Monday 11 February 2013

The Fire That Never Went Out





Going to and coming from my modest adventures , I often meet John who lives just along the street. Now in his nineties, he walks with a zimmer and is always keen to natter about the wild places.

John served his time as a watchmaker in Glasgow in the 1930s and like many of his ilk used to head for the hills and glens at the weekends.


In this, he was part of the working class outdoors movement of the depression years – Tom Weir, Jock Nimlin, Robert Grieve et al. Walking, hitching and bussing, they would head for Glencoe, Arrochar and points north on a Friday night, climb all weekend, and the get back in time for work on Monday morning.




Tom Weir went on to become Scotland’s first outdoors meeja person, many years before Cameron McNeish. In later life, a slightly comic figure with his red nose, bobble hat and tweed breeches, Tam had been a serious climber and mountaineer in his prime both in Scotland and the Himalayas. I seem to recall that his climbing career was ended after a fall on the relatively inoffensive little Ben A’an in the Trossachs.I also think Dave Hewitt said that, although he had climbed most of the Munros, he deliberately never compleated, as it would have seemed like some artificial victory over the mountains.






















Jock Nimlin was a fascinating, multi-faceted character.A true hard-man, but an autodidact in the best working class tradition.He would put up impossible routes in The Arrocher Alps, dossing overnight in a cave up from Succoth, with only a copy of The Daily Record as a sleeping bag.After spending most of his working life as a shipyard crane operator, he became Scotland’s first countryside ranger. He was also an authority on native gemstones.There is a sort of biography/ edited diary in print, but the man deserves a documentary film.


Going to and coming from the hills, these Clydeside stravaigers would often meet up on the shore of Craigallion Loch near Milngavie. A fire was kept burning all weekend, and tea was brewed in old rat poison containers.Stories were shared, songs were sung, the world was put to rights and the seeds of the Creag Dhu and Ptarmigan Clubs were sown. After the Wars (Second World and Spanish Civil) things were never the same and the fire died out, although you can still see the odd glowing ember in John’s eyes when he talks about threading the needle on The Cobbler.

Last summer some people organised a project to locate the site and erect a simple memorial. Although the protective woods have now gone, the old hearth stone was found quite close to the route of The West Highland Way.The details are here.



Don’t click below if you are offended by sweary words and bodily functions. The ashes of Arab Strap.



  1. Fascinating that, OM. And curiously spooky, having walked up that path past the loch myself.
    Those people were a different breed back then.
    Cheers, Alen

    1. We're standing on the shoulders of giants, Alen.

  2. Thanks for that. Fascinating. But please don't compare McNeish with the charismatic Tom Weir!

    1. Glad you enjoyed, Alan. I've never met CM, but he he seems to be pretty unpopular in certain quarters.