A bounce in your step – literally

The Canadian Campsite at Inverey

Not many people now know of the old Canadian Campsite, yet during the late ’60s and early ’70s of last century it was the weekend residence of choice for hundreds of walkers and climbers.

Not least because it was just a short car journey (or a slightly longer walk) from Mar Lodge, which at that time boasted a legendary public bar round the back.

It was also a great place for kids to grow up, living the outdoor life on the bank of the Dee, with a deep swimming pool up below the Lui road bridge, trees to climb, woods to play in and build leaky gang huts – and Britain’s best hills and glens just up the back.

All my early hillwalks started from my parents’ wee caravan (my brother and I slept in a tent while Mum, Dad, little brother and, latterly, little sister, slept in the van), often with my uncle or some of many family friends.

And in between times – for we were there most weekends throughout the warmer weather and probably spent a lot less time scaling mountains than we thought – we learned field archaeology around the campsite.

What at a first glance was just an area of ground littered with caravans and tents, was full of remnants of what seemed to young children a far and distant past: the Second World War.

For the Canadian Campsite got its name from the Canadian loggers who spent the 1939-45 war there, and in the late ’60s there were plenty traces for young explorers to uncover – with the benefit of a little parental explanation.

There were the concrete foundations for buildings and machinery, the earthworks where roads had been created, the dump for sawdust – perhaps the most fun, for it remained largely uncolonised by plants and you really did bounce as you ran across it.

There were also big metal spikes in the trunks of trees, and, even yet, I can think nothing other than that they were put there for the same purpose as we used them – to help climb the limbless trunks of the massive Scots Pines to get purchase on the branches.

And there was the remains of the ‘Canadian Bridge’. It never spanned the Dee in my lifetime, but I was impressed by my father’s claim to have used it often, for it lasted until around 1950, providing (originally at least) a road access to the camp which saved the round trip to the Linn of Dee.

The site even had its own water supply. A small burn up at the road was equipped with a length of asbestos pipe which made filling water containers easier. The pipe was recent, but if you followed the burn a few hundred yards up the hillside you found a circular pond, stone lined and built as a reservoir to ensure a reliable water source even in summer. (Presumably the Dee and the Lui were rendered muddy by the work which went on, for further up the Lui, just past the Derry Gates, are remnants of weirs and other concrete works related to the logging.)

During the war years the loggers removed some 700 acres of trees from the hills around, leaving most of the south side of Crag Bhalg shaved to barren stumps, from Mar Lodge west as far as the Lui. And shaved it remained, for no replanting was done until the late ’60s, and then only in fenced enclosures, for by that time the deer was king and populations kept artificially high through winter feeding, so that any sapling showing its head above the heather was cropped.

As a child I delighted in seeing massive herds of deer wherever we wandered. I still love to see them, perhaps valuing sightings all the more for their comparative rarity since the Mar Lodge Estate was taken over by the National Trust for Scotland and deer numbers were massively cut. That cull, controversial as it was at the time, has been a godsend to the trees of Mar though. Where once a child wandered and thought bare hillside was natural, now the adult wanders amid thousands of seedlings and saplings bidding to recolonise vast acres of hill and glen – without the need for deer-fence.

The Canadian Campsite saw its last tent sometime at the tail end of the ’70s or perhaps into the ’80s, when concerns about water pollution led to its closure (and, as a direct result, the closure soon after of Mar Lodge’s public bar). It was fenced off and, ironically, planted over with trees.

Those trees are getting tall now and you have to go looking to pick out the bones of the lumber camp, where once men worked and played, endured harsh winters and sweated under summer sun. But I can still go to the spot where my parents’ caravan stood, the part where my uncle camped with his first wife and caravanned with his second; I can pick out the best tree to climb and the piece of banking where we built a series of dams on hot summer days, and, the last time I looked, there was still a rickle of logs and branches where I built my own wee howff in the woods across the Lui.

With the return of the trees a scar on the landscape, and the barrenness it created around itself, is finally being healed over. The land, recovering at last, is beautiful and I’m glad of it. But the old barren ruins where kids ran free, where you could see for miles and where there really was a bounce in your step: they’re still there in my head – and they’re beautiful too.

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17 Responses to A bounce in your step – literally

  1. andy says:

    Beautifully told yarn, Neil. Always fascinating to read stories like yours. I’ll look out for the remains of the camp next time I’m up there. Aren’t there also some poles, pulleys and stuff somewhere up Creag Bhaig from one of the early skiing schemes? Funny how places change and then only a few stumps are left that bear witness to the efforts of the past.

  2. Hi Andy,
    I haven’t been on that bit of Creag Bhalg for many a year, but I do remember as a kid in the late ’60s seeing some of the pipework (The pumping station used to sit just about 200 yards west from Mar Lodge) and some concrete plinths to support the pipes. I presume the concrete at least will still be there. Also seem to recall seeing an old ’60s magazine quite recently, with a full-page ad extolling the wonders of skiing at Mar Lodge, although I also seem to recall being told as a bairn that the scheme ‘never worked.’
    As for the camp, I was there quite recently, and there are still lots of traces even though they’re mostly overgrown by all the ‘new’ trees.

  3. andy says:

    Well, I found a couple of website with pictures of the skiing venture. One has got a scan of an advert that might well be the one you’d seen!

    http://snowheads.com/ski-forum/viewtopic.php?t=53608

    http://www.highland-instinct.co.uk/blog/?p=123

    • Thanks for that Andy. I’m pinching a minute from work just now, but I’ll have a proper look at those links later – they look fascinating. Now that I see the photos, I remember the wooden supports too. Must go back and have a look for myself some time.

  4. Peter A says:

    Thank Neil, I must be older than I thought I was ( ??? ), but I remember the Canadian Bridge well. We often stopped there for picnics, or drove over it on the way to Derry. You can still see two iron pins in the rock on the south side and two lumps of timber sticking out of the rocks on the north side ( GR 073 896 ). See old photo on the net on ( brings it all back like yesterday ). If they are right about it lasting till the late 60s, I must have driven over it myself – http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/14/Canadian-campsite-bridge.jpg
    And some Pathe film from elsewhere –
    http://www.britishpathe.com/record.php?id=24405

    • Thanks for that Peter. I hadn’t seen that photo before – nor the Pathe link – wish there was more of that, becasue I’ve always been curious as to what the place looked like when it was up and running. I was there just recently, and there’s hardly any traces left now of the bridge: most of the wooden buttress at the north side has rotted/been washed away.

  5. Peter A says:

    Even less now. What had been there survived the flood that came with Hurricane Bertha. Apart from a lot of debris which I removed. But this time the remaining boulders have slipped down, releasing the two sticking-out timbers, which have disappeared. There is one last long spar left running parallel to the river, but it is now more exposed, and in more unstable surroundings than before. See it before it goes.

    On the south bank, where the bridge rested on a large outcrop, there are still two iron pins. What has changed is, owing to the lack of deer, sapling trees have started to get a hold. If left the roots would soon start to open cracks in the rock, endangering the hold on the two pins. I have started to cut these off at rock level in the hope of killing them. When I am dead and gone, please carry on this work, in memory of the Canadians who built the bridge, and the old fogies who used it when the long-walk-in started at Braemar bus stop.

  6. Peter A says:

    Latest look June 2016 at remaining timber shows that it is/was held by at least one iron pin –


    It is likely that there are two, the westerly one still hidden, and possibly they are of equal importance to the two on the rock on the south bank. How deep this new discovery goes, I do not know, but it may be that it extends into solid rock below. Maybe sometime in the future when the importance of these rods is recognised there will be some scientific method of measuring their length, and how they are held. In the meantime I shall continue to destroy any threatening vegetation on both banks.
    And in the meantime, their owner has more interest in counting butterflies, and issuing 56 pages of waffle about how to save Derry Lodge.
    And sorry to anyone being attracted by tales of the area being known as the Canadian Campsite. All campers, Canadian or Scottish, will now have to pitch their tent somewhere other than at NO071899

    • A bit prejudiced against Mar Lodge there Peter. If the sad remnants of the Canadian campsite are worth saving then surely so is Derry Lodge. At least there there’s some substantive remains.

  7. Peter A says:

    1. Yes, afraid that I have no affinity with Derry, never having been inside. But not against some sort of use. Only you won’t see for example the MBA asking some consultants to evaluate the pros and cons in taking on a bothy.
    2. And I support NTS deer/tree policy, to the extent of spending time hauling up heather around high-level granny pines to encourage regeneration
    3. If we ( the nation ) want to preserve a fine lodge, have you ever been to Blackwater Lodge NJ 335 286. its a cracker, the first time I wandered in, I honestly got lost.

    4. In lighter vein, back to the Lui, where is this ?

    • In fact we’ve just had (volunteer) consultants up looking at a potential new bothy project (no details just now). But Derry Lodge is a pretty major project in comparison to a bothy: not the sort of thing you want to work out on the back of a fag packet.
      Got me beat with the pic though – looks like a culvert under a road.

  8. Peter A says:

    Yes, its the culvert under the Canadian Bridge “road” leading down and away from the Big Ditch. My 11-y-o grand-daughter crawled through before I could stop her. ( A chip off the old block, I thought, after giving her a row ).

  9. andy burnett says:

    Hiya Neil, slightly off-topic, but perhaps not too off-topic. In the ‘Black Cloud’ book, the chapter on the Baird and Barrie 1928 tragedy has an intriguing page (p. 34) about the logging going on around Am Beanaidh, up in Gleann Einich. Apparently they had a sluice gate to flood the river and help take logs downstream. What I find puzzling is where on earth were they getting trees that far up the glen!?! It’d be good to know a bit more about the background, wouldn’t it. If you can spread any light, I’d be much obliged. Thanks in advance,
    Andy

    • Hi Andy, can probably find out more about logging in Rothiemurchus, but a quick guess is that the logging was probably done much further downstream. The dam and sluice will have been where they could gather a good head of water which they could release in a rush to give a boost to trees much further downstream.

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