It would seem fitting when writing a book about Blantyre history to include my own memories at some point. I hope my own recollections may spark old memories for you too. I’m thankfully fortunate enough to own some of my late father’s cine films recorded on happy family walks down the Calder, at the Milheugh falls and Greenhall park. These are now extremely treasured for our family. I’m sure there are many families in Blantyre who will be able to connect with some of this.
The year was 1977 and I was 6 years old. One Sunday, wearing our best camel coats, we set off from home, through the small narrow lane at Stonefield Crescent which joins Watson Street. The hedges were well maintained and the lane litter free. In Watson Street, it was possible to see only glimpses of High Blantyre primary school in between the buildings, where now the new school towers over the gardens. Crossing Hunthill Road, my mother and father led my younger sister and I through the spotless white iron gates opposite the school playing fields and into the Calder. The adventure had begun. We had a white Samoyed dog who enjoyed the wide open spaces to run around. The top fields were irrelevant to us children. We immediately ran down the 3m wide track, descending into the Calder quickly running to get to the “rope swing”. This was situated on the right slope of the track about a third of the way down to Milheugh. A great delight, we could have stayed there all day! We then happily skipped down the remainder of the tarmac track with painted green railings on the left hand side protecting us from the large wooded slopes. The track was well maintained and covered in pine cones. (great for making Christmas decorations with).
At the bottom of the track beyond the cattle grid, the majesty of Milheugh fields was in front of us, presenting itself with different options for our walk. Would be go left down the wooden steps formed of natural roots, or would be continue down the tarmac path? Isolated large trees were dotted around the fields, half burnt out by “bad boys”. Speaking of which, as we stood at the cattle grid, overlooking Milheugh fields, there was an old stone wall, about waist height. It’s still there today. This is where I remember punk rockers shooting lager cans off the wall with air pellets. (This seemed perfectly natural to see such a thing then!). An amazing sight to a 6 year old boy, but I knew also those big boys of such bad influence would have been swatted like flies if my mother had her wishes! The Tennants lager cans, if you remember had some bikini clad girls on the side and as the boys sniped away and tried to hide their “girly magazines”, mother would roughly and quickly drag us to the next part of our walk.
We would always head towards the Milheugh stone bridge, just simply so we could look over the side. Children played below in the tunnels, sailing their paper boats and fishing for tadpoles. We would lean on the railings, every so often having to move from the narrow bridge to let a passing Ford Cortina or Austin head up the Pech Brae.
We would then double back on the little path in the Milheugh field, over to where the stone foundations of Millheugh House were. Today, these are now covered up entirely, but in the 70’s they were still visible in the North field adjacent to the falls. The white foamy water was always magical to watch as it spilled over the edge into the dark water below. Who could forget the deep roaring sound that made? We would never get too close to the edge and there was always other people there fishing or playing.
In the 1970’s another bridge was situated beside the falls. A small, wooden bridge and substantial enough to get across bypassing the falls, permitting a beautiful walk to Greenhall. Immediately after crossing the little bridge, you had 3 options. The first, go left by the falls into the field, where in Winter, it would freeze over and you could go ice skating. In Summer though, the likelihood was that you would turn right for a quick grab of the damsons and fruit in the little abandoned orchard, or more usual, straight on, past the bluebell and primrose woodlands on the left, out into the large open field (with a steep gradient on the right). Again a favourite in Winter, this field was ideal for sledging! Here’s a little 5 minute snippet of our treasured memories.
Following the path on the West banks of the Calder, the track entered the woods and a winding road all the way to Greenhall. Highlights of this childhood was being able to get down to the rust coloured water at the riverside to play, skipping over the small, low profile plank bridge under the huge stone railway pillars, (if only to get past the mud!). Mum and dad would play “ring a roses” with us and as we fell down you would be staring at the blue cloudless skies of hot 70’s Summers and the massiveness of the pillars themselves! Even as a 6 year old, I would daydream what it would be like to be in a train going over them, just as my gran used to tell me she did. Later, you knew when you got to the wooden bridge at Greenhall, there was just a short set of wooden steps to go up, and you were there! The pitch n putt and the park!
Dad would turn right at the top of the steps and go find the man in the wee shop building. Even in the 1970’s the shop was dilapidated and not very well maintained, but it sold ice cream and ginger beer (by the glass bottle), hired out pitch and putt clubs and was affordable for even our modest pocket money at the time. Whilst dad always did this, us kids would be playing on the “witches hat”, old roundabout and the swings, painted yellow, red and blue. Mum sat quietly on the nearby wooden bench, pregnant and exerted from the steps, perhaps recollecting when she played there as a child.
Then around the corner at the car park, emerging from the pink rhoddedendron bushes, arms clasping ice cream wafers and golf clubs, there was dad! We headed down the woodland road within the park, past immaculate white kerb stones at the right side and into the sloped pitch n putt park. If it was Autumn, the tall Chestnut trees would be a distraction. After a glorious game of golf, it was simply a case of walking down the Greenhall Road into Main Street and back home.
At various times of my adult life, I’ve tried to recreate that walk. Although nostalgic, I am unfortunately left feeling disappointed and let down. The white gates are gone, the track to Milheugh now grown over, the Milheugh trees themselves damaged to the end of their lives. I’m obstructed by a collapsed bridge at the falls, preventing me from continuing my intended walk. The wooden bridge under the viaduct is gone and not replaced forcing a muddy crossing. The steps up to Greenhall, not maintained, the shop demolished, Pitch n Putt gone, local authorities removed all traces of anything for kids to do, including all the swings. The stone walls and entrance of the park collapsing. The trees are frequently weather and fire damaged with the nature trail railings damaged beyond repair by felled trees. Unsightly, fly tipping is rampant and the white kerbstones now mossed over to the point of being invisible. I am left feeling much of this ruin was done be people themselves either deliberately, through neglect or lack of local authority budget. If left unchecked, it will get worse. Sad times for any new generation visiting this area who never knew the glorious days. Walking this route would be a favourite pastime of my late mother. I’ll also tell my little daughter and will always carry happy memories about outings to Greenhall.