Monday, August 15, 2011


I grew up in the 60s and 70s in a place called the Vale of Leven. The Leven is a fast-flowing river that meanders through the valley emptying Loch Lomond at Balloch into the River Clyde at Dumbarton. I learned to swim in the Leven at the “Pan Lade” down from Napierston Terrace where we lived in the 60s. I remember as a lad fishing just up river from the Lade and being told by the Water Bailiff that there was no fishing on Sundays. I was thankful that he told me this from the tow-path on the opposite side of the river, otherwise I might have been clapped in irons or something!
I remember walking along that tow-path to become the biggest catch ever for a fly fisherman. I had to go up to the Vale hospital to have his fancy fly-hook surgically removed from my right earlobe. He almost tugged me into the river (I’m sure he wished he had, having destroyed a good fly!) In my teen years the old tow-path along the Leven was good for a romantic stroll with a girlfriend – not that I was much of a romantic!
It was great growing up in the Vale. We didn’t know what low-socio-economic meant. We just got on with it. If you needed a bicycle you went to the dump and raked around for an old frame and some wheels, and before too long, you’d be able to put together a bike. Mind you, I used to hate those “fixed-wheel” bikes that would send you over the handle bars a few times till you got the hang of it! I suppose having “fixed-wheels” was better than having no brakes as this would put a great strain on your plimsoles which would wear out with great rapidity as you applied your sandshoe to the rubber tyre as a primary stopping method. The object was to not put your toes in the moving wheel spokes!
Swimming in the Leven or up the Loch was brilliant! It was great when the paddle-steamer “The Maid of the Loch” was away sailing, for then we could show off by diving off the tin shed. My favourite party piece was the swallow dive off the shed and returning to the surface with a dinner plate that they chucked off the Maid instead of washing! Mind you, I still bear a scar where I badly cut my finger on a broken plate or a glass on the loch bottom! A couple of times the loch froze solid enough for us to skate on it in winter.
When we lived up the back of Tullichewan we’d build wooden sledges when it snowed. An old piece of copper pipe would be flattened and nailed on the sledge as runners. Death traps? Well, I remember we were up the “Half Mile” and someone gave me a shot of their fancy “bought” sledge. I lay on my belly and shot down the hill like ninety and was stopped at the bottom when my head hit the farmer's wire fence! I think I inspired Led Zeppelin to write “Dazed and Confused”.
What we called the “Half Mile” (now the Stoney Mollen Roundabout) was a wide open sloped field just up from the “Huddies”, a small wooded spot where we used play Cowboys and Indians. I used to shovel out the horse’s stables at the Glendale Boarding Kennels next to the “Half Mile”. I don’t know if I ever received any money for this, maybe I did, but I do remember the reward was getting to ride on the horses. Most of the time I was on “Billy” – a piebald pony with an angry attitude. I think I fell off Billy as many times as I fell off that fixed-wheeled bike I was telling you about. I guess I was always falling off of things when I was young.
I remember climbing up a rope-swing hanging from a tree. I was all alone at the time and as I reached the bough to which the rope was tied I noticed that its strands were snapping. I landed on my back. This was when I learned firsthand the meaning of the term “winded”. Try with all my might I could not draw a breath. I thought I was going to die alone, but my spirit or breath returned to me.
I did get a bike one Christmas. It was really hard to try it out in the snow! I remember flying over its handlebars too. Someone kicked an underinflated ball in front of me and I managed to run over it. The first point of contact with the road when I landed was my right knee. I had a bandage on for weeks after this. Mind you, it was about then that I noticed that females were attracted to boys with bandages, at least the lassies I went to Levenvale Primary with…
Och, I could go on reminiscing all day about the place where I grew up.
Check out the Vale of Leven website at:

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