Doon The Watter
Sailing "doon the watter" has a long history in Glasgow. Particularly during the Glasgow Fair in July when there would be a rush of people going down the Clyde, whether for day trips or to holiday by the coast. Since the launch of Henry Bell's, Port Glasgow built, Comet steamboat in 1812 trips down the Clyde started to become affordable to more people. This led to the growth of towns such as Helensburgh, Gourock, Largs, Rothesay, Dunoon and Millport which developed as seaside resorts for day trippers and those taking a holiday from Glasgow. The number of steamboats grew and as the development of the railway network made it easier to get away from the city the holiday trade on the Clyde coast boomed. In the early 20th century there were soon thousands of people queuing for buses, trains and boats out of Glasgow on holiday weekends.
|Queuing for the bus to Gourock at the Glasgow Fair. |
Picture: Newquest Herald and Times
|Some of my grandfather's old holiday postcards home from|
Millport, Stevenston, Arran and Ayr.
The Millport postcard above shows a match on the Millport Golf Course between professional golfers; JH Taylor and Ted Ray vs James Braid and George Duncan from July 23, 1913. The postcard showing The Cross in Stevenston tells us that Isa was "having a great time down here" with the postmark showing that she was holidaying during the Glasgow Fair. The 1921 postcard from Caticol, Arran bemoans the poor weather that they are having and the 1932 postcard showing the "River Ayr Walk" tells us that they are have "...had a great holiday in Ayr. One of the best."
|My mum at the front, her brother and sister and my grandad|
on holiday in Dunoon
As a child of the 1970s, like many other Glaswegians, my earliest holidays were to these same places. I can remember going to Arran with my parents, my granny and grandad (above) when I was about 5 years old. My other memorable early holidays were to the Butlin's Holiday Camp in Ayr and a holiday stay in the youth Hostel at Fintry, making me the fourth generation to take my holidays in these places.
|A trip further afield to Leven in Fife|
In the days before telephones were widely available many of the postcards are passing on such mundane messages as "weather fine, we will be back on Saturday". Others have the address they are staying at and expect postcards back, as one grumpy card from the 1920s says "Your mother is disappointed that you haven't written".
Occasionally one of the postcards gives a wee glimpse into what people were up to, such as this one from Leven in Fife is from July 1931 and tells us that "Willie has been golfing, of course. Weather not good....Mr C and the boys are A-1. Alex cycled here on Saturday and was tired".
|PS Waverley, now based in Glasgow at the Science Centre|
A few steamboats still take tourists around Scottish beauty spots, such as the Steamship Sir Walter Scott on Loch Katrine. The last paddle steamer to be built in Britain is currently docked at Balloch, on Loch Lomond. The Maid of the Loch. was built in Glasgow in 1953 at the Pointhouse Shipyard where the Glasgow Riverside Museum now stands. She is slowly being restored to bring her back into steam operation.
|Ready to leave on our trip|
|Heading under the Erskine Bridge on PS Waverley|
|One of the bars on board the Waverley|
|My favourite urinal to watch Glasgow|
sail past whilst I pee on the Waverley
|Powering across the Clyde from Greenock to Helensburgh|
There may no longer be an outdoor swimming pool in Helensburgh, but I have vague childhood memories of swimming in it with my grandad in the late 1970s before it closed. I think I can remember the sides of the pool being very rough. More unbelievably, as I look into the murky water from the pier, I used to get the train here with school friends in the 1980s and we would all launch ourselves into the Clyde to swim. Helensburgh was home to Henry Bell, who started the steamboat fad with his Comet (he also owned the Helensburgh public baths). It was once also home to such luminaries as the inventor of the television, John Logie Baird, and Holywood actress Deborah Kerr.
|The Waverley leaving the pier at Helensburgh|
|More old family postcards, with steamboats.|
Blairmore pier, Holy Loch near Dunoon and the
"Lord of the Isles" in the Kyles of Bute,
Often the most well known family in these Clyde seaside resort towns were the local Italians who made the ice cream. Like Zavaroni's in Rothesay and Nardini's in Largs, if you come to Helensburgh you need to finish your trip with a visit to Dino's.
|Dino's Ice Cream parlour, Helensburgh|
Gourock Outdoor Pool
A popular attraction in many Scottish seaside resorts was the outdoor pool. Only two outdoor public pools still operate in Scotland, at Stonehaven and at Gourock. The pool at Stonehaven opened in the 1930s and could get 6000 visitors on popular days, one year recording over 100,000 visitors. These pools usually were filled with filtered seawater. My mum's dad loved swimming outdoors and was always taking any opportunity to swim in rivers and the sea, but one of his favourite places was Stonehaven pool. This picture below is of my grandad in his younger days on the diving boards at Stonehaven pool. It took me a while to locate it until I saw the old postcard below on this website where you can see the diving boards from another angle. Diving into pools was a thing my mum says her dad always enjoyed and if there wasn't any diving boards at a pool, he would often climb up on the doors of the poolside changing cubicles to dive into the water.
|My grandad on the diving boards at Stonehaven outdoor pool 1930s|
|Early postcard of Stonehaven outdoor pool and the diving boards|
On the west coast we still have Gourock outdoor pool. Originally opened in 1909, they have been heating the water since 1969. Refurbished 15 years ago the pool is open from May to September. For £4 I enjoyed a lovely swim on a day of unexpected sunshine last week, with views of Kilcreggan and the Cowal peninsula across the Firth of Clyde. A mouthful of water and the unexpected buoyancy soon remind you that as in the past, the pool is still filled with filtered seawater.
|Gourock outdoor pool 2016|
Millport on the Isle of Great Cumbrae
A trip to Millport offers one of the easiest ways to spend a day by the sea that doesn't seem to have changed much from my great-grandfather's time. Driving, cycling or getting the train to Largs you then take the ferry over to the Isle of Cumbrae. The ferry runs every 15 minutes and takes barely 10 minutes to cross. If you don't take your car you will find a bus waiting for you when you get off the ferry for the short run down to Millport, the only town on the island. Millport itself is a decent size with just about enough bars, cafes and shops to distract you. Kayaks and boats can also be hired and there is a golf course just behind the town.
|Crocodile Rock, Millport|
|Crazy golf, Millport|
|Tidal paddling pool, Millport|
|Calmac ferry leaving Cumbrae for Largs|
Getting back to Largs we had to visit Nardini's for a pokey hat before heading up the road to Glasgow.
|Nardini's Cafe, Largs|
I always enjoy trips to these towns, partly for the nostalgia but also because they are beautiful places, filled with unexpected art deco architecture and views across the water. There are few places more magnificent in Scotland than the elegant curving glass roofed Wemyss Bay train station which connects to the ferry terminal for Rothesay and the Isle of Bute.
For me though the best thing about trips down this way is remembering my happy childhood trips with my granny and grandad and my great uncle Andy. With me sitting on my mum's knee in the front seat of my grandad's car and my granny, dad, great uncle and my brother squashed in the back, a run down the coast was always an exciting day out. Just as my grandad did with us, I now find myself breaking off the bottom of my cone to scoop a wee bit of ice cream onto it to give my daughter a mini-cone. Maybe in 40 years time my children will be doing the same thing with other children.
|My brother and me on a 1970s family holiday, Pirnmill, Arran|