THEY had lain in the attic for 30 years, the scribbled snapshots, thoughts and reflections of times long since past.

Each a frozen moment, bound in words committed to paper, folded, sealed, stamped, sent, delivered, and, eventually set aside in a box. A trove of faded memories and fresh surprises, a reverie in waiting for a rainy day.

It was on the steady willing of my mother that I eventually cleared my corner of the loft in our family home in Kilmacolm, Renfrewshire, last year, a long-dodged task strewn with sentimental sink-holes.

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My sisters' first dolls, my bag of bashed Dinky cars, the Inter City 125 Hornby train set, boxes of folders crammed with obsolete study notes and old suitcases spilling over with piles of photographs.

Among the haul, back there with my treasured Dukes of Hazzard Scalextric set, was a box that once contained a pair of 1980s Hi-Tec football boots, now stuffed with envelopes, each one bearing handwriting as unique as a fingerprint.

More than 100 letters sent across a decade from a point in childhood when I’d first been taken by the enjoyment of writing and the novelty of receiving personal mail, until my late teens when I left for university where the internet took hold and email did for writing letters what CDs had done for vinyl, and what Facebook eventually did for birthday cards.

There were names I could remember but never met and others I assumed long-dead and the prospect of finding some of the others was immediately tantalising.

The results can be heard on Tuesday on a documentary I made with producer Gus Beattie for BBC Radio Scotland called Lost Letters.

I identified four of my most memorable correspondents, none of whom were on social media, and set out to meet them.

First on my quest, was Port Glasgow boy Stephen O’Rourke. We’d been matched by our sisters who become pals at St Stephen’s High, in anticipation of their younger brothers starting secondary with a ready-made friendship.

Stephen’s letters were brilliantly evocative of boyhood, sharing tales of family holidays, school projects, football, daft drawings and jokes. A dozen letters passed between us paving the way, before disaster struck.

My intended ally for life at the Big School ended up at St Aloysius in Glasgow. Our paths never crossed and the foundations of our friendship mothballed.

Earlier this year, a word of mouth search turned up an email address from a mutual friend, even though contacting Stephen by email felt somehow at odds with the purpose of the exercise.

His response was faster than first class, and a date was set for us to meet – finally – at his home in Edinburgh, three decades after our last letter.

I discovered that Stephen was now an advocate, wrote fiction as a hobby and has had several newspaper articles published over the years.

The serendipity of us both working with the written word formed part of our conversation in his family home, a conversation which went on late into the night.

“It’s quite amazing seeing these," Stephen 41, said, when I presented him with words from his past.

“It’s like a picture into a world of a person that I can’t even remember. I talk about having a sense of loneliness and there’s maybe a truth there, as a young person.

“Written correspondence is a vehicle for friendship and we were trying to write letters that conveyed some meaning, that revealed truths about ourselves and what was going on in our lives,” he said. “And I think that art of writing, the reflection and trust it engenders is important. I’m only sorry we never did get to school. We’d have seen each other every day. But it’s great to meet now, after all these years.”

My meeting with Stephen made me realise that a bond, however untended and fragile, still existed between us. We had friends and memories in common, and even with differences in politics, geography and lifestyle, there was enough there that these pen pals might now just be ‘pals’.

I’d reconnected with Stephen via word of mouth, but reconnecting with my old pen pal Maria Molloy, from Cranhill in Glasgow, was far more difficult.

Maria and I wrote after I’d placed an advert in The Celtic View in 1987, looking for other young Celtic fans to correspond about our favourite team.

I received a crop of letters and entered into communication with one or two, but Maria’s stylish handwriting, snappy wording and gently reassuring big-sisterly tone made her my favourite. We wrote to each other for two years, gradually fizzling out by 1990.

Using public record searches, I made two false starts, pursuing two other Maria Molloys, one of whom I discovered now lived in Gourock, Inverclyde.

I went to Maria’s old address, Skerryvore Road, but the houses had long since been demolished.

A deeper search eventually revealed a Maria Bond, formerly Molloy, now living in Lossiemouth, Moray.

Cold-calling this Maria at home, I delivered the big build up, relishing this surprise ambush from the past.

She was indeed the girl from Skerryvore Road.

But she barely remembered me.

Nevertheless, we arranged to meet the following week in Elgin. By then, some memories had come back to the 42-year-old ambulance technician and mother-of-four of writing to a boy from Kilmacolm about football, who’d sent her photographs of himself, freckly with big red hair (her words).

She knew me after all.

Maria’s life had taken her all over the country after leaving Cranhill in her teens, but her memories of childhood were scant, photographs fewer still.

Seeing her letters again, the picture of her with her dog Sam, her talk of Andy Walker scoring hat-tricks in Celtic’s centenary season, of her family in Donegal, took her to a place I sensed she’d long left behind.

“I seem quite a confident writer, positive and maybe even a little bit overt, and I’m surprised at that because I wasn’t, or I didn’t think I was,” she said, alluding to a tough childhood.

“I must have enjoyed writing, but I didn’t have a lot else to do,” she said, laughing. “Don’t take that as an insult. Writing letters was probably just something to do.”

Maria’s early letters included talk about her favourite bands (Wet Wet Wet and Rick Astley), and her hopes for a holiday in Ireland.

Hilariously, she’d also given me a dummy date of birth, something she now laughingly puts down to her 13-year-old self hinting for a birthday card the following month as a test of my pen-pal commitment.

“They’re like a snapshot of who I was at that time,” she said. “I don’t have many photos from then, and I don’t think my mum and dad would have kept many. So it’s really cool to see them.”

My first pen pal was my dad Jack’s best childhood chum, George O’Neill.

George had forged a career as a footballer, playing for teams such as Partick Thistle and Dunfermline in the 1960s and 70s, before emigrating to America where he signed for the Philadelphia Atoms and won caps for the US national team. Clearly impressed, I adopted George as a pen pal, aged eight.

George and his Irish wife Nora returned to his home in Port Glasgow many times. On one such visit he took me to Celtic Park, where I met Charlie Nicholas, later mailing the photographs once he'd returned home.

Correspondence passed between us for a decade or so. Holiday postcards still do.

Holding George’s par avion envelopes again, I remembered how I used to look at them long after they'd been opened, studying the stamps and frank marks, trying to feel the distance they'd travelled between his home and our letterbox.

I’d met with George many times since our writing days, but had never asked how he felt about our correspondence until we met in New York in April.

“It was almost as if I was writing to your father because your father and I grew up together playing in the street,” he said, having reread his early letters to a child across the Atlantic. “You’d be asking about what was happening here and telling me what was going on at home. My mother would write to me and then I’d get something else from you. I’d say to myself, ‘Crikey, I don’t hear from anybody else.’ Some guys would call, but it was always nice getting a letter, because someone had actually sat down and put their thoughts together on a sheet of paper and sent it out there. That was exciting to me too.”

Among the familiar names, was one pen pal who stood out from the rest, not least because what I discovered in her letters all these years later, took my breath away as if it had been sent to me that morning.

Patsy Spruyt was the landlady of the holiday house my family rented in St Brelade, Jersey, for several summers in the mid 1980s.

The wife of vicar Father John, Patsy was a diamond, who took my sisters and me on adventures across the island, surfing, fishing and metal detecting, adopting a seagull (George) and playing quoits in the garden.

In her 60s, she wrote me beautiful, perfectly pitched letters for 10 years as I grew up and as she moved between family homes in the Channel Islands and Tasmania.

Her last letter in 1994 sounded a note of resignation, speaking of her husband’s death and her determination to move to back to Australia, from where I didn’t hear from her again.

Folded into that last letter along with some final photographs and the acknowledgment that she’d just missed my 18th birthday, was a tenner.

Somehow, I’d missed it.

“I forgot you were a May baby,” she’d written. “Well, not a baby now, ha ha. Get something with the enclosed.”

Here, 23 years later, was a new gift from a voice long silent in my Hi-Tec box.

Long silent that is, until my mother reminded me that “Patsy” was Mrs Spruyt’s nickname.

Patsy’s first name was, in fact, Hannah.

And a public record search revealed a 91 year old Hannah Spruyt, living in The Cotswolds.

A coincidence? An out of date record? Or one last surprise from that box in the attic?

You’ll have to listen to find out.

Lost Letters with Paul English, BBC Radio Scotland, Tuesday 25 July, 1.30pm.