Posted by: christinelaennec | September 22, 2010

A visit to Helensburgh

The Farmer’s Almanac tells me that today is the Autumn Equinox.  Goodbye summer, hello fall!  But with us it was still birthday season.  To round up last week’s celebrations, we treated ourselves to an overnight getaway to the West Coast, to Helensburgh in Argyll & Bute.  Our first stop was an unscheduled one for the Dafter, at the services in Stracathro.  I thought my farther-afield readers might like to see a photo of the slogan emblazoned along the building:

Services at Stracathro, Angus, Scotland

“Ye may gang faur and fare waur” in translation is:  “You may go far and fare worse”.  We didn’t eat there so I can’t say!

Helensburgh is a very pretty town, built on a hill stretching down to the Clyde.  It has beautiful tree-lined streets and a great number of the houses are enormous Victorian mansions built by wealthy Glaswegians in the 19th century.  We stayed in one such house:

“Westward” B&B, Helensburgh, seen from part-way up the drive

Despite its imposing architecture, “Westward” was a lovely, comfy and very welcoming family B&B.  One of the very best we’ve stayed in, in fact.  Would you ever guess from the porch that Denise and her family had lived in Australia for some time?

Looking along the porch at “Westward” with Geo the cat showing who owns the place.

We slept in a roomy and very pleasing family suite, on comfy beds with beautiful linens and towels.  (Well, we didn’t sleep with the towels, but it was tempting!)  In the morning, we had breakfast in a charming room:

Cosy seating area in the other half of the large dining room, “Westward” B&B, Helensburgh

Like his mistress, Geo the cat was extremely welcoming:

A very happy cat

Geo, like our Tilly, has not always had an easy life.  But he sure is good at purring!

We felt so at home in Denise’s house – which isn’t always the case when travelling with a child.  I particularly loved the examples of beautiful needlework all around:

An angel chair! Embroidery by Denise’s daughter.

Our breakfast was absolutely delicious.  Michael relished the bacon and black pudding, and the Dafter and I enjoyed being vegetarian and eating everything else.

Sunday was a driech day, but I very much enjoyed my walk to church:

View through Helensburgh’s tree-lined streets down to the Clyde (hidden by the mist but just behind the obelisk).

Even on a rainy day the seafront view was not without its charms, I thought.  I especially like the wee palm trees – hopeful!

The Clyde at Helensburgh, looking over to the Rosneath Peninsula, shrouded in mist.

And this was crying out for an act of defiance:

Not a photo opportunity? Ha!

I went to church for the first time at a Christian Science church, which I found very fascinating. (No, they have nothing to do with Scientology. Yes, the church was founded by Mary Baker Eddy in 19th-century Boston.  Yes, they are Christians.)  At the church I met up with a dear friend, who treated us all to a delicious lunch.

Last of all, we went to visit Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s masterpiece, the Hill House.  This house was built for the Blackie family, who were publishers.  It sits right at the top of the town, looking out over the Clyde:

Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s Hill House, Helensburgh

Sadly for my blog, one isn’t allowed to take photos inside the house.  So I will have to direct you to the National Trust for Scotland’s page about the Hill House, which shows you some of the interiors (click on the photos).  It is amazing to think that the house was built in 1902.  It still seems so modern – it must have been completely mind-blowing 108 years ago.  I loved the stencilled walls, the inset stained glass, the beautiful woodworked ornamentation, and the embroidery.

Going around the outside of the house, I found many pleasing details:

Beautiful window, Hill House. You can just about make out the lovely design of the wrought-iron window-handles on the inside.

And I was very struck by how Mackintosh seemed to have used architectural elements of Scottish castles in his design.  See how the below corner of Hill House, with its rounded turret and small windows, resembles Craigievar Castle, for example:

Corner of Hill House, Helensburgh. The wee turret in the foreground was the gardener’s hut!

We had to tear ourselves away to drive back to Aberdeen.  We took the Drymen road, which was very beautiful:

Scottish country road in Clackmannanshire, mid-September 2010

And I will leave you with this rather stunning view of Stirling Castle as one approaches from the West:

Stirling Castle seen from the West

We got home in good time for the Dafter’s bedtime.  And it really felt as if we’d been away far longer than just a night.



  1. A long journey for one night, but looks like a good trip. I haven’t been there since I was a child.

    • I wish we’d had longer in Helensburgh. In particular, I’d have liked to be there on a day when the knitting and tapestry shop was open: Lomond Tapestry Centre. On the other hand, maybe just as well for the family budget that we were there on a Sunday when it was shut!

  2. Hello, a Chairistiona. Tha mi fior thoilichte fios fhaighinn bhuat! Gum meal thu do naidheachd! Tha a’ chairt agus an dan agad breagha! Bu mhath a rinn thu, gu dearbh. ‘S e urram a bha ann dhomhsa a bhith gad theagasg-sa. Dh’ionnsaich mi moran bhuat mu na doighean a b’fhearr air a’ Ghaidhlig a theagasg! Cuir fios thugam air a’ ph-dealain agam, agus cumaidh sinn oirnn a’ bruidhinn. Thoir mo bheannachdan gu Micheal, Calum agus Iseabal!

    Christine, lovely to share your fine photographs and narratives. They bring back memories of my wanderings in the Granite City and its environs. The journey from Aberdeen to Oban was full of delights. Never will I forget ‘Fair Stracathro Inn’, as I called it. As you will recollect, I was given to humorous (and slightly satirical) verse when I was slogging it out in the darkness of the Cloisters, and I remember composing a song on this beautiful service station. I recollect clearly the powerful smell of pies for the truckers, the accompanying gravy that was as thick and and strong as tar, the virulent smell of cooking…Aye, and the signage above the ‘facilities’, which was written in black letters about a foot tall, in case someone in desperation couldn’t get the message in time. And, of course, the sign on the station itself. I think the owners had, and presumably still have, a sense of humour! ‘However far you travel/However far your rove/The gravy at Stracathro/Will inspire you at your stove…’ Can’t remember all of it now, sadly. Happy memories.

    Your pictures are a delight. I am a covert photographer too!

  3. Glad you enjoy Charles Rennie Mac too! My Falkirk grandfather was very much an addict, and built a lovely villa in Mackintosh style in 1910. It’s still standing, in all its glory, much as he built it, but I couldn’t buy it now. He was a Master (i.e. time-served) Painter, and had a house like that…Hill House was immensely influential. My grandfather emigrated to Vancouver in 1913, leaving his fine house and my father behind….and that’s how the Meeks came to have Gaelic! My Dad was brought up by his grandparents in Tiree.

    • A’Dhòmhnail chòir,

      Moran taing airson tadhal air a’bhlog agam! Thanks so much for visiting my blog, and for your kind words. I’d forgotten about the enormous signage at Stracathro – your verse is very funny. I’d also forgotten you were given to writing doggerel! And what a story about your grandfather’s house, left behind for Canada. Lucky for us that your father was raised in Tiree. Am I mistaken in thinking they speak the purest Gaelic there? 😉

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