Have you ever been on holiday and thought this is the place for your retirement? Well, my wife and I got that feeling when we visited Portpatrick for the first time. I know a lot of people think of Devon, Cornwall or even Spain when it comes to retirement, but for us Portpatrick seems like the perfect place.
Set on the west side of the Rhinns of Galloway, the small harbour town is bathed in fresh air from the Atlantic much the same as Devon and Cornwall. But, it has other charms because although it is on the coast it has not been commercialised at all. When taking a walk around the town one becomes very relaxed, it's very pretty, but doesn't attract hoards of visitors.
I am not surprised tourist levels are low because not many people know of its existence. Actually, it wasn't always so quiet in Portpatrick because originally, this was going to be the main port serving Ireland. However, the project to build a big port was transferred to Stranraer, which occupies a better situation not far away on the east coast of the Rhinns. Sitting at the bottom of Loch Ryan the port at Stranraer provides a safe haven from even the worst Atlantic gales. And so it was that Portpatrick stayed as a small harbour town while Stranraer grew to be a big ferry port.
On our first visit to Portpatrick we needed to find somewhere to eat. Now like I've said, this is a small town and uncommercialised, so the choices were few. We didn't particularly want to eat in a pub, so we chose a small cafe in a conservatory that overlooked the harbour. See the photo on the right.
The thing is, we almost walked out after we'd sat down and read the menu, because at that time it wasn't our sort of grub. Well to be honest my wife, who is more refined than me, quite like the sound of what was on offer. I grew up in a council house and I can tell you now that goat's cheese, bean sprouts and cous cous were not on my mother's menu.
Anyway, my wife talked me into having some sort of salad with cous cous. I was partly persuaded by the elevated position of the conservatory as the view would keep us amused while we waited for the food. We didn't have to wait long and our delicious food was soon on the table and I would have to say that I was enjoying the cous cous as much as the scenery, when an almighty bang seemed to rock the very foundations of our dining room. I am pleased to report that it wasn't just me that let out a gasp of fright and that it didn't trigger off the heart attack that I was to suffer a couple of years later.
I guess we and the other diners were just on the brink of wondering what the noise could have been when our host appeared from the kitchen and explained what was going on. Apparently the bang was caused by a maroon that had been let off to tell the local volunteer lifeboat men that their services were required immediately. We all sat enthralled for the next five minutes as various men arrived at the harbour and made the lifeboat, which was moored along the harbour wall, ready for action. They came by a variety of means, some on foot, some in cars and one on a bicycle. As the crew members arrived we were given a running commentary by our host. I can't remember the actual names and I've made up the details, but it went something like this.
"That's Johhny Mcduff, he's the helmsman. He works in a local garage. Now him just arriving, he's been on the boat for over 20 years, his name is McConney and he operates the wireless. Now see that bloke with the beard arriving on the bike, you wouldn't think it, but he's a solicitor and he's the captain."
And so it went on, we felt honoured to be part of such a scene and our excitement was raised even higher when the solicitor opened the throttle wide and with its bow in the air, the lifeboat crested the incoming waves and roared out to sea. In the picture on the left, the lifeboat can be seen moored against the harbour wall.
Eventually, we got back to our cous cous, and were presently informed by our host that a ship that was taking part in "The tall ships Race" was in trouble somewhere out in the Atlantic and the brave men of Portpatrick had gone to their assistance.
Last year we returned to Portpatrick and although the town was as charming as ever, we were disappointed to find that the cafe is now a private house. Change is a funny thing; something so small can have a quite an effect on one's soul. Still the memories will be with me for life and I'll just have to find a new haven when my days of toil are done.
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