Am Bratach No. 316
February 2018

View from the croft gate
by John Macdonald

The long walk to school is a rare experience for most children of today, escorted as they are by school or family transport. It was a daily routine, undertaken with a degree of resignation towards the learning task ahead and, more often than not, with a degree of urgency to get there before the bell, our teacher being not too forgiving of late arrivals.

I had just over half a mile to walk, so I was lucky. Often I would join up with children who had to walk a good deal further, especially the children coming from Upper Morness, taking the path over by Leoldan, also known as Millburn, where the Williamson family lived before moving into Park View.

Others walked from Lower Morness via Clashpeanan and Laide. From Little Rogart came Evelyn Mackay and her cousin from next door, Margaret Murray, and, next to them, Kenneth Robertson. I can just remember the Lambert twins walking to school from McNeil’s little house right at the top of Pitfure brae. Only a lone willow tree stands on the site today.

From Craigard came Duncan Mackay. He took me to school for the first time and was my mentor. He was one of the “big boys”, like the Grant twins from the shop. Also John Mcleod the policeman’s son, Christie Campbell from the Old Smithy and George Murray, Braemar, are a few names that come to mind.

Pupils used to walk up from Pittentrail using the footpath through the hill into Reidchalmine and on across the Rogart Park, past Kirstie’s house and through the meadow. This was a well-used route when my father was in school but not so well-frequented by my day.

I can just remember Kirstie the Park, in the autumn of her long career as a sewing teacher, coming along this path through the meadow, decked in a long coat with a fur collar, twenties-style hat and wellie-boots. The latter were essential footware, as, by this time, the drainage of the meadow through which her route lay was neglected and it was beginning to flood.

Some pupils came even further. Donald and Eric Murray used to cycle all the way down from Braegrudy, three miles on a poor gravel track, then a further three miles down the county road to Rogart school. At one time they were taught at home, a side school having been set up to serve the family.

They then started going to Rhilochan school, but as can sometimes be the case, parents would not be too happy with some aspect of the way that their children were perceived to be educated and would move them along to another school. So it was that Donald and Eric came to our school and, wonder of wonders, on brand new bicycles. Nobody had a brand new bicycle! It transpired that their bikes were supplied by the authorities.

The first bike that I had was far too big for me, but as it was a ladies’ model, I could use it by standing on the pedals. Then Father fitted it with a lower wooden seat where there would be a bar so that I could reach the pedals. Wee Jimmy Sutherland had a full sized old gents’ model: he had perfected the technique of being able to pedal it from underneath the cross bar.

The walk to school had its compensations. One was very aware of the weather and the seasons. Hard frost, especially after a part thaw of snow, would turn the road into a skating rink; salting the road was many years in the future. It was rare enough to get a shovel full of sand chucked out of the back of a lorry.

Snowdrifts were both challenging and exciting, and not a deterrent to attendance, school being kept open during times of much more adverse weather than is the case today.

I didn’t always walk to school: there was the odd occasion that I got a lift from Kenny Gunn, who was the postman for the west end of the parish. In the days before they moved to attend Blarich School, the twins and George walked from Morness. Kenny would sometimes take his brood to Rogart school in the car, along with anyone else’s brood he would come across on the way and manage to pack in.

Kenny’s car always started off as new, but he used it every day on his post round in preference to his post bicycle, and great were the demands placed upon it. Kenny would deliver much more than just the mail, good neighbour that he was. In the course of time, things deteriorated: an MoT was something never even dreamed of in those days. So I have memories of being whisked along to school in a vastly overcrowded car, fascinated by the spectacle of the road rushing by beneath my seat and intrigued by the fence post which Kenny used as a last resort brake.

Near the end of the war, school transport became available. Alex Murray from Morvich Farm had the first school car. Morvich and Langwell side schools closed and long walks to school were a thing of the past.

The local footpaths and shortcuts were still very much in daily use, both by the population and us. People walked a lot more; many had no other means but just to take foot. Sometimes money would be allocated and a contract given to repair a footpath and a man would set to work with a wheelbarrow, pick and shovel.

I can remember the path over the split rock (Balchlaggan rock) being repaired by Billy Reid from Craggie. I think that he also repaired some of the bits of footbridges on the school path as it passes Torbuie: this was always a bit of a quagmire. Father used to take this path to school and if there were a deep snow, his father would take him on his shoulder.

The county road was sectioned off and the responsibility of its routine maintenance was allocated to a man on each section. When I was going to school Mr Jack from Rovie was the roadman I would pass. He would be filling in holes with metal and cleaning ditches — things like that. He was always cheery and would have something to say to you.

This column is extracted from John MacDonald’s unpublished account of growing up in the parish of Rogart during the 1940s and 1950s.

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