My name is Mary Waters (nee Wylie) and I live in Wiltshire. I wasn’t born in Kinlochard but I spent two wonderful years in Kinlochard and have brilliant memories of living and working there.
It was 1970; I was eighteen, straight out of school, rather timid and hoping to go to Teachers’ Training College in Ayr after the summer holidays. My friend, Isobel, and I found employment in Forest Hills Hotel and arrived on a cold, grey day only to be told off for using the main entrance. ‘Staff entrance at the back,’ said the rather stern receptionist and so we scurried around and were met at the back door by Mr Davies, who was manager at the time, or perhaps he was the owner; I don’t think we ever knew! He and his wife were not the easiest of employers and doted on Una, their golden Labrador.
I was set to work in the plate room, with Jeannie McKay, a lovely lady with a great sense of humour and a cigarette permanently lodged under her top lip. Her husband, Charlie, was the gardener and van driver and loved to tell stories of his time in the Navy. They had a grandson, John, who lived with them. He adored animals and, when I was working there in December, I took him on to Glasgow on my day off. We were walking down West Nile Street when he saw a butcher shop, with dead turkeys hanging outside. ‘Murderers,’ he screamed. ‘You killed those birds.’ I had to drag him away, tears flowing down his cheeks.
He spent a lot of time with Walter, who was the Laird, a magnificent character in black shirt and tartan trews; absolutely terrifying too! He once brought a stoat into the kitchen to show me and was soon chased off by Charlie, who had no fear of him. I was told that Walter loved his hawks so much that he kept dead mice in his fridge. The mice were too tough for the birds to chew and so he would soften them up by chewing them first himself. I believed it then but now, I’m not so sure. I loved reading Ian McDonald’s accounts of his experiences with Walter and wished we had all talked about that sort of thing more often.
Hotel life was never easy, although we partied almost as hard as we worked. The following year I returned, with a different friend, Margaret, and we got to know a few more locals this time. When we could, we would scurry down to the Altskeith for a drink. I can’t remember the names of the couple who ran it then but they were large in both stature and character. There was a wonderful atmosphere there and there would often be singing when someone turned up with an accordion. Peter Smith, the local Gamekeeper could play; I believe he and his wife also had a baby that year. Goodness, it’s scary to think that that baby will be 43 now!
We met people like the brothers, Ian and Alistair McDonald. I was sad to hear that Alistair has died; he was a typical ‘gentle giant’ and loved by all who met him. Sadly, one of my memories is me being very sick down his back when he and Ian gave us a lift back to Forest Hills after having far too much to drink in the Altskeith! There was much banter when a new staff member arrived, called Kathleen Campbell - it seems that those old rivalries still existed then, only in fun of course.. Both brothers were larger than life and we had much fun with them and others, including Andrew MacGregor, who lived in a house called the Tea Pot; Eric Wilson, who was the postman and another one who had a fancy sports car, I think he may have been called Alistair as well. We all went to a couple of cedilhs in the Village Hall, where I remember Andrew and me trying to dance but mostly walking around the hall! It’s easy to look back at the past with rose-coloured memories but I don’t remember any nastiness at all; we all just had fun.
A few years ago I returned to Scotland and drove up to Kinlochard. I had a drink at the Altskieth, which had just been sold, but never ventured to the Forest Hills. I think I was hoping that I may bump into a few old faces and thought that more likely in our old meeting place. No-one was around and then I realised how much time had passed; would we have recognised each other anyway?
I do realise that, for me, this was two brilliant years that helped me grow up and gain confidence, whereas for the people I remember it was just two short years out of their lives; they probably have no memory of me at all. But thank you Kinlochard, thanks for the beautiful scenery, the long walks I took, in all weathers, just because I loved the place so much and most of all, for the memories.
Memories of Kinlochard - Mary Waters