Murder Most Fatal

Every Tuesday in July here on Arran, the Whiting Bay Club of Drama and Music presents in the Village Hall the wonderfully entitled ‘The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen’s Guild Dramatic Society Murder Mystery’. But as it happens, one hundred and twenty-two years ago today there began a real-life story to match anything by the great Victorian crime novelist Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, when a young builder’s clerk from London, Edwin Rose, met a violent death near the summit of Goatfell, Arran’s highest peak. Just over two weeks later, his badly decomposed body was to be found in a stone shelter, where it had been deliberately hidden, his skull shattered and his spine broken.

Goatfell on Arran. Beautiful and dangerous

Rose had been on a walking trip to Scotland with several companions, and was in Rothesay on Bute when he had a chance encounter with John Laurie, a pattern-maker at the Atlas Iron Works in Glasgow’s Springburn. The two men struck up a friendship despite the misgivings of Rose’s friends, and spent the next few days walking on Bute before deciding, on the afternoon of the 15th of July, 1889, to take a ferry to Arran and climb Goatfell, a mountain which remains as popular with walkers today. Easily accessible in both summer and winter, it can be treacherous in bad weather.

The discovery of Rose’s body sparked a manhunt which led to the eventual arrest of Laurie in his home town of Coatbridge. In the subsequent trial, one of the most eagerly followed in Scots legal history, Laurie admitted to robbing the Englishman but denied the charge of murder, claiming that Rose had in fact met two others on the summit and descended with them.

Conan Doyle's famous hero Sherlock Holmes wrestles his arch-enemy Moriarty over the Reichenbach Falls. Art by Sidney Paget

The ultimately successful prosecution case rested on circumstantial evidence relating to the nature of Rose’s injuries and behavioural reports, which convinced the jury of Laurie’s murderous intentions. The only suspect had been seen drinking in the Corrie Bar in Brodick at 10pm on the evening of the tragedy and had checked out of his lodgings the next day without paying. Yet there was never any of Rose’s blood found on Laurie’s clothing, and the victim’s cap and walking stick had been found lying in the vicinity of the body. There had been no attempt to hide them.

Laurie was convicted of murdering the 32-year old Rose and handed a death sentence, later commuted to life imprisonment on the grounds of diminished responsibility. He protested his innocence until his death 40 years later in what was then known as the ‘lunatic division’ of Perth prison. It remains the longest prison term served in the country to this day. But was there a miscarriage of justice? Was Rose pushed or did he fall? Unlike even the best fictional tales, in this case we will probably never know.


Tall Ships and Fast Cars

If you follow me on Twitter, you may have noticed that for the month of July I will be living, working and playing on the Isle of Arran, a

One of the impressive Tall Ships which called in on Arran this week

place which I never tire of visiting. Already this week I have made some small gains in the fitness stakes by getting back on my bike and taking to the hills, we have been barbecuing on the beach every other night, the Tall Ships have looked in on their way to Greenock from Wexford in Ireland, and the Lamlash Maritime Festival gave me the chance to try my hand at sea kayaking, something which has been on my ‘to do’ list for some time. All this among some of the most magnificent scenery in Western Europe.

To make sure we don’t miss out on what might be happening across the island I picked up a copy of The Arran Banner, which indeed provided a wealth of information – and the most bizarre editorial in a week of bizarre happenings in the press. OK, it wasn’t on the scale of the crash at News International, but the intemperate language might have been straight out of the Murdoch school of journalism. It began:

“Summer finally arrived at the weekend and with it came a swarm – not of midges – but of that other dreaded multitude, the cyclists. I think most island motorists will admit that, apart from the blood-sucking insects that plague Arran in the summer months, their other most reviled horde is cyclists.”

Now, I’m not entirely convinced that there is a group of people whose identity can be so easily encapsulated in the phrase ‘Arran motorist’, but if there is, I would have thought that tourists – a large percentage of whom are cyclists – provide much of their income, and that far from being reviled, they should be welcomed with open arms.

Arran is almost the perfect place for cycling: the roads are still relatively quiet; there are some excellent off-road tracks; the hills provide enough challenge for even the most competitive riders and it is easily accessible from the mainland.

However, in my own travels round the island this week I did notice that the number of cars on the roads is increasing, especially those massively fashionable 4 x 4s, and many of them are being driven too fast for roads which are narrow and twisting and full of blind summits and bends. They are wider than half the width of the roads, and for many of their drivers the white line down the middle serves only as a rough guide to the best racing line.

So I would like to offer an alternative manifesto for those looking to build the economy of Arran while preserving its unique beauty and tranquillity, which is what most of those tourist hordes are looking for:

Arran - a cyclists' paradise

  • Prohibit the movement of motor cars, apart from emergency vehicles, between the hours of 10.00am and 4.00pm in the summer months
  • Provide a more regular bus service, but limit their speed to 30 mph on all roads
  • Invest in re-surfacing the 56 miles of main road round the perimeter of the island
  • Promote the island as a Mecca for cyclists and encourage all cycling-related businesses with preferential business rates.
  • Encourage hotels to offer cycling packages for large groups or clubs looking for that special cycling experience.

With few exceptions, we are all motorists, but how on earth did we get to a situation where the motor car was so revered that there are people who define themselves as ‘motorists’ first and above all else, and where drivers expect to have right of way over cyclists and pedestrians. It isn’t so on mainland Europe, and it doesn’t have to be that way here.