So I thought I’d share a fascinating bit of scouting history from this side of the pond, about an impossibly eccentric place called Lochearnhead Scout Station, somewhere I have just come back from. Some of my scouts ae attending a mountaineering course there and I’ve spent a few days on the staff there, mostly cooking, cleaning and maintenance. The life of a scouter is a glamorous one!
Lochearnhead is a small village in the Scottish Highlands which, until 1951 was served by a railway line. The railway closed and the station was abandoned. Around the same time Melville Basille, the County Commissioner for Hertfordshire Scouts, down at the other end of the country just north of London, had started organising mountaineering trips to the Highlands for scouts from Hertfordshire. At the time they would camp but he was looking for a site to have a dedicated building to use as a base for these trips.
After a few recce trips he stumbled upon the old railway station. It was acquired on a lease by Hertfordshire Scouts and later purchased outright and the process of turning it into a dedicated centre began finally opening in 1962. There’s a bit more history on how it developed here. The station buildings themselves have been turned into a dining room, lounge, kitchen and office. Log cabins are on the old good yard and track bed providing accommodation. They’ve maintained the railway theme with lots of rail memorabilia all over the walls, the warden is known as the station master as well! Do a google image search on the place and you’ll see what a weird and wonderful place it is.
There’s a few bits of history though that are not included at the link above.
Melville Basille’s middle name was Nicolson, one of the great Scottish clans and he was descended from them. He arranged for the clan tartan to be officially used by scouts who came to the station and to this day anyone who stays there either on a mountaineering course or on a more general camp can wear a necker made out of it. The Nicolson hunting tartan is worn by the chief mountaineering instructor at the station.
Also at the time the station opened there was a second railway line that ran past the village, just a few hundred yards from the station. The nearest station on that line was several miles away. In the early days of it opening scouts visiting used to have to camp. Special arrangement was made with what was by then British Rail for trains to stop on the line where it was closest to the station to unload the tents and scouts and to walk down the hill. Quite extraordinary and the kind of thing that would never happen in modern times! Especially as the second railway line has itself now closed J
I’ve been there several times and can describe it only as the most eccentric scout campsite of any sort I have seen anywhere. I did both the initial course held over Easter and the advanced course held over a new year as a teenager. You can see some photos from then here including an 18 year old me! Fast forward 20 years from then and although I am a scouter in a different county I have still been able to send some of my scouts on courses there. They are still there now (I had to be back at work today!) but here’s a couple of photos from earlier in the week that I think sum up what the place is like. Two 13 year old scouts at the top of their first mountain in -12C wind chill and horizontal snow. And then back at the station for a well earned brew. The neckers they are wearing are the wonderful Nicolson tartan mentioned above.
The best bit of history is that one of the staff from the opening in 1962 is still there 55 years later. He’s getting a bit long in the tooth to get out in the hills much and instead spends most of his time producing the colossal meals that hungry scouts who have been out in the hills eat their way through. Long may it continue.