The town of Wick in Caithness in the north of Scotland was once Europe’s busiest herring port. There are still fishing boats in Wick harbour but when we visited the boats going to and fro were installing a large off-shore wind farm. We took an afternoon walk around Pulteneytown, on the south bank of the River Wick whose mouth the town sits on. Thomas Telford designed Pulteneytown for Sir William Pulteney, as well as working on improvements for the harbour and a bridge to improve the connection between the north and south bank of the river. The development includes as its centre piece the charming Argyle Square. From Pulteneytown our walk naturally gravitated to the activity of the harbour and there I found this interesting memorial bench.

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Wick harbour in the sunshine

The memorial bench to William Bain Thomson, known as Toshy, was erected by his family. Anyone who stops to read the plaque will gather that William Thomson worked on a boat called the Good Hope and lived to around 65 years of age, dying in Fort William. The words, ‘My ear will be soothed by the sound of the sea,’ suggest William Thomson lived and died a sailor and fisherman.

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I wonder if William Thomson’s middle name Bain is after Alexander Bain (1810 – 1877). He was an inventor and engineer who was born in Caithness and began his working life as an apprentice clock maker in Wick. Alexander Bain was the first to patent the electric clock and installed railway telegraph lines between Edinburgh and Glasgow.

I found references to a boat registered in Wick, Good Hope WK209 that moved to Fleetwood in Lancashire and is now lying derelict near there. Today this fishing boat is celebrated in a whisky. The Pulteney Distillery in Wick, founded in 1826 at the height of Wick’s herring boom, celebrates Good Hope WK209 as it was the first boat in Wick to use echo sounder to help find the herring.

Corpach: Iain MacIntyre 1931 – 2018

This is certainly a bench that encourages you to linger and enjoy the view.

The Caledonian Canal runs from Corpach in the west of Scotland near Fort William to Inverness in the east.  This waterway is made up of 22 miles of canals and 29 locks, joining 38 miles of existing lochs that string along the Great Glen.  Built in the early 19th century, the route includes Neptunes Staircase near to Corpach where a ladder of eight locks raises boats 70 feet.

We were cycling back to our campsite near Corpach after an enthralling evening of pine marten watching with Glen Loy Wildlife.   Seeing these elusive mammals has been on my wish list for many years and I was thrilled to have had the chance.  The day before we had climbed Ben Nevis on a perfect and unusually hot day for the month of May.  We were happy and relaxed after touring around the beautiful country of Scotland for around a month and looking forward to more weeks to come.  In the evening light we cycled down to the locks at Corpach, where the Caledonian Canal meets Loch Linnhe and had to stop to take in the magnificent view of Ben Nevis saturated by the warm colours of the sunset.

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Ben Nevis in the evening sunshine

While we watched the vibrant magic of the sun setting, I noticed a memorial bench with an enviable view and turned away to read the plaque.  The bench remembers Iaian MacIntyre and told me that he was born at Corpach Sealock in 1931.  I sat and pondered on what a different place this would have been in 1931.  Today the Caledonian Canal is mostly used by leisure boats but in the 1930s large paddle steamers would have taken passengers through the canal and in the Second World War a naval repair base was here.

Iain MacIntyre’s death at 87 years of age was announced in the Oban Times on 4 October 2018:

MACINTYRE – Very peacefully,  surrounded by his family on Saturday, September 29, 2018, Iain Neil MacIntyre, aged 87 years. Devoted husband, dad and grandad. Funeral service will be held on Monday, October 8, 2018 at 11a.m. in Kilmallie Parish Church, Corpach; thereafter to Beoraid Cemetery, Morar for approx 3p.m. Family flowers only please …

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In memory of Iain MacIntyre Born Corpach SeaLock 1931 – 2018

Watten, Wick: Swati Datta 2 June 1951 – 20 May 2016

Drive between Wick and Thurso and you will pass Loch Watten.  Isolated, green and flat, Caithness  is a land of big skies.  About three miles long, the loch is known to anglers for its brown trout.  We turned off the main road at Watten and pulled into the small parking area that has a view north-west across the still water of the loch.  This was a perfect serene place for our morning coffee stop, made even more ideal as I found a memorial bench here to sit on and enjoy that wide open view.

During the Second World War this remote place was chosen to imprison dangerous and high-profile Nazi prisoners of war.  An old army barracks at Watten became Camp 165, the harsh surrounding landscape making escape almost impossible.

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Loch Watten

Today Loch Watten is a peaceful and glorious place to visit.  This beautifully-placed bench by the parking area remembers Swati Datta, who sadly didn’t quite reach her 65th birthday.

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in loving memory of Swati Datta (2 June 1951 – 20 May 2016) Wick

I have found no reference to Swati Datta online but world renowned surgical academic, now retired, Mr Pradip Datta worked at Caithness General Hospital in nearby Wick.  In 2008 he was awarded the prestigous Farquharson Award by the Royal College of Surgeons.  Mr Pradip Datta developed a course for aspiring surgeons that students from across the world attended.

I wonder if Mr Pradip Datta and Swati Datta are related and if he still comes here to sit and remember her.




Broch of Gurness, Orkney: Dr. Olaf Cuthbert 10.02.1923 – 09.04.2013

The Broch of Gurness certainly isn’t Orkney’s most popular sight but I have always had a soft spot for this Iron Age settlement.  Brochs are unique to Scotland and Gurness is a good example.  Many stood alone and what makes Gurness special is the village that surrounds the broch.  Gurness has a central hearth and a sunken water basin and around the walls are stone cupboards.  Like other brochs it has a double wall with a winding stone staircase between these two walls.

The village at Gurness dates back from between 500 and 200 BC.  Wandering among the houses and you can see the large living area and smaller side rooms.  Climb up the staircase of the broch and you get an aerial view of the layout of these buildings, which helps to understand the complex layout.

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When we first visited the Broch of Gurness in the early 1990s there was no car park and we walked around the beautiful sweep of the white sandy bay to see the site.  Today you can park alongside the broch and even if no one is around, you can walk through the never-locked gate and take a respectful look around.

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10.02.1923 Dr. Olaf Cuthbert 09.04.2013 I leave few footprints on the sand for stormy seas to wash away / I take with me the breadth of sky and seas of unimaginable blue

Before you leave the Broch of Gurness spend a moment at this memorial bench.  Looking out over Eynhallow Sound to the island of Rousay is this handsome weathered memorial bench to Dr Olaf Cuthbert.  The words on the bench are touching and are perfect for this special place:

I leave few footprints on the sand for stormy seas to wash away

I take with me the breadth of sky and seas of unimaginable blue

These words are from a poem by Dr Olaf Cuthbert, who worked as a GP on Orkney for 40 years, having moved to the islands from Essex with his family.  This article by his daughter, Sally Miller [who writes under the pen name Sara Bailey] tells the story of how the death of her father and organising the erection of this bench bought her back to her childhood home and changed her life.  Her love story about how the death of her father reunited her with her teenage boyfriend only confirms what a magical place Orkney is.

Sara Bailey is the author of Dark Water, a haunting novel about Helena who returns to Orkney and has to face memories she has tried to hide from.



Eshaness, Shetland: Ronnie Johnson 1948 – 2010

At the end of the road by the Eshaness lighthouse on the north-west coast of Shetland are cliffs that take the full force of Atlantic waves.  This is a spectacular coast with geos, stacks and blowholes and rocky skerries out at sea and a walk here is an amazing experience.  In summer these cliffs are the nesting sites of thousands of seabirds and you might see great skuas [known locally as bonxies] swooping over these colonies.  Nearby are the crown of rock stacks called The Drongs and the awesome Dore Holm, or drinking horse, rock arch.  You can stay at the lighthouse and get a sense of what it is like to live with no neighbours in sight.  It must be quite an experience to be here on a stormy night; even on the fine day that we visited I got a sense of how dangerous these waters are.

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The spectacular coastline at Eshaness, Shetland

This handsome weathered bench remembering Ronnie Johnson is next to the car park by the lighthouse at Eshaness.  The bench has a view that is difficult to beat over the rugged coastal scenery and tells visitors that Ronnie Johnson was a fisherman at Eshaness.  I sat and thought about Ronnie Johnson fishing out on those seas.

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In Memory of Ronnie Johnson 1948 – 2010 Fisherman of Eshaness

Shetland still has a fishing industry, although it is much smaller than it was.  At the nearby sheltered bay of Stenness there are the ruins of the 19th century haaf [deep-sea] fishing station that was run by the Cheyne family.  This sheltered beach was once the site of one of Shetland’s largest fishing stations with around 70 boats.  The wide pebbly beach would have been used for splitting, salting and laying out the fish to dry.  The boat used by haaf fishermen was the sixern, a clinker-built open boat with six oars that could cope with the rough conditions.

To find out more about fishing in this part of Shetland we visited the nearby Tangwick Haa Museum, that tells the story of the Northmavine.  The Haa is the house of the laird or landowner and the Haa at Tangwick was built in the late 17th century for the Cheyne family and would have been a fine house in its day.


Birmingham: Margaret Alice (Peggy) Beale 1919 – 2006

Winterbourne House in the Edgbaston suburb of Birmingham is a gem of a house to visit.  This family home was built in the early 20th century for John and Margaret Nettlefold in the Arts and Crafts style, bringing together their forward thinking attitudes with quality.  John Nettlefold was a housing-reform pioneer in Birmingham involved in slum clearance and providing decent public housing that combined green spaces and low cost.  The magnificent gardens at Winterbourne House were initially designed by Margaret Nettlefold and continue to display colour and interest all year round, with woodland walks, lawns and a walled garden.


In the gardens of Winterbourne House

The dedication on this memorial bench to Margaret Alice (Peggy) Beale, that sits in the grounds of Winterbourne House, tells us that it was presented by the University House Association.  University House at Birmingham University was a hall of residence until the early 2000s and The University House Association was the alumni group set up to maintain contact between former students and staff and University House.  University House, on Edgbaston Park Road was opened in 1908, built as a home for female students in the School of Art, School of Cookery, as well as for undergraduates and those training to be teachers and for female staff.  As demand for accommodation for women grew, Winterbourne House, left to Birmingham University in 1944, was also used.

Peggy Beale was involved in the University House Association and records show she wrote (along with Isobel Jackson) concerning the plans by Birmingham University to develop University House into the Birmingham Business School.  The association argued that the historic importance of the building and grounds should be acknowledged.  The redevelopment went ahead.

Margaret Alice Beale was born Margaret Crosskey in 1919 to John Henry Crosskey and Evelyn Margaret Crosskey (born Nettlefold and I wonder if there is a ink with John and Margaret Nettlefold of Winterbourne House).  She had three siblings and married Charles Beale, from Edgbaston, Birmingham.  They had four children and she died at the age of 87 years.


Presented by the members of University House Association In memory of Margaret Alice (Peggy) Beale 1919 – 2006

Peggy Beale’s involvement in The University House Association explains why they donated the bench in her memory in 2009.  The newsletter shows Isobel Jackson, the President of The University House Association, with the memorial bench to Peggy Beale in the grounds of Winterbourne House.

I didn’t find any clear connection between Peggy Beale and Birmingham University but wonder if this paragraph is a clue, ‘University House, a residence for women students at the University of Birmingham, was founded in 1904.  It initially opened as a private house in Hagley Road under the wardenship of Margery Fry [prison reformer] and two other houses were subsequently acquired.  However, as demand increased, the Governing Committee decided in 1906 to build a new hall of residence and University House on the University site at Edgbaston opened in 1908.  Many leading industrial families and early academics at the University were involved in the establishment of the hall of residence. Mrs Alice Beale, wife of Charles Gabriel Beale, the University’s first Vice-Chancellor, was President and Chairman of the University House Committee from 1904 and she played a major role and is often referred to as “The Mother of the House”.’  Perhaps this is the family that Peggy Beale married into and she followed in the footsteps of ‘The Mother of the House.’

Isobel Jackson died in 2013 and an obituary tells us, ‘Isobel’s principal contribution was made through University House Association.  Isobel lived in House during the war years and then joined the Association, of which she was Secretary for many years, becoming President in 1985, a position she held until her death.  Isobel was an expert on the history of University House and took meticulous care to ensure that documents relating to the founding of House on Hagley Road in 1904 and the building of the present premises in Edgbaston Park Road in 1908 were carefully preserved and kept in the University archives.  Her efforts culminated in the publication of a book covering the entire history of House until its closure as a hall of residence in 2002.’  The work she did to preserve these records ensures that these stories are not forgotten.



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 Michael 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.