We had been home for several weeks from our trip to Europe when I received a text from our Georgia traveling companions. “We’ll pick you up in twenty minutes for fish’n’chips in Moffatt.” Moffatt, Scotland, it was, a place we had all enjoyed so much along with Scottish driver friend John Lewis. I smiled as I typed in my answer: “Sounds intriguing but a bit too far.”
Moffatt was a place I’d never heard of before this trip. It was a former burgh in Dumfries and Galloway, its population 2,500. It’s on the Annan river, one of three rivers that originate within a few meters of each other, then flow three different directions. We found the little town so friendly and inviting. John showed us the statue of a bronze ram and told us its story. The sculptor, he said, unveiled his creation to a nice gathering of villagers. There was a respectful silence and then a young boy called out, “Why did ye leave the ears off?” John said the sculptor was so humiliated to have left the ears off that he committed suicide. But the village erected the ram, a fine symbol of a wool producing area.
Now, truth be told, that sculptor did not commit suicide, not then at least, because there are several pieces of his work created in later years. And as to the missing ears? The ram has curly horns, big showy horns. Who could be sure whether or not he had ears, save God alone? We liked the old ram and had our picture made with him.
Now, to back up a mile or one hundred, we had a big day before we arrived in Moffatt. Our road trip took us from Lockerbie all the way to Edinburgh viewing breathtaking sights along the way. I’m sure John Lewis must have wondered if we’d ever seen sheep before since we exclaimed so much over them. Actually, we’ve even raised a tiny flock of woolies and hair sheep in South Georgia. But there were so many in Scotland, thousands, white against those beautiful green Scottish hills, pastures divided by stone walls or hedgerows, even some regular fences. We enjoyed also winding roads, villages, and farms, glistening streams, and then the dignity and character of old Edinburgh. John was an excellent guide who told us so much as he skillfully twisted and turned in city lanes to give us all good views of Sir Walter Scott’s memorial, government buildings, kirks, and the Castle so majestic, and maybe forbidding, high on its craggy hill.
On the way back toward Lockerbie, north of Moffatt, John pulled over at a high overlook and invited us to see the Devil’s Beef Tub, one of South Scotland’s geographic oddities. We looked way, way down into the dark depths of a valley formed by four hills. John said it was named Devil’s Beef Tub because a Scottish clan named Johnstones, also referred to by their enemies as devils, used to cross the English border centuries ago, steal cattle, and bring them to this valley to hide them. I later read more interesting tid-bits about this unusual valley, some true, some probably not.
For instance, a Covenanter in 1685 is said to have tried to outrun enemy dragoons by climbing a side of the Beef Tub. He didn’t make it, according to the story. Much more recently, a woman lost control of her vehicle and plunged 500 feet to the bottom of Devil’s Beef Tub but was not seriously injured. No word about how she got out. Supposedly, her vehicle is still there. Sir Walter Scott included a description of the valley in his novel “Red Gauntlet”: “It looks as if four hills were laying their heads together, to shut out daylight from the dark hollow space between them. A damned deep, black, blackguard-looking abyss of a hole it is.”
Scott’s description gives me a chill. Certainly, I wouldn’t want to find myself in that valley for I’m sure I could never climb out. But it was beautiful that afternoon, from the top. The dark purplish shadows didn’t seem forbidding with bright sunshine around us.
Then we arrived in Moffatt and met the bronze ram statue. That’s when someone spotted the fish’n’chips shop and we realized how hungry we were. Harley was always hungry for fish’n’chips having enjoyed them so much when he and Debi lived in England years ago.
When we walked in the shop we found it busy with locals as well as tourists, with a friendly proprietor and a staff eager to make us happy. Just the warm tasty smells made us happy.
Now you have to know a little bit about fish’n’chips to appreciate our feast that night. Of course, anyone who’s been in Britain for any length of time would have at least heard about this iconic meal. Fish’n’chips is to England what a hamburger is to USA. Before our trip, my friend Sue Nell told me “Eat some fish’n’chips for me.” So–what you get is one or two very generous portions of golden batter-fried fish (a white sweet fish) along with a pile of what we call French fries, called in Britain chips and in France frits. A bottle of vinegar will be handy so one may sprinkle however much they want over fish and chips. The fish was perfectly golden and so crusty, not greasy at all, and the chips were really wonderful. We had enjoyed fish’n’chips in Portsmouth, Deal, and West Wickham and would have one more chance near Bromley. But the Moffatt fish’n’chips were the freshest, the crispiest, the most delicious.
After supper we wandered along the street, window shopping, and back over to see the bronze ram again before we started back to Somerton House in Lockerbie.
A lovely day with friends, not to be easily repeated, but always warmly remembered.
So, yes, I would buckle into that British car with the rest, if I could, and happily set out for fish’n’chips in Moffatt.