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The Gates of Eden – A Story of Endeavour by Annie S Swan

Read Books, 2008, 319 p. First published 1893.

This is a facsimile reprint (presumably via photocopy) reproducing the original in all its aspects – including illustrations at each chapter heading and one of Swan opposite the title page – of an edition published in 1893 by William Briggs. The title page has the writer’s married name (Mrs Burnett-Smith) after her author’s credit.

I would not have picked this up (my previous reading of Swan left the impression of her as an adequate talent but not worth seeking out) had it not been lent to us by a friend since part of it is set in the nearby village of Star (aka Star of Markinch.) I am therefore familiar with the local places mentioned, Star (Swan has her characters refer to it as the Star,) Markinch, Kennoway and the Lomond Hills. Swan actually lived in Star for two years but in her biography said she didn’t much like the place. However, “it did give her two books.” Of which I assume this is one.

It is essentially the tale of two brothers, Alexander (Sandy) and Jamie Bethune, whose mother had died in childbirth. Sandy is apparently favoured academically and his father sets him down for the Church. James is designated to keep his father’s holding at their croft. His better education, eventually graduating from University at St Andrews, leads to Sandy having a high opinion of himself and coming to look down on his young adult sweetheart, Mary Campbell, whose broad Scots manner of speaking he thinks will ill become him in his first charge at Lochbroom where he is in any case captivated by Beatrice Lorraine, the daughter of a widower recently moved to a big house in Lochbroom.

Meanwhile James is taken under the wing of the local schoolmaster and taught Latin and literature but it is only once the boys’ father has died that James strikes out on his own, seeking a job on a newspaper in Edinburgh to work his way up. His attendance at St Giles leads to its minister, Doctor Kinross, inviting him to his home and befriending him. It turns out that Kinross and Lorraine are brothers-in-law and James too meets Beatrice but recognises a deep sadness in the Lorraines’ lives.

What follows is fairly predictable, Sandy proposes to Beatrice, who turns him down, James eventually gets a job in London whereupon Beatrice asks him to seek out her disgraced brother, whom her father has sworn never to see again.

The Gates of Eden is a reasonably typical Victorian novel, overly sentimental at times, not too taxing, and one where virtue is rewarded. Even Sandy comes to his senses. It has the style and cadences of its origins but some people may have difficulty with the very broad Scots of the inhabitants of Star. There are, too, occasional interpolations by the author which tend to break the suspension of disbelief.

And once again we have that intimation of the Scottish character of yore, “she belonged to a stern, undemonstrative race, who deemed any exhibition of the finer feelings a sign of weakness.”

Pedant’s corner:- cotttage (cottage,) “‘these sort of gatherings’” (strictly speaking ‘sorts’ but it was in dialogue,) ““Lux Benigna”” (later rendered as ‘Lux Benigna’,) a missing comma before a piece of direct speech, “insolvable problem” (Victorian usage? – insoluble/unsolvable,) a missing full stop, a missing ‘close quote’ mark at the end of a piece of direct speech.

Balbirnie House Gardens

Normally we skirt round the side of Balbirnie House Hotel when we take our daily walk to Markinch for the Guardian. (To the left in the photo below and round past the front of the building.)

Balbirnie House and Garden

During the first lockdown last year we felt able to take a stroll through the House’s gardens.

Balbirnie House Garden

Balbirnie House Lawn

Balbirnie House Garden

Garden, Balbirnie House

Balbirnie House Garden Arch

Balbirnie House Garden, Markinch, Fife

Balbirnie House Garden , Markinch, Fife

Balbirnie House Garden, Markinch, Fife

Balbirnie House Garden, Markinch, Fife

Balbirnie House

Balbirnie House was the “big” house nearest to Markinch and was home to the Balfour family before being sold off in 1969. It is now a hotel, the Balbirnie House Hotel and the estate grounds are now Balbirnie Park.

Nearly every morning I walk past it and through its grounds (more than half of which is now a golf course) on my way to Markinch to pick up the Guardian.

This is a photo of the hotel from just over a year ago:-

Balbirnie House Hotel

There had been reasonably heavy rain and a pool of water had collected beside the footpath which skirts the estate road leading upo to the hotel. This was followed by a freeze:-

Balbirnie Park Flood

Balbirnie House with Frozen Flood

Lower down the estate road, nearer to Markinch, this area of the golf course had also been flooded and frozen:-

Flooded Golf Fairway, Balbirnie

On the other side of the estate road this part of Balbirnie Park remained flooded for almost all of 2020:-

Flooded Ground, Balbirnie Park

Markinch War Memorial 2019

Markinch War Memorial and Bench just after Remembrance Day 2019:-

Markinch War Memorial and Bench

Closer view:-

Markinch War Memorial 2019

War Memorial Crosses, Markinch, 2019:-

War Memorial Crosses, Markinch, 2019

Fifty Years Ago Today …..

…. five boys from the town nearest to where I live went off to watch a football match.

And never came back.

They were caught up in the crush on Stairway 13 at Ibrox Park – as it was then known – in which 66 people died.

No one in Markinch knew their fate until the last buses and trains through the town that night had come – and gone. And then they feared the worst.

The incident is still a sore memory in Markinch, it is almost as resonant, perhaps even equal to, Remembrance Day in importance.

The loss struck the town hard. Many of the present inhabitants were at school at the same time, if not the same year group, as the five, whom they remember vividly.

In the years after, one of the mothers would run down the street from her work every lunch time to be beside her boy.

The last big anniversary – the fortieth – saw a refurbishment of the town’s memorial, which till then had been a plaque lying on the grass overlooked by both the streets in which the boys had lived. An appeal to raise funds for refurbishment was inundated within days with contributions coming in from all over the world. So much so that the memorial was added to and made into a pair of stones one atop the other.

I posted a photograph of the upgraded memorial here.

There was a programme about the disaster on BBC Scotland on Monday 28th December, available on iPlayer for 11 months.

The disaster was also the subject of a piece in the Guardian earlier in December, mentioning previous crushes on the same stairway (ten years earlier one of these had resulted in two deaths) which ought to have brought about remedial action.

Sadly, it took the 66 deaths fifty years ago for Rangers FC to start upgrading the stadium.

As well as the memorial stone in Markinch there is a bench in the grounds of the local Kirk, St Drostan’s. Since St Drostan’s is on a hill the bench overlooks the town.

Ibrox Disaster Memorial Bench, Markinch

Names of the five boys:-

Nameplate, Ibrox Disaster Memorial Bench, Markinch

Piping at Markinch Highland Games

(Click on each photo to play video.)

At last year’s Markinch Highland Games it seemed there were pipe bands everywhere.

Either practicing:-

Pipe Band Practice, Markinch Highland Games

More Pipe Band Practice, Markinch Highland Games

Markinch Highland Games, PIpe Band Practicing3

PIpe Band Practicing, Markinch Highland Games

Or getting ready to compete:-

Pipe Band Competition, Markinch Highland Gamess

Everything is judged, from the clothing to the marching up, the start, the marching, the piping, the drumming. Isuppos even the drummers’ stick twirling.

Approaching Start Point:-

Markinch Highland Games, Pipe Band Competition Approaching Start Point

Here we go:-

Pipe Band Competition Start, Markinch Highland Games

Markinch Highland Games 2019

Our nearest town, Markinch, is on the Highland Games circuit.

Like many other things this year’s event sadly had to be cancelled due to the coronavirus.

Last year, however, we made our first visit to Markinch Games as part of our contribution to the community. The Community Council provided filled rolls and coffee, tea etc at the Pavilion in John Dixon Park and we were helping there. We both managed to get around for a wander though.

(It wasn’t our first Highland Games. Many years ago we had attended one in Ceres.)

It’s not just athletics, there’s a Pipe Band competition – you can’t get away from the sound of the pipes – and a fun fair.

Video of fun fair:-

Fairground, Markinch Highland Games 2019

Athletics field:-

Markinch Highland Games Athletics Field 2019

Throwing the weight over a bar:-

Weight tossing

Not always successfully:-

Weight tossing

There was caber tossing too (you could see the cabers on the ground) but it wasn’t on at the time either of us had the stroll.

The athletics is taken very seriously. They had testers for illegal use of performance enhancing drugs in a separate room at the Pavilion.

This is a video of the finish of the 1600m handicap race:-

Finish, 1600 m Handicap, Markinch Highland Games 2019

Interior, Markinch Primary School

I posted about the outside of Markinch Primary School here.

In May 2019 I had occasion to visit the school and got a look at the interior. Imagine my delight to find these Art Deco style doors at the entrance to the school’s Assembly Hall, complete with porthole windows and glass bricks.

Interior Markinch Primary School

I didn’t have my camera. All three of these photos were taken on a mobile phone, so are a bit blurry.

The stairway has Deco flourishes-

Stairway, Markinch Primary Schoo

With a nice curve to the handrail:-

Markinch Primary School Stairway

The Back Burn, Balbirnie (i)

The Back Burn runs through the Balbirnie Estate on its way from the East Lomond round Markinch and on to the River Leven near Methilhill. It’s good for walks – even when you’re not cooped up by a lockdown.

After wandering under the A 92 and through a wooded glen it runs past the eighteenth hole of the golf course built over half of the estate:-

Balbirnie burn

Then down a cobbled slope:-

Burn

Under a bridge:-

Back Burn

On:-

Burn

And on:-

Back Burn

Back Burn

Before swinging under another bridge to make a turn under Stob Cross Road across to the railway line and down the east of Markinch:-

Back Burn

One of the things you might not expect to see in Fife but is present in the estate is a Giant Redwood tree:-

giant redwood tree

There’s a wildlife pond between the boarded path and the redwood as seen from near the burn:-

A Giant Redwood in Fife

Balbirnie Estate has a lot of rhododendron plants. They’re just about on the point of coming into flower this year. This was from 2019:-

Rhododendron, Balbirnie, Fife

Markinch War Memorial Addendum

I posted some photographs of the nearest War Memorial (Markinch) to Son of the Rock Acres here. I did not at the time post details of the dedications.

Great War dedication, “To the glory of God and in memory of the men from Markinch who laid down their lives in the Great War 1914 – 1919” below carved figure of St George.

Markinch War Memorial, Great War  Dedication and St George.

World War 2 dedication, “Remember also those who laid down their lives in the Second World War 1939 – 1945,” plus names of the fallen below carved figure of St Drostan:-

Markinch War Memorial WW2 Dedication and St Drostan

Surround stones. These display the names of the Great War dead on their internal faces:-

Markinch War Memorial, Surround Stones

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