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Chris Lyon (1922 - 1994)

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:

" The 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 background.
That evening I strode boldly through the pine wood, dumped my pack at the fire, picked up the ever-boiling big drum of stewed tea from the fire, filled my can and sat on a log and took my ease.  A hundred eyes sized up this brash boy, then the conversation flowed once more, plotting a new revolution.  I was accepted as a WEEKENDER!"

The Creagh Dhu
By Chris Lyon

The despair of industrial depression
Rots a man body and soul
Ragtag, broken, beaten,
Soft hand outstretched for the dole.
This is the masses I speak of
The mob that is so easily beat
Who cheer for the flag that is winning
Then crumble when thrown on the street.
'Tis of individuals I wish to speak of
Rough diamonds that always gleam through
About those who sought high adventure
Like the club they call the Creagh Dhu.
Parish boots crunched the unknown by-ways
Heather the bed for the night
'Twas pease-brose or porridge for breakfast
For dinner just pull your belt tight.
They followed the cascading river
Lifting a fish, a rabbit, a hare;
Till they came to the towering mountain
And wondered what is up over there?
Steep slopes fell to their parry
Ridges and tops to their thrust
Then they turned to the virgin rock face
to sate their insatiable lust.

Escape found on timeless ledges
Freedom balanced high above
The came pure understanding,
an all-consuming passion, then love.
Far below at the Fire of Craigallian,
The eternal flame that never burnt oot,
Faces now glowed,
Few round the fire, there was plenty of war work about,
The philosophers told the high wanderers,
The rest have crawled back to the slums,
Exchanging their dreams of freedom,
For a handful of material crumbs.
In the shadows beyond the embers,
Sat a boy in the circle of dreams,
Mind baffled with book talk learning,
Grasped the truth of the mountain and streams.
‘Where is this Highland of Freedom?’ he asked eyes shining bright.
A granite hand clasped his shoulder,
Spun the boy round to the night.
‘O’er there is a cliff called Creagh Dhu,’ boomed a voice banner unfurled,
Climb that if you can my wee laddie,
Tis first pitch to the roof of the world.’
Sixty years on they still climb to the sky,
Leaving the legend of triumph and skill,
Part men, part gods and part devil,
Paying homage to their mistress, the Hill.

Professor Sir Robert (Bob) Grieve (1910 - 1995)

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.

There was a vividness and a sense of something unrecapturable in his stories – a sadness, perhaps – which I can now understand
better as a man myself in my 60s.  A clear memory I have is of him describing the first time he tramped to Loch Lomond in his youth, presumably via the Fire, arriving in late evening and trying to sleep under bushes wrapped in a thin blanket. Waking early with the cold, he stood shivering on the pier at Rowardennan, gazing transfixed at the transcendental beauty of the loch in early morning as it emerged from darkness and mist.  This was a different world – magical, mythic and of profound beauty.   

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 .....

The Open Road

The lure of the road before me,
The open sky above,
The weight of the pack upon my back,
These are the things I love.

The loch far-outstretched and hushed,
The heave of the swell beneath,
The steady pull and the rhythmic sway,
And the sigh as the winds softly breathe.

The grate of the keel on the sand,
The first curling wisp of smoke,
The laughter and talk as we each do our task,
And the silence of the Island broke.

The red dancing light on each face
As we take up positions of ease,
The hiss of the foam of the waves on the beach
And the hush of the wind in the trees.

These are the things I love,
These are the things that pull me
To the silent places and the windy places,
And the places that are open and free.

(Robert Grieve 1926)


Professor Ian L. McHarg (1920 - 2001)

Ian McHargIan 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.
I was ten when I was first permitted to go on a day walk.  My friend Alastair MacLean and I, each with a haversack containing lunch, each with tuppence to phone in an emergency, set off for Craigallian Loch, perhaps five miles away. Scotland had no law of trespass, so the country was fissured by rights-of-way.  The stone walls and stiles that crossed the fields resolved the problems of travellers in gaining entry and avoiding livestock.  The road to Craigallian was over Craigton Moor, bracken and heather underfoot. Blaeberries, a prostrate blueberry, were abundant; raspberries were found in the rough, blackberries in the hedgerows, and wild strawberries grew on the stone walls.  An old road appeared from time to time, flanked by trees, reputedly taken by Rob Roy, the red-bearded patriot, brigand, and cattle thief.  The path followed a burn, almost continuously in waterfall, where in the pools were small trout and red-breasted minnows.
The loch was a surprise.  I assume now that it is a glacial kettle, for it lay in a basin, its containment heightened by the encircling forest of beeches, mountain ash and some pine and larch.  Foxgloves nodded along the margin, flag iris grew by the lake, waterlilies colonised the water, dragonflies and damselflies flew, and fish jumped.   It was quite silent.
      In the Scotland of the Depression a number of young men decided to forego the dole, a payment to the unemployed. Instead they walked around the country and frequently travelled abroad, offering their services whenever possible, living off the land when it was not.   That meant trapping rabbits, catching trout and salmon, taking a few potatoes, cabbages, kale and turnips, and maybe finding an egg or two.
      This behaviour became institutionalised.   Firepots were constructed; that is, fireplaces were built, generally near a spring with two basins – one for drinking, the other for washing pots and pans.   They were adjacent to firewood and to bracken, which was used to sleep in.   The other institution was the bothy, a small building used by shepherds during lambing and sometimes by farm labourers.   Such structures were left open and available to hikers.
      To reach Craigallian, five miles away, meant four miles per hour, one meal out from Glasgow, going and coming.  It lay on the upland route to Loch Lomond and beyond.  Travellers beginning a trip and those returning would converge on Craigallian at midday.   We two boys, starting later and travelling slower, succumbed to many diversions, and when we came to a firepot we found half a dozen people there.  We listened enthralled to men who had travelled Scotland far and wide, picked grapes in France, but even more wondrous, had fought with the Scottish Brigade in the Spanish Civil War.   They had light aluminium Bergen carriers, a Primus stove, a tin can and cup hanging from the pack, and big tackety boots.   They were notably well spoken and, it transpired, spent much time during the inclement winters in the public libraries.   One of them became quite distinguished – Sir Robert Grieve, mountain climber, nature photographer, and ultimately Professor of city planning at Glasgow University.
      What was a destination for a ten-year-old became a point of departure thereafter.  Every year the radius extended generally north and west.   We could walk thirty miles a day comfortably, which meant sixty miles on a weekend and more during school holidays……"

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