We had been visiting the area around Loch Lomond for a few days and so reached the Isle of Bute via the short ferry trip from Colintraive to Rhubodach on the northern tip of Bute, rather than the more popular 35-minute crossing to Rothesay. This crossing is so short it is over almost before you’ve realised the crew have cast off. Keen to explore the island, we parked by the attractive Rhubodach ferry terminal and watched the boat going back and forth and the black guillemots and eider ducks.
The Isle of Bute has a 30-mile long way-marked footpath around it called The West Island Way and from Rhubodach we followed a section of this trail to Balnakeilly Bay and beyond into pretty woodland. It was spring and the forest was full of sweet-smelling bluebells, primroses and celandines and pungent wild garlic. At the ruins of the deserted village of Balnakeilly a path through pine trees took us to a World War Two bunker, used to coordinate decoy lights and fires designed to draw enemy bombers away from Glasgow. Today this is a great viewpoint over the Kyles of Bute towards the Scottish mainland; below us were the Burnt Islands and the colourfully named Buttock Point.
At this viewpoint I found a memorial bench to Captain Charles Riley. I don’t usually include benches on this blog that have no dates on the plaque but there was something about this memorial bench that caught my eye and my heart and I decided to make an exception. Given the dedication on the bench from Val, his loving wife, ‘May You Sail The Seas And Wait For Me Until We Meet Again,’ I wonder if I can assume that Captain Charles Riley was a sailor or a fisherman.
Searching for more detail to Captain Charles Riley’s story I found that the name isn’t as unusual as you might think. I don’t think this bench is in memory of the Captain Charles Riley I found information about who was one of the early settlers in Saline County in America. Born in Ireland, he died in 1900 and went to sea as a young man and was one of the sailors on the ‘Brother Jonathan’, the first steamship to sail around South America. The newspaper reported he had a life of ‘Shipwrecks, Battles and Rebel Prisons Prior to His Settlement in Saline County 30 Years Ago.’
Another Captain Charles Riley that doesn’t fit the bill is referred to at RAF Changi in 1946 and 1947. He was a pilot rather than a sailor and a Group Captain and is described thus, ‘The Station was commanded by a Group Captain Charles Riley, by most accounts a rather difficult man, and fortunately I only came across him twice, and never to speak to. He was short, dapper, and a pilot who doubtless held several decorations. As usual, he had a Spitfire for personal use …’ Was the author really correct in saying that a Group Captain would have personal use of a Spitfire?
To the Captain Charles Riley, May You Sail The Seas And Wait For Me Until We Meet Again, Your loving wife Val
I have been unable to add to the story of the Isle of Bute’s Captain Charles Riley but I feel sure it is an interesting one and I always hope that someone out there will share more. Once again my interest in a memorial bench sent me on an interesting journey through history as well as giving me a chance to sit and enjoy a wonderful view.