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                        Memories Of Caravanning At Ardgarten In The Fifties > 



Caravanning At Ardgartan In The Fifties


       Jimmy Mc Dougall


Why Ardgartan?  The family 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 the outdoors. 

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.   

The people

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.

Facilities 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.

There were 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 tent.

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 the site.   

Weekend cycle trip to Ardgartan 1956/57.

Rab Mckie, Gilbert Fowler, David Whiteford, Paul Jonquin, Johny Darrach

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”,

These 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).


On 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

What 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 hut.



 had to 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 home.

Mrs Campbell could and did still catch us out on occasion though, when on foot. ( Ask Shegan!).  

Social Life

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- - -





Back row: ? Frank Lamond, Dicky Mathieson, Alistair Campbell.
Middle Row: ? Mary Campbell, Julie Lamond.
Front Row Shegan, Ellen Campbell, Duncan Lamond.