Fire Stories - 3
Chris Lyon started work in the Singer's Sewing Factory (Sing-Sing) at the age of 14 then joined John Brown's shipyard as a shipwright and retired as a manager after 37 years. He was the second President of the Creagh Dhu Mountaineering Club and held that position for 15 years. A man of wide interests, he too had a great gift for writing about the outdoors in those Depression years. This is how he described one of his first visits to the Craigallian Fire:
nights were drawing in as I hiked along the Stockie on to the Bracken
Pad that followed the course of the Allander water. It had been
many long hours since I had seen another soul when I smelled the pine
wood smoke of the Craigallian Fire. The welcoming warmth of this
fire attracted hundreds of wandering men. From this developed the
Scottish outdoor activities enjoyed today: walking, rambling, scrambling,
climbing, skiing, boating and sailing. The group who dominated around
this fire were left-wing philosophers who spoke a new language, Dialectical
Materialism, Proletariat, the Masses. They seldom spoke of Scotland's
plight but offered Russia as the latter-day Paradise. As schoolboys
out for a walk we were tolerated ... as long as we sat silently in the
Bob Grieve, a Weekender from Maryhill, became a civil engineer then Town Planner, took the first Chair of Town & Regional Planning at Glasgow University and was appointed the first Chairman of the Highlands and Islands Development Board in 1965. A man of wide literary interests, particularly poetry, he was a President of the Scottish Mountaineering Club and Mountaineering Council; Scottish Countryside and Rangers Association; the Scottish Rights of Way Society, Friends of Loch Lomond and many other organisations dedicated to the intelligent expansion and preservation of our countryside.
The following reminiscences are from his son Willie:
At different points in my childhood and adolescence I remember my father, Bob Grieve, reminiscing about the Craigallian Fire. It had clearly been deeply significant for him, and was part of a tapestry of stories about his early life in the outdoors, which throughout his life formed such an important, indeed indispensable part of who he was.
Sadly I now can’t remember the names of those who sat round the fire with him, other than Jock Nimlin who became a good friend. One detail that sticks in my mind is that the ‘old timers’ enjoyed the closest positions to the fire, and the tenderfeet, in deference to their senior counterparts, sat at the back. The impression I have retained is that sometimes there were substantial numbers of young men - and it was young men - at the Fire, so that proximity to the Fire on a cold night became an important consideration, particularly when dossing on the ground, with or without a blanket.
In passing it should be noted that this was a generation greatly influenced by cowboy books and films, and if they modeled themselves on anyone, it was the ‘Red Indians’ rather than the cowboys, whose affinity with and knowledge of the ways of nature were greatly admired. I can remember my father describing the pride he took on developing the ability to move noiselessly through woods – ‘padding’ - and of never leaving a trace of having lit a fire (something he has passed on to me) presumably excepting the Craigallian Fire itself. Physical toughness in the sense of endurance and the ability to shrug off discomfort were key qualities.
Food, and the absence of it, also figured largely. Sitting one night in the Finnich Glen north of Craigallian, he was cooking pancakes over a small fire. Attracted to the distant glow, another young man silently approached the fire. Concluding that here was a kindred spirit, he called out; ‘Smells good!’ and stepped into the firelight. ‘Try one!’ said my father. And they ate them, one after another, until the flour was gone. Thus was a lifelong friendship born – Malcom (Calum) Finlayson could have stepped straight off the set of a cowboy film as a Mohican brave. Powerfully built, and with a wide impassive face, he later became a Chief Superintendent with the Glasgow police, and was the man who killed Griffiths the gunman who ran amok in Glasgow in 1969.
On another occasion, they were both walking back to Glasgow from Loch Lomond one evening, half-starved. They came on a car parked by the side of the road – a rarity in those days – and a couple who had set up a picnic on the grass, the centrepiece of which was a large meat pie. As they approached, their eyes hungrily fixed on the pie, the woman observed them and charitably called out: ‘Could you go a piece of pie, boys?’
Calum drew himself up to his full height,
and with great dignity replied: ‘Madam, I can always go a piece
of pie’. My father’s description of the generous slices
of pie, stuffed with large chunks of meat and – a detail which stayed
with me – whole hard-boiled eggs can still have me involuntarily
salivating after all these years.
The Creag Dhu, born round the Fire, figured in many stories of his although he himself was not a member – but his sister and brother-in-law, Tom and Margaret Brown, were. He spoke of two canoes the Creag Dhu built in the early days – named, I think, May Day & Revolution – which were left at the boatyard at Balmaha for the free use of anyone; wholly in the spirit of their radical politics.
Another vivid story of his concerned men returning home from the Spanish Civil War, some still with their weapons which they used to kill deer on the flanks of Ben Lomond to feed families in Clydebank. This earned the wrath of the landowners, whose posses of gamekeepers ended up in battles of wits with the Civil War veterans while they hunted the deer – and on one or more occasions, exchanges of shots. Could this be true? The romantic part of me hopes that there’s at least some truth in it.
The Craigallian Fire was a common thread that ran through all of this – the staging post or gateway through which he and so many others passed on their way to Loch Lomond and beyond, and round which the stories were told, songs were sung, exploits commemorated, and a sense of adventure cultivated.
For all that my father achieved in his life – many public honours, a knighthood, a professorial chair and reaching the pinnacle of his profession as a town planner – I have no doubt that those nights round that and many other Fires as a young man, with the firelight flickering on his face in the company of those who like him responded to the call of the outdoors were amongst the most significant, influential - and happiest - of his life. At the age of 16, he expressed his feelings for the outdoors in a poem which would be often quoted .....
Ian McHarg was born in Clydebank, the son of a minister. After serving in the Parachute Regiment and Royal Engineers in WW II, he went to America and obtained degrees in landscape architecture and city planning at Harvard University. He returned to Scotland, working on housing and New Town planning for a short time before being recruited to set up a graduate course in landscape architecture at the University of Pennsylvania in 1954 which he ran for 30 years. He became world- renowned for his philosophy of incorporating environmental concerns into designs; was responsible for several notable and successful planning projects in Baltimore, New York, Texas and Florida, and won many US and international awards for his work including the Japan Award for city planning.
"……Had I been born near
Edinburgh, a handsome mediaeval and 18th century city, my views might
well have developed differently, but here, outside Glasgow, a beautiful
and powerful landscape contrasted with a mean, ugly city, a testament
to man's inhumanity to man. I found benison in nature, more repugnance
than challenge and stimulus from the city. This point was reinforced by
the fact that a trip to Glasgow required the accompaniment of an adult,
but I had complete freedom to explore the countryside alone, even as a
youngster. Nature was freedom.