Category Archives: Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap

Divided by a Common Language – –

Jack sprints over the line with his Wednesday guest post – –

It may have been when we were traveling all over the country promoting Wendy’s book about our bookstore that we drove up through Ohio and decided to visit her aunt. We knew that we needed to turn left off the main road just after a railroad crossing but didn’t realize that were two of these fairly close. We took the wrong one and got lost!

Shortly after that a police car drew up and Wendy sent me over to talk to him. As soon as he heard my voice he said his name was Livingston and I said that’s a town in Scotland. We got into a conversation about where his folks might have originated. He got on the phone to his office and quickly established where Wendy’s aunt Lelah’s house was. Then he put his flashing lights on and conducted us right to her door.

A couple of years later we were booked for a festival in West Virginia but I didn’t realize as we left early in the morning to head into Kentucky for another gig that the speed limits were different. I was driving and Wendy was dozing as I noticed flashing lights behind. Should I stop, I asked her? We were driving the car we owned and left for us to use when in the US that was legally registered by her parents, but my driver license was British.

At that time a British driver license was a very large piece of pink paper folded up into a small space.

I’m sure you can imagine the conversation that started with – keep your hands on the wheel – –

As I moved from keeping my hands on the wheel to gripping it ever more tightly he was trying to make sense of someone with a British license driving a car with Tennessee plates speeding in Kentucky and with no photo ID! Wendy eventually had to start interpreting and translating. The cop headed back to his car shaking his head.

After quite a long time he came back, carefully folded my license and said this is far too much trouble, but remember it’s 65 in Kentucky!

It can sometimes be helpful to have a Scottish accent and other times not so much.

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, small town USA, Wendy Welch

Words in a Miner Key

Jack did the Monday book, so he gets to be late for the Wednesday guest post –

How I failed to write a song.

The corner of West Fife where I was born and lived most of my life has a long history of coal mining. One of the villages on the coast of the river Forth is Culross (pronounced Kooross) and nearby was the Valleyfield colliery. It closed in the 1970s and I knew something of the history so it seemed like a subject for a song.

Culross, with a 16th Century car!

Back in the late 1500s a local landowner discovered there was coal under his land that extended out under the river, so he had an artificial island built there and tunnel to reach it. King James the sixth (who later became James the first of England as well – the bible guy) heard of it and asked to visit it. When he emerged on the island he thought he’d been hoodwinked and was about to be killed!

Eventually The Fife Coal Company sank a deep mine on the shore nearby which tapped into that same seam. That was Valleyfield colliery.

However even before coal was discovered there had been salt pans in the area where the salt water from the estuary was boiled to produce a valuable and much sought after commodity.

Then in 1939 there was an underground explosion that killed over thirty miners and injured many more. Following the end of WW2 and the election of the Labour Government the coal mines were nationalized and better safety measures were introduced.

In Valleyfield Colliery in the 1930s.

In the late 1970s the coal was running out, but not before the underground workings linked up with others from mines on the other side of the Forth, creating the only under-river crossing to this day. But time had run out for the mine.

Culross is owned by The National Trust for Scotland and kept as it was from the 1600s, so everyone who has ever watched a historical film set in Scotland has seen it – most notably ‘Outlander’.

Back to the song. All I ever managed was a tune and a chorus, but I hope I can eventually make verses as well.

“Farewell tae ye Valleyfield, we’ll a’ mind yir cage o’ steel.

The roads and the paths, oh we’ll mind every name.

But time plays a waitin’ game, she’ll soon haud her sway the same,

The saut pans will soon ha’e their freedom again”

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Filed under between books, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch