The kindness of strangers leaves a lasting mark

By Moira Billinge

Mary and I were awaiting the results of our midwifery finals and our tension levels were measuring epic proportions in the lead-up to results day, so we decided to book a week’s holiday on Skye. Neither of us had ever been to Scotland and the internet, Google, satellite navigation and mobile phones, did not exist in those days – and nor did the bridge connecting the mainland to Skye.

Caution was given a free rein as we set out with absolutely no idea of where we might stay; on our very tight student budgets, bed and breakfast would be the best bet. With my hopeless sense of direction, I happily delegated the route-planning to Mary who assumed the responsibility like a girl guide. Amazingly, we arrived without mishap on Skye and quickly managed to locate a reasonable B&B.

The following day, with rucksacks on our backs, we set off to explore the beautiful island.

It was early on a Sunday morning and this being an era when hitch-hiking was an acceptable and safe mode of transport, we got a lift on the back of an open-topped truck to Portree. As we wandered around, we noticed it was pretty deserted. We thought that the townsfolk probably didn’t wake up until later in the day so we weren’t too worried. The town didn’t come to life, however. None of the shops opened and ominous black clouds were hovering above us. We tried to find a B&B but they all had ‘closed’ signs on the front. A passer-by informed us: ‘Everywhere in Skye is closed on Sundays.’

We duly sat on a bench by a war memorial and discussed how we were going to get food and where we could sleep that night. An elderly gentleman approached us and said, ‘I’ve been listening to you, girls. You’ve nowhere to stay tonight, have you?’ He confirmed that we would not get accommodation on a Sunday, and then went on to say: ‘I have a house outside Portree and you’re very welcome to come and stay with me.’

These really were different times, and stranger danger wasn’t part of our vocabulary. We could remain hungry and sleep on the bench in the rain, or accept his offer. We chose the latter and he drove us to his home in Achachork where he provided us with a meal. Next morning we awoke to the amazing smell of a cooked breakfast and a packed lunch. At his invitation, we returned that evening and received the same wonderful hospitality. Before we left this lovely, kind man, we tried, as tactfully as we could, to give him some money for our stay but he refused and said: ‘I just wanted to look after you both.’ What a special experience that was.

At the end of our holiday, we journeyed to Edinburgh to discover that we couldn’t get a train home for another nine hours. We must have looked miserable, because a lady approached and asked if we had a problem and then immediately invited us to have a meal with her at her house. After a magnificent dinner she transported us back to the station. 

There are some who enter our lives and leave an indelible imprint on our hearts – like those two wonderful people whose kindness I will never forget. And kindness has wings because God can never be outdone in generosity, and honours every loving deed, a hundredfold.

‘For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me into your house.’ (Matthew 25:35–36)