The horseman canters up the slope, the horse’s bridle glowing golden, and urging his steed onwards, leaps over the moat in a single bound and disappears behind the small chapel at the base of the castle tower. It is Sir Fergus Barclay, the Sherriff of Ayr, and he has ridden home all the way from there, some 24 miles, after presiding over a particularly tedious case of a land ownership dispute. At least the ride had been exhilarating – it was not for nothing he was known as the best horseman in the Kingdom. And so he should be, as he had had to pay a great price for his skill – his own soul given to the Devil in return for a magic bridle. At the time, when he was young with all of life stretching out in front of him, it had seemed like a good deal, but now that he was in his twilight years, he was starting to wonder. It was all very well the commoners calling him the Devil of Ardrossan behind his back, but Hell didn’t feel like a very inviting place to spend quite a long time. What he needed was a cunning plan to trick the Evil One. Where was that Baldrick when you needed him?
“Are you dreaming again?”, says the First Mate.
We are standing next to the ruined castle in Ardrossan, once the family seat of the Barclay family, of whom Sir Fergus was one of the most colourful. One story has it that he successfully tricked the Devil into giving his soul back again, but unfortunately he didn’t have the last laugh. While he was away on a distant journey, his only son found the magic bridle, put it on a horse, but was killed when he was unable to control it. Blaming himself, Sir Fergus retired to a life of solitude on the Isle of Arran opposite, but drowned while out walking on the beach one day. His body eventually washed up on the shore hear Arran and was buried in his old home, Ardrossan Castle. Lesson: Don’t mess with the Devil.
The castle is now in ruins, just a single tower and part of the chapel remaining. It is a beautiful sunny day but with an icy wind from the north. Looking over to the west, we have a clear view of the Isle of Arran, the shape of the Sleeping Warrior silhouetted against the sky. To the north and south, we can see the lower lying hills of the Kintyre Peninsula, and further still to the north, the entrance to Loch Fyne and the start of the Crinan Canal, where we would be heading in a day or two. We could understand why the Barclays had chosen this place to build their home.
The winter had passed quickly. Back in October, we had finished the many essential maintenance jobs of packing away Ruby Tuesday’s sails, changing her oil and fuel filters, replacing her engine oil and coolant, flushing her exhaust system with antifreeze, servicing the winches, and then, leaving her on the hard standing at Clyde Marina, had flown off the Australia and New Zealand to visit friends and family. An added bonus for us was the second beautiful summer in a row, following the one we had had in the UK in 2018.
On arriving back, we had spent some time preparing Ruby Tuesday for the coming season – a new cockpit enclosure had been made to provide shelter from the winds and rain when we weather-bound in some port, the anchor rope was replaced with a chain to cope with the less forgiving conditions in Scotland, and her whole bottom had been cleaned and anti-fouled to reduce marine growth. It had been a labour of love, but she was now looking in good shape and raring to go.
Eventually the crane had come and had effortlessly picked her up, trundled her over to the marina, and lowered her gently into the water. She had seemed to settle in with a sigh of relief, as if she was back home again where she belonged after enough of the terrestrial life she had had forced unceremoniously on her.
As the last rays of the sun disappear behind the mountains of Arran, we walk down the path from Ardrossan Castle and finish the shopping for provisions for the next leg of our odyssey. I amuse myself by wondering where Sir Fergus Barclay would have done his shopping in the days before Asda.