Gretna is a small town built on war. It does sound a bit dramatic but the town was mainly built to house munitions workers for the nearby ammunition factory during the war. As such it’s pretty self contained for a town with it’s own doctor’s surgery, bank, grocery shop, bakers and butchers. It also had a bingo hall back in the day to entertain although it’s not much now. Whilst I was born in Dumfries, I grew up here. Gretna does have a very strange thing as far as national identity goes as a result of being so close to the border between Scotland and England. There’s not really such a thing as ‘a Gretna accent’ as some families have English connections and some Scottish. Further down the road in Eastriggs and Annan you’ll get the defined Scottish lilt but not so much here.
But anyway, I’m not here to talk about ammo or weddings. I wanted to give you a short tour of the places around here that are kind of important to me.
Gretna Hall Hotel
Gretna Hall Hotel stands on top of the hill just around the corner from my parent’s house which was handy because it’s the hotel my Dad managed from before my birth to 2006. As such I spent vast amounts of time in my youth wandering the corridors. It’s an old building, the original part dates to 1710, and when I was young it seemed like the corridors went on forever even though it’s a fairly small hotel in comparison to others. Gretna has a history of runaway marriages as a result of Scottish law allowing younger couples to marry without their parent’s consent. Often young couple’s were chased across the border by the bride’s father who would turn up a few hours later. As a result Gretna Hall has a secret room which young couples would hide in whilst Father searched what he thought was the entire building. It’s probably not an ultra secret but I’m not about to tell anybody where it is. There were also plenty of other nooks and crannies in the building and it was brilliant as a kid to walk down one corridor, vanish and then appear somewhere else in the building that seemed impossible to access. If it all sounds like a Scooby Doo haunted mansion, that’s because it was.
In the late 80’s to the mid 90’s (pretty much as far as I can remember) the hotel always used to close down for winter as the tourists simply weren’t there. Every November the place would close down and remain perfectly still until the following March. My Dad still took a daily walk around the place to make sure that everything was okay but it was cold and dark minus the heating and electricity. Its the reason why The Outlook Hotel in The Shining seems quite homely to me.
Gretna Old Parish Church
Across the road from the hotel is Gretna Old Parish and I’ve included it here for two reasons. Firstly, it’s the location of my ill fated trips to Sunday School when I was younger. My Mother insisted on sending my sister and I out to Sunday School every weekend. It was after my fourth or fifth visit that I returned home and told her that I wasn’t going back ‘because that God guy they always talk about doesn’t seem to bother either’. I did not return.
Secondly, the graveyard at the back holds a bizarre local kid’s fable. It was said that if the moonlight shone through the bell tower towards a tree at the back on the cemetery then the devil would appear in the branches. I never saw it myself.
Gretna Green Train Station
Yes I know it’s a train station and most places have something like this but, when it opened in 1993, it became quite normal for me to go through to our nearest city of Carlisle each Saturday morning without having to learn to drive first. There also the strange fact that the lighting they put in when it was first build used to sway in the wind with the kind of jangle sound as if they were windchimes. It’s a sound I always found relaxing.
The Gretna Gateway Outlet
Now I cannot confirm this in any way but I’m pretty sure I was the first person sacked from this building. Back in the 90’s it was just a field opposite the last garage you could fill up your car in before you hit England, then they decided they were going to build a shopping centre on it. It was an idea which seemed stupid at the time, a shopping centre next to a small town like Gretna, but it’s pretty much become part of the fabric now and it’s actually really nice to be able to take a walk and get a decent cup of coffee. People seem to travel from Glasgow every bank holiday to shop here as the place will be packed.
It was 1999 and I had just left school with zero of a clue what I was going to do with myself. I seriously didn’t want to go to university or college just yet and I was firmly sick of the education system at that time and was very much of the opinion that I didn’t want to leap back into it just now. I ended up getting a job in one of the new shops setting up in The Gateway. At that time we were just setting up so I went down on the Monday and worked a full day setting up displays and cleaning. Whilst I was working on the Tuesday I felt a little bit ill and off colour. By Wednesday I had a full force stomach bug forcing me to stay in bed. Due to the fact the phone line hadn’t been installed in the shop yet my Mum drove down the road to inform them that I was ill and couldn’t make it. The same thing occurred on the Thursday.
By Friday I thought it was high time I went back in but, upon being in the door ten minutes that morning, I was taken to one side and told I wasn’t a ‘team player’ and that I was going to be let go. I turned and walked out without really saying anything else. It was on the way back to my parent’s house I had a moment of clarity, as if fate had decided it wasn’t quite the right path to go down for now. I got changed into my suit when I got back home, caught the train through to the local job centre and then ended up getting an extras part on ‘A Shot At Glory’ when it was filming in Dumfries that summer. I also applied for art college which set me up for the next five years.
Essentially though I was fired before the centre had even opened which surely means I was first right?
It’s a small place so not much else to show, I’ll leave you though with one of the older pieces of grafitti from the tunnel which leads under the train station towards the town. It’s probably the first thing somebody coming over the border off the train would see.
Thanks for coming.