Connections discovered through Story-on-Bikes

Many of the stay-at-home riders in our recent cycling project, ‘Story-on-Bikes’, were previously unknown to the Mamie Martin Fund. It was wonderful to meet these new friends and supporters, albeit virtually. Through this contact we found many fascinating stories and connections. One of them is about Janet Cormack, the great-aunt of Lesley Clunas, a keen cyclist from the Black Isle.  

Janet was born in 1896 and her family folklore has it that she drove from Aberdeen, where the family lived, to Malawi in the 1920s. She got married there in Fort Jameson (now Chipata, Zambia, near the Malawian border) in 1927 so will have overlapped with Mamie Martin, though not in the same part of Malawi. Janet was matron of Blantyre Hospital in Malawi for some of her time there. 

Janet Cormack at Blantyre Hospital

Lesley first met her great-aunt in the 1970s when she returned to Aberdeen to die. Needless to say of such a strong spirit, she lived for almost two more decades. Janet died in 1982, aged 96. We are grateful to Lesley for sharing this story and the photos. Clearly Janet and Mamie were kindred spirits, both independent-minded women who lived and worked in Malawi at the same time. They each devoted their lives to others and would both be delighted for us to make these connections now and to work together to support girls’ education in Malawi. 

Reflections on a day’s cycle

Monday, 3 August 2020 – Day 4 of the Story on Bikes – Inversnaid Bunkhouse to Killearn

Setting off from Ayrshire to meet up with the riders for the fourth day meant a crack-of-dawn start and a 2-hour drive. The road to Inversnaid from Aberfoyle is the road we would be cycling from Inversnaid to Aberfoyle in just a few minutes. That dull overcast rainy morning drive up and over the hills hadn’t exactly filled me with enthusiasm but after the obligatory photo and video opportunities three cyclists set off: Moira, Shelagh and me (Willie Sinclair, Mamie Martin’s grandson). The gradients seemed more manageable in real life than in anticipation. I was a bit disconcerted, though, while toiling up one hill when a car pulled up beside me. The occupants wanted to know how to get up Ben Lomond! I heard myself say “If I was doing that I wouldn’t start from here!” I suggested they head for Rowardennan, a 35 mile drive away.

The midges were out but pedalling steadily and keeping my mouth shut I avoided the worst of them. However, we had a rendezvous at Kinlochard Boat Club with cyclists from Strathendrick Baptist Church and that meant stopping beside the mirror-flat Loch Ard. The ever-generous Wrights were waiting for us with coffee and the most amazing cycling fuel I’ve ever experienced. We were only 10 miles into our actual day’s plan but it seemed important to share Ian’s load by eating as much of the “snackery” as possible: parkin and flapjack. Mmmmm. While we consumed calories, the midges consumed us. I stopped counting bite-marks after 35 and just kept pacing about trying to avoid them. Meanwhile Moira was interviewing Kathleen for the video that is on here.

We followed the Wrights through the Loch Ard Forest trails over some pretty bumpy surfaces, our skinny-tyred road bikes coping well. Forest rides are great for avoiding the wind but you do need to know where you’re going. Food was a theme of the day. A picnic stop at Lochan Spling (any Gaelic speakers who can shed light on that name?) and a lunch stop at Gartmore Village Hall were the Wrights’ subtle way of preparing us for the Gartmore to Drymen leg of the ride. Childhood memories of journeys from Milton of Buchanan to Aberfoyle by “The Old Gartmore Road”, and the excitement of leaping out to open the gates for my Dad (and whatever bunch of friends/relatives were visiting us) to drive through, didn’t include the hill we had to go up. I suppose in the 1960s we would have been going down North in a car instead of up South under our own steam. The term “unrelenting” could have been invented for this climb. We live in Angus so most of my cycling now involves hills, but the steep ones are short and the long ones are more gradual. Gartmore to Drymen is both steep and long, with many false tops luring the unwary cyclist into a disappointing not-yet-final effort. My usual approach is “head-down-and-grind-away” in the lowest gear possible, ignoring everything and everybody around me. My reward, as I finally reached the top was the glorious view and an Osprey casually checking out the Muir Park reservoir as it flew west towards Loch Lomond. (There’s a nest site at the Lake of Monteith, just a few miles East of Aberfoyle.)

Moira and Shelagh are uphill heroes and downhill demons with well-set-up bikes (Moira’s has disc brakes) while I was riding a 1970s Raleigh Carlton with braking technology that was devised in the 1950s. So, despite my greater mass, gravity got them to Drymen before the rest of us. Part of the final leg from Drymen to Killearn via Gartness was shared with the West Highland Way. Ian warned us about absent-minded walkers. We managed to dodge them. My faulty childhood memory banks had Drymen and Killearn a long way apart so I was delighted to see the rooftops of our destination much sooner than I expected. But it was up one final hill. A spectacular evening meal topped off a memorable day in the saddle and I was exceedingly glad NOT to be doing the next leg to Falkirk: the forecast was for heavy prolonged showers.

The success of this whole Story on Bikes has been a surprise. It had looked like the Pandemic Lockdown had killed the plan but changing and adapting resulted in the participation of many more people in many different ways. I was ‘lucky’ that Eileen volunteered me to do a stage in reality. I also clocked up miles beforehand in the #Stay-at-Home version, as did 42 other people!

Moira spent a lot of time during each ride filming, photographing and interviewing followed by a huge effort editing it all into manageable wee chunks to be uploaded to our YouTube channel. Take the time to watch the video of this day and then please hit the Like button, subscribe to the channel (no cost involved) and SHARE SHARE SHARE!

Thanks to all our stay at home riders and donors!

Thanks are due to:

– all the riders, Stay-at-Home or on-the-day

– Eileen for being my co-driver and for meeting us at the end of the day’s ride

– the un-named friend of the Wrights who delivered them, their amazing food and their bikes to Kinlochard in the morning

– Moira for organising and editing and shepherding the whole project.

And finally.

It wasn’t designed as a fundraiser so much as an awareness-raising event. Thank you, however, to all who donated to the Mamie Martin Fund.

Echoes of the past in Glebe House, Tarbet

The ‘Story on Bikes’ reached Tarbet, Loch Lomond on a sunny Sunday, after a morning cycling up the western side of Loch Lomond. Glebe House is a beautiful guest house now, sitting up the hill in Tarbet looking over the loch to Ben Lomond. In Mamie’s day, it was the manse, occupied by her family while her father was the local minister, and in her letters she describes the frequent visitors. It’s a warm and welcoming house and Bernadette Rainey, the owner, made sure the cyclists were comfortable for their picnic lunch.

Mary Haggerty from the local heritage group, called in for a short visit . She had encouraged Margaret Sinclair in her last writing project, towards the end of her life, a short history of Mamie’s family in the manse. As the sun sparkled on the loch, it was easy to imagine how Mamie and Jack loved the Lake in Malawi . This was a very special lunch stop for the Mamie Martin ‘Story on Bikes’.

Story on Bikes launch

Our ‘Story on Bikes’ bike ride has been a real success. An important aspect of that success has been the connections made or strenghtened with like-minded organisations. We were grateful to be able to launch the ride from the birthplace of David Livingstone in Blantyre, Scotland on Saturday August 1st. Douglas Hay, a Trustee of the David Livingstone Trust, welcomed us to the site where our Scottish Patron, Alison Cameron, sent the riders on their way. They were headed to Tarbet, Loch Lomond, the home of Mamie Martin. 

The site in Blantyre has been sadly neglected during lockdown but we all hope to visit again once it is possible to have volunteers back on site and when the restoration work is complete.

The cyclists had ridden from Edinburgh the previous day and they cycled to Balloch from Blantyre, visiting Tarbet on the Sunday. A warm welcome awaited them there – and look out for that video story. Mamie would be happy to know that connections between Scotland and Malawi are still so strong and that her conviction about the necessity of educating girls is now widely accepted as true around the world. The Story on Bikes project raised more than £5k for the education of girls in Malawi. Thanks to the numerous people who made this possible. 

Remembering Mamie Martin at Tarbet

Today, ‘Story on Bikes’, the bike ride telling the story of Mamie Martin (née Telfer), arrived in Tarbet to remember Mamie, a daughter of the Manse, a teacher in Helensburgh and a missionary in Malawi in the 1920s. Mamie and her husband Jack left Tarbet in 1921 to go to Malawi. Mamie saw there the need to support the education of girls in Malawi and that work which she started is continued today by the Mamie Martin Fund. The cyclists were delighted to be welcomed to the very Manse where Mamie lived and an extract from ‘Salt and Light’, a book of Mamie’s letters, was read in the Manse garden by Mariot Dallas, Mamie’s eldest granddaughter.

Mamie’s family, the Telfers, are still remembered in Tarbet and their story is told on the Arrochar and Tarbet local heritage website – http://www.arrocharheritage.com/HistoryOfTheTelferManse1875-1925.htm. Mamie would be so happy to know that connections between Scotland and Malawi are stronger than ever and that her conviction about the necessity of educating girls is now widely accepted as true around the world.

The cyclists crossed the loch to Inversnaid with Cruise Loch Lomond and will continue through the Trossachs to Falkirk where some of Mamie’s family now live.

As well as those who are cycling the route, 42 people are doing the equivalent distance at home on the stay-at-home version which has been so popular. The stay-at-home riders are based in Scotland, Ireland and England – an international effort! You can encourage the riders on the fund-raising page.  

MMF cyclists welcomed to the Livingstone Centre

Our cyclists were delighted to be welcomed to the David Livingstone Centre in Blantyre today. Both organisations paid tribute to David Livingstone and Mamie Martin, Scots who were important in the history of Malawi-Scotland relations. Douglas Hay, a Trustee of the David Livingstone Trust, welcomed the riders to Blantyre. Douglas said ‘it is a pleasure to welcome the Mamie Martin Fund to the birthplace of David Livingstone, thereby bringing together the stories of these Scots who contributed so much to Malawi. We are delighted that the legacy of their work so long ago is continuing to benefit Malawi through the education of its girls.’

The David Livingstone Birthplace site has been undergoing a major refurbishment project, which will be a vibrant new visitor destination that includes an exciting new exhibition, which will engage all ages, as well as a transformed shop and café.

The bike ride was launched by Alison Cameron, who was a nurse in Malawi and is a Patron of the Mamie Martin Fund. The ride is heading to Tarbet, Loch Lomond, where Mamie Martin grew up. Mamie left there in 1921 to go to Malawi with her husband Jack. Mamie saw the need to support the education of girls in Malawi and that work which she started is continued today by the Mamie Martin Fund. An extract from Mamie’s letters was read at Blantyre and another piece will be read at Tarbet. 

As well as those who are cycling the route, 42 people are doing the equivalent distance at home on the stay-at-home version which has been so popular. The stay-at-home riders are based in Scotland, Ireland and England – an international effort! You can encourage the riders on the fund-raising page.  

Report from Team Ireland

A guest blog post from Eilish Dunworth

We all had plans before Covid-19 intervened.  My plan was to join my sister, Moira, in Scotland to participate in her cycle in aid of girls’ education in Malawi – aka ‘Story on Bikes’. As with many other charitable events, the option of cycling remotely was mooted and quickly gained traction. Why ever not?  Especially given that I live in Waterford close to the now famous Waterford Greenway.

But I was still disappointed to be missing out on the camaraderie that will be central to the actual cycle in Scotland so I put the idea out to a few buddies who enjoy a challenge and do some cycling in their spare time and in next to no time we had Team Ireland with seven enthusiastic participants.  

Our team has two centres – one in Limerick and the other in Waterford. Terri and her Limerick buddies are very keen cyclists and could put the Waterford contingent to shame if it was a competition. But it’s not! We’re doing what we can, when we can and with what we’ve got and in that way we’re enjoying each and every adventure.

One such adventure was enjoyed by Janet and Eilish on Sunday when we cycled a section of the Waterford Greenway and took a small detour to Clonea Beach, where we had a very pleasant swim and a picnic before returning home and all this before lunchtime! A longer adventure involved two keen cyclists cycling from Carriganore to Dungarvan – around trip of 83 kms – on a very calm day, perfect for cycling. 

I can attest that there is no more pleasant way to spend a morning or afternoon (or indeed a full day) cycling on a greenway with friends, safe from the madness of traffic, and promoting a good cause while we cycle. All of Team Ireland wish Story on Bikes a safe and very enjoyable event and perhaps this remote challenge will be the start of many more opportunities for remote connecting.

Photo Exhibition Premiere

Thanks to a generous donor, we now have a collection of mounted photographs of life and work in Malawi, with an emphasis on girls’ education of course. We are delighted to be able to show some of these photos for the first time as cafés and other venues reopen. The Wonder Spot café in Stockbridge, Edinburgh has made us very welcome and we love how these photos look in their art space. The photos can be seen by those in the café (take-away only just now) but also from the street. We’ve chosen bright and cheery photos from the collection to add positivity to the street as we all emerge from lockdown.

The selection and editing of the photos was achieved only because of the help of our photographic volunteer, Sue Dumbleton. In an organisation with minimal paid staff, the contribution of volunteers like Sue is essential to creative work like this. 

The Mamie Martin Fund and Black Lives Matter

Our charity is inspired by the legacy of Mamie and Jack Martin, who worked in Nyasaland in the 1920s.  When we look back at that time, we can find racist and paternalistic attitudes which do not sit easily with our views today and it is important to acknowledge that. However, when we read Mamie and Jack’s story through their own words, we see them learning the local languages, making friends amongst their communities, and working hard to better the lives of their new friends. They stood together with local couples at the baptism of Margaret in 1927, at a service taken by a black minister.  

The Mamie Martin Fund stands in solidarity with all those who fight racism and we appreciate these words from the joint statement of 11 June 2020 by the Malawi-Scotland Partnership and the Scotland-Malawi Partnership:

Scots and Malawians stand in friendship and mutual solidarity, as partners and equals. 

Black lives matter, in Scotland, Malawi and everywhere. It is important to keep saying this, but even more important to act.  If Black lives matter, we cannot accept a world in which each Malawian earns, on average, 100 times less than each Scot ($389 GDP per capita, compared to $38,606).  

As two networks, organisations and friends, there is much more we can do, and we hope to – led by this spirit of dignified, two-way, people-to-people partnerships.

In the Mamie Martin Fund, we take a stand against poverty and inequality by supporting the education of girls and we are grateful to our donors and supporters who help us to do continue this work.

Mamie Martin Fund at the Ministerial roundtable

Mariot reported on our Cameron girls, the 45 girls who are being supported through their secondary education with the help of Scottish Government funding. We call them the Cameron girls because their funding was set up in recognition of the many years of service to Malawi by Colin and Alison Cameron.

On June 25th this year, Mariot Dallas, one of our Convenors, represented MMF at a roundtable meeting with Jenny Gilruth, MSP and Minister for Europe and International Development. The purpose of this meeting was to give the Minister a quick update on projects in Malawi which have received Scottish Government funding.

Mariot explained  to the Minister how significant secondary education is to girls in Malawi and the impact on their future health and security. This discussion was well supported by findings of research conducted for MMF by Edinburgh University Masters student, Anna Freidenfeld.

Six other charities were at the meeting and it was interesting to note  that challenging poverty and inequality through education was a common theme with many of them. The Minister herself has a teaching background and her questions and comments were encouraging and supportive.