Memories of Kinlochard - Ian McDonald
My name is lan McDonald and I and my brother Alistair grew up in Kinlochard. My parents were Donald and Margaret McDonald and I was born in Glasgow but after the war my parents moved to Kinlochard where my father became the warden of Ledard hostel. The first hostel that I remember, were several wooden huts up the hill behind Dolly Blacks house. My dad was very green fingered and soon had a garden going which helped to feed us all. My earliest memories are of me pushing a tiny wheel barrow behind my dad and his big wheelbarrow, round the vegetable plot followed by Rex the dog, a huge Alsatian bigger than me
Later, we moved into a very large house about a mile away down the loch which became Loch Ard Youth Hostel. I was led to believe that it had passed into the SYHA for the princely sum of £1. It was a marvellous place with a sweeping driveway, an old tennis court, landscaped gardens and stone steps laid out all the way up to the front of the house. It had French windows at the front which led into a large room with a parquet floor like a mini ballroom. Almost every Saturday night my parent's friends, aunts, uncles and cousins most of whom were cyclists and hostellers (in those days the two went together) would come out from Glasgow. The room would be cleared of furniture, and the dancing would begin! They were Scottish Country Dancing enthusiasts and with the aid of a wind up gramophone, they would dance till the wee sma' hours. We would creep down the circular staircase to the landing and watch them. This dancing would continue later in life in the village hall. The bug never leaves you and my wife and I still enjoy dancing to this day.
Around 1950 my dad gave up his job as a Hostel Warden and got a job with the Forestry Commission. We moved to a rented property in Duchray Forest to the west of Aberfoyle called Craigie Cottage. It's still there with an enormous Monkey Puzzle tree right outside the front door and I can remember the splendid isolation of it. A magical place when you're six or seven years old. With the forest behind us, the fields were farmed then, and Duchray Water ran right past the door. By this time I had a young brother Alistair and we would splash about in a large pool just below the house.
Going to school then was not easy. To get to Aberfoyle School I had to cross the river, walk through two fields and over a dyke to meet the school bus picking up pupils from further up the forest. Sometimes I would be late and I remember Billy Dixon from Aberfoyle Motors waiting patiently in a Bedford Dormobile, the school bus. The river is wide and fairly deep so a steel cable had been slung across, and suspended from it by trolley wheels, was a box just big enough for two people to sit in. An endless rope attached to both ends of the box passed through a pulley on each bank and over the box. The rope was then pulled and the box glided over to the far bank. This is how I went to school every morning! My mother came over as well of course and pulled herself back after waving me goodbye. can still remember hacking at the rope with a piece of wood to break the ice on frozen winter mornings! Somehow a picture of my mother sitting in the box and pulling on the rope appeared in an article about her in Woman magazine.
We lived at Craigie Cottage waiting for the first twelve forestry cottages to be built in Kinlochard. They're called Lochard Cottages but are in fact very well built two storey semi-detached houses. We moved into No. 5 as soon as they were finished. So soon in fact, that although the houses were completely wired, we had no electricity. The poles carrying the cables wouldn't reach us for a considerable time. Until then everyone became quite expert in the use of a Tilley lamp, carrying it from room to room if someone wanted to go somewhere! Food was cooked on a big steel range in the living room. The day of the big switch-on took on a party atmosphere; my dad got home first and had everything going, the radio (a huge box on legs in the corner) the cooker and all the lights in the house burning. Civilisation! The rest of the houses were soon under construction and would total twenty four in all.
By this time my parents had built a shop at the corner beside the big oak tree and the telephone box. It started off as a single wooden hut and would be expanded twice over the years to include a tea room at the back. I still have the original plans for it. We had the words "The Corner Shop painted in large black lettering on the back wall facing the Aberfoyle road. We sold general provisions and would eventually have a deep freeze selling frozen food and ice cream. The speciality for us kids in the summer was ice lollies. We made up a mixture of diluted orange juice in a jug and poured it into twelve moulds held in a holder, dropped in twelve wooden sticks and put it in the freezer for an hour. They sold for a penny each! During the summer months, tourist coaches on their way to Stronachlachar and Inversnaid would stop by and all hell would break lose as everyone would be called in to help serve the customers queuing outside the door!
I hesitate to mention my days at Kinlochard Primary School as I did not enjoy them. Even to this day, whenever enter a classroom and smell that peculiar smell, a mixture of chalk sweat and tears, I shudder. Our teacher appeared to single me out for her own brand of discipline and psychological therapy the reason for which I could only guess but had something to do with my parents. When I enter my grandchildren's classrooms in the present day, I am amazed at the walls which are generally covered in paintings and examples of their work, indeed the whole room is a riot of colour and play items stuffed in boxes and on shelves. It stimulates the imagination even for an adult and it appears an exciting place to come to every day. Not back then. In our classroom the walls were completely bare. No colour, pictures or adornments of any kind. Beyond the regimented rows of desks, a blackboard, and at the front the teacher's desk with the belt" in the top right hand drawer. Miss Watson required complete control. Later in life came a bit closer to understanding the reason for her dark behaviour, but as a small boy, she terrified me. I left to go to Aberfoyle Secondary at the end of primary seven.
My parents were very aware of what was going on and my mother, unbeknown to us at the time, arranged for my brother Alistair, who was five years younger than me, to go there as well. When I was older and would hear commentators talk about our wonderful Scottish education system I would think "have I missed something here?"
Away from school, Kinlochard was a wonderful place to grow up in. I could tell many stories of things we got up to. We would sneak into the big barn at Mill of Chon farm, climb up into the hay and slide down it for hours having great fun, until we were spotted, and then there would be a scramble for the exit which was a hole in the back wall, and make our escape! One time in the bar, we were surprised by a tremendous thudding sound from the pen next door which was separated from us by a high fence. We climbed up the fence and looked in to see two enormous Rams squaring off to each other. They both backed off for about twenty feet while all the other beasts kept well back, and then charged at each other connecting with a loud THUD! We watched this for about ten minutes and were in awe, as we had never witnessed such a spectacle before. The ground vibrated under our feet with the impact. How do their brains survive that punishment? Such is nature.
The millionaire Hugh Frazer of House of Frazer used to own the Forrest Hills Hotel and his son, also Hugh, would come out from Glasgow at weekends in the summer with some friends in an Aston Martin to water ski. He had a boat tied to a buoy offshore and they would spend hours skiing up and down the loch. We would hear the boat on a Saturday and go down to watch from the shore. Eventually we got to know him and would give them a hand with their gear at the end of the day. Thomas Godwin and I turned up one weekend to find him on his own, and he asked us if we would drive the boat for him while he skied behind! So we did, and Tommy was eventually given a try water skiing at the end of the rope! At the end of a great day he told us that he couldn't manage up the following week and would we like to take the boat out on our own. He gave us the keys and a container of petrol and told us to help ourselves!
Early the following Saturday, we unhitched the boat and set off. It was a beautiful little blue and white speedboat with four seats, a car steering wheel and an Austin Healy inboard engine and it went fast! We spent all day zooming here and zooming there, investigating every nook and cranny of the shoreline right down to the Milton. We used up all of the fuel, tied it up to the buoy and put the cover over it at the end of an incredible day! He was a very nice man Sir Hugh Frazer. I would follow his career for many years remembering those days whenever his name came up in the news. It was very sad that he died of cancer in 1987 at 50 years old.
During the summer holidays, we would sometimes go down to the shore in the bay where the Loch Ard Sailing Club is now, and swim off a little sandy beach. One beautiful sunny day we decided to be a bit more adventurous. A few yards away just upstream to where the River Chon enters the loch, is a boat house that belonged to Mr Hart. Mr Hart owned and ran the piggery at Mill of Chon. The site is long gone now and has had bungalows built on it. He always appeared to us to be a rather grumpy man but this didn't concern us we had our sights set on his rowing boat. We waded across the river which was quite shallow at that point, unhitched it and sailed it down the river and round into the bay. For the next couple of hours we had a whale of a time diving off it, including anybody's dog that happened to be there, splashing around and making a right old noise. Eventually, we pushed the boat back into the boathouse and tied it up again.
At the end of the day, we made our way home but on reaching the main road above the houses, who should be standing there but a policeman! I felt my blood run cold. A policeman was someone you never saw in Kinlochard and we knew instinctively that he was waiting for us! When we approached him he asked us what we had been doing and when we told him "Swimming" he asked us if we had been out in a boat! My knees were knocking as he commenced to lecture us on taking the boat without the owner's consent etc., etc., and all the time I'm thinking "please don't tell ma faither"! After lecturing us for about ten minutes he left, and we realised that Mr Hart must have called the police who had come all the way from Aberfoyle. It must have been obvious to him that it was just us kids that were in his boat, so maybe he was just making a point.
Other events from our childhood which stay in the memory are watching the sheep being dipped at the fank up the hill from the houses. Although it was destroyed years ago, you can still see the remains of it among the bracken. I can still see the poor sheep being pushed into the dipping channel where someone would force their heads under with a long forked pole to make sure that they were completely submerged in the sheep dip. They would then stagger up a ramp at the other end coughing and spluttering to drain off! A couple of times we went down to Drumlean Farm to help in a Pheasant and Grouse shoot. We joined a long line of beaters stretching away up the hill, flushing the birds out of the heather for which we were paid the princely sum of..... free sandwiches at lunch time! We had thought that we would be paid some money, but it never transpired!
Jock Harrow, whose wife Jenny used to run the Post Office, let Eric Wilson and I borrow his rowing boat one day with the intention of going fishing. We stocked up with food and bait and a couple of old fishing rods, rowed it out to the middle and allowed it to drift down the loch. It was a lovely day and we cast our hooks hoping for a nice catch. Suffice to say that we had no experience of serious fishing. We were casting worms on our hooks and nothing was happening. After many hours we ended up on a beautiful calm evening drifting down through the narrows into the Queens View above Milton and sat there seriously miffed as fish jumped all around us at the clouds of flies hovering above the water! Well, what did we know about fly fishing! We never got a single bite all day, don't fish like worms? Eventually we wrapped up and rowed all the way home with nothing to show for our endeavours. I don't think we ever went fishing again!
I can see that everyone is justifiably proud of the village hall with its extension and magnificent glass frontage. We, of course witnessed it being built. My dad was on the hall committee. We had whist drives, beetle drives and of course dances. Has anyone heard of summer ice? Someone started a club in the hall. I quote from an article in The Herald of March 2002 by Melanie Reid which can be found on their website.
Summer ice, the game that sounds like the title of a Robert Frost poem, is the indigenous sport of only four villages in the whole of Scotland: Gartmore, Buchlyvie, Kippen and Aberfoyle, all in West Stirlingshire. Once upon a time hundreds, perhaps thousands, played it: the folk living in villages stretching from Strathblane, north of Glasgow, to the wilds of Stronachlachar in the Trossachs. Once upon a time, perhaps, the whole of southern Scotland played it. Now there are only a handful of players left, perhaps 50 in total, and the majority of them quite elderly'
Well, we had a magnificent table 21 feet long and 33 inches wide which was highly polished, in fact we polished it before every session, and it was played to curling rules with half pound metal stones. When the table was not in use, it was turned on its side and clamped against the west wall. Where is that table now and is it still being played on?
One person who stood out in the community was our laird Walter Joynson. Walter was a huge bearded man who marched around in tartan trews held up with a big leather belt and brass buckle, black shirt open to the waist even in winter, and a greasy old black balmoral on his head complete with game bird feathers. I saw him on more than one occasion scooping water up from a burn and drinking from it! He was invariably seen with a hawk on his arm, was blind in one eye, completely eccentric and I was in awe of him. One winter day at class in Kinlochard Primary School, the teacher called us all to the window to look out on to the loch and witness a site that has stayed with me to this day. Our laird used to feed his hawks by shooting birds, ducks mostly but I once watched him by the loch shore shoot a seagull above his head, swing the gun left and bring down another one, two shots, two birds, he was a crack shot. The two birds were stuffed into a big leather bag which he always carried. In those days the climate was different and the loch would freeze over almost every winter to a smooth white flatness.
This day, Walter made the mistake of venturing out on to the ice to bag some ducks, lifted the gun above his head, bang... and promptly shot through the ice! What we witnessed on a beautiful clear day was a group of men crawling out on ladders to a bobbing head showing through a hole in the pristine white ice about a hundred yards out from the shore, and who should be the man at the front leading the way?...my dad! They managed to lower a ladder down the hole and somehow drag him out and pull him ashore and straight to hospital.
I have read some accounts of what happened next and they are not particularly accurate. When Walter recovered, he did indeed offer all the men involved a reward, rumoured to be a piece of land but no-one took up his offer...except my dad! He had had his eye on a plot of land about 100 yards up from Dolly Blacks house on the same side which had been destined for a memorial hall after, I believe, the First World War. The foundations had been laid complete with a chimney stack and been abandoned. My dad saw the foundations as perfect for a house and mentioned it to Walter. Without hesitation he agreed. They went up to look at it right there and then and I watched as Walter paced out the perimeter and granted it to him.
From then on all the profits from the shop went to building the house into a 3 bedroom bungalow. My mum decided to call it "Ardmore". She grew up in Ardmore Street in Glasgow and the name fitted perfectly. He spent several years constructing it and roped in anybody he could to help. My dad and Walter remained firm friends for the rest of their lives.
Walter was a big hearted man but sometimes he would infuriate my mother. On several occasions he would enter the shop unannounced pushing a leaky wheelbarrow, slam the door shut so nobody would see, and uncover a haunch of venison from a beast they had just killed. He would then slice a big chunk off with a large knife and hand it over, open the door, drag the barrow out and be gone to someone else. My mother would then have to spend half an hour washing the blood off the shop floor!
He arrived at the shop one day greatly agitated to tell us that one of his birds, a Goshawk believe, had flown off and hadn't come back. It had a bell attached to its leg and if we should here it, would we call him immediately and keep an eye on it. Well, later that afternoon did | not see it flying overhead with its bell tinkling and I followed it to see it land on a haystack in a nearby field. My mother told me to run and telephone Walter which did. "Stay there young man (he always called me young man) and don't let it out of your sight!" He came wheezing up the road ten minutes later and approached the haystack whirling a lure round his head until the bird dived on it, whereupon Walter pulled it in and secured it to his glove. I had never seen him look happier as he reached into his pocket and handed me a Half Crown coin. Its twelve and a half pence in today's money, but at ten years old in the nineteen fifties, Half a Crown was a small fortune!
You knew instinctively to call him 'Mr Joynson' but one of our band would always refer to him with his first name, Walter this and Walter that, and I could see that he was getting agitated by this. Eventually one day he turned round, leaned over and looking down at him said in a loud voice, "Young man, until you are old enough to smoke and wear long trousers, you will call me Mr Joynson!"
Another interesting period was about 1952 when the Walt Disney Company came to Kinlochard to make a movie! It was called 'Rob Roy the Highland Rogue' and starred Richard Todd as Rob Roy, Glynis Johns as his wife Mary and James Robertson Justice as the Duke of Argyll.
The filming was mostly done in the Comer glen, but some scenes were filmed on the shore of Loch Ard on a bit of land that sticks out into the loch below Couligarten bay just opposite the island. We would watch this convoy of vehicles pass by the house early every morning making its way up through Couligarten and as we were on our school holidays, we decided to follow them.
This convoy consisted of trucks, cars, horse boxes as the horses were hired from the stables in Aberfoyle, army ambulances and coaches full of soldiers of the Argyle & Sutherland Highlanders who would be extras, mostly playing English Redcoats. It wasn't unusual to hear an ambulance clanging its way down the road during filming as there were accidents during the fighting scenes! We had a great time watching the filming from behind the camera. They constructed a fort on the top of a hill in the middle of the glen. In actual fact a fort did exist during Rob Roy's time at Inversnaid, built by the Duke of Montrose in 1718. In the film it looks a very substantial structure and although it looked very real from the outside, inside it was all wood, wire netting and painted plaster! To reach it, they built a causeway of wooden planks for several hundred yards over the bog to enable people and equipment to reach the bottom of the hill. In the film, before the fort doors are blasted by a shot from a cannon and stormed by the clansmen, Rob Roy steps out from cover under a flag of truce and is shot at by Killearn from a battlement. This is where clever editing comes in. He is shot at and wheels away with a bullet in his arm, but this scene was filmed about half a mile away where they had erected a small fake battlement at ground height on a sloping hillside with the camera behind it looking downhill over Killearn's shoulder. The weird thing is, when we saw the film, this scene appeared at night in the dark! They shot the scene several times (in broad daylight) till they were happy with it, but what the audience don't see is half the village of Kinlochard behind the camera. I believe it was a lovely Saturday afternoon and everyone had trekked up to see the action!
One of the tricks they employed on a very calm morning was to position dozens upon dozens of beekeepers smokers propped in trees and in undergrowth and lying around all over the place being constantly pumped in rotation. The effect was to produce a thick layer of smoke all over the set...... Scotch Mist!
After several weeks watching many scenes being shot we eventually got autographs from the main actors. They were very good to us, allowing us to wander through the equipment tents packed with uniforms, basket hilt swords, claymores, targes, lances, muskets, dirks, so much stuff you can't imagine. They sometimes gave us lunch in a bus served from a mobile canteen!
The funeral scene where they bury Rob Roy's mother was shot on the shore of Loch Ard as I mentioned previously. The opening scene shows the funeral barge sailing on the loch. At first it appears to be sailing from Kinlochard Bay into Couligarten Bay past the island, but the next shot has it sailing east past the Echo Rock with Ben Lomond in the background. The next shot has it out in the middle of the loch with Kinlochard in the background, and the last shot has it moored at the bank and the bier being carried to the graveyard where the funeral scenes were shot. Only someone brought up here and familiar with the loch would notice these anomalies! The barge was a huge wooden structure, and I remember that they had trouble keeping it level as it was heavy and sat low in the water. After filming was over, it was sunk in Kinlochard bay where it lay just off the shore for decades until it rotted away. The clansmen carrying the bier were local forestry workers acting as extras for the day. The filming at the graveyard entrance involved horsemen of the Duke of Montrose galloping over the hill intent on capturing Rob Roy, but the Duke of Argyll sends them packing! What a good Hollywood soul he was! That was exciting to watch as it had to be shot over and over until they got it right. The graveyard wall and gates were, of course, made of wood, wire netting and painted plaster and destroyed afterwards.
About five or six years ago I tried to find the same spot and it proved very difficult, as it is now completely overgrown with birch trees!
In one shot, Rob Roy has been captured, and while being taken to Edinburgh slips from his horse and jumps into a river. He then plunges over a waterfall and swims downstream to escape. This shot was taken on the Black Lynn on Duchray Water where we would sometimes go to fish. It's a very impressive waterfall even to-day. When we went back to look for it several years ago, it took us a while to find it as your memory plays tricks with you! But we eventually found it and took some pictures.
Once the film company had packed up and gone home, we waited with great excitement to see the film. In the fifties, there was a man and his wife who used to go around Perthshire (and maybe further beyond) with a film projector and a huge screen, setting up in village halls and showing all the latest films. The mobile cinema that tours the Highlands and Islands to-day showing movies is not a new concept! Eventually "Rob Roy the Highland Rogue came to the memorial hall in Aberfoyle. It was packed out, so much so in fact that he had to put on another performance the following night! But what I distinctly remember was the small drama during the show. The man had set up his projector at the back of the hall facing the stage and the whole film was wound on to one giant reel fixed above the projector and collected in an empty reel beneath it. About halfway through the film there is a part where the pipes start playing, and quietly at first people started to tap their feet in time to the rhythm but slowly got louder and louder as other people joined in , until eventually a cacophony of tramping feet drowned out the pipes at which point the film suddenly stopped, the lights went up and in the ensuing silence, the man marched to the stage, turned to face us and told us in no uncertain terms that if that noise happened again the show was over! He then marched back, switched the lights off and put the projector back on. You could have heard a pin drop!
Anyway, several years ago, I googled the film and found that it was not on release in this country either on VHS or DVD, but I did find someone selling a used version on Amazon in America on VHS where it had gone on release many years previously, and was able to buy it.
It's a weird sensation watching a movie made over fifty years ago, where you know some of the faces and have seen many of the scenes from behind the camera!
Another film shot about 1955 in the area was "Geordie" starring Bill Travers. In the cast were Alistair Sim as the laird, Duncan Macrae as the school teacher, Stanley Baxter as the postman and Paul Young as young Geordie MacTaggart. One scene was of Geordie swinging the hammer at a Highland Games. He loses his grip and the hammer nearly lands in among the Judges, and who should be one of them as they dive out of the way in indignation, but Walter our own Laird!
The scene was shot in the playing field at Aberfoyle School and the school building is in the background. Another shot is of Geordie leaving in the train for the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne and the whole village has turned out to see him off. The station is the old Gartmore Station on the Glasgow road where the Cobleland Caravan and Campsite is now, and who is at the front of the crowd waving him off with his walking stick but Walter again, hamming it up something awful!
Most of the other scenes were shot on the hills above Strathyre and around Loch Lubnaig. One scene of the keeper's cottage where Geordie lives with his Gamekeeper father, played by another famous Scottish actor Jameson Clark, was shot at the Bell House up beyond Couligarten on the other side of a bridge which carries the Glasgow water pipeline. Incidentally, this is only about a quarter of a mile downstream from the Black Lynn.
Yet another film to be shot in the area was "The Thirty Nine Steps" in 1959 starring Kenneth More. If anyone has seen this film, they can't help but recognise all the chase sequences filmed in the Duke's Pass. Jaguar cars racing all over the place and Kenneth More pechin' his way on a bicycle up the hill past the quarry entrance! Some scenes were also filmed at the Altskeith Hotel which became Glenkirk House for the film. He escapes from the house and races away on a scooter past the boathouse, around the bend heading in the direction of Kinlochard, to our minds, in the wrong direction! You may also recognise the old hall at the Brig o' Turk which became a tearoom where Kenneth More is introduced to the "Freewheelers of Cleckmennin" cycling club!
By this time I was at Aberfoyle School and the teacher called us to the window to see a huge transporter passing by carrying filming equipment, and there is Kenneth More sitting with his feet hanging over the rear of the trailer hitching a lift, with a jacket slung over his shoulder in that casual English style of his, and waving to us!
In 1961, while I was away working in Glasgow, another film crew came our way and shot some scenes in and around Kinlochard and on the shore of Loch Chon. It was called "No my darling daughter", and starred Michael Redgrave, Michael Craig, Roger Livesey and Juliet Mills of the famous Mills family. One particular scene was shot right outside the shop and involved Juliet Mills and an American actor called Rad Fulton who are runaways, discovering the fact after buying a newspaper in the shop. In actual fact, we never sold newspapers! Juliet Mills apparently took a shine to our dog Rex and loved to feed him bits of chocolate just to see him beg, as he was very good at it! My mother was tickled pink when one of her favourite wartime actors Roger Livesey turned up, and she had her picture taken with him inside the shop.
I have often said in later life that if I had my time over again, I'd still choose my childhood in Kinlochard. In the 1950's it was a safe place. We lived in a cocoon far from the outside world and its problems. The sun always seemed to shine in the summer and the snow always fell in the winter. The loch would freeze over most winters and I can still hear the haunting sound of the ice thawing in the spring. There would be a loud BANG like a pistol shot out on the ice somewhere, and then a weird whistling echo as a crack would rip its way down the loch, diminishing into silence.
Freedom is a word I would use to describe our life with no concept of safety or over caution, only your common sense and natural sense of survival coupled with a bit of daring. Would kids today be allowed to swing out over a river on the end of an old piece of rope we'd put up ourselves? Would they be allowed to spend all day on a rowing boat out on the loch with no supervision? At least half a dozen of us would spend most of the day swimming in the loch out of sight of adults, supervising ourselves. Half the time, our parents never knew where we were, we would roam far and wide as the mood took us. On many occasion I have taken off with my dog Rex and an apple in my pocket. Sometimes I would walk to Frenich, climb up to the pipeline and walk in the direction of Couligarten, coming down the forest path to the houses just past No. 12 and on to the shop. I would have been away all day and arrive home absolutely famished! It was just the way we lived.
Adults were very rarely addressed by their Christian names. I don't recall us ever vandalising anything and graffiti at worst was your initials carved on a tree. We played various outdoor games but mostly football in a field between the houses and the river until it was too dark to see the ball. We made our own entertainment back then as we weren't influenced by television. Early in our lives there was none, but later the head forester at No. 24 was the first person to acquire one and allowed us all into his back bedroom at 5 o'clock every night to watch Children's Hour'!
But time moves on. My mother Margaret died in 1993 aged 77. My father died in 1999 aged 92 in the house he'd built surrounded by the garden where he loved growing vegetables. He grew so many, he would give them away. He was always chopping up wood for kindling sticks and would barter them for things like, for example, a haircut! My brother Alistair died in Invergordon in 2008 from cancer aged 58. I still survive in Ross-shire with my memories of Kinlochard.