My parents, Bill and Norah Barron, met in the Glasgow HF and married in June, 1931. Their honeymoon was spent hiking in the Cairngorms, and I’ve always liked to think I was conceived in the Corrour bothy; apparently it rained all week. My arrival nine months later and the birth of my sister in 1935 didn’t dampen the enthusiasm my parents always had for HF activities, and the weekend joys of Drumkinnon camp.
We took the bus (double-decker, hopefully top front row) from Glasgow to Balloch, and then hiked about a mile and a half up Stoneymollan Road, stopping halfway just beyond the “hanging tree” to collect the Drumkinnon key from the farmhouse, which also supplied milk and eggs. The hanging tree was an ancient oak with a branch about a foot thick that stretched horizontally right across the road, and it seemed every HF member knew a blood-curdling story about robbers, murderers, and thieving taxmen who had swung from that branch. Those stories were usually told by the light of the oil lamps in the main hut at Drumkinnon just before our bedtime, with my mother vainly trying to change the subject. On one memorable weekend, Wattie Neilson arrived ahead of us and climbed the tree to attach a frayed rope with a broken noose to that branch, knowing we’d be mesmerized by it.
We were always glad to reach the style leading to the camp field, because Stoneymollan Road was a fairly steep climb and our backpacks were heavy. Our parents did not believe in carrying our possessions for us! We’d follow the worn path to the four huts, sidestepping cow patties, but also checking them to find the dry ones, because the biggest, fattest worms were under the dry ones. My sister and I held worm races on the steps of the top hut, used for storage of tents and carpentry tools. The bottom hut, Talstone, was the ladies tent, the next one was for men, and the big hut was the common hut for cooking, playing cards, making tea, planning hikes and blethering. If there was an overflow of members, we pitched tents, and if the weather was really bad, the storage hut was used for sleeping. Each sleeping hut had eight bunks with straw palliasses, and I always hoped to get the top bunk to your right as you entered, because it had a window, and you could lie on your stomach and gaze out at the Loch and Ben Lomond.
The clear burn which ran down the hill in front of the huts provided water for cooking and washing dishes, but we got pure drinking water from a spring about half a mile further up on the track to Helensburgh. This was named ‘the wishing well’, and everyone made private wishes at it and drank from an old iron scoop tethered there by a chain. I remember going to it once, as a teenager, after the war, and fervently wishing I could pass a math exam. Miraculously, that wish came true! There was a great feeling of camaraderie at Drumkinnon.
Both men and women worked together to make improvements, and there were many talented members. The camp was maintained in tip-top condition, and the outside walls got fresh creosote annually. There was a roofless shower stall built beside the burn so that anyone could have a cold shower after a hard day’s work on whatever carpentry project was on the go that weekend, and a little further down the burn had been dammed to provide a bathing pool; as kids we played a lot in it, and even caught the odd minnow, but I don’t remember any adults splashing in it. The toilets were up on the hill behind the rhododendron bushes; two seats, and a door split in two so that you could leave the top half open to gaze again at Ben Lomond in the far distance. There were usually old copies of Oor Wullie from the Sunday Post left there for leisurely reading. The bushes were a riot of red blossoms in the summer, which attracted bees, the only negative thing I remember about Drumkinnon. I was only stung once, but never again lingered close to the bushes.
There was a great cast-iron stove in the main hut, and my Dad was usually the first man up to light the fire for cooking breakfast. Number one item on his agenda was always a decent cup of tea, and there was the primus stove for that while the fire got going. At Drumkinnon the men seemed to do most of the cooking. Wives had prepared some of the food at home, but breakfast was a bit competitive, with the menfolk frying eggs, sausages, bacon, potato scones, black pudding etc. onto one of the three heavy frying pans. Huge cholesterol count, but absolutely delicious. There was one member whose real name I forget, but he was nicknamed ‘Kippers’ because that’s all he ever ate at Drumkinnon, and he was teased mercilessly about the smell. There was no refrigerator of course, but to the left as you entered the main hut there were 12 inch square cubbyholes built into the wall, and everyone put their food into one of those. Whatever needed to be kept cold was submerged in the burn. There was a communal cubbyhole too, containing flour, salt/pepper and a great big tin of Lyle’s golden syrup for pancakes. We always ate very well, before and after the war, and I actually liked helping with the dishes!
I was back in Scotland in 1996 and climbed again the Stoneymollan Road. I don’t know what I expected the Drumkinnon camp to be like then, but I shed a few tears to find it gone.