Diary

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We passed Gretna Green but decided it would be foolish to change partners. Dr Johnson thought second marriages merely the triumph of Hope over Experience

Last week, I took part in an expedition to Ayrshire in Scotland. My companions and I were last gathered together, circa 1959, in the wilds of Wigan when we trod the boards in an amateur production of Blythe Spirit. Our jaunt was undertaken primarily by the Ayrshire & Arran Tourist Board. It included classical, folk and pop concerts, exhibitions and displays in tribute to Robert Burns.

Having survived the initial journey north, I have nothing but praise for Stephen Byers, he who is in so much trouble at the present moment; our first-class train travel to Carlisle cost [pounds sterling]30 return, inclusive of a luncheon of curry and spring rolls, plus liberal supplies of whisky and newspapers. As someone sagely remarked, rather than stay at home it would be much cheaper to raise a family on railways.

After disembarking at Carlisle, we journeyed by hired car via Dunoon or Dunfermline, or possibly some place else beginning with D, to the town of Ayr. The entire trip punctuated by oohs and aahs of appreciation at the beauties of a landscape illuminated by sunshine.

What a noble land is Scotland; what skies; what lochs; what sturdy houses built of grey stone, which mock the hideous and mercifully infrequent concrete estates. Instead of worrying about the National Health Service, the government should be concentrating on modern architecture, perhaps a more potent cause of heart failure than poverty.

On the way, two of our party had a learned discussion on some scientific effect to do with the sun in these particular parts, namely that the road appeared to go upwards, when really we were driving downhill. Maybe it was the other way around.

Our first evening was spent in a canvas erection of amazing splendour, more like a theatrical set for The Student Prince than a tent, in which we were entertained by the folk singer Eddi Reader. There wasn't a dry eye among us when Auld Lang Syne was sung, which was apparently written, music as well as words, by Robbie Burns. I never knew that.

James Boswell, genius biographer of Dr Samuel Johnson, was born at Auchinleck in a magnificent house only recently restored. It was quite near Ayr, though not signposted and somewhat elusive to reach. At times, we could see it in the distance, but the roads never led to it. In the end, we climbed over a stile and clambered up a small field and there it was. Two lady caretakers kindly gave us tea and cake before letting us loose on the premises. …