The Saltcoats train and bus station, with connections to Glasgow, Ayr, Kilmarnock and many other places in Ayrshire.
Jeff and I parked the camper for two weeks in Saltcoats because their “holiday park” had the amenities we needed for such a long stay, and it was a centralized location, with a train station, for my genealogy research in Ayrshire. Little did I know, when I booked our spot months before we left the States, that I would also find ancestral connections there!
Saltcoats Town Hall
Saltcoats is a cute little town on the coast of the Firth of Clyde in southwest Scotland, just a short hop to Kilmarnock—where most of my research was to be done—and to Ayr and Glasgow, also places with ancestral connections.
My husband (Jeff), my brother (Mike) and I spent a lot of time bopping around the town on the days that I didn’t feel well enough to be out scouring the countryside for genealogy clues. There were plenty of pubs to keep us busy, including The Salt Cot, where the food and drinks were very affordable and downright delicious. They have a great system where you order by app from your table by giving your table number and paying for it on the app when you order. They were also one of the few places I found with Pimm’s readily available.
On the days I felt well enough to leave the camper, I certainly kept up with Jeff and Mike in the ale sampling, in spite of (or because of?) being sick with a head cold. One of my favorites pubs was the Windy Ha, where Rabbie Burns is said to have been a regular customer because he enjoyed the friendly atmosphere.
The Windy Ha, where Robert Burns is rumored to have been a regular.
There’s a framed print on the wall, inside, saying that Rabbie wrote his 1792 poem, Saw Ye Bonie Lesley, “while having a quiet drink” in the Windy Ha, about a local woman named Lesley, with whom he had fallen in love.
In addition to enjoying our unhurried time in Saltcoats, which allowed us a chance to soak in some genuine Scottish life, as opposed to hurrying from place to place or only visiting tourist sites, imagine my surprise and delight when I discovered that my 3x great-grandfather, Alexander Garroch, lived in Saltcoats in his final years, according to the 1901 census.
Alexander is as far back as I can trace the Garroch name in my family tree. He was born around 1827 in Wigtownshire and, from what I can gather, was involved in a paternity suit in 1844 at age 17, while working as a farm laborer. He didn’t marry the girl, and she gave birth to a daughter. He married my 3x great-grandmother, Margaret, when she was 21 (he was 19). They had nine children in 15 years.
My 3x great-grandfather lived at this address at age 75, according to the 1901 census. He lived in many places throughout his life, but retired and probably died here.
Alex and Margaret eventually moved to Riccarton, near Kilmarnock, living for a while in a place called Bridgehouse Cathouse. I assumed, using American vernacular, that this meant it was a house if ill-repute, but my Scottish researcher friends were surprised at that and quickly assured me that it probably meant that there were just a lot of cats hanging out around that house. Many houses had descriptive names instead of street addresses. The local residents knew the houses by these names.
In 1861, they lived in the Gatehead Tollhouse, where Margaret was the toll keeper and Alex worked, again, as a farm laborer. She died in 1870 at the age of 45 and he remarried a woman named Jessie, with whom he eventually moved to Saltcoats and lived as a “Retired Ploughman” according to the census.
The most welcome ancestral connection, though, came in the form of meeting a living and breathing distant cousin, Sandra, who just happened to own a caravan at the same holiday park we were staying in. Sandra and I are related through our shared 5x great-grandmother, Grace Maxwell. Grace has been a brick wall for many of her ancestors, with a lot of different online family trees disagreeing about who her parents were. That mystery has finally been solved, but now her confirmed father, James Maxwell, is the new face of that brick wall.
I had a lovely chat with Sandra and her husband, Bobby, when they came to the park’s laundromat to keep me company as I tried valiantly to do two weeks worth of laundry. We talked like we’ve known one another for lifetimes. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any photos because I was distracted and looking pretty ragged, after so much traveling. The dryers weren’t working because the fish and chips shop next door had recently caught fire, so the gas was turned off in the building—meaning, no heat in the dryers!
But, just like family, Sandra and Bobby generously volunteered to take my wet laundry back to their house to dry it for me. Weeks later, as I write this, my heart still swells with gratitude for this huge favor. We had no way to get the wet clothes to another local laundromat (we couldn’t drive the camper, due to the diesel/unleaded fuel clusterboink) so I was screwed. My cousin’s willingness to help was such a godsend! Thank you, Sandra and Bobby!
And, of course, here’s you another dug (Scottish for dog), this one waiting for its people on the main drag in Saltcoats:
Lisa Bonnice is an award-winning, best-selling author. Her current passion-project is a series of metaphysical comedy novels. The first is entitled The Poppet Master (previously published as Be Careful What You Witch For!, now revamped and with a new ending). The Poppet Master is a modern-day fairy tale about Lola Garnett, a bored housewife and office drone who wakes up with unexpected psychic abilities, and no instruction manual, and Twink, the reluctant, sarcastic faery assigned to assist and educate her. The Poppet Master will be available in summer 2019. Its sequel is in the works.
Lisa is also writing The Maxwell Curse, a fictionalized version of a story she found in her own ancestral lineage about a witch trial, a generational curse, and massive mine explosion, all of which left ripples of destruction in their wake, devastating one family’s tree.