Sunday 24 July 2011

What's Brewin' in Glen Fruin?

A Breach of the Official Secrets Act?

Mrs fbb was trained as a caterer with (as she reminds fbb from time to time) a certificate in French Cuisine. Long before fbb was an amorous ache in her bones (?) she worked here (c 1967) ...
... as a cook. It was St Andrew's School (for naughty boys) at Shandon on the banks of the Gare Loch,
a substantial inlet off the Firth of Clyde. Like so many lochside communities, Shandon's public transport was, historically, by paddle steamer.    
Most roads were primitive in the extreme but, slowly, motor buses took over as the usual mode of transport. Shandon was served by Garelochhead Coach Services, who ran shiny green buses, mostly second hand, from Helensburgh and round the loch.
The future Mrs fbb often changed shifts early in the morning. The clippie (conductress) was renowned for oversleeping, and it was not unusual for the Mrs-to-be to "bell the bus" round the "scheme"; that's Scottish for "estate".

Some years later (1972?) when fbb was in Scotland "a-courting", the lovebirds (!) took a drive from Milngavie to Shandon. Eschewing the main road via Helensburgh, the route was via Loch Lomond-side and Glen Fruin, very much the narrow back road.
The journey was along a narrow and isolated lane, but every so often, strange, highly secure, buildings were evident ...
... and as the route approached the Gare Loch itself, through woods and under the West Highland Railway line ...
... there were mysterious watch towers, with the occasional glint of binocular lenses. Very spooky. Our somewhat nervous suitor asked of his young lady, "What's all this about?"

"They keep the bombs up here," she replied, casually, "in underground bunkers; the warheads for the missiles to arm the Trident submarines. It's highly secret!"
And, on joining the main road to Shandon there, indeed, was the high-security fence surrounding the highly secret Faslane submarine base.
There was a highly secret nuclear submarine parked in the Loch but, apart from that, you would never notice anything unusual on the banks of the tranquil and secluded loch, unless you were a local.
A drive through Glen Fruin today, courtesy of Google Street View, would suggest that the watch towers are no longer to be seen. Perhaps they have been "airbrushed" out. Perhaps they have been replaced by highly sophisticated satellite spy technology. Perhaps we can't actually afford any live warheads. Perhaps fbb will be arrested for revealing state secrets. Perhaps fbb's future financée was merely re-telling an unsubstantiated local rumour. Who knows. Perhaps it was all a dream ...

Garlochhead Coach Services still run some of the journeys to Shandon,
but sadly not with nice green secondhand double decks, although these were still green and almost shiny in 1980.
Shandon School was closed in 1986; the beautiful building is in disrepair (as seen above) and the former cook now only tends to the gastronomic needs of herself, fbb, family and friends.

A future blog will take us on a ride round the Gare Loch and on a ferry across the Firth of Clyde to Gourock. In a strange twist of fate and history, that ferry has a link to (a) a previous blog and (b) an operation very close to fbb's South Coast home.

If you are busting to know more about the history of Shandon School there is a superb article here. Sadly it doesn't mention the "cookie" who was to become Mrs fbb; but it does mention Willie Strang, whom she remembers very well indeed.

Next blog : due Monday July 25th  


  1. Enjoyed this blog. Nice to hear about early days of mrs fbb. Liked phot comparisons of then and now

  2. The Garelochhead Coaches running the service with the Solo is not related to the erstwhile Garelochhead Coach Services business which ceased in 1980.
    The road marked as Glen Fruin on the map above isn't. Glen Fruin Road is slightly to the south of the marked road which wasn't constructed until the late 80s and only became a public route in the mid 90s.
    For an insight into the 'secret' stuff that went on in Glen Fruin see this item: