August 1973. Paul and I had spent the summer cycling around Scotland. We'd been on a week's field course with school near Whitby and had taken our bikes with us. When the week was over we loaded them with tent, stove and sleeping bags and headed north.
Some great memories: crossing the Erskine Bridge; a rather damp camp in Glen Orchy; the long haul up to Rannoch Moor which resulted in the trip's only dismount, not bad considering my lowest gear was 48/28 – oh for that leg-strength of youth now; descending through Glencoe in the rain to a hot shower at the Forestry Commission campsite, which was an unbelievably pleasant change from cold river washing; the Ballachulish Ferry – no bridge in those days.
Across Loch Leven and more memories: the commando memorial at Spean Bridge; eventually, after many days spent on it, leaving the A82; Paul's pair of punctures at Dornie ahead of spending the night overlooking Eilean Donan Castle; a pint in the Islander in Kyle of Lochalsh before getting the ferry to Skye – again, no bridge in those days.
More rain and the world's largest, most voracious, midges; the ferry back to Mallaig on the mainland; Glenfinnan before the Harry Potter-induced crowds; navigating through Glasgow and Kilmarnock to my aunt and uncle's place in Hurlford.
We had about ten days to occupy with Sadie and Jimmy in Hurlford before mum and dad would be arriving to collect us, so we filled the time with a few day or evening rides. One evening saw us head south on the A76, past the bing of the closed colliery and on though Mauchline, before forking left at the war memorial heading towards Catrine where we crossed the River Ayr. We crossed it again as we entered Sorn and passed the Sorn Inn on our right which sowed a seed. A short time later and a short distance further along the road found us locking our bikes together and leaning them against the end wall of the Greyhound.
We were probably served with our illicit, under-age pints of Younger's Tartan by Davie Rogers as he had the place in the seventies, but the pub goes back a lot further than that. Back to 1782 if the sign that used to be attached to the wall is to be believed.
The earliest that I've managed to track it back to is the mid-1850s. The 1855-7 Ordnance Survey Ayrshire Namebook gives the occupier as John Sommerville and describes the Greyhound Inn thus: "This is the principle house of entertainment in Sorn." I have to say that entertainment didn't seem to be much in evidence early on a midweek evening in 1973 though. The census of 1851 shows him as previously having been an innkeeper in Kirkconnel and ten years earlier he was earning his living there as a toll keeper and spirit dealer.
Whilst John Sommerville is the earliest innkeeper that I've managed to discover, this is the earliest photograph that I've found. It is likely to have been taken when William McKie had the place. Slater's 1878 directory shows him being there as do the censuses of 1881 and 1891.
William died in 1897 and the running of the hotel passed to his widow Isabella evidenced by the entry in a local directory of 1903.
By the time we get to the 1930s Thomas Brodie and his wife Bessie are in residence. The picture below shows Bessie with daughter Jenny in the doorway. The pub is still thatched and the building next door was the Sorn Constitutional Club. The sign over the door with the name on is dated 1832. This building would eventually be incorporated into the Greyhound as the Cedar Room which was used to house parties and other functions.
Moving on to the early 1960s and it would've been either Ralph or Jean Findlay who would've poured your pint of heavy.
They were followed by the aforementioned Davie Rogers. As well as probably being guilty of serving a couple of under-aged English kids he is rumoured to have also been responsible for installing a chip vending machine in the building's gable end in the late '60s. I don't recall it being there as we locked our bikes, but then I probably wouldn't have recognised it for what it was even if I had noticed it. It certainly wouldn't have been there when this sign writing was put up.
In the 1980s the Greyhound experienced a change of name. Whilst it was being run by Mavis Urquhart with her brother Jim it became the Urquhart Arms. Quite how long it continued suffering from this act of apparent immodesty I don't know but it reverted to the Greyhound at some point after their departure.
After our departure, without chips, we wound our way back to Hurlford via Galston. With the passing of the intervening half century it's probably no surprise to hear that Sadie and Jimmy are no longer around. Regular readers (ha ha ha!) may well have come across the fact that, sadly, neither is Paul who succumbed to a leiomyosarcoma, a cancer so rare that he'd never come across a case in over thirty-five years as a GP. The Greyhound has gone too, closing for the final time in 1992. This picture, a composite of two images taken shortly after closure, shows the former Constitutional Club as the pub's Cedar Room.
With a couple of houses having been built on the old car park the former Greyhound itself now provides yet another two.
I have cycled around the Ayrshire lanes since that 1973 trip and hopefully will do so again when things return to normal. I won't be quaffing a pint of, age-legal, Tartan in the Greyhound though. Or even in the Sorn Inn. Whilst it's still in existence it's no longer a pub in my eyes. It can call itself a gastropub but the sorrowful reality for Sorn is that it's a restaurant with a bar. I might even feature it in the future. Watch this space!
Mike Nass's 'Monster Midge' is copyright and reused under this license.
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