Annie Margaret Johnstone is a “weel-kent” face in Gatehouse and has been a pillar of community life for decades.
She came into the world on September 19, 1934, on the same day as Brian Epstein, manager of The Beatles.
And it has certainly been A Long and Winding Road for Dumfriesshire-born Annie Margaret.
Life began at Broomhills near Wamphray, a small village between Lockerbie and Moffat.
Her father Andrew Sloan ran the small dairy farm and was an air raid precautions (ARP) officer during the war.
Two boys from Glasgow stayed at Broomhills for a time after being evacuated from the city.
“My mother looked after them and all I can remember is that they wet the bed,” Annie Margaret recalled.
“But I nearly wasn’t here at all after what happened to my father in the First World War.
“He was in the Ayrshire Yeomanry and got badly wounded.
“He got thrown in the cart along with the dead people because they thought he had died.
“But just as they were putting him in a black bag he gave a wee wriggle.
“He survived and lived until he was 90.”
Annie Margaret started school in days when children thought nothing of going a distance on foot.
“I walked two and a half miles from Broomhills to Wamphray School and back every day,” she explained.
“That was quite a lot for a wee five-year-old lassie.
“I remember when I was wee I would have to take a jam sandwich out to my father and the farm hand Alf when they were hand-milking in the byre.
“I would only be about three and that was my first job, taking them out a jammy piece first thing in the morning.
“Then when they were ploughing with the Clydesdales I would put my wellies, hat and gloves on and follow them up and down the field.”
After attending Lockerbie and Dumfries High Schools, Annie Margaret entered Kirkcudbright Academy aged 13 after Andrew brought the family to Redfield at Twynholm.
“Every October we had the tattie holiday when all the children went to farms round about to help lift the tatties,” said Annie Margaret.
“Some mornings it was gey frosty and your hands were frozen.
“The machine had gone along the drills to dig up the tatties and we worked along and put them in baskets.
“It was very hard work.
“I helped with the hay too and remember one scorching hot day standing on top of the rucks.
“The men would fork the hay up to you and you would get more hay on if you trampled it down.”
Annie Margaret left school aged 15 and started work at Redfield full-time.
Her father’s WW1 service left him with a love and respect for horses because the Ayrshire Yeomanry was a mounted regiment.
He passed on that bond to his daughter, who even as a young girl enjoyed working with horses and ponies.
“At Broomhills we had a wee Shetland pony called Penny Come Quick,” recalled Annie Margaret.
“If you shouted on her she would come nearly up to you and then turned round and reversed.
“You had to watch or she would kick out.
“At Redfield I had my first pony, Bobby. There was Prince Charlie as well but Negro was my best one.
“He was a super pony. He didn’t like jumping but weaving between the poles in the bending races at gymkhanas he was great.
“We competed in all gymkhanas, near and far, even over to Stoneykirk, and won a lot of prizes.
“I was in the Stewartry Young Riders and we did displays all over.
“One was in front of the Queen at Stranraer Show when I was about 17.
“There were a lot of ponies about at that particular time.”
Things didn’t always go according to plan at big events especially if a mistake had been made in getting the pony ready.
“At one Dumfries Show me and Negro were in the final of the bending race after winning our heat,” said Annie Margaret.
“But it turned out that I had not tightened the saddle properly and during the race Negro suddenly started kicking up.
“He knew something wasn’t right and I fell off with a clatter and he jumped clean out of the ring.
“I think it was a fellow that entertained at Auchenlarie that caught him.
“He had a limp but I can’t remember his name.
“The year would have been about 1950.”
Health and safety wasn’t part of the planning when going away to compete in equestrian events at weekends.
“There were quite a few horsey folk about Twynholm in those days,” said Annie Margaret.
“We would hire a lorry and go to gymkhanas together.
“We stood beside the horses in back of the float.
“You would never get away with that nowadays.”
Annie Margaret and other club members would practice their Stewartry Young Riders displays for gymkhanas at local farms.
“You had to follow each other very closely in a line,” she recounted.
“One time the horse in front of me kicked up its hind legs and broke my shin bone.
“I lay all night with it broken before we got the doctor.
“I was glad it was my leg that got broken and not Negro’s because we know what happens to horses that break a leg.
“I was off for a while but that year there was foot and mouth so I would not have got practising anyway.”
In the 1950s every town and village hall was holding dances which forbye being social occasions were often where young couples first met.
So it was for Annie Margaret Sloan and Billy Johnstone, a young herdsman from Dromore in the hill country above Gatehouse.
“I met Billy at a Jimmy Shand old time dance at Castle Douglas Town Hall,” Annie Margaret said.
“We were married on May 18, 1956 and moved to Culreoch Farm on Cally Estate, where Billy was the shepherd for Mrs Murray-Usher.
“I could not take my pony with me when I got married.
“We were living in a cottage and could not keep a pony.
“I fair missed my horse.”
When Annie Margaret’s eldest daughter was three months old the young family moved to Dromore, then part of Kirkdale and Cardoness Estate.
Four more children followed and the well-set house on the hillside above the River Fleet was the family home for 31 years.
Billy looked after hefted blackfaced ewes which meant they knew where to graze and where to shelter, just as their predecessors before them.
“Winters were very bad up there,” said Annie Margaret.
“Once we were snowed in for a week and I remember one lambing in early May, Billy was digging the wee things out of the snow.
“When he came in he wanted a dram but the whisky ran down his chin because his face was frozen.
“That’s the only time I saw Billy not able to take a dram!
“Sometimes when he was out in the snow and dark I would get worried.
“But he always came back.”
A member of the Scottish Women’s Rural Institute since the age of 15, Annie-Margaret learned the art of home baking at her mother May’s apron strings.
“My mother was a great baker,” she said. “I picked up all my tips from her. At the school you got domestic science and you were baking then as well.
“My speciality was girdle scones, potato scones and pancakes and I still bake them yet.
“We used to make our own butter and we always had buttermilk which made a big difference to the soda scones.
When the children were older, Annie Margaret managed the tourist information centre in Gatehouse for a number of years.
Meanwhile, her skills as a baker were making her something of a local legend.
“I won baking cups at Gatehouse Horticultural Show 22 times, Borgue Show 20 times and Kirkcudbright Horticultural Show several times,” said Annie Margaret.
“Once a lady from South Yorkshire visited Borgue Flower Show while on holiday.
“After returning home she wrote a letter requesting recipes for scones.
“The address she put on her letter was ‘Mrs Johnstone, The Best Scone Baker, Horticultural Show, Borgue, Kirkcudbrightshire, Scotland’!
“The letter eventually arrived after being delivered to another Mrs Johnstone.
“I replied to the letter with the recipes she wanted.
“The lady, Elizabeth Bate, came to visit me while on holiday the following year.
“I hope she is still making scones and pancakes to my recipes.”
Always active, Annie Margaret represented the Stewartry at carpet bowling, green bowling and stadium bowling.
Even today, a month before her 86th birthday, she bakes regularly and remains vice-president of the Gatehouse Horticultural
Annie Margaret holds no great secrets to remaining fit and active in later years.
“I don’t drink and take life as it comes,” she said.
“I enjoyed sporting activities and being very competitive helped too, I suppose!”