1966 to 1970 in Scotland

1966 to 1970 in Scotland

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Edinburgh Castle

I quickly fell in love with Edinburgh. The population was about 1 million and you could quickly be out in the country in fantastic scenery but the country also came to town in the guise of 35 golf courses within the city boundaries. Then there was Arthurs Seat, an extinct volcano, Calton Hill with it's replica Parthenon that earned the city the title 'Athens of the North' but it is better known as 'Auld Reekie' of account of the thousands of chimmneys that stained the local stone black.

Golf was invented here and Bruntsfield Links was where it was first played is now an extensive parkland. Golf became the working man's game unlike in England where it was the game of the privileged few. My new landlord, George Alden, introduced me to the game and I became a regular golfer

Edinburgh is one of the most complete Georgian cities in the UK and the other is Bath in Somerset. Unfortunately the town planners allowed commerce to run riot in Princes Street, the main thoroughfare, where the original Georgian architecture has all but disappeared to be replaced by ugly modernity.

The Arts Festival each year bought the city alive and the festival fringe in those days featured such groups as The Cambridge Footlights Review featuring such luminaries as Peter Cook, Eric Idle and Clive James. Not to be outdone the Oxford Review had most of the Monty Python team plus Dudley Moore, Alan Bennett and Rowan Atkinson.

Lister Blacksone Marine

John Porteus accompanied me around Scotland for about a month. In addition to Scotland my responsibilites extended down to the River Tees and across to Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria so from Sunderland to Wick on Scotland's Northern coast was a drive of nearly 400 miles.

We had an office in Kirkintilloch just outside Glasgow managed by John Storey who I reported to and took care of all the shipyards and owners in the Glasgow area which freed me to do most of the travelling. Georgie Murphy was Johns secretary and organised both of us very effectively.

My first morning began with Georgie asking me to keep an appointment with the superintendent engineer of the Northern Lighthouse Board (NLB) in George Street, Edinburgh.
The NLB are responsible for the operation and maintenance of the over 200 lighthouses and numerous bouys and beacons around Scotland.
I was asked if I would have a look at a lighthouse tender with a view to replacing the engine which I said I would of course do. The Super then pointed to a map on the wall where the boat could be found at Muckle Flugga which is and island off the Northern tip of Shetland and about 400 miles from Edinburgh as the crow flies or the Vickers Viscount flies which was the aircraft used in those days.

Muckle Flugga Lighthouse

So my first introduction to selling marine engines in Scotland involved flying up to Sumburgh airport on Monday which in those days was little more than a shed on a strip of tarmac. A Coach up to Lerwick where I stayed the night then hired a car and drove North to the Yell ferry, across Yell to the Unst Ferry and finally to the hotel some 50 odd miles from Lerwick where I stayed the night.

The next day I drive the few miles to the Muckle Flugga tender boathouse and measured everything up for a new engine but by then it was too late for the last ferry so I had another night in Baltasound, returning to Lerwick the next day. On the Friday I flew back to Edinburgh and subsequently was given the order for a new engine but I don't think there was much profit in that transaction after they deducted my expenses!

Viscount aircraft landing at Sumburgh, Shetland

Flying in and out of Sumburgh in those days was a hit and miss affair as the weather could close in at any time and you might be stranded at either end of the flight. You would look at the clouds and wonder if the plane would get in.
I remember once when the weather was so bad I had resigned myself to catching the St Ola ferry overnight from Lerwick to Aberdeen as I thought the flight would be cancelled. The ground staff at Sumburgh told us that the pilot was a Captain Black and if anyone could land in those conditions he was the one to do it.
Sure enought the plane came out of the clouds at just the right place, Captain Black shook hands with the lighthouse keeper on Sumburgh Head and made a perfect landing! All the outgoing passengers formed a guard of honour for him into the terminal!

Readers might be interested in the memoirs of a Captain Scott who piloted the aircraft between Aberdeen and Shetland for many years and rates it the best he has ever flown.

Caving and Climbing Mountains

The caving area in Scotland was in the county of Sutherland in the North West corner of the mainland and the GSG had a field hut at Knockan. It was an old loom shed and was pretty basic but close to where most caves were situated.

Most of the larger caves are situated in the Alt Nan Uamh and Traligill valley's and strategically situated to them is the Inchnadamph Hotel, an essential requirement of a thirsty caver emerging from an exhausting trip underground!

Firehose Cave survey

On my first visit to the area I was pretty ignorant of where the caves were as was my companion. I set off up the Traligill valley following the river and noticed a stream of water emerging from behind a flake of rock into a deep pool.

Uamh An Tartair (Cave of the Roaring)

I jumped into the pool and swam round behind the rock flake and there was a steep underground water chute which I forced my way up with some difficulty. The cave continued for about 100 metres of crawling until after a short duck I emerged into a sizeable well decorated chamber.

Nobody in the GSG seemed to know of this cave at the time but it was eventually named Firehose Cave and the survey is shown above.
I am not claiming to have first discovered this cave but I just might have been the one who was stupid enough to explore it first!

There are a few very wet caves that the Traligill river disappears into and the adjacent photo is of one called Uamh An Tartair (Cave of the Roaring) but further up the valley you come to the famous bone caves where human remains were found and where early cavers once lived!

Caves like Firehose were impenetrable in wet weather which was normal in Sutherland so when caving was impossible we then used to climb mountains which are spectacular in that part of the world. I have posted many photos of the scenery around here on this page.

During my regular travels around the country I used to keep my mountain gear, boots, ice axe, crampons etc in the boot and if I had time would often 'knock off a bastard' as Sir Edmund Hillary used to say.
I also kept my golf clubs in the car and I must have played most of the coastal courses in Scotland as even the smallest village usually has a golf course.

Once or twice a year I would drive up to Wick in Caithness where there was a boatbuilder who would give me the names and adresses of fishermen looking to build new or re-engine. I would then drive right across the North coast and visit these isolated places.

Caithness is a pretty bleak county but when you drive into Sutherland there is a sudden transformation of pure beauty and a softening of the landscape as the road dips and climbs around rugged outcrops, silver sand beaches and mountain vistas until you come to Durness.

Smoo Cave

Caves occur in particular types of limestone, mainly carboniferous, but Durness has its own type named after it and it has the famous Cave of Smoo.

Smoo Cave waterfall
There are many sea caves in the surrounding cliffs but Smoo is unique in the UK in that the outer chanber has been formed by the action of the sea and the inner cave by the freshwater Smoo Burn, firstly by phreatic action or disolving the limestone due to carbonic acidic water and then by vadose action or the rushing stream wearing away the rock.

Smoo Burn would have flowed over the cave entrance at one time before a collapse of the inner chamber roof after gradual solutional activity caused the Burn to change course and flow down into a passage that was already there from a sink further upstream. So we now have a 65 feet high waterfall which cavers can ladder or abseil down to the streamway and swim out under a sump into daylight.

From Durness the road then turns South and you come to Ben Hope, the most northerly 'Munroe' (a mountain over 3000 feet high) in Scotland and of course I have climbed it.
You pass coastal settlements like Kinlochbervie and Scourie which were home to many of my fishermen customers who I would keep in contact with for intelligence on who might be in the market for a new boat or engine.
After crossing the sea loch at Kylesku, nowadays by a bridge but in those days by ferry, you finally arrive in Assynt caving country.

The Fishing Industry

Lister Blackstone's engine range went from 7bhp up to over 2,000bhp but there was a gap between the Lister and The Blackstone range from 120bhp to about 500bhp where we did not have an engine to offer.

The majority of the Scottish fishing fleet in those days were Seine Netters of betweeen 50 and 70 feet length overall (LOA) which fell into that missing power range. The larger vessels had long disappeared from the fleet apart from the odd deep sea great liner fishing halibut although big purse seiners catching herring and whiting were beginning to be built.

Seine Netter

Seine Netting involved dropping off a bouy to which was attached a long rope, a net and then another long rope. The ship found a shoal on its fish finder and steered round it back to the bouy then hauled in the two ropes while steaming forward which eventually closed the net with hopefully the fish in it.

Small vessels up to about 45 feet LOA would Seine Net, trawl or long line. They might also dredge for scallops or lay creels for crab or lobster. Lastly there were salmon fishermen who used stake nets or drift nets and were licenced to fish as certain times of the year. The large majority of these vessels were wooden carvel built ships from yards all along the East coast and the main fleet based in Peterhead and Fraserburgh.

The dialect on that East coast up as far as Buckie was almost a foreign language to the extent that even Scotsmen had difficulty in understanding it. For example a 'loon' was a young man, a 'quine' a young girl and a 'dolly Broch bit' a nice young girl from Fraserburgh!

The tale of Buchan Strachan

Buchan and his brother Zander (Alexander) lived in the Broch (Fraserburgh) and owned a 35 foot wooden fishing boat called 'The Brothers'. They worked the boat between them fishing the 'partans' (Scots for crabs) in the summer and long lining for codling and haddock in the winter. Their wives would bait the long line hooks for the next days fishing.

In the winter they would often sneak out of harbour in bad weather if the wind direction was favourable when the bigger boats were tied up and get top prices at market. One day it all went wrong when a big wave took Zander overboard. It was some time before Buchan found his waterproofs floating on the surface and underneath was Zander who could not swim. Buchan managed to get him back on board but they decided to build a bigger boat as a result which was when I met them.

I managed to convince him to specify a Lister for this new boat but as Buchan and many of his colleagues would tell me "there's nay engine lek a Gardner". I put them in touch with a boatbuilder at South Shields on the River Tyne called Robsons who tendered the best price and an order was placed. Buchan asked me if I would sail with them on the new boat back to the Broch which I agreed to do.

We set off from the Tyne on a fine evening with a weather forecast of force 4 southerly rising to force 6 then moderating to force 4 so Buchan decided to make a direct course for Ratray Head across the Firth of Forth rather than follow the coast which would put us about 60 miles out to sea. I went down to the cabin bunk to try and get some sleep and would take the wheel at midnight.

The weather became progressively worse so sleep was impossible, then Zander came down and told me there was a lot of water in the engine room. I engaged the bilge pump which did nothing and the suction was eventually found to be blocked by wood shavings but by this time the water level was over the tailshaft.
Buchan had specified a low wooded deck so you stepped down into the wheelhouse for ease of two man working and had installed lifeboat style self draining flaps to drain the deck. So much water was coming over the bow that much of it couldn't get through the flaps so ended up in the engine room. The weather had changed to Force 8 North East so we were heading straight into it.

We turned around and headed inshore. Buchan declared we could either go all the way back to the Tyne or make for Eyemouth. I was the only one on board who knew Eyemouth and counselled against it but Buchan consulted his almanac and said we would try to get in.
On arrival the coastguard sent up a red flare warning us not to attempt the entrance and the swell was huge as Buchan lined up the leading lights and approached.
I was standing with Zander just outside the wheelhouse when he suddenly pushed me inside as a big wave completely swamped us. As the water cleared I could see we were right at the harbour entrance and yelled to Buchan to give it full speed so we surfed into Eyemouth.

Eyemouth Harbour Entrance

After mooring up some of the local fishermen came down to the quay and told us most of the fleet of much larger boats had been tied up for most of that day and one boat had tried to get in earlier and had been swept up onto the rocks beside the harbour entrance. The next wave washed her back out to sea and she was still out there!
Word went around that 'the Lister mannie' had piloted this little 'yawlie' into Eyemouth in a force 8 storm!

Buchan rang home and several friends were there very worried for our safety and could not believe we had made Eyemouth. They also told him that the boatbuilder who had driven my company car back from South Shields had skidded on ice near Aberdeen and the car was a write off!!

The Highlands and Islands

The government set up a development board based in Inverness where they speak better English than the English so I could at least understand them. They used to administer grants to build fishing boats for people living in remote places and so were responsible for me seeing places I would not have normally visited in the course of my work. I would regularly get a list of applicants that had been approved and would set off on my travels to try and convince them to specify Listers.

Apart from places on the mainland described above I often found myself in the outer Hebrides and discovered dialects that were easy to understand but also people that only spoke the Gaelic.

Primroses being picked on Barra

I once flew to Benbecula to talk to a fisherman where the only way to get to his croft cottage was on foot across the peat moor. Not a problem for me and I got the order.
I had another man to see in Castlebay on the Island of Barra so I decided to take the passenger ferry across from South Uist which was connected to Benbecula by a bridge. There is a bridge now from South Uist to Eriskay where you get the ferry but then the ferry went from Ludag on South Uist and the ferryman was a Mr Campbell MBE who offered me tea and apologised that his wife did not speak English.

It was a glorious spring day and as we approached Barra I could see a long silver sand beach backed by dunes which seemed to be a very yellow colour. As we got nearer I realised it was millions of primroses. The adjacent photo shows primroses being picked on Barra. Did you ever see so many?

That beach is also the island's airport which is the only UK air service scheduled by the state of the tides. I believe it is also the shortest flight.
We sailed past Eriskay on the way over which was where the SS 'Politician' went aground in 1941 carrying amongst other less important items, 22,000 cases of whisky which the islanders looted and their story made into the film Whisky Galore.

Castlebay, Barra

Mr Campbell arranged to collect me again later that day and sourced a taxi for me into Castlebay so called because it has Kisimul castle on a rock right in the middle of the bay. Legend has it that every evening, the 35th Chief, Rory the Turbulent, would send a herald and trumpeter to the battlements of Kisimul to proclaim to each point of the compass: "Hear, oh ye people, and listen oh ye nations! The Great MacNeil of Barra having finished his meal, the princes of the world may dine!"
When I was there the current MacNeil was an American and the locals told me that the traditional proclamation was still in use.

I once had a call from Dursley head office asking me to go and look at a sailing boat in Applecross owned by the West Highland School of Adventure. It was wintertime so the pass over the mountain, the highest in the UK at over 2000ft was snowed up so I drove to Kyle of Lochalsh, caught the ferry next day round to Applecross, secured the engine order, spent the night there and caught the ferry back the next day. I arrived back in Edinburgh a week later and the office could not understand what took me so long!

The Ghillies

The Scots word for a gamekeeper is a Ghillie. In our flat my fellow flatmates had formed a folk group which they called the Ghillies and at weekends they would practice harmonies which drove me round the bend! I had to intervene to correct what they were trying to do and inevitably I became part of the group.

We used to sing every week in the pub round the corner and built up quite a loyal following. There was a bit of a folk music revival on just then and we soon found ourselves invited to guest spots at folk clubs. We met up with groups such as the Bitter Withy, the Corries and the Humblebums, the latter featuring a bloke called Billy Connelly who would come back after a gig to our flat and keep us laughing until the early hours.

The Scottish National Party (SNP) once held a fund raising concert at Leith Town Hall to which we were invited to perform. Considering that not one of us was remotely Scottish apart from George Alden that was quite a surprise. We did sing mostly Scottish songs but also did a lot of unaccompanied English stuff in close harmony.
I first met Liverpudlian Willie Russell at that concert who was then a budding playwright and became famous when he wrote the musical play John, Paul, George, Ringo and Bert which went to the West End.

A lady singer who also featured at that concert was Barbara Dixon. Willie thought her voice angelic which it was although Babs suffered from a lack of confidence. Willie featured her as the singer and pianist in his play and her career boomed thereafter.

I get Married

Nicky moved up to Edinburgh and together we bought a new apartment in Corstorphine. I also asked her to marry me and my proposal was accepted.
We were married in 1967 and honeymooned in Peterhead, yes Peterhead!! The reason for this strange choice was the owner of the Palace Hotel where I usually stayed when I was in that area offered me free board and lodgings as a wedding present so how could I refuse?

Anyway the Palace must have done the trick because next year our son Steven was born and life changed forever.

Salmon Fishing on the Mull of Kintyre

One good thing about having regular contact with fishermen was a regular supply of fish and although I am no fan of salmon we did have a lot of engines in the various small boats and dory's they used.

Because the fishing was licensed and time limited they needed absolute reliability to maximise the time they were allowed to fish and one of them, Archie Graham, who lived in a little cottage right on the beach on the Mull of Kintyre and had stake nets off Campbeltown, used to give me an order for a new engine every year so it was never out of guarantee.

Fishermans cottage on Mull of Kintyre

Early one morning I had a phone call from Georgie Murphy at Glasgow office saying Archie Graham had called to say his gearbox had failed. She had a spare gearbox ready and would I go now and collect it, drive the odd 200 miles to Archies place and fit the new box which of course I did.
On my arrival Archie had already removed the broken gearbox and together we fitted the new one then away round the peninsula to attend to his nets, club a few salmon to death keeping one for our dinner that night. That was what I would call service.
The only problem I had was with the Terns on the beach while we were working who kept dive bombing us as they must have had young close by. They actually drew blood!

Sea trials off Aberdeen

We had re-engined a great liner with a Blackstone engine which was really too big and took up every last available space in the engine room.
Great lines have thousands of hooks on one fishing line and spend weeks out in the Atlantic at low engine speeds so that a naturally aspirated engine is preferred.
We had a problem with getting the radiated engine heat out of the engine room so John Storey came up with a clever exhaust ventilation arrangement.
The exhaust tailpipe was cut off short in the funnel and a larger diameter tailpipe place around and above it which had the venturi effect of drawing the hot air out of the engine room.

John wanted to carry out some proper sea trials on the measured mile off Aberdeen where the ship was based so we both attended and rigged up a snap tank to measure fuel consumption.
Now I admit that I do not like the very lively motion at sea of these smaller boats and before very long I was projectile vomiting over the stern while John was giving me stick and telling me how he was 10 years at sea and never sick.

Big Hallibut

We did several runs at different speeds on the measured mile recording fuel consumption. temperatures and pressures then on the last run I felt the urge to communicate once again with nature and was in mid honk when I was joined by John who felt similarly inclined! Then the engine stopped. We both looked at each other and we both knew what had happened. John had left the snap tank on and the engine had run out of fuel.

Blackstone engine fuel pumps are enclosed behind a big plastic cover secured by dozens of set screws which all have to be unscrewed to get to the pumps. Then each pump, there were six, one for each cylinder, must be primed by hand to get rid of the air in the fuel system before the engine can be restarted. This takes some time and we were close inshore to some very big cliffs with the skipper voicing some concern about calling out the lifeboat!!

I have rarely been so glad to hear that engine start first time to get us clear of danger and had a celebratory honk to relieve the tension!
We both came away with some Hallibut steaks as a consolation.

Motor Yachts

Lister diesels were heavy comparatively low power to weight ratio engines so were mainly used in working craft rather than pleasure boats. One exception was a motor sailer designed by G.L.Watson of Glasgow called the Spey class based on a traditional fishing boat hull and built by Jones Buckie.

Spey class motor sailer

Jones Buckie built traditional Seine Netters but diversified into building these 35ft LOA Spey class yachts and our Lister HW3MGR 36bhp engine was specified as standard so I was a regular visitor to Buckie for sea trials.

I used to stay in a nice little pub and after closing time the landlord would drive me up into the hills to a little croft cottage where lived some local distillery workers.
The Angel's are reckoned to take their share of every barrel of whisky. The Angel's Share is the amount of whiskey lost to evaporation from the barrel or cask into the air as the whisky ages.

These distillery workers syphoned some off before the Angels could get their hands on it and it was 94.8% proof. For a small remuneration I was given a Gordons gin bottle full of the stuff which I used to take back down to Edinburgh where I used to watch idiots, who were stupid enough to drink it neat, gently slide into oblivion!

On another occasion I sold an engine to the manager of the Whisky distillery at Peterhead. After he gave me the order he took me into his office and we tasted all the different single malts that are blended with the spirit they produce at Peterhead which is Long John. Then he gave me a few miniatures to take home. I floated back to the Palace Hotel!


If you were a caver or climber then a good place to go on holiday was the GSG field hut in Sutherland. On the other hand if you were a girl it was not the most comfortable of places to spend your holiday. Nicky pointed this out quite forcibly after we had spent several days stuck in the hut with torrential rain and a couple of mates from Liverpool playing crib for a penny a point to relieve the boredom.

"OK", I said finally, "let's go somewhere else, what about Paris?" So we all got in the car and I drove to Dover, a distance of nearly 700 miles. I can't remember if we stopped on the way but I was the only driver and we arrived in Dover in the early hours of the morning so I drove overnight.

We left the car, bought passenger only tickets to Calais and played crib across the channel, walked to the station and caught a train to Paris playing crib all the way. Found a real rough hotel which was probably the local knocking shop in the Pigalle district and continued playing crib.

Pigalle metro station, Paris

We did get out and about to see the city sights, the sun shone for the few days we were there and I lost a small fortune to those Liverpool mates who were much better crib players than me.

Hawker Siddely take us over.

When Listers were taken over they joined a group which included Petter who had very little presence in the marine field and Mirrlees who built much a much larger engines in the power range up to 400bhp per cylinder and continued where Blackstone left off. They were combined into one company call Mirrless Blackstone while the marine company became Lister Blackstone Mirrlees Marine. Quite a mouthful.

Mirrlees had offices in Glasgow and Aberdeen with sales and service staff so I saw what I thought was the writing on the wall and contacted the big boss, Maurice Robinson, asking if my position was secure. He told me there was no need to worry but a few days later he asked me how I felt about going to work in Australia.

Hawker Siddely Logo

So it was that I found myself in Hawker Siddely's head office in London to meet Charlie Sullivan, the financial director of Hawker Siddely Brush in Melbourne. We went out for a nice expensive lunch after which he offered me the position of Marine Engine Sales Engineer for Australia which I accepted.

In those day the Australian Government had what was call assisted passage to encourage immigration. You contributed £10 towards the transport cost and were called 'Ten Pound Poms' as a result. Hawker Siddely took advantage of this scheme and asked me to apply which I did and we were accepted.

By this time Nicky was heavily pregnant again so was not allowed to fly. We were therefore given a berth an one of the migrant ships. Our journey and subsequent life down under is described on the next page.

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