We arrived late in Longtown, and the entrance to our Airbnb was surrounded by a group of youngsters, on bikes and on foot, that made us laugh, with their hearty ‘fook off’s, and the fags that looked like they had been stolen from the packets of Mam and Da. The next morning, the footpath was dotted with broken eggs, leading us to conclude that there likely isn’t much to do in this town.
The Graham Arms, in its heart (one of two options for dinner), is lively. We were met at the door by a rosy-cheeked gent who tried to usher us into the restaurant, perhaps to spare us the banter of the public bar. We ordered takeaway soups at the counter, after which a young lad who looked about 12 was packed off to see if they had soup containers.
Fish and chips it is then.
The next morning, we take our breakfast burgers from The Lunch Box, across the road, for a wander. Longtown is steeped in history (surprise, surprise!), and boasts a church site that dates back to 1150 and the site of the Battle of Arfderydd, in the Dark Ages, where Merlin himself is said to have gone mad. We had a date with the cheeky uncle, so didn’t make it further than this lovely spot, on the bank of the River Esk.
Uncle Jimmy, at first glance, hasn’t changed a bit. His back garden is under a carpet of seed hulls that drop from the feeders he has installed for the sparrows and starlings that obviously appreciate his efforts during winter. Inside, the only discernible change is the updating of the photo shelves, which have grown to include Kitty and Xander.
He had us laughing in no time.
‘Longtoon? Longtoon? Christ. Ye’ll be wantin’ a couple of Stetsons to go back in there, ‘n aw…ye’ll have to walk like this.’
‘Ye know what we used t’ call that place? Dodge City. Hold onto yer phoones!’
So much for being steeped in history. Whenever I think about Longtown, I will now remember Keith (or Dave, or Ernie) who found a slug in his bottle of Guinness at The Tavern, and vomited theatrically all the way to the door, as demonstrated by Jimmy’s rather-enthusiastic re-enactment.
After guffawing heartily at Lucy’s pronunciation skills, we set off in the car, where I soon fell into the gentle rhythm of drive-roll-smoke, in contrast to the less-soothing experience of managing to squeeze two vehicles alongside one another on the muddied backroads of Dumfries and Galloway.
Our first stop: Caerlaverock Castle, a medieval stronghold built in the 13th century, and the site of many a notable siege. It is muddy and it is freezing, but neither detracted from our awe at the sight of this moated, triangular monument.
Next stop: The Boathouse at Glencaple, on the banks of the River Nith, for coffee. After seeing Jimmy spoon the froth off his cappuccino, Lucy questioned his choice of the coffee that ‘literally has the most froth of any style of coffee’. Jimmy remains immovable on that subject, and reserves the right to be annoyed at any and all froth inclusion in his future cappuccinos.
Next stop: The Café Royal in Annan for, yep, you guessed it, fish and chips. To be fair, they were pretty great, given that this particular chippy was named as one of the best in Britain in 2021.
We sing on our way home.:
And it’s no nay never
No nay never no more
Will I play the wild rover
No never no more
Uncle Jimmy, on second glance, has changed more than a bit. His arthritis is worsening, and it is difficult to determine if the weather or our activities have contributed to the day’s aches, such is his stoicism. Covid has also had an impact on his life, as it has many who rely on planned interactions to engage with the world, in the form of car washes, bill payments, haircuts, and coffee outings for cappuccinos with too-much-damned-froth.
As we scoff our chips and watch television, the first, second and third place rosettes are awarded in the Junior Handler Class at the Great Yorkshire Show. Jimmy bellows with laughter:
‘There’s only three of them innit!’
I will save my melancholy for later, in Dodge City.