TARTS AND TONGUE TWISTERS
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…