in time to steel making a hundred years ago.  The site is full of atmosphere and littered with rusty tools and broken clay crucibles that the steel was made in, you feel as if the workers left not long before you arrived.  If you are lucky you might come across someone keeping traditional skills alive in one of the workshops.

The Manager’s House has a prominent place within the site and at the back is a well-kept garden, a few metres and yet a whole world away from the industrial site.


The Managers House at Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet, Sheffield

The gardening volunteers at Abbeydale meet for two hours once a week to take care of the grounds and gardens.  It seems a fitting tribute to a, ‘Committed Garden Volunteer’ at Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet to erect a bench in his memory in the garden of the Manager’s House.  This simple bench is the perfect place for visitors and other volunteer gardeners to sit and rest a while and remember Andrew Illingworth and the time he gave freely.


In Loving memory of Mr Andrew Illingworth 1941 – 2018 Committed Garden Volunteer here at Abbeydale “Sit with me and rest a while.”

The Cobbler: Tam McAulay 1946 – 2006

It was a fine spring day when we climbed up The Cobbler, the distinctive and popular Arrochar mountain that reaches 884 m high.  The Cobbler is a wonderful hill that is full of character and charm and you can read more here.  Thousands of people must walk by this memorial bench every year and read the fading inscription to Tam McAulay.  The bench is generously placed on the steep zig-zags on the route up the mountain and is the perfect place to stop and sit and admire the fantastic view over Loch Long.


The view from the path up The Cobbler

Tam McAulay gave his time to the Arrochar Mountain Rescue Team and was a member of The Creagh Dhu Mountaineering Club.  A keen mountaineer and climber, the warm obituary on UK Climbing’s website talks about a man who will be missed by family and friends and was not only, ‘Remembered for his wit and humour,’ but was also an agile climber and, ‘Devoted his time to photography, poetry, playing the accordion, literature, and local history. ‘  He had also competed in cycling time trials in his youth.  Tam McAulay worked at the Esso Oil Terminal on the River Clyde and retired to Arrochar.



His obituary says, ‘Tam McAulay died on Wednesday 20 September 2006 whilst on a walking holiday on the Isle of Rhum. During a river crossing with a companion from Arrochar Mountain Rescue Team, Tam was swept over a waterfall.  Members of Arrochar Mountain Rescue Team and Ian Nicolson, a fellow Creagh Dhu Mountaineering Club member, recovered his body on Sunday 01 October 2006.’

Rye: John Ryan, creator of Captain Pugwash 1921 – 2009

Tucked between the green fields of Sussex and the English Channel is the small town of Rye.  With a picturesque and well-preserved medieval centre, this is a popular place to visit.  The crooked half-timbered houses and cobbled streets give visitors a sense that they have travelled back in time.  We visited the Rye Castle Museum and there learnt that John Ryan, the creator of Captain Pugwash, was a Rye resident.

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Facing Rye’s railway station

John Ryan moved to Rye towards the end of his life.  He wrote numerous books but is perhaps best known for the TV cartoon series Captain Pugwash about a group of pirates that was first shown in the 1950s in black and white.  Later series were filmed in colour.  Captain Pugwash is shown as a mostly harmless pirate who gets into various scrapes but always survives to sail again, thanks to the quick wits of cabin-boy Tom.  During each episode Captain Pugwash will exclaim such things as, ‘Coddling catfish! Suffering seagulls!’ or ‘Kipper me capstans!’  As a child I loved these beautifully created cartoon antics.  An urban myth that there were risque names in the cartoons appeared in the 1970s and John Ryan won libel damages from two newspapers who published stories saying these names were why Captain Pugwash was removed from the schedules.

Wandering around the town, I found this memorial bench to John Ryan, near the railway station and opposite the local Jempson’s supermarket.  Placing the bench at the centre of Rye will ensure he is always remembered locally.

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This garden is dedicated to the artist JOHN RYAN (1921-2009) creator of ‘Captain Pugwash’ and many stories that delight children of all ages; much loved resident and benefactor of Rye.