You need to tread war­ily when pro­nounc­ing some of Scot­land’s more tricky place names. If you’re in any doubt about that, try ask­ing for the Ec­cle­fechan tart...


Pro­nounc­ing Scot­tish town names is a dan­ger­ous game

Iam told that the mark of a true Scot is to be able to pro­nounce Ec­cle­fechan. If you are also try­ing to prove your Celtic cre­den­tials, then re­mem­ber that it is hard ‘cs’, all of them.

For those not in the know, this large vil­lage in south-west Scot­land used to strad­dle the main route from Carlisle to Glas­gow. In Vic­to­rian times it was a prime coach­ing and rail­way stop. Then the horse-drawn car­riage gave way to the train, the rail­way sta­tion closed, and fi­nally a mo­tor­way was built close by.

So now most folk just drive on by. Which is a shame be­cause the Fechan, as the lo­cals like to call it, has a fas­ci­nat­ing his­tory. Napoleon’s doc­tor on St He­lena was born here. So was the nine­teenth cen­tury es­say­ist and his­to­rian Thomas Carlyle.

Carlyle was not just a pro­lific writer. He was a tough old Scots­man. Aged just four­teen this Dum­friesshire lad walked nearly a hundred miles to en­rol in the Univer­sity of Ed­in­burgh. He later went to Lon­don where he met the great and the good, in­clud­ing Queen Vic­to­ria. The monarch ad­mired his work, but could not re­ally un­der­stand his ac­cent. What he made of her, I do not know.

It is Thomas Carlyle’s house that brings the tourists to sleepy Dum­friesshire. But this in­flu­en­tial thinker is not the only at­trac­tion. Be­cause Carlyle must com­pete with a fa­mous lo­cal del­i­cacy.

An Ec­cle­fechan tart has a but­tery pas­try base and a trea­cley fill­ing of dried fruits, nuts and cher­ries. You can tuck into one at the Fechan diner and truck­stop.

‘The Fechan. You have to be care­ful who you say that to’

The Fechan. You have to be care­ful who you say that to, in case they ask you to wash your mouth out with soap and wa­ter. Mind you, there are other Scot­tish places that also have a hint of MacNaugh­ti­ness about them. Aberdeen­shire boasts a vil­lage called ‘Bro­ken­wind’. And it also has a ‘Back­side’.

I try them both out on the chief. We gig­gle like silly school­child­ren. And we agree that they may be amus­ing talk­ing points at din­ner. Which liv­ing in the vil­lage of Dull in Perthshire may not.

Dull hit the head­lines af­ter be­ing twinned with the Amer­i­can town of Bor­ing. Now the place of­fers moun­tain bik­ing and white wa­ter raft­ing. Per­haps not so dull, af­ter all.

Lo­cal names can be tricky. It was al­ways one of the tests when ap­ply­ing for a job with the south of Scot­land’s lo­cal TV sta­tion. Could you pro­nounce Kirkcud­bright?

I must have passed be­cause, thirty years on, I am still mak­ing films with ITV Bor­der. The lat­est one is on Loch Ken where a team of lady dragon boat rac­ers prac­tices every Sun­day morn­ing.

I do a wee bit of pad­dling for the cam­era. Which, given my ad­vanced age, is pretty sporty of me. But the thing that re­ally gives up­per arms a work­out is mak­ing sure that ev­ery­one rows in time, which means sit­ting on a raised plat­form at the front of the ves­sel and beat­ing a large drum. It is em­pow­er­ing, and it sure beats read­ing the Sun­day pa­pers. I liken it to driv­ing slaves on a gal­ley, but do not tell the ladies in case they de­cide to throw me in the wa­ter.

Re­turn­ing home, I find that the MacGre­gor has also been dragon boat rac­ing – in Hong Kong, of all places, when he served in the army. There, they bet on the boats. Here, the pad­dlers-for-life are more likely to raise money for char­ity. It is a trib­ute to those who like a chal­lenge. And, by the way, it is not kirk-cud­bright, but ker-koo-bree…

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