Holiday Memories of Elie & Earlsferry
By David Pearson
(Author’s note: I was inspired to put pen to paper after reading Pat Andrew’s piece, which stirred all kinds of memories. My family holidayed in Elie every summer from 1951-65, and then in 1968. They were the happiest of times and I’ve tried to ensure in my piece that I am not just writing about me and what I did, but rather about what I remember about Elie and Earlsferry then.)
Like Pat Andrew, my family also holidayed in Elie throughout the 1950s and well into the 60s. There’s every chance our paths may well have crossed!
We first went there in 1951 when I was three; in June to begin with and then, when I started school, this switched to every July, and always for the whole month. My gran – Jean Pearson – stayed for much of the year in The Garden House and would, I imagine, have been a weel kent figure around the neighbourhood. She then moved to Inverallan, a large detached house just beside St Michael’s Church.
Mum and Dad rented Links View Cottage on Links Road in Earlsferry. It was within a little in-shot, and the windows looked on to the 4th fairway. The front door was actually round the back, where there was a nice wee garden with a corrugated shed and various strawberry beds. It was owned by a Mr and Mrs Bromley, who lived in KIlconquhar. The house next door was for many years a boarding house run by two sisters called Black (I think) and they had a black and white collie called Dandy. I’ve been racking my brains trying to remember the dog’s name.
The thing that now strikes me about these holidays – though I don’t think I thought about this then – was the strong level of routine that characterised the days. I would get up around 8.15 and my first job was to go out the cottage and down Allan Place to the High Street and cross over to Boullett’s bakery, next to Cummings grocer’s, for four morning rolls (6d!).
Then, after breakfast, I would wait for my cousin Robert to come for me. He and his family also holidayed here, staying in a caravan up at Black’s Farm. I would see him each morning run across the golf course to our cottage. He and I would go along to play our morning round of golf. We didn’t play on the big course, but behind the sports pavilion where there was a small children’s course and a larger 9-hole course, which we always referred to as the “Ladies Course” – not very pc I know.
To avoid carrying our clubs along the road each morning, one of the first things we always did at the start of the holiday was to arrange to leave our clubs with a lady called Mrs Ballantyne. Just across from the sports club car park were two small hutted golf shops, one belonging to Tom/John Reekie (golf professional) but run by his wife, a red-haired freckled-faced lady, and the shop next door with the name Jock Ballantyne above it. We presumed he had died and it was his widow who ran the shop. She had a little store area beside the shop, and she allowed us to leave our bags there at the end of our game to save taking them back and forward. She was a lovely lady, always very nice and friendly to us, and I regret now that we didn’t ever think to give her a present at the end of the holidays.
Once our game was over it was still only around 11am, and we might then go along to Earlsferry shops, sometimes into Tony’s cafe but often next door to the shop/post office. Pat’s mention of the name Dunsire rang a bell with me, but I recall the name Inez Moat above the shop, and I think there might have been another shop in Elie itself. Ice lollies were often purchased there, especially banana lollies, and also a particular favourite of mine called a Top Ten.
And, of course, in the 60s the shop was managed by the Obarski family, and this all detailed in the excellent article by Irene Stevenson elsewhere on this website.
Our Mums and Dads would probably be down on the beach, so we would go and join them for what was left of the morning. Dad hired a beach hut from Garlands and we kept buckets, spades, chairs, etc, sometimes a radio. It seems amazing now, but it never got broken into and I don’t think it ever crossed our minds that it might.
Back up for lunch and then back down to the beach for the afternoon. Dad would usually call into Tony’s for ice cream – single nougats for him and Mum, cones for Robert and my sister and me. I remember the fine days, but of course there would be cold and windy rainy days. One of the first tasks, regardless of the weather, was putting up the windbreak. Dad had a large wooden mallet for the purpose and mum had characteristically written the name Pearson along the top, as she was wont to do.
And so, the afternoons would pass very agreeably. The CSSM set up just along from us, although Robert and I always managed to avoid getting involved.
Around 4.30 we’d all head back up the road for tea. Often it would be a salad with meat of some sort. Mum always made a point at the start of the holiday of placing a big food order with Jackie Bruce, who had a grocer’s shop on the High Street. As we ourselves are a family of shopkeepers mum would always give her business to a local shop rather than go to supermarkets in St Andrews.
After tea we’d head along to the sports club for a game of tennis. Robert and I, his sister Shelagh, and their mum (a very good tennis player) would play, my sister too and occasionally schoolfriends of hers.
Hardly a day would go by without purchasing something from the pavilion cafe, usually an ice-cold coke or an iced drink. I remember the proprietrix, Mrs Scott. I played putting at least once every day. Mum told friends of hers once that one summer I returned home after the holidays with 90 putting tickets. I recall an old man called Sandy who manned the putting hut, and then for a few years a man called Dave King.
Robert and I would sometimes go across the rocks at West Bay before going back to Links View Cottage to watch TV – an old black and white set with a small screen and a solitary channel. I can vividly recall watching Maverick with James Garner some nights.
Over the month our entire extended family would be based in Elie. My dad’s brother and his family of five would stay at Gran’s house, Inverallan. It had a garden which backed on to the 18th fairway and at the bottom of the garden was a little self-contained flat with kitchen, toilet, etc. My Dad’s other brother, wife and two children would also be staying in holiday accommodation somewhere in Elie.
And that was how I spent my childhood holidays in Elie. Of course, weekends followed a different pattern. Through the week my Dad and uncles would play on the big course, but in those days it would be shut on Sundays, so we might go to the West Bay beach for a change, or maybe to St Andrews, visiting Craigtoun Park with its miniature railway, Rufflets Hotel or perhaps the Tudor Tearoom with its cuckoo clock. And, of course, the villages in between.
in Earlsferry I recall a private hotel (St Albans?) along the High Street, also a painters/decorators shop (Donaldson) and a turreted house towards the Chapel Ness end that suffered a serious fire and was later demolished perhaps? [Earlsferry House at Glovers Wynd]
The Town Hall used to screen movies for a time and I can clearly remember going one evening with Dad to see Rio Bravo, a western with John Wayne. To this day it is one of my favourite films, partly because it is a great movie, but because it makes me think of that night on holiday (would be 1959 I think).
What people can I recall, apart from those already mentioned? There was a lady called Jessie Braid, who lived in Allan Place. I wonder if she was a relative of James Braid. There was also a lady called Mrs Ockleford, who seemed to me to have been what we might now call a local activist – perhaps she was on the local council. I have a vague recollection that she raised objections to certain things, though I can’t recall what they might have been. I have a picture of her frequently dressed in a red outfit with a hat that had a feather in it.
Who could forget Mr Haig? He was present throughout every summer holiday I spent there. As Pat has said, he seemed somewhat gruff and grumpy and the sort who might eat broken bottles and young infants for breakfast, but I’m sure he wasn’t. I think maybe his son joined him latterly. I have a recollection of a young man with a cap that I felt at the time was Mr Haig Jr.
There was Mr Humphrey who ran the newsagent in Elie and there was a small gift kind of shop a few doors down from him. Across the road was Adamson’s Bakers and next door a Hairdresser – a man who used to draw moustaches on the boys who came in for a haircut. And Boullet had a large branch with a tearoom, I think. Others that come to mind are Speed, a delicatessen if I recall correctly, and Terras shoes, among others.
The Ship Inn was just a shabby looking wee pub, not the trendy bar and diner it would become. Only recently did I discover that the Ship Inn owners also ran the 19th Hole in Links Road. My cousin and I would pass by the 19th Hole regularly as it was just along the road from Links View Cottage, and we found amusement in shouting in the open doorway as we passed!
Tony Brattesani and his wife ran the Washington Cafe, though we always just called it Tony’s, and I can picture its bright yellow frontage. He seems to me now to have been a somewhat dour, subdued character and his wife rather nippy. We were regular customers over many years. My dad remarked once that whenever we arrived on holiday each July and walked into his shop on our first day he behaved towards us as though we’d just been in the day before!
I have vivid memories of Hudson’s Dairy and Mr & Mrs Hudson who ran it. Across the road from the dairy was the library. My cousin and I went in there one wet day and spent time rummaging around among piles of books scattered about the place – perhaps there was a stocktake that day, but the place seemed rather untidy!
On one of the roads that led down to the beach, just diagonally across from Tony’s, was a large house that I think was maybe a kind of orphanage or children’s home, boys largely, and they seemed a very lively bunch, making quite lot of noise in the gardens there. [St Margaret’s Children’s Home, run by Fife Council – now privately owned Earlsferry Care Home.]
I was never in any of the hotels at the time, though a few years later, maybe around 1970, my family had lunch in the Marine Hotel, and then when the 1970 Open Golf Championship was played at St Andrews I spent a week at the Victoria Hotel. Later still my wife and I stayed overnight in the Queen’s Hotel. All now sadly long gone.
Looking back, they were wonderful holidays and if I could spend my last day on earth anywhere, I think I would choose to go to Elie and Earlsferry and think over those good times with family, when life was still in front of me.
© David Pearson June 2020