Chris has managed to get his phone to tell him that it is currently 7 degrees (whatever happened to phones that made telephone calls?). What his phone doesn’t tell him is that there is also a wind chill factor of quite a lot. I packed thermals to go to Canada and arrived in temperatures of 27 degrees; here the reverse seems to be true. Undaunted – well maybe just a little daunted – we go forth and search ancestral areas. A quick trip to Chapel of Garioch first. It has to be a quick trip, it is very small. I photograph the cross slab known as the Maiden Stone, one of many Pictish relics in the area. Then it is on to Old Rayne, a few cottages larger than Chapel of Garioch and with a church that is over two miles away from the settlement. As we get out to explore the graveyard we understand the attraction of Penge (south London) where my children’s ancestor from this area ended up. It is truly freezing, although I have to own that Penge probably lacks the scenic value of Rayne.
As the temperature has encouraged us to be pretty swift with our churchyard excursions, we are now much too early to go to the museum at Insch, so we return to the van to thaw out. Sustained and warmed we head back to Insch just as the volunteer is opening up. The museum is only open one afternoon a week so I was glad that I could arrange the itinerary to coincide. I was a bit worried that this museum might be another homage to Pictish culture, very interesting but not what I was after. We wait patiently whilst an Australian, who now lives on the English south coast, tells the complete story of his family history to the volunteer, who makes all the right noises. We have already exhausted the potential of the displays in this very small museum, which is part of the still functioning railway station. Fortunately, it is more nineteenth century than ninth century, with, understandably, a preponderance of railway history. The railway linking Inverness and Aberdeen came through Insch in 1854 and had an enormous impact on the small village. Our fellow enquirer has come by train and needs to get the 2.19pm back again. I know we are in the station but given that the next train isn’t for two hours, I would have been on the platform sooner than 2.18 and thirty seconds. Well, I would have been there from about 2.00pm just in case but I am sure there is a happy medium.
His departure gives us a chance to ask the volunteer, without holding out much hope, if she has heard of Wight’s Inn. She chats away about how old Mrs Wight came down from up country to run the pub. She is past the first flush of youth but she is implying that she remembers Mrs Wight and my Mrs Wight died in 1862 so my heart is sinking. But no, it turns out that she really is talking about my Mrs Wight. The bad news is that Wight’s Inn and the neighbouring Pauper Lodging House run by Mrs Wight’s daughter in law (also Mrs Wight of course but I am attempting not to confuse) have been demolished. Mrs Helpful Volunteer finds a picture and map of the rough location that I can copy. I say we had failed to find a gravestone yesterday and add that I wasn’t really expecting there to have been a marker. Au contraire, our kind assistant is sure there would have been one as she would have been ‘quite wealthy’. She pulls out a list of memorial inscriptions for the old kirk where we were yesterday. This has been compiled by someone we have met through the family history world, so thank you Sheila, we couldn’t have managed without you. Yes, there is Mary Wight, husband James and other members of the family on stone 193. ‘Oh’, she says ominously, ‘it is flat’. We have seen these flat stones, they are buried under an impenetrable layer of strimmed grass. We take note of the rough position and the names of those on the surrounding stones that are still standing, thank our helper and take our leave.
I apologise if something of a theme is developing here but I must again mention toilets. We use the ones in the station. I fail to find the light switch and am in total darkness. I manage to locate the toilet itself but toilet paper proved more of an initiative test. If you are ever in Insch station, on top of the cistern, though I advise trying for the light switch in preference.
After about five minutes casting our eyes round stones with all the wrong names on and on the point of giving up. I locate Mr Sharp who should be next door to the Wight family. Yes, there is a flat stone nearby but compacted grass, the product of many mowings, is stuck firmly to its surface. I wish, too late, that I had taken a ‘before’ photograph. We begin rubbing away, being careful not to obliterate the sandstone surface at the same time. Grass has grown quite a long way over the edges of the stone, covering the inscription. I decide that we need a spade to remove this. We do not have a spade, how short sighted of us. Chris has his barber surgery kit in the boot ready for a conference at the end of our trip. I suggest using one of his many knives, saws or axes to hack back the grass; he seems less keen. We imperil our finger nails by hauling at the grass roots. As for the mowing detritus, in the end we perfect a technique of rubbing the soles of our shoes over the grass, which eventually loosens and can be swept away. This works better with my trainers as Chris has smooth soled shoes on. Well, that was his theory and he was sticking to it. It is quite a large stone and I am rubbing vigorously. If you are ever tempted to try this, be warned, it involves a lot more effort than you would think. The weather has meant that today is the first day we haven’t been for a walk but I decide that stone clearing constituted sufficient exercise. Ten minutes later and the stone is as clear as it is ever going to be and I am well pleased.
We go to the former site of Wight’s Inn, very close to the leisure centre we visited yesterday. We have a much better impression of the lives of this family now. The railway predated Mary Wight junior’s move south by more than two decades and was presumably her route to the outside world. Mary Wight, her grandmother, sounds quite a character, widowed at sixty, taking over the pub and living to be over ninety. The only disappointment is that the building no longer stands. Back to the van then to write up what I have found.