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History of The
Local Youth Hostels
SYHA Profiles provided
by John Martin. © John Martin and SYHA
ARDGARTAN Youth Hostel (Ardgartan House)
Operational 1936 to 1968
Grid Ref: NN 273029
Inset illustration: SYHA Postcard
Map: 1967 SYHA Handbook
In the mid-1930s there was much debate about the setting up of National Parks in Scotland. Ardgartan Forest became the focus of attention. One report offered the following suggestions: A National Forest Park The policy advocated is that encouragement to use the area should be given to members of responsible organisations such as the Youth Hostels Association, the Ramblers’ Federation, the Rover Scouts, and the Associations of Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs. It is calculated that if four youth hostels with an average of sixty beds were established, and two Alpine huts with thirty-five beds apiece, about six thousand people would be enabled to spend week-ends in the area in summertime. Accommodation for much larger numbers could be provided in juvenile and other camps, but the occupants of these would probably make little use of the hills. It is important that the privilege of access should be subject to specified conditions, so as to promote decent behaviour and minimise the risk of fire, which even in a district like this, with a heavy rainfall, cannot be regarded as negligible during a dry spell, particularly in spring, when the vegetation is luxuriant. It is suggested that the grounds of Ardgartan House, near Arrochar, the road approach to the northern end of the area, might be acquired for camping purposes. …
The acquisition of Ardgartan House would have to be secured from outside sources. The scheme is altogether so well conceived that support from those interested in healthy, open-air recreation should not be lacking.
[the Scotsman, 22/11/1935]
The King George’s Jubilee trust, set up to mark the occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Accession of his late Majesty King George V, launched an appeal in Scotland and things moved quickly; by March of the following year it was able to respond by announcing that it intended to give £3000 to acquire the Manor House and Estate of Ardgartan, at the gateway to the proposed national park in the district of Glen Croe and Loch Fyne. The house would be converted into a SYHA hikers’ hostel, and the grounds, amounting to some 70 acres, would be used for camping by Rangers, Boy Scouts, and other such juvenile organisations
[the Scotsman, 6-9/3/1936].
Ardgartan House was originally a private mansion built by Campbell of Struchur. It was a very well-appointed home with an indoor swimming pool. The house contained 18 rooms, with a large kitchen and other offices, and accommodation would be provided for over 70 members. If the hostel met with the popularity predicted for it, two large lofts with a floor space of approximately 1000 square feet would be converted into extra dormitories. Among the out-buildings were two large garages, and there was an extensive courtyard which previously contained the stables, byres, and cart-shed. In front of the house was a lawn of over an acre in extent. Close to the house and to the north side was a walled garden with a southern exposure. The grounds covered an acre and a quarter, and there was a fine orchard containing apple, plum, and pear trees and currant and raspberry bushes.
The house itself commanded an excellent view of Loch Long and the surrounding hills. The shore of the loch was about 200 yards from the house and from it a magnificent view was obtained of a stretch of Loch Long. A burn flowed through the grounds into Loch Long to provide an ideal sheltering place for canoes. In the National Forest Park itself the Camping Club of Great Britain acquired a permanent camping site.
Ardgartan House would be the first youth hostel in Britain's first National Forest Park.
Three illustrations from the SYHA Archive: -
The hostel opened on 30th May 1936. The previous Saturday, the Scotsman had announced preparations for the event:
The Scottish Youth Hostels Association announced last night that Ardgartan House will be opened as a Youth Hostel a week to-day. The opening ceremony will be performed by Sir John Stirling-Maxwell, Bart., at 5.15 p.m., and many representatives of youth and open-air movements in Scotland have been invited to attend the function. Special transport arrangements are being made by the Glasgow District Committee of the SYHA. for those wishing to attend the opening ceremony next Saturday, and also for those wishing to stay the week-end at the hostel. In conjunction with the ordinary trains running to Arrochar on 30th May, a service of motor boats will be maintained from Tighness Jetty to Ardgartan Jetty and will be available for the use of those arriving by train. Full particulars will be to hand shortly, and it is stated that anyone interested should call at 83 Renfield Street (the Glasgow office of the S.Y.H.A.) at the beginning of next week. Owing to its situation at the gateway to the National Forestry Park, Ardgartan is expected to attract not only many visitors from Scotland and England, but also large numbers from the Continent.
At the opening ceremony, the former owner of Ardgartan, Sir Iain Colquhoun, Bart., of Luss, said that he was glad it had fallen into the hands of the Youth Hostels Association, who would make splendid use of it. Indeed, in the prewar years Ardgartan Hostel and the neighbouring Glen Loin Hostel were in great demand. This popularity extended right through the war years, despite exigencies; 10,000 overnights were regularly achieved between them.
The SYHA was chosen to be the host Association for the International Youth Hostel Rally, to be held in late August 1939, and Ardgartan was to be its unfortunate but stoical venue. There was great nervousness about whether to go ahead with the plans, in view of the international crisis, but the Scotsman was able to announce, on 12th August, that an army of volunteer technicians awaited the arrival of hundreds of young Youth Hostellers from nearly all the countries in Europe and America to join thousands of British and Irish Youth Hostellers in one of the biggest youth Rallies ever staged in Scotland. For this Rally at Ardgartan Youth Hostel on Saturday, 26th August, the SYHA has enlisted an army of doctors, nurses, ambulance men, interpreters, hill guides, and camp wardens to facilitate the smooth functioning of this great gathering of youth. Following the fraternal greetings from delegates, the evening will be spent in an open-air jamboree of folk singing, dancing. &c. terminating with a huge camp fire singsong.
The International Youth Hostel Conference at the Shandon Hydro, Gareloch, designed to run simultaneously with the Rally, was postponed at the last minute on 26th August, with many delegates (an estimate was 500) making desperate attempts to reach Britain and not able to receive the cancellation in time. The entertainments at Ardgartan would go ahead. The secretary of the Scottish Youth Hostels Association announced that they intended to carry out their social obligations to any delegates who might attend the rally, but in view of the international tension it has been deemed inadvisable to proceed with business matters.
On 28th August, the Scotsman paid compliment to the proceedings at Ardgartan:
INTERNATIONAL YOUTH RALLY - Colourful Gathering at Ardgartan Hostel
Though the war clouds over Europe were responsible for a complete black-out of the annual conference of the International Youth Hostels Federation, due to commence at Shandon Hydro, on the shores of the Gareloch, this morning, they served to cast only a faint shadow upon the giant Rally of Youth held at the Ardgartan Youth Hostel, Argyll, on Saturday evening.
For the occasion, the hostel and its immediate environs became International City, with representatives from the Continent, America, and Canada swelling the numbers of British open-air enthusiasts, and joining in a demonstration in which politics and propaganda played no part. A total of approximately 1200 young men and women spent the evening under canvas, in Ardgartan Hostel, or at the nearby hostels of Inverbeg and Glen Loin. The extensive tent town, stretching along the bank of Loch Long about three miles distant from Arrochar, was a complete community, with its own shopping service, fire-fighting, first-aid, and postal services, and staff of interpreters.
DELEGATES FROM ABROAD
At one time it was hoped that 18 countries would be represented at the Federation's conference at Shandon, incidentally the first scheduled to take place in Scotland, but the trend of international events last week made it obvious that many delegates would be unable to make the journey. On Friday the decision was reached to postpone the conference—with the hope that a restoration of calmness in world affairs would permit the Scottish Youth Hostels Association to issue a fresh invitation next year—and to continue with the arrangements for the Rally of Youth. So it was that from early morning on Saturday until late in the evening the lochside roads leading to Ardgartan carried continuous streams of rucksack-laden hikers, cyclists and motor cyclists, with here and there a motor car lending an aristocratic touch to a democratic procession.
The day was far advanced before local officials knew definitely the strength of the foreign invasion. Messages of regret for inability to travel to Scotland included one from Mr L. Meilink, secretary-treasurer of the International Federation, whose duties as a military reservist in Holland prevented him from leaving his own country. We believe from our experience in our hostels, where the youth of the whole world has its friendly meetings, he wrote, that mankind can live in peace and friendship, led by the principles of mutual respect and confidence.
The nations represented were Great Britain, France, Belgium, Holland, United States of America, Canada, Luxembourg, Norway, Finland , and Denmark. The total attendance at the evening's display was about 1500. The majority were Scottish, though large parties were present from England, Ireland, and Wales.
A cordial welcome to Scotland was given to the hostellers by Mr R. B. Fasken, chairman of the Scottish Association. The opening ceremony, which took place shortly before nine o’clock, was staged amid beautiful surroundings. A short distance from the large house which forms the hostel a wooden platform was erected, and there under a roof formed only by the branches of towering trees, Mr Fasken addressed the great gathering. Reclining or standing on the spacious lawns, the cosmopolitan audience must have been impressed by the peace, solemnity, and beauty of the scene. Situated in the heart of Britain's first national forest park, with the high range of hills known as the Arrochar Alps flanking one side, and the quiet waters of Loch Long the other, Ardgartan Hostel provided the perfect setting for such an assembly. The steadily deepening darkness accentuated the impressive quality of the picture, and the suddenly switched-on headlights of a stationary motor car, which were used as illuminations, struck almost a harsh note.
It may be said of our Association that we have no enmity against the peoples of any other nation, even when their rulers or Governments take the trouble to abuse our country, said Mr Fasken. Guided by this spirit, we are disappointed not to see Germany represented at this meeting. A message from Mr J. Catchpool, English president of the International Federation, said that the international body had now nearly 5000 hostels, over 2,000,000 members and approximately 10,000,000 hostel users. If, as they hoped and desired, Sweden was admitted to the International Association this year, these impressive figures would be considerably augmented.
NATIONAL SONGS AND DANCES
At the conclusion of the formal part of the proceedings, the visitors were entertained to an impromptu concert in which, with a happy abandon and freedom from self-consciousness, parties and individuals from the different countries sang and played their folk songs and performed their national dances. A huge bonfire was lit at a late hour in the evening, and its vivid glare was visible from far down the loch. Another colourful spectacle was given by canoeists, who, equipped with torch lights and lanterns, glided in formation across the surface of the water.
Officials and members of the Organising Committee travelled by car to Shandon Hydro, where the headquarters of the conference were established, and there, after discussion, agreed to abandon the dinner which had been arranged for last night.
Ardgartan Hostel was able to remain during 1940. Though the 1941 Handbook advertised that it would be closed for wartime strategic reasons, there were 2119 bednights in that year; nevertheless it was requisitioned and withdrawn in 1942-45. Re-opening followed in 1946. Usage continued to flourish after the war. The mid-1960s were a golden period for the hostel, with over 11,000 overnights recorded in 1963. Accordingly, plans were drawn up to retire Ardgartan House and build an entirely new hostel. Closure took place in 1968, heralding the new hostel a few hundred yards away. Shortly after the SYHA left, Ardgartan House was demolished. Donald Campbell (no relation to the original builder) was the last warden here, and moved to the new hostel.
Two more illustrations of Ardgartan House:
Memories and Observations
Now I am a seasoned hosteller. I can approach a hostel without turning a hair. Wardens have no terrors for me. I have always found them friendly, anxious-to-please, accommodating, and ready to give useful local information. Once I had reason to be thankful that wardens are the kindly human beings they are. With a friend I stayed a night at Inverbeg Hostel. The next morning we ferried to Rowardennan and climbed Ben Lomond. We had booked at Ardgartan Hostel (at the mouth of Glencoe) for that night, so we had left our packs at Inverbeg to be picked up on our return.
The ferry on the Rowardennan side had broken down. The other ferry never looked the side of the loch that we were on. We had to wait for an hour on shore, then as a last resort take a steamer which landed us at Luss, four miles south of Inverbeg, somewhere about 6.30. And we had to be at Ardgartan Hostel by nine—according to hostel regulations. We walked the four miles to Inverbeg, had a brief rest and snatched a hasty meal; then shouldered our packs and set off to walk nine miles. We were already tired with our ascent of the Ben and our four miles walk, but there were no buses at that time of the night and anyway, are not buses tabu to the hiker? The sun had long since set when we at last turned in at Ardgartan gates. It was past eleven o'clock and darkness had fallen. We stumbled down the tree-roofed avenue which runs parallel with a broad burn. It was an eerie finish to our day's tramp. I feared a shut door, but no, the warden was on the look-out for us. I was at the stage of babbling fatuous nonsense about hikers who pined after motor cars, but my friend had a greater reserve. She explained quite sensibly that we had underestimated the time required to climb the Ben and then walk nine miles plus four extra thrown in.
No warden could have been kinder. He opened the store for us and handed over baked beans and cheese and other indigestible but satisfying eatables as if he were used to keeping shop at an hour when all good hostellers are in bed with the lights out and wardens have a well-earned night's sleep.
One of the most attractive features of hostelling is the mixed company of people that one is thrown into. There are some people I shall never forget. The American girl was one. She sat cross-legged on an upper bunk knitting a jumper. I think I can yet hear her drawl: "Cook! You Scotch can't cook. You don't need to cook—your mountains are just grand." Then there was a tall, flaxen-haired young German, who sang German songs in the loveliest voice I have ever heard. He blushed when we said nice things to him about his singing, and he said in a puzzled tone, but we all sing" as if that explained the matter.
The cultured postman whose special study was mythology, the little Scandinavian girl who did shadows of animals on the hostel wall by the flickering firelight, the Gorbals youth who could open tins with a fork, the warden who told ghost stories and then assured us they were true, for hadn't they happened to an aunt of his—how much richer one is for meeting them, and how grateful one is for the work of the Scottish Youth Hostels Association.
E. O. Boyd, writing in the Scotsman
NEW ARDGARTAN Youth Hostel (purpose-built)
Operational 1969 to 2001
Arrochar, Dunbartonshire (the hostel was in Argyll)
Grid Ref: NN 273028*
Inset illustration and map:
1974 SYHA Handbook
The new 82-bed hostel at Ardgartan lay a little to the south-west of the old premises. SYHA commissioned a somewhat stark Scandinavian-style design and construction work was under way by May 1968 [Hostel Echo 5/1968]. The hostel was officially opened on 17th May 1969.
Two colour postcards of the 1969 Ardgartan Youth Hostel in its striking location are shown below: -
The name of the hostel was changed to Loch Long (Ardgartan) in the 2000 Handbook. Low usage and high maintenance costs (at the end of the foot-and-mouth outbreak) were cited as reasons for closure in late 2001 or early 2002. Ironically, each hostel at Ardgartan operated for an almost identical span of 33 seasons.
GLEN LOIN Youth Hostel
Operational 1932 to 1950
Glen Loin Hostel
(the hostel was in Argyll)
Grid Ref: NN 298056
Inset illustration: glass plate
image, SYHA Archive
SYHA rented the site of Glen Loin Youth Hostel (called Arrochar in early handbooks) from the Forestry Commission. The Glasgow District Committee were reported as building a large hostel on the same lines as Inverbeg. This was SYHA’s third purpose-built affair, and was built by Messrs Cowiesons. The common room in the centre had belonged to the Arrochar Climbing Club and was one of the early Rucksack Club huts, first opened in 1929 or 1930
[The Open Air in Scotland Magazine Vol
1 / 6, Summer 1947].
Beautifully situated in Glen Loin, quite close to the Loin River, and almost completely surrounded by rugged mountains, the new hostel is constructed on similar lines to that at Inverbeg, which was opened by Sir Iain Colquhoun, Bart., last August. The ceremony was attended by a fair number of "hikers" and cyclists, but owing to a drenching downpour of rain the speeches had to be delivered in the hut's commodious common-room. It was stated that Lord Salvesen and Sir Iain Colquhoun, who are both keenly interested in the movement, were unable to be present.
A CHAIN TO THE WEST
The Arrochar hostel was another link in the chain which they intended to advance through the West Highlands as far as Oban, Mallaig, and the Kyle of Lochalsh. Their Edinburgh, Dundee, and Aberdeen friends were also nobly doing their bit, but he thought it was up to Glasgow and the West of Scotland, with their greater resources in personnel and material, to take the lead in the movement.
THE NEW HOSTEL
The new hostel is situated at the head of Loch Long, and stands about half a mile back from the main roadway. It is quite close to the village of Arrochar. Constructed on simple but comfortable lines, it provides accommodation for hikers, cyclists, or mountaineers, who may require shelter for a night. A large common room separates the two dormitories. Accommodation is provided for both sexes, sixteen females and twenty-four males being the maximum capacity of the hut.
By 1935 the hostel had been considerably expanded to 80 beds and improved; there was the added cheer of cold shower baths. Mr T Downie was the resident warden then. A year later, enthusiasts for Glen Loin Hostel may have been forgiven for fearing that the unexpected addition of Ardgartan House (barely 3 miles distant) to the hostel network would bring a hasty end to the Arrochar huts.
The demand for hostel accommodation was expanding at such a pace, however, that both hostels were needed in the late 1930s. So many Glasgow members were making for the hills and hostels in this part of the world at weekends that extra trains were being laid on, as advertised in the Scotsman of 17/11/1937:
SUNDAY RAIL FACILITIES FOR WINTER HIKERS
As a result of representations made by Glasgow officials of the Scottish youths Hostels Association, the L.N.E. Railway Company has decided to run two experimental non-stop trains for the benefit of hikers from Arrochar to Glasgow (Queen Street) on the Sundays, November 21 and 28.
There are four youth hostels in the Arrochar district—at Succoth, Ardgartan, Inverbeg, and Lochgoilhead—with a total capacity of 270 beds, but hitherto they have been inaccessible to many hikers in winter on account of the lack of a Sunday return train. The service on the two forthcoming Sundays will be continued if members of the rambling fraternity make good use of the trains. These will leave Arrochar at 8 p.m. on the two Sundays, and Queen Street will be reached at 9.18.
A year later, the problems of mass transit to the hostels had prompted a debate calling for a ban on the use of charabancs
[the Scotsman, 26/11/1938]:
THE NEEDS OF CLIMBERS
After a prolonged discussion, members of the Scottish Youth Hostels Association (Glasgow District) decided, at their annual meeting last night, against a motion demanding that organised bus parties to hikers' hostels be prohibited. …
EXPERIMENTAL SERVICE TO ARROCHAR
The meeting was informed that the District Committee was considering running an experimental bus service to Arrochar each week-end at a cost of 3s 6d as against the cost of 5s 8d by the ordinary method. This would permit members wanting to climb in the Arrochar hill district getting to a hostel and availing themselves of their sport.
In 1942 Ardgartan was requisitioned, and the old huts had to cope with double the influx, bednights rising to over 9000 in that year. The Arrochar, Tarbet and Ardlui Heritage website comments:
The warden from 1939 until 1948 was Billy Mc Neill. He was described as a lively character who carried through a difficult and sometimes exacting task arising from the many vicissitudes of hostel organisation in the Arrochar area. This included numerous structural alterations and additions to the hostel itself, along with war-time adventures with evacuees, forestry and other workers, alternating periods of exceptional activity arising from the closing of the Ardgartan Hostel during the war. Billy died at the hostel in 1948 and is buried in Arrochar cemetery.
After the war, and with Ardgartan open again, there was cause for concern about the falling numbers staying at the hostel: there had been a serious decline since the opening of the hydro-electricity scheme [SYHAN 12/1949].
Furthermore, the opening of hostels in many new areas of Scotland was having an effect on the holiday habits of Glasgow members. Though it was not listed in the 1950 Handbook, Glen Loin Hostel remained open until 3/7/1950 [SYHAN7/1950].
MEMORIES and OBSERVATIONS
A correspondent, E.N.A., wrote this
eulogy on the Glen Loin Hostel as 1932, the first season, drew to a
The evening that I opened the door of the youth hostel at Arrochar, knapsack on back, I was lucky. A bright fire burned and the kettles were boiling; and a boy looked up from cleaning the grate to beam a welcome to the stranger coming in out of the rain. In a few words he explained all that one needed to know about the hostel, and went back to his polishing. Two other Scouts had arrived, he added. They were off to the village for stores. A party of girls had left that morning for adventure in the north. "You seem to be a regular housewife?” “Oh well, there's always plenty to do. I've been here a day or two. I washed the floor this morning. The clean wooden boards did him credit. So did the shining stove and the pots and pans. I dare the most pernickety among you to have found fault with any of it.
The room was long, with gaily curtained windows south and north, looking down Loch Long and up wild Glen Loin. Two long trestle tables, newly washed, had wooden benches beside them. Along the east wall were pigeon holes, one for each boy or girl. Such personal belongings as mugs, plates, and provisions were kept there. On the west wall was a locked store cupboard, opened daily by the warden so that those using the hostel might buy what they wanted. Milk, butter, and eggs they could get from his own cottage across the field. Saucepans were arranged on shelves beside the stove on the side of the room, enamel teapots and jugs hung on nails and there were pails for fetching cooking and washing water from the burn beside the hut. There was a sink for washing up, fitted with a drain pipe, and there was a pulley for drying wet clothes, dish towels, &c.
On either side of the common room, each with an entrance to the common room, and direct from outside, there was a dormitory. The girls on the west side had accommodation for 16. I am very glad indeed that there were not many the night I slept there, but at the same time the room was well aired, sweet and clean. Occupants for the night are expected to sweep up in the morning, and generally to leave the place as they would like to find it. Iron bedsteads were arranged bunk fashion, in layers, as it were. Each bed had a straw sack for mattress and three good blankets—a very comfortable bed it made, as I can vouch. A door led to a smaller room containing a mirror and two wash-hand basins.
As the evening wore on, the guests for the night started to drop in, having paid their shilling for a night’s lodging to the warden, signed the visitors' book and handed over their cards of membership of the Scottish Youth Hostels Association. An employee of the Association looked in on his rounds. He and his wife had been touring the whole chain of hostels to see that all was in order. The other hostels had been besieged since they were opened, they told me, and they are very much more primitive than those at Arrochar and Inverbeg, which are models of their kind, built for the purpose. The Border group are old buildings, and more cosy or less convenient, as it happens to strike you.
A Merry Party
It was a merry enough supper party as the different groups sat down to their eggs, sausages or whatever it pleased them to cook. What emerged was that the boys took more trouble over the cooking than the girls, preparing themselves elaborate and tasty meals. Most of the girls did as little cooking as possible by choice. Housekeeping was a game to the boys. The girls’ idea was to escape from it. Someone who had been in the north told of a group of girls who went without their morning cup of tea rather than bother to light a fire. I did see a girl stirring a custard over the stove at lnverbeg next day.
As I sat at my supper of hot milk, buttered toast and cheese, a young Scout came in, dripping with rain. He was cycling on to Inverbeg, but had stopped for a meal. As he ate he told me of his adventures. He had no milk for tea. "Campers don’t carry milk! They've enough to carry without milk." He shared mine, and told me how he slept in a shed near a post office the night before and been wakened with a bang on the head. A bundle of morning papers had been thrown in with the mail! We had no community singing that evening, which passed happily enough with laughter and chatter. Someone remembered that he had brought his mouth organ along, then happily forgot again. I was curled up in my blankets—you carry your own sleeping sack, by the way, and I made mine from an old sheet—when two girls from Glasgow turned up in shorts, shirts, and Eton crops. Very kind girls they were, too. I had not troubled to light the lamp in the dormitory, so they could not even see what a greenhorn they had for a companion . They must have sensed it, however.
"Have ye got enough blankets?" they asked me straightaway. And this is a bit you really must not tell any of the Hostel officials if you meet them. “Have ye taken one from anither bed for a pillow? Och, Lizzie, show that girl how to make a pillow!" And without more ado they dashed at me, and tucked me up as if I were a baby in more blankets than I dared to count. I was far too sleepy to protest.
Next morning it was their turn to sleep sound, and no wonder, bless them. They had cycled from Glasgow, and had nothing to eat from one o' clock till they reached the Hostel late in the evening. We were all up, however, in fairly respectable time, and each did a share of the chores, carrying water, sweeping, tidying, &c. But the boys took the heavy end of it. One in particular—the "housewife" before mentioned—had a bright fire blazing and kettles boiling before the rest of us had rubbed the sleep out of our eyes. Two young Scouts scrambled eggs for sandwiches. They were off to Dunoon. Two other lads set out to climb the Cobbler. The Glasgow lassies had friends to visit in the village. So we went our ways.
On my way home. I called in at Inverbeg Hostel, ideally placed at the mouth of Glen Douglas, by the side of the burn. On the grassy clearing in front picnic parties from Glasgow and elsewhere were making merry and playing games. Inside the hut the smell of fried sausages rose on the air. We exchanged news and views and the time of day. It may be that you want to be twenty years young, or less, to get the full "kick" out of these Youth Hostels. Middle-age loves its comforts, but even old age has its moments of rejuvenation, and longs to fling off the shackles of convention, and return again to the simple life. These Hostels have caught on with the young people, for whom they are intended. It is a good movement, and one that will spread
[the Scotsman, 9/9/1932].
Bednights (the statistical year generally ran from the previous October 1st to September 30th)
INVERBEG Youth Hostel
Operational 1931 to 1993
Grid Ref: NS 343979
Inset illustration and map:
The early SYHA timber hostel at Inverbeg was constructed on a site donated by Sir Iain Colquhoun of Luss, Bart, DSO, a strong supporter of the movement, who officially opened the facility on 22nd August 1931. Special transport was laid on.
The structure was erected in a mere twelve days by Cowiesons Ltd to the order of the SYHA’s Glasgow District Committee, and was the Association’s second purpose-built hostel, after Langhaugh. The Carnegie Trust United Kingdom Trustees gave a grant to enable the hostel to be built. It accommodated 48 when first constructed.
The Hiker and Camper Magazine of September 1931 enthused: It is an ideal site with a deep natural swimming pool, and Ben Lomond looks straight across the Loch. There will be accommodation for at least 30.
The same periodical published the illustration (next page) of the newly constructed youth hostel in the October 1931 issue. It is evident how popular camping was at weekends and holiday periods when early hostels were opened in locations accessible from the Central Lowlands.
Inverbeg Hostel was instantly successful and bookings were brisk for the following Easter period. As elsewhere, accommodation soon proved insufficient. The SYHA National Bulletin of June 1934 announced: It is intended to increase the accommodation by an extension, as soon as the work at Ledard is complete. This may have been postponed to the winter of 1934-35 as the Association was overrun with improvement works at this time. In 1936 the resident warden was Mr Hutchinson, who now presided over a 64-bed youth hostel.
THE BIRTH OF INVERBEG YOUTH HOSTEL
By Walter K. R. Neilson (published 1947)
There is a favourite refrain which I often hear chanted by the bairns in Glasgow. ‘Hurrah for the waddin’ o’ Peter MacNab, they cam’ in a larry instead o’ a cab.’ I don’t know who was the author, it may have been Burns but I suspect M’Gonagall! The tune is always associated in my mind with the birth of lnverbeg Youth Hostel!
On the evening of Thursday, 11th June, 1931, an S.Y.H.A. party, consisting of Mr. Lindsay Orr, then Glasgow Hon. Secretary, with O. D. Mathie and myself, met Sir lain Colquhoun at lnverbeg and agreed on the site of what was to be Glasgow’s first specially built Youth Hostel. Within a few days a draft design and specification for the proposed hostel was in the hands of Sir Iain.
A fortnight later it was arranged that Messrs. Beith, Mathie and myself should meet Sir Iain again to discuss our plans for the new hostel. Among his virtues, Beith at that time was the possessor of a very useful motor car. As an unregenerate hiker and cyclist, I cherish an inveterate hatred of motor cars but I learned to exclude Beith’s car from my ill-will. That evening the three conspirators met at the Normal School end of Cowcaddens, at 6 p.m. Alas, we got no further than Shamrock Street, when a puncture arrested our progress until the spare wheel could be mounted. There was a hoodoo on Beith’s car that evening! How other can you explain a second puncture on the Boulevard at Old Kilpatrick? With base ingratitude we cursed Beith for not carrying two spare wheels, and Mathie and I boarded a bus for Balloch.
At Balloch the question arose, how were we to reach Rossdhu in time for the interview? It was a Thursday evening, 25th June, 1931, pay-day was not until the next day. We counted out spondulicks and decided to plunge on a taxi! The local garage produced a car, some car! Nane o’ yer decrepit disguised tar-bilers you see outside the Glasgow stations! No sir! To describe the noble Daimler limousine as a taxi was an insult to that aristocrat of vehicles. Our cheap saft hats appeared an impertinent intrusion in a carriage obviously designed for tiles. With a sinking feeling where our white weskit and tail coats should have been and pulling down our pants to conceal the absence of spats we sank luxuriously into the braided cushions. Faintly the driver could hear the melodious strains from my “moothie” of that popular old ballad, a great hostel favourite before good hostel music was submerged by the nocturnal roof-top caterwaulings of the Hollywood crooners:-
Oh, I wonder how it feels like to be
I don’t know what the Laird of Luss thought of the two hostellers arriving in the swell limousine, maybe he never noticed. The interview was very amicable. Although my “austerity” design was disapproved on amenity grounds, a new scheme was tentatively agreed and we left our hospitable landlord to return home to Glesga! We landed back on the Loch Lomond road after nine o’clock; the last bus had long gone and we had been unable to finance the retention of the noble chariot that had brought us hither. It was beginning to get dark! A dirty black steam coal lorry tooted its approach; up went two thumbs, the driver obligingly slowed down and we vaulted lightly over the sides to subside on the damp empty coal sacks. ‘Sic transit gloria mundi’, which is Gaelic for ‘Well, you’ve had it, big boy, you’ve had it!’
In these days of chronic shortages and Government regulations, the rapid progress made with Inverbeg reads like an incredible romance. On 7th July the revised plans, agreed upon by Sir Iain Colquhoun, were in the hands of the Dunbartonshire County Council for approval. These were returned on 5th August and the next day the order was placed with Cowiesons Ltd., the Glasgow builders whose tender for the building was the lowest. At 8pm on Wednesday 12th, the writer met the builder’s surveyor at Inverbeg and the site was pegged out. At a committee meeting on Monday 17th the final details of the official opening were completed. On the brilliant sunny day of Saturday, 22nd August, 1931, Dr George Tyrrell of the Department of Geology, Glasgow University, then Chairman of the Glasgow District Committee of the S.Y.H.A., introduced Sir lain Colquhoun who officially declared the hostel open. The late Mr. Thomas Lochhead of the O.T.O. replied.
That was the finish of an exciting fortnight. Next day I was glad once more to get away up Glen Douglas to enjoy the ‘peace that is among the everlasting hills’, to climb the Doune Hill, descend to Glen Luss and then up over Beinn a Mhanaich and down to Whistlefield and Garelochhead. It was a· fine finish to a memorable weekend.
Inverbeg Hostel operated throughout the war years.
By 1993, after 60 years’ use, the structure of the hostel had deteriorated considerably; new water treatment equipment and expensive repairs would be needed; a decision was made to close the hostel, effected on 1st November 1993.
The colour postcard depicts Inverbeg in later years.
Memories and observations – wardens and hazards
One aspect of the SYHA’s early development that is little documented was the procedure undertaken to appoint the very best wardens, with little experience to go on, and it did not always go well. Barely three months had elapsed before the Scotsman of 13th November 1931 had to impart this news:
For embezzling £7. 15s. 6d. while acting as warden of the Scottish Youth Hostel Association, Inverbeg, Luss, Robert Dunn, aged 45 years, was sentenced to nine months’ imprisonment with hard labour at Glasgow Sheriff Court yesterday. It was explained that the sum embezzled represented the payments received between September 7 and October 3. The accused got the job through the British Legion, and had £1 a week and free board and coal. For the defence, it was pointed out that while Dunn was out of work he fell into debt, and some of his creditors were pressing him, and he used the money to pay them. It was his intention to refund the cash. Sheriff Welsh stated that since 1922 the accused had been convicted on five occasions. The sum involved in this case was comparatively small, but Dunn's last sentence was one of one year’s imprisonment.
On 22nd January 1940 the Scotsman reported:
YOUTH HOSTEL WARDEN INJURED IN BOILER EXPLOSION
Mr Donald McDonald, warden of the Youth Hostel at Inverbeg, Loch Lomondside, was injured on Friday night when the boiler at the back of a fire in his house near the hostel burst. Mr McDonald had arrived from Glasgow, where he resides, and after lighting the fire was lying on a sofa in front of it when the accident occurred. The fireplace was blown out, the fender broken, and the windows broken, while the sofa was overturned. Mr McDonald managed to reach Inverbeg Motel, where he was given first-aid treatment until the arrival of a doctor. His face was badly burned, and his arms were also burned. He was removed later to Glasgow Western Infirmary.
Bednights (the statistical year generally ran from previous October 1st to September 30th)
With grateful thanks - SYHA Profiles provided by John Martin. © John Martin and SYHA