Caravanning At Ardgartan In The Fifties
consisted of my parents and at that time in the early fifties six boys.
(Later to become seven) In 1953 when we appeared on the scene at
Ardgartan the eldest was eleven and the youngest just months old. We had
been caravanning for a couple of years and my parents were looking for a
site, easily accessible from Airdrie where we lived ,so that weekends
and holidays could be spent relaxing , getting to know and appreciate
We tried the caravan
club site on the west side of the River Croe but found it a bit
restrictive for us boys, also the facilities were not great. Within a
few weeks thanks to meeting Mr Grant, the warden at the Ardgartan
forestry commission caravan park, we moved to the other side of the
river where we spent the next six or seven years. This was a much more
relaxed and family orientated friendly site, due not only to the other
campers and caravaners but to the warden Mr Grant who took a great
interest in all us youngsters, keeping us in line while allowing great
freedom for all our activities. For a family of six boys Ardgartan was a
weekend and holiday paradise.
There were families
from many varied backgrounds at Ardgartan. This could be reflected in
the variety of caravans which ranged from homemade caravans, caravans
pulled by motorbikes, top of the range luxury caravans and not
forgetting all the campers who regularly made this their weekend and
holiday retreat. The austerity of the war years was coming to an end,
rationing had gone and people wanted to escape at weekends and holidays.
Camping and caravanning was a non-restrictive pastime, a relaxed and
affordable means of achieving this.
Family names that
come to mind are Hunter, Ferguson, Murray, Mc Nicol, Ramage, Philips,
Lochead, Fowler, Bryden and Colquhoun. They mostly came from the
Glasgow, Paisley and Lanarkshire areas of the country. Considering the
variety of different backgrounds that the campers and caravaners came
from there was a remarkably friendly, almost a kinship, relationship
that existed at Ardgartan. This was, in great part, due to input from
the warden Mr Grant who was always on hand to help and advise.
were basic but adequate; the site was clean, neat and well run.
I cannot recall any destructive acts or acts of vandalism during
my years at Ardgartan.
at least four home built caravans on site. These ranged from an
amateur back garden build, two builds by carpenters/ technical
teachers, and one built by a professional car body repair
family. All were more than adequate, indeed quite luxurious,
demonstrating the ingenuity and skills available in the
population of that era. Had modern materials and fixings been
available to those builders who knows what luxury and style they
would have produced?
A bit about our family (
just a wee bit so as not to bore you )
I was the second eldest of a
family of six boys. Our caravan was an Eccles Imperial, 18 feet
long and weighing one and a half tons. There were six berths,
one double and four bunks for the boys. This meant that we had
to double up at night or sleep either in the car or sometimes a
We had a coal stove which heated water in a copper tank through
which the chimney passed. We older boys had to keep the water
tanks full and you had to be able to see your face in the copper
tank. The caravan roof was canvas, one of the last of this kind
of roof which had to be painted with bituminous aluminium paint
every year,- a job for the boys.
The boys all had their chores,
especially us older ones; fetching water, emptying the slop
bucket, cleaning out the fire, looking after little brothers
etc. We still had plenty time to pursue our own activities
though along with other youngsters, both locals and those from
Weekend cycle trip to Ardgartan 1956/57.
Mckie, Gilbert Fowler, David Whiteford, Paul Jonquin, Johny
Some of the things that we got up to
We had, of course, to go up the Cobbler, not up the sour milk burn path
as sensible people would have done but directly up the steep slope at
the side of the forestry plantation across from the caravan site. The
scramble up the final rocky top was quite a challenge and I am not sure
that I would have been happy to see my own children attempt it at our
age. We just took what appeared to be the shortest route up the hills
and anyway -what was an OS map?? The Brack was a maddening hill as you
always thought that you were at the top only to discover that this was
just another ridge and there seemed to be a dozen more before the top
was reached. We stravaiged along the loch side to Coilesan and beyond,
nosing into things that were new to us, “ Townies”,
included old rusting torpedoes which were to be found here and
there on the beach. Rock pools had to be investigated, boulders
turned over, to see what marine life lay beneath and of course
we thought nothing of just stripping off and diving off the
rocks into the loch. (Not completely, especially if the company
was mixed). A favourite day out was to follow Glen Loin past
Succoth, skirt Dubh Chnoc till we came to the Inveruglas Water
,then follow the track up to the Loch Sloy dam. There would be a
piece and jam in the pocket and perhaps an apple. To drink there
was the best tasting water in the world, as far as we were
concerned ,and this to be found in every burn. (not the ones
with the dead sheep in them though).
the way back a slight diversion would allow us to shower under
the biggest waterfall coming off A’chrois. This was always
freezing no matter how hot the day, but at least we were clean,
for a little while. We did know that there were caves
in this area but apart from some promising fissures in the rocks
we never found any real caves. A wander up the old Rest and be
Thankful was another good outing, especially if there was the
hill climb going on.
We spent as much time as we
could out of doors often not returning to the caravan till
teatime or later. Whether this was to enhance our knowledge of
the outdoors or to escape doing chores for our parents I’ll
leave the reader to decide.
Much of what we did was of
course weather permitting. It was not uncommon to arrive at
Ardgartan on a Friday evening just as the rain was starting. The
next glimpse of blue sky to be seen was on Sunday night as we
packed up to return home. It must be said however that we did
not let the rain curtail our activities to any great extent.
With my brother Robin 1953.
This love of the outdoors, developed at
Ardgartan, has stayed with me and has resulted in many forays into
remote and wild parts of Scotland. I never took up climbing seriously
but have scrambled up a number of peaks and met some interesting people
over the years.
There was no real sandy beach at
Ardgartan, mostly stones and shingle. The only sand to be found was
under the mussels at Ardgartan point and that small area at the mouth of
the River Croe. That most special patch of sand where a romantic young
blade,” Plighted his troth”, to Bonnie Mary O’ Argyll. Alas to no
avail!!(Only for the past and I believe present amusement of certain
persons). This memory of some fifty six or so years ago is a bit hazy,
but the question is, “Is the young Lochinvar still broken hearted “? Pat
Boon has a lot to answer for—Him and his song-.
Despite the stony beach we did all swim
regularly either off the beach or from boats. It was here that I first
saw fluorescence in the water at night, caused, I now know, by
phytoplankton. To see this sparkle when waves broke on the shore or to
follow the tracks of fish swimming was quite remarkable.
Boats and Fishing
A number of campers and caravaners had a
boat as did my family. Some of the outboard motors we used had names
which are probably now long forgotten. ( Britannia, Elto, British Anzani,
Mc Culloch) There were of course Jonsons, Evinrudes and the ubiquitious
British Seagull. The Yahamas, Suzukis and Mariners had not yet made
their appearance although Mercury was on the scene then.
James Murray, Jimmy McDougall,
Gilbert Fowler and Helen Campbell April 1957
trouble we had with that two and a half HP Britannia. We weren’t
good at keeping our petrol dirt and water free. This to our cost
and often utter embarrassment as we pulled and pulled the
starter cord to no avail. I remember once being rescued, during
just such a situation, by one of the torpedo chasers from the
range. The men were surprisingly nice to us as usually they were
chasing us off the loch.
Between 9AM and 5PM on those days
when they were firing torpedoes and according to the notices on
the shore we should not have been on the water anyway.
We used to watch torpedoes being
fired from the range. On calm days they could be tracked as they
sped through the water. Sometimes they were made to circle or to
follow the engine noise of the torpedo chasers. When their run
was spent they would remain afloat and be retrieved by the
chasers. On an odd occasion a torpedo would, “Go rogue”, and
come ashore causing great excitement among us youngsters. The
sea fishing was very good, probably some of the best I have ever
had. In a couple of hours you could have a good catch of
haddock, cod and whiting.
Most of our fishing was done from the pontoon platforms that the
MOD had moored at intervals down the loch. There were four
pontoons with a wooden platform joining them and usually a small
use a boat to get out to these in the evenings or at weekends
when the range was not working. They made great stable fishing
platforms. The only drawback to the fishing was when old Gibby
Fowler had his son Gilbert and me up at 5 AM to get mussels for
bait when the tide was out. The greatest reward though was when
Mrs Fowler served us deep fried battered fish fillets, the fish
being fresher than fresh. Absolutely delicious!
The only fish that I ever
caught in the riverCroe was a skate at the mouth of the river.
It was swimming on the surface till I dispatched it with an oar.
I gave it to two grateful campers for their tea.
We became friendly with the
Campbell family who lived in the cottage just before Ardgartan.
Mr Campbell was a great hand at repairing the damage that we
boys did to our boat. He worked for the Forestry Commission, I
believe ,and looked after their boat called, “ Eula”, which was
moored in the bay at Ardgartan. This was a lovely boat painted
green and powered by a petrol /paraffin Kelvin engine. Mrs
Campbell would, on occasion, enlist the help of her eldest son
Alastair along with some of us older boys to sweep the floor and
empty the ashes from the fire in the small Glencroe school
opposite the caravan park.
Jimmy tying up the boat.
Alistair Campbell at the back
with his son Iain in the foreground. 1953/54
I remember one day Mr Campbell and
another forestry worker bringing a dead cattle beast to
Ardgartan on the Eula. The story we were given was that it had
gone feral and had become a danger to forestry workers who were
working down the loch near the entrance to Loch Goil. I don’t
think that many people had freezers in those days but I suspect
that it ended up in a few people’s larders.
Mr Campbell had a motorbike and
sidecar. The bike had a very loud and distinctive engine noise
which served as an effective early warning that he and the wife
were on their way home,perhaps from Helensburgh. This gave us
boys’ time enough to, “Get things sorted “, before they reached
Mrs Campbell could and did still catch us out on occasion
though, when on foot. ( Ask Shegan!).
Ardgartan was a most friendly place where everyone knew everyone. There
were plenty of young people on site and we had no trouble making friends
with the local youth. On reflection this was perhaps quite unusual as I
have often come across situations where the local youth resented
incoming holidaymakers. There was never any, “Aggro”, at dances in the
local hall even when liaisons formed between caravaners and locals. I
have great memories of dances and dancing in my teens. We were all
taught Scottish Country Dances and modern dances at school. The American
influence of rock and roll, jive, R&B and skiffle had arrived. All we
teenagers wanted to dance, both at home and at Arrochar. We went to
every dance that was on. Sometimes we would take the boat over to the
pier and walk up to the local hall, other times we would just walk from
Ardgartan. Late Nights! Yes, especially if you escorted a young lady
home. Late for us though was probably up to about midnight, especially
on a Saturday.
The only time that there was any potential for trouble at Arrochar
dances , that I remember, was when there was a submarine moored at the
range and sailors came to the dance having been to one or more of the
local hotels. This was very rare and never serious. There were dances
in the CHALET
at Ardgartan. These were always
great family affairs at which everyone was welcome. The main
dance was at the end of the season and served to whet our
appetite for next season to come round. Apart from dances we
all, ”hung out”, explored, had camp fires on the beach where we
roasted tatties, cooked twists , had sing songs and were just
teenagers. (Not the sulky kind).
Unfortunately as we passed through
our teenage years weekend and holiday jobs came along and
visits to Ardgartan became fewer and fewer. No more catching
MacBrayans bus from Glasgow, no more cycling to Ardgartan with
mates for the weekend. Friends drifted apart and lost touch as
we all followed our separate ways.
The legacy, the memories, all that
we learned however still remains. Speaking to my brothers and
others who caravanned at Ardgartan in the 1950’s we all agree- -
THESE WERE GREAT YEARS!
Back row: ? Frank Lamond, Dicky
Mathieson, Alistair Campbell.
Middle Row: ? Mary Campbell, Julie Lamond.
Front Row Shegan, Ellen Campbell, Duncan Lamond.