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.