We slowly walked along the pure white sand. The azure sea shimmered and sparkled as it reflected the cool March sun situated low in the clear cloudless sky. Sitting proudly on the rock in the middle of the bay was the old Scottish castle, surrounded on all four sides by water. A hundred yards or so away from us on the beach was a small, battered but well-loved motorboat.
It was my American penpal Connie’s first trip to the Outer Hebrides. The tiny island of Barra, being a five hour ferry ride away from Oban on the west coast of Scotland, was always very quiet, but as it was so early in the spring tourist season, it was deserted.
We laid our waterproof jackets on the sand by the side of the boat and sat down on them. Earlier when we had enquired about the times of the boat trips to the castle we had been told to just turn up and wait by the boat when we were ready.
The tiny sea front road with it’s row of newly-painted white shops was empty and the only person around for miles was a very tall middle-aged man staggering drunkenly along the sand towards us. We watched him slowly approach and quickly decided that if he turned out to be the driver of the boat, we weren’t going.
“Good afternoon, ladies,” he said, beaming as he drew nearer. His strong, slightly-slurred, Hebridean accent escaped gently through his long white beard. “My name's Dougal. Are you going to the castle?”
“Are you the boat driver?” we enquired, concerned.
“Och no.” He laughed. “It’s my cousin and his son who work the boat. My cousin is called Dougal, too, you know; same as me. You need to tell him when you see him that his cousin Dougal says hello.”
Connie and I breathed a collective sigh of relief.
“Okay, we’ll do that.” I replied.
“By the way!” he continued, “did you know that my Cousin Dougal’s father is called Dougal, too, and that his father; my grandfather, was called Dougal as well?”
“No, I didn’t know that,” I said, chuckling, quickly realising that although huge; he was a gentle and harmless man, and probably a very well-known local town character.
“Oh yes. And his son who helps him work the boat, he’s called Dougal, too.”
“And I named my son Dougal as well!”
I giggled and asked with a hint of sarcasm “So, Dougal, is the whole of your family called Dougal, then?'”
Completely oblivious to my gentle teasing, he replied with a serious expression, "Och no.... my sister’s called Shona!"
Two days later and Connie and I were on a different white sandy beach. This time the sea was the colour of dark slate as it reflected the dull, cloudy, dank sky. We climbed a soaking wet, grassy hill to reach the small castle at the top. Entering the adjoining tea room I was pleased to see my old friend, Andrew, who I’d arranged to meet. He had been born and raised on Barra, but was now living on this neighbouring island.
I retold him my tale of the Dougals of Barra as we dried out, warmed up and drank our tea.
What’s up?” I asked as Andrew regarded me thoughtfully.
“Nothing. I was just thinking that Shona is actually a really unusual name for a girl on Barra!”
“Is it?” I replied, surprised to learn that the more remote islands might have localised unusual Gaelic names that are more popular than traditional Scottish names. “What are girls on Barra usually called?” I asked, but added, “Oh Gawd!” before he had a chance to answer, as it dawned on me that I was telling him a story about someone that he had probably known for years. “I bet you know drunken Dougal and his cousin Dougal who skippers the boat that takes people to the castle, don’t you?”
“Well,” he replied with a deadly serious face, a twinkle in his eye and a ton of wit. “As it happens I don’t know drunken Dougal, or his cousin, or their fathers, or their sons, but as for what girls on Barra are usually called, if my memory serves me well, the last girl from Barra I dated was called Dougal, and I’m sure she worked a boat, too!”
LJ Idol, Topic 3 - In Another Castle
This is my entry for therealljidol, topic 3 - 'In Another Castle'.
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