"I was once told of an old wooden bridge that can be found on a beaten walker's track in a place called Kinlochbervie, the most northerly port in Scotland. Over the years, the bridge has come to be known as the 'Love Bridge.' Kinlochbervie is virtually the last place you come to before falling into the sea. It is 60 miles from the nearest supermarket and both its cinema and bank arrives to serve their customers on the back of a lorry. It was even short-listed by the Oxford English Dictionary as a definition of the word 'Remote.'
Kinlochbervie is home to a variety of people from all walks of life. Some, who are famous in their own spheres of interest, came there for its tranquil atmosphere and thousands of acres of unspoiled highland countryside, wonderful beaches, and fascinating wildlife. Even the weather is said to be far easier on the lungs than the rest of Scotland. Most of the people born there will stay there if any work presents itself and readjust to modest living, while those who leave because of the absence of work and move elsewhere, never lose touch with its beauty, the image of which, forever remains with them in their hearts and minds.
Like many a secluded part of the rustic countryside, the people born there have their own traditions and rules that distinguish them from other places on the map. One of their proud boasts is that marriage is usually for life, be it good or bad in its contract making. Before you run off with the idea of all the people of Kinlochbervie being good people of sound moral principle, allow me to pull you back with the cord of reality. Whereas it is true in most cases, that marriage is for life, in situations where the relationship doesn't work out to the satisfaction of both parties in Kinlochbervie, one usually winds up dead anyway; invariably in suspicious circumstances! One would find it hard to believe how easy it is to be walking the edge of the cliffs on a fine summer's day, when suddenly, the ground beneath one's feet makes one lose balance and stumble, and the rambler falls to their death. Naturally, when such fortuitous accidents occur, there is no evidence that the marriage partner to the deceased was present during those fatal moments, and the one bobby on the beat never seeks to establish any suspect nor disprove any alibi. You see, simply living in Kinlochbervie is in itself an alibi!
Allow me to take you back to the year 1964 and the old wooden bridge, where we began. Each year, there will be rarely one week goes by when a rose of remembrance is not fastened to the top strut of the bridge in recognition of someone's past love.The roses are of many shades and colours, from the lightest of pinks to the deepest crimson, the darkest purple and even black. The flower of remembrance fastened to the wooden rail is always a single rose, there being no other bloom to suffice that speaks so clear its message.
One year, a botanist called Charles Gotyah went to Kinlochbervie to research the flowers and plant life there for a book he intended to write. Naturally, to complete his research, Charles used to spend up to six or seven hours daily walking across moorland, up hill and down dale to locate as many plant species as possible. Most of his evenings would be spent in the local pub talking to the all the older men and women there who'd often tell him where precisely to look for this type of plant or that sort of flower and heather. Charles found the oldest residents of Kinlochbervie to be his greatest asset in completing the research for his book.
On August 10th, 1964, during one of his daily walks, Charles occasioned to cross the old wooden bridge for the first time, and in the centre of the top rail was fastened a single rose of off white and subtle pink. Even the leaves of the stalk it was attached to were beautiful in their own right. There were three leaves of dark green and one of rustic red that set off the rose offering to perfection. It was obvious to Charles that the single rose was a flower symbolising someone's lost love, a floral offering that had been suitably placed on the 'Love Bridge' in remembrance on the anniversary of their death.
Over the remaining eleven months of his stay in Kinlochbervie, Charles was to see many a single rose fastened to the rail of the wooden bridge. Most would be red in shade while some would be white, some yellow, and quite a few in peach. The old timer's in the pub would frequently ask him where his travels had taken him that day and what he'd seen. Often, when Charles told them about another single rose he'd seen fastened to the wooden bridge, some villager would know who'd placed it there, along with the name of the deceased person remembered and the known circumstances of their death.
Charles was fascinated with their depth of knowledge of anything to do with community life in and around Kinloichbervie. It was as though the movement of every person in the small village, where, when, who with and with what purpose was common knowledge between the church and the pub. Between them, Charles could always find some villager who could identify the remembered person by the colour of the rose and the date of the anniversary it was seen attached to the wooden bridge. Also, he being familiar with the language of roses, he was able to build up a pretty accurate picture of the message of love their bereaved was communicating to their dearly departed with their message of love.
Charles knew that the rose is the most popular English flower of all. It has a much richer heritage of romance than any other flower ever grown on British soil. No single bloom has ever been used to convey so many different messages, which only the heart receiving knows the full meaning of. The most common interpretation of the rose's meaning is one of deep affection and love. A single red rose communicates unchanging and everlasting love; a love of eternal devotion.
A single white rose conveys the message of innocence purity and peace. The villagers told Charles that when Dave Bradbury first married, he was pleased to have selected a pure and chaste woman with no blemish in her past. Though she was a mighty attractive wife, she could never quite bring herself to embrace 'doing it'. Hence the marriage was never consummated. Whatever her husband Dave did in his efforts to improve their relationship, nothing worked. Four years into their marriage, his wife Prudence poisoned herself on some dodgy mushrooms that she ate. Six months after her funeral, Dave Bradbury married a buxom milkmaid and they had six healthy children to their union. Each year, Dave places a white flower of remembrance on the 'Love Bridge' and wishes that she now knows peace.
Charles brushed up on his learning regarding the messages conveyed by a single rose. He learned that the shade of burgundy meant an unconscious love, and such a rose might be left by a secret love who never declared their feelings for the other person before they died. Dark crimson was a shade of mourning and would be used by those who were still grieving their loss and were unable to emotionally move on with their life. A single yellow rose signifies happiness and love.This shade was often left by a person who had emotionally moved on in their life after the death of a loved one, and who celebrated their good fortune of having been together every anniversary. One of the saddest roses Charles ever saw fastened to the bridge was a single black rose. Black roses communicate the end of a relationship; they effectively say 'It's all over.' Whenever Charles saw a black rose fastened to the bridge, he knew that would be the last time that deceased person would be remembered by the other person on their anniversary.
The only shade of rose he never saw repeated throughout the same year was the very first white and pink he saw fastened to the top rail of the wooden bridge on August 10th. This rose became special and mysterious in the mind of Charles. It represented a unique experience than any of the others. None of the locals knew to whom it belonged or the person who'd placed it on the bridge. Indeed, the only thing that Charles could speculate on was its symbolic message of 'thankfulness and deep gratitude.'
This rose nagged at Charles, particularly the story behind its fastening. What was the person who placed it on the wooden bridge thankful for? From what nature of experience did their gratitude grow? Charles simply longed to know, so much so, that he decided to extend his stay in Kinlochbervie. During the eleven months he'd been there, he'd gathered enough material for the book he intended to write. Being homesick for his beloved Surrey, he might have easily gone home as soon as was possible, but the distinct shade of the white and pink rose and its mystery donor had captured his imagination and would occupy his mind until he'd unraveled the mystery and put the matter to rest. He decided to wait there another month.
To ensure that he did not miss seeing the secret rose donor of remembrance, he planned to sleep out in the entrance to one side of the wooden bridge on the night of August 9th; prior to the morning of the precise anniversary of when he first saw the unusual white and pink single rose fastened to the bridge. He would use a sleeping bag to fend off the cold. If the rose bearer came towards the narrow bridge from his end, then they'd have to step over him asleep to get to the centre of the bridge. And if they approached from the other end, he would be woken by the sound of their approaching footsteps on the wooden beams beneath their feet.
The very next morning around 6.30 am when most of the residents of Kinlochbervie were fast asleep, Charles was roused from his sleep by the sound of footsteps walking across the wooden bridge from the other end to where he was. The pace of the walk was slow and purposeful. Their lightness in sound indicated them to be that of a woman in sensible heels.
Charles looked up as he slowly extricated his body from the sleeping bag. The wooden bridge span was arched in its centre and until the person walking the other way had reached its highest point, Charles could not see them fully, nor them he. Fortunately for Charles, when the woman visitor arrived carrying a single rose of white and pink, she was so preoccupied with its fastening that she failed to spot him in the distance observing her.
Charles looked at the woman. She was aged in her 70's and had her hair tied in pigtails. The strange thing though was that her hair was as pure white as white could be. The woman was so preoccupied that as she continued to fasten her rose of remembrance, she carried on speaking as though Charles wasn't close by. In fact, she seemed to ignore his very presence as he approached her. As he neared, Charles heard the woman say to her dearly departed, 'Thank you for all you did, Frank. Your Sarah will love you forever and be forever grateful. Bye, my love.'
Thinking that the woman may have had been somewhat deaf, Charles went to tap her gently on the shoulder, but as he gently tapped her shoulder, he felt nothing of substance. It was as though his fingertips had cut through air. Without looking in his direction or even acknowledging his presence on the bridge, before Charles could tap her on the shoulder again, she turned and walked away, back towards the side of the bridge from which she'd come. Charles watched the woman walk towards the bridge's entrance, then suddenly, she vanished before his very eyes!
During his last night in the Tavern, Charles inquired from the oldest villagers there as to whom the rose of remembrance had been placed on the wooden bridge for and who was the woman who'd put it there. 'If anyone can tell you, it will be the old Toby there, the parish grave digger that was', one of the pub patrons told him.
Toby was 88 years old and although he'd given up digging graves in his 72nd tear of life, he still kept all the parish records on behalf of the vicar. Toby listened to Charles' tale and description of the woman visitor to the bridge with great interest.
'Can you tell me the name of the man remembered called Frank or the identity of the woman?' Charles asked Toby.
'I'm afraid I know of no Frank it could have been,' Toby replied adding, 'though it is the kind of mystery I won't be able to put down once you've got me to pick it up. Unfortunately, Sarah is not too uncommon a name 'round these parts! The one thing I do know is where to find out more tomorrow morning. If the anniversary of Frank's death was today, then the parish records may throw some light on it at the break of day tomorrow. I'll check the parish records for you before you head on back home across the border.'
The next morning, Charles met up with Toby at the Parish Church. Toby had arrived a good ten minutes before Charles and being highly curious to discover the identities, he'd already examined the records dating back twenty years. 'Are you sure you heard her say, 'Frank?' Toby asked. I've checked all the deaths on that anniversary date going back two decades and though they'd be thirteen folk who died on that particular day over the years, four men and nine women, the only name that comes within a mile of Frank is Fran. 'Could she not have said Fran?' Toby asked Charles again.
Charles replied, 'It's possible, I suppose.'
'For over seventy years, Charles,' Toby explained, 'two women named Sarah and Fran Southerby lived in the old cottage on the way out of Kinlochbervie. They never mixed with the locals and preferred their own company. In fact, in all the years I knew them, I never once had a conversation with them. They never went out without each other and no villager had ever seen them alone. All of us thought the sisters strange and some thought them very odd indeed. The best way to say it is to say it straight; if they weren't close sisters, they were closet sisters in sin; suspicious spinsters of the unnatural kind.'
'Five years ago, Sarah Southerby got stomach cancer and for the better part of a year, she lived in terrible pain with this incurable illness which had gone too far before it was discovered. Sarah pleaded with Doc Brooks to give her a deadly dose of morphine to end her life and pain, but the doctor refused outright, quoting the physician's creed of 'do the patient no harm.' Four days after the doctor had refused Sarah her wish to give her a morphine overdose, she was found dead. The post mortem revealed that Sarah had died from suffocation; probably by means of someone applying a pillow to her face and holding it down tight until she breathed her last. Fran Southerby refused to answer any police questions from start to finish and was subsequently found guilty at her trial in Edinborough High Court in 1959 of the murder of her lover, Sarah Southerby (who had seemingly changed her name by deed poll, fifty years earlier). She was hanged by the neck for the offence of murder on August 10th, 1960. The strange thing is that Sarah died on the very same day, precisely one year earlier to the day that Fran was hanged. And, now that I come to think of it, it was five years ago yesterday, August 10th when the first rose of that shade was fastened to the wooden bridge and has reappeared there every year since to the day!"
Charles looked gobsmacked and exclaimed, 'But however coincidental those dates are, what can it tell us? Surely you're not saying that the person visiting the 'Love Bridge' and placing the white and pink rose there for dead Fran Southerby was dead Sarah Southerby, are you?"
Toby simply smiled and replied, 'I'm saying nothing except what the parish records say and what the facts presented, along with the description you gave me, seem to suggest. And by the way, not that I want to sway your judgement, but during the last year of her life, Doc Brooks said that when he made home visits to see the dying Sarah, he found that her hair had turned from auburn to pure white and that Fran had started putting it up in pigtails for Sarah to remind her of her happy childhood.'
Later that day as Charles Gotyah travelled south back home to his cottage in Surrey, his mind could not come to terms with his experience on the 'Love Bridge' in Kinlochbervie nor with the explanation that the 88-year-old Toby had provided him with. It seemed fantastic; it was fantastic. Gotyah!" William Forde: October 11th, 2016.