The Glen As They Knew It

Ormidale Pier with Puffer

An Interview 17/07/13

Conducted by Struan Walker interviewing Mr Johnny Gillies & Mrs Mary Black

I had the pleasure of meeting Mr Johnny Gillies and Mrs Mary Black. Mr Gillies was born in Glendaruel in 1925 and Mrs Black arrived in 1941, at the age of 19. Over a cup of tea, Mr Gillies and Mrs Black very kindly shared some of their memories about the Glen.

Mary arrived when she was 19 and has been here for 72 years. She was born in Campbeltown and then moved to Edinburgh for 3 years before the war broke out. There was no work to be found, so she went down to the local labour exchange where she met Mrs Bradford – the owner of the Glendaruel Hotel, who was there for a friend’s funeral. Mrs Bradford offered Mary a job immediately and that was the start of Mary’s life in the Glen.

It was not long before she met Hughie Black, her husband to be. They married in 1942 and went on to have 3 daughters. She has been in the Glen ever since! Hughie worked in farming with the MacVicar family for 39 years before retiring and Mary carried on working over the years at the hotel and her daughters worked alongside her as they grew in to young women.

Mary had come from Edinburgh, with all its modern commodities to live in Clachanmore Cottage in Glendaruel, where there were only candles for light and no running water! She had to use a tilly lamp at night to guide her on her trip outside to pump water in to the cottage. She stayed there for 3 years before moving to Mill Cottage, then on to Maymore, then back to Mill Cottage and then finally on to the Clachan, where she is still currently living!

There was no electricity in the Glen until 1947. Until that point, the hotel made its own electricity with a generator. With the arrival of electricity in the Glen, the building which had been used to house the generator was made into a cottage. Mary was 24 when electricity came to the Glen.

Mary described the Glendaruel hotel as a very busy place. Fourteen buses used to be parked outside and one even came from Bute once a fortnight bringing people over for lunch. Fishing was one of the main things which attracted people to the hotel, along with shooting and hill walking. Some time later a Mr Blakey took over the running of the Hotel and the business began to decline. From that point onwards no one really owned the hotel for very long.

Mr Gillies chimed in “People started going abroad, which was the downfall of these small places”. He continued with his memory of being school lad in the Glen.

There were two schools in the Glen as they had to be within a reasonable walking distance from the pupils’ homes. Pupils outside a 3 mile radius of the school were supplied with bikes. Mr Gillies was inside the 3 mile radius, so he had to make the journey by foot from his home in the mornings.  He recalled fondly, “We went through the fields and across the swinging bridge over the river”.

When I asked Mr Gillies about his childhood pastimes he replied, “Shinty was seen as the 11 o’clock game. We had a wee pitch that we could play at other times, but at 11 o’clock there was a bigger pitch available and we played on that until the bell rang or the whistle went.”

A fond childhood memory of Mr Gillies was of the ruins up above the shinty pitch, past Conachra Cottage. The kids used to go up there to try and knock down the sole remaining gable wall with long sticks. “Seemingly it’s still standing” Mr Gillies said wistfully.

Mr Gillies’s father died when Mr Gillies was only 4 years of age. His mother continued on with the farm until 1945. Mr Gillies went to work with his uncle at Ardacheranmor Farm and he worked with him until he married in 1950. Mr Gillies’s wife was not a local lass but had come to work in the hotel. Four people around that time met their wives in Glendaruel Hotel ; Johnny Gillies, Hughie Black, Arthur Keith and Duncan Gillies. After marrying, Mr Gillies worked with the forestry (Forestry Comission Scotland for eight years. He then went on to work in many different places before arriving at Kilfinan, where he worked for 40 years.

Mr Gillies said that one of the main changes he can see in the present day Glendaruel is that there are very few farmers where there used to be many farmers and now there is a lot of forestry where there used to be quite little. The number of residents however , he thinks has stayed roughly the same.

Day To Day Living:

Another change that Mary recalled were the vans which used to come every week to Glendaruel bringing food and goods to the residents. A bread van came on a Monday, A Dairy van on Tuesday, the Butchers van on Wednesday, the Baker on Thursday and the Fish van on a Friday. Once a month *Puffer boats came with sugar, flour and all types of food to Ormidale Pier. You could also get coal from the pier which was collected in a horse and cart and taken back to the Glen.

In the evenings there was much to do; whist, plays, concerts and dances. A film was shown in the Glendaruel Village hall once a week, by the Highlands and Islands Film Guild. These things kept people entertained and one could even argue that more entertainment was on offer at a more reasonable distance to the inhabitants of Glendaruel than there is now. Archie Baxter had the local taxi and used to take people over to Dunoon for dances and other events. This was seen as a big thing for some of the locals.

Mr Ray was Glendaruel’s postman and all of the mail came from Glasgow. There was a post office in the Clachan where the Smithy used to be located and it sold groceries, coffee, cakes, sweets and tobacco. This fascility is now gone, along with most of the delivery vans, which stopped coming with their produce many years ago – except for ‘Robert’ of LochFyne Fish, who comes in present day in his fish van on a Tuesday. Mr Gillies said “we were a lot poorer but a lot happier back then.”

The doctor used to come over the Bealachandrain hill as there was no road form Tighnabruaich. He used a motorbike to get there as quickly as possible. The school used to be in Conachra but it was still called Kilmodan School. It closed and the present Kilmodan Primary opened in the 1960’s, bringing the children of Colintraive and Glendaruel together.

No one worked outside of the Glen area, so it was a tight knit community. The vast land that farmers owned were near impossible without a large working force. Especially on such occasions such as  sheep delivery and gathering. In these days farms were not managed with quad bikes and heavy machinery, man power was needed. 

Local Faces:

There were many characters in Glendaruel such as Calum Munro. He liked a wee dram. One evening he and a friend were walking home from the hotel when two people shot past them on a motorbike. They had noticed Calum swaying about and as they looked back, they saw he had disappeared, so they went back to search for him to see if he was all right. Eventually they found Calum in a ditch. He looked up and said to them “two buggers on a motorbike put me in here!”

The war had no real adverse effects on Glendaruel. However, some of the children used to think there was a spy in the Glen. They later discovered that he was just an eccentric Swedish man with a keen interest in Gaelic. Gaelic was not commonly spoken in Glendaruel at that time, so maybe that is why it sparked the suspicions.

American soldiers stationed nearby used to come and play football with the locals. “The Glen team never won, most of these soldiers were like professional footballers” Mr Gillies recalled. Another memory of the Americans was the occasion when hundreds of soldiers came over to Glendaruel for exercises known as war games; this involved firing live rounds and dropping flour bombs! The home guard also used to have a wee hut by the cross roads which stopped any cars that looked suspicious. “Quite a few of them were very keen to shoot some Jerries!” Mr Gillies laughed.

I would like to thank Mrs Mary Black and Mr Jonny Gillies for the memories they shared. I’m particularly grateful for the interesting articles that Mr Gillies provided. Glendaruel has a rich history which I have only scratched the surface of; it has produced musicians and mathematicians such as Colin MacLaurin who has a fascinating story.

Mrs Mary Black summarised our conversation very well .. “those were the days!”.

*Puffers serviced the communities along Loch Fyne bringing necessary goods. The point of delivery for Glendaruel and Colintraive was Ormidale Peir.

A Puffer was a boat powered by steam that would give a characterstic “puff” out of the chimney on each stroke of the piston.

Struan Walker lives in Colintraive. He is 16 years old and came to the area when he was 5 years old. His mum Holly was born in Colintraive and her family the Sinclairs, have lived in the area for many years.