Thursday, 8 December 2011

Forget Me Not

Today, Ross Ahlfeld passes on a story told to him last winter…

Last year, Inverclyde Community Development Trust carried out some soft landscaping, path building and basic repair work to the old Darroch tomb in the middle of Gourock Park (or Darroch Park as it is known locally). Over the weeks quite a few people passed by our team of trainees and told us interesting facts and old stories about the site, but this one was by far the best and certainly the creepiest, I’ve written it down as near as it was told to me. This story takes place around the wild woodland area down in front the playing fields which once made up part of the old estate where the Big House used to sit before it was knocked down. The old Barons of Gourock who lived on the estate now known as Gourock Park were the Darroch family. Duncan Darroch was made the 1st Baron of Gourock back in the 18th Century and the family lived there until the 1920’s. After that the house was left vacant then eventually knocked down…  

Forget Me Not
This story was told to me by an old neighbour of mine called Mrs Lamont in Gourock a few years ago; she swears this happened to her back in the summer of 74. The story begins with a flurry of vague reports about young women walking through the woods in Darroch Park, all claiming to have been watched and sometimes followed by someone or something lurking in the bushes. There were no reports of anyone ever being attacked and nearly all the women involved suggested that this figure was always at least 50 meters away making it difficult to identify or even describe the person.  Nothing unusual there you might think, it is after all a sad fact of modern life that questionable characters hang around public parks and woodland areas, even back in the mid-seventies.  
However, it soon turned out that there was something quite odd about all this; not long after the fifth or sixth sighting of this shape in the park, a rumour started going around Gourock that all the women who’d seen this figure were engaged and very soon to be married. On closer analysis, this strange coincidence actually turned out to be fact. According to my former neighbour, she herself had been walking down through the park at around 5.30 on Friday evening on the 19th of November when she too suddenly felt as if she was being watched. The following day she described this incident to the seamstress in the local bridal wear shop on
Kempock Street
at one of her dress fittings only to be told that she was the fifth bride to have described an identical incident in the woods to the shop assistant.
Naturally, people in the town started getting worried, talking about potential stalkers and attackers despite the fact nobody had been approached by this person as yet. Some old fishwives even spoke about this being a sign of bad luck for these brides as if it were some kind of curse or ill omen.
But there was one distinct detail of Mrs. Lamont’s own encounter which she did not share with the seamstress or anyone else. When Mrs. Lamont had been in the park on the previous day, she had seen through the trees what looked like the silhouette of person about 50 meters away just as all the other girls had described.  As she hurried along the path, away from the darkness of the trees towards the old stone gate at the Eastern View exit, she looked back and was relieved to see that the figure was gone, and it was with a deep sense of relief that she left the park. But just as she went through the gate she describes hearing a voice which (in her words) “came fae nae-where”.  She stated that a voice whispered in her ear three simple words “Forget me not”. Terrified, she spun round frantically in all directions, but there was no one to be seen.    
Mrs Lamont admitted to being deeply unsettled and puzzled by all this, I always remember Mrs L. as quite prim and proper, even as a younger woman, an Old Gourock Kirk Elder before her time. But even she confessed to enjoying a large brandy when she finally got home to her house on
Cardwell Road
that evening. Indeed, Mrs Lamont actually said to me...”Ah wiz so scared son, ah nearly went over tae St. Ninian's chapel tae light a candle, and am no even a Catholic!”. Mrs Lamont was especially scared since she was living on her own at the time, her fiance (Harry I think her late husband was called) worked away on the rigs or boats or something. The couple had recently bought the flat on Cardwell road and her fiance was due home just 3 days before the wedding later in the year.
However, by the beginning of the following week Mrs Lamont had calmed down and felt a little better about the whole episode despite endlessly replaying the moment in her mind, mainly because she was still unable to comprehend or come to any kind of conclusion around exactly what had happened that evening in the Park. Mrs Lamont told me that she had two part time jobs at the time, she worked in Gourock Library and she also worked in a Newsagents on
Cardwell Rd
called Johnstones.  Back then all shops closed at lunch time every Wednesday so Mrs Lamont was looking forward to finishing early on Wednesday and returning home to a nice sit down in the comfy chair by the three bar fire, Women’s Hour on Radio 4, a cup of tea, a read at her “People Friend”, then perhaps another small brandy and maybe even doze off for a nice afternoon around 3ish before tea time at 4.  For Mrs Lamont, the dull but comforting quiet of grey mid-week afternoon in Gourock seemed like the ideal antidote to the previous week’s disturbing events. 
So, this is exactly what she did (including, I am told, the Brandy and the afternoon nap). Mrs Lamont recalls being woken around 3.30pm by a noise coming her bedroom, she says it sounded like someone banging about in the room. She got up from her chair, walked along the hall and opened the bedroom door. The window was lying wide open, the bedsheets were all piled up in a corner and her first thought was that someone had clearly broken in. More terrifying was her second thought that it was the same stranger from the Park who had followed her and spoken to her just a few days ago. But there was nobody there now and nothing had been stolen.

Nothing else happened until exactly three months later on another Wednesday afternoon. Mrs Lamont was cleaning the house in preparation for her fiance returning home.  “Ah hud forgottin’ aw aboot it son, ah wis so exciteed aboot ma Harry comin hame. Ah wiz cleanin an hooverin like mad, jist like thon Shake n’ Vac wummin on the telly, and that wis when ah found it under ma bed so a did!” 
Mrs Lamont had been dusting under the bed when she was stunned to find a tiny dark pinewood box which she had never seen before in a dark corner just behind the bottom of the bedpost. It was certainly not her own nor her husband’s. Inside the box was a large silver coin and a very old dusty yellowing letter. Mrs Lamont says that she later checked the coin at the Library, apparently the coin was a Maria-Theresa Silver Thaler from Africa. As for the note, well read it for yourself...

“Dearest, It is my hope to be returning home to Gourock from the plantations before the winter. Oh how I have missed you and the children. I yearn to walk in the estate once again and offer my blessings to all the bonnie brides and grooms of our fair village. I did so enjoy giving my blessings our gay lads, those fine upright young men who have served us so well and their Merry Maids last summer.  I have collected many more silver coins here in the Indies as gifts for our newlyweds. Until my return, tell the common folk that I am soon to return to bless their unions once agin. Urge them, the good people of Gourock that they should forget me not. Yours, Duncan Darroch Baron of Gourock 14 July 1756.”
Mrs Lamont did eventually marry and she went up to Darroch Park on her wedding day. (Some couples from Gourock still do this on their wedding day today). Mrs Lamont remained in Gourock and when Harry passed away the old lady placed flowers on her late husband’s grave every Friday afternoon (because Mrs Lamont and Harry used to go for a fish tea at Mario's on the last Friday of every month until he died).

She also placed flowers on the Darroch tomb every Wednesday. I asked her why and she said it's because that was the day she realized the merry brides of Gourock were not cursed but blessed.
Elsbeth Lamont moved away from the area a few years ago to a sheltered housing complex near Troon. Before she moved away, she planted some wild flowers up at the Old Darroch tomb, "Forget Me Nots" of course and you can still seem them growing up there today.
This story was told to us by a nameless man who was placing flowers at the Darroch tomb one Wednesday afternoon while our trainees were working there. For my part, my wife and I got married on the 19th of November 1999, we too went up to the Park on our Wedding day. Perhaps for a blessing from a long gone Gourock Baron whose Castle is no longer there. Occasionally Spanish Dollars and Silver Talers are found in the park, it's not unusual for children (and sometimes even brides) to come across one. They are thought to be from Darroch’s time spent travelling in Africa and the West Indies. It is also true that lairds used to give their blessing to newly married couples. The letter and box are both now lost but the coin survives and was given to us with this story.  

You can read more from our resident Gourock enthusiast Ross Ahlfeld on his own blog Zuckerbeckers.

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