Friends fired up for Craigallian memorial

Tom McGuinness'Photo Emma Mitchell
Tom McGuinness'Photo Emma Mitchell

A MEMORIAL to the pioneers of the outdoor movement in Scotland is being planned near the West Highland Way between Milngavie and Strathblane.

The Friends of the Craigallian Fire group is hoping to raise £5,000, and need only another £1,500 to reach their total, to build a permanent reminder on the spot where hundreds of young working class men and women stopped by an impromptu fire for some warmth and a blether in the early 1930s.

They sought to escape the Great Depression and crushing poverty by walking into the Campsies and beyond.

One man who visited the spot in 1938, as a boy of 14, and helped the organisers of the memorial, brothers William and Iain Grieve, locate where the fire used to be is Tom McGuinness.

Although Tom, who has lived in Milngavie for 60 years, was not part of the original ‘firesitter’ he recalls knowing many of them with fond memories and William and Iain turned to him to help them research the history of the fire.

The brothers’ late father was involved in the fire and sparked their interest in what has become part of Scottish outdoor folklore.

Even though Tom (88) lost his sight at 57, he was still able to take the brothers to the exact spot in 2008 where the original fire was.

Tom, formerly an optical engineer who helped make the periscope for Britain’s first nuclear submarine HMS Dreadnought, said: “I went up there when I was just a boy. I knew one or two of them, but by the time I was old enough the fire was not really used anymore.

“The Grieve brothers contacted me after speaking to Jock Nimlin’s wife Jenny. I was only too happy to help.”

Jock was a crane driver on the famous Finnieston Crane, and one of the hundreds of young men who escaped to the countryside at weekends.

He was one of the foremost rock climbers of the 1920s and 30s and went on to become the first officer of the National Trust for Scotland.

Tom remembers Jock and the Grieve brothers’ dad, Robert.

He said: “They started going to the fire I think in 1931 and it went on for about five years. As I remember, there was a lot of trouble with the landlord at the time, who didn’t want a fire on his land.”

Asked what he thought of a memorial to all those who sat around the fire which became known as the ‘fire that never went out’ in its heyday, because when one group left another group would re-stoke it, he said: “I think it is a good idea and it will be nice to see because it is a great piece of outdoor history.

“My only apprehension will be if it gets vandalised.”

The Grieve brothers hope to reach their fundraising target soon and have the 122cm circlular memorial in place before the end of the summer.

To give money to the appeal either send a cheque to Iain Grieve at 3 Fisherton Avenue, Dunure Ayrshire, KA7 4LJ, or electronically to Bank of Scotland account number 10006869, sort code 80-02-77.

For more information on the history of the fire visit