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Thursday, 10 January 2013
Allt na Reigh Cottage Glencoe
Jimmy Saville is becoming more of a nuisance in death than he could be at times in life. Don't get me wrong, whenever he was on his own wandering about the area he was very personable and good conversation, however a complete pain if there were other folk about to show off to. My girls didn't like him and would walk the other way if he was about, and as it turns out their instincts were right. In old fashioned terms it seems he was a groper in his youth or much worse, and a bit of dirty old man when old. Regardless, folk in the community knew nothing of any past allegations at the BBC and like any guest in the area he was given a welcome, and folk would take time to chat and have a coffee with him.
I would say that many of us thought he might have been a bit gay as he always seemed to have a couple of male friends with him and there were never females about either at the cottage or in his company. Only when HRH the Duke of Rothsay visited and a possy of local women dressed up as bunny girls was I ever aware of a woman being at the cottage as pictures were in the papers. Given the location of his cottage unless he was accosting women from passing citylink buses or kidnapping them in his midget Toyota van then it's hard to understand the hype about the cottage having been used for any abuse. It would indeed be a terrible thing if this had happened but having asked the Police I am assured nothing untoward ever happened here.
There has been talk off pulling down the cottage at Allt na Reigh. Before Jimmy Saville, Jane Naismith and her partner owned the cottage and used it as a holiday home for climbing trips throughout the 1970's/80's/90's. Before that, until about 1974 Hamish MacInnes owned the cottage using its outbuildings for making ice axes and the famous MacInnes rescue stretchers. Going back further when this was a road mans house, this was the famous Downies place with "Downies Barn". Immortalised by Alastair Borthwick in his book on inter war hardship and exploratory climbing by the impoverished youth of Clydebank and the inner city. "Always a Little Further" is a great read about the poorer non middle class SMC type of mountaineer, a dosser with no money and little time, but a huge spirit.
Allt na Reigh
These "road mans" houses are dotted all along the old A82 with most of them now climbing huts such as Lagangarbh and Blackrock. Lagangarbh was equally famous. "Dan Mackays Barn" was the doss round the back. Both Dans and Downies barns were full of hay as the roadmen were paid a stipend for road maintenance such as filling in holes and keeping culverts clear by the then Argyll County Council, and were crofter/hill farmers with a few sheep and some cattle. The point here is that these cottages were family homes and also places of highland hospitality and safety for a generation of war weary, penniless folk seeking the spirit of the mountains.
I know more of the Downies as "Rob" (pronounced "Rop" in the gaelic) moved with his family down to Glencoe village when he retired, staying in a council house at Lorn Drive. Like many old men he had fought in WW1. The Downie sisters all married and their sons and daughters are now Macolls and Kemps. As a kid with Duncan Downie one of "Rops" grandchildren I used to go to Allt na Reigh and fish for trout in the gorge below the house often with stern warnings from his grandmother about its dangers and tales of broken climbers.
Really what I am saying here is that Jimmy Saville is a small piece of that buildings history. Very small and insignificant. If this thing with Jimmy Saville teaches us anything it's that fame and money are nothing. What the Downies and Borthwicks teach us is that kindness, an open heart and being your brothers keeper lives on longer than some blinged up tv personality, and that Allt na Reigh should stay where it is because of them and to despite him.