The early story of Forsay caravan park

John and Molly Harvey

The first caravan was placed on this hillside in Moidart in 1967, in the early summer. It happened like this. Earlier that year, a ruined cottage in the deserted village of Peanmeanach, across Loch Ailort on the Ardnish peninsula, had come into the temporary possession of the Gorbals Group - a group of ministers, social workers, local people and their families who had been living and working together in Gorbals, in inner city Glasgow, since 1958. We rented the least ruinous cottage as a base for what we planned as a six-week summer camp for the children in Gorbals with whom we were working. The idea was to get them away, from the slum situation in which they were living, for part of the summer holidays - introduce them to the outdoor life - and in so doing broaden their horizons, develop their self-confidence, and give them a really good time.

The caravan we had was an old towing van which had been donated to the Group. Geoff Shaw and I towed it up, having previously got permission from the owner of the land by the waterfall ("Forsaid" in Gaelic) to put it there. The idea was to use it as a base from which to ferry the children, and stores, across the loch to the cottage on the other side, as there was no road into the village and walking in across the peninsula took quite a while, over very rough terrain.

We sited the caravan on the middle of the sloping hillside, roughly opposite where the toilets now are. Of course there was nothing else there at the time - no paths or roads, just a track over the stream by where the gate is now.

And so, for the next three years, while we had the use of the cottage at Peanmeanach, we shipped children and stores across from the caravan every summer, as well as going up ourselves for the odd weekend with the children and Ann McP. I won't forget the first trip across the loch with kids from Gorbals in a hurry! We arrived at the caravan in the early evening - a typical Highland summer, damp and dreich. We had a boat - a Dore - lying down at the pebbly beach below Roshven House, and none of the boys had been in a boat before, let alone in the gloaming on a wet Highland loch side. Geoff fitted up the outboard, we all climbed aboard, and he pushed off. Try as he might, he couldn't get the motor to start - and after about the sixth attempt, the rope he was using flew out of hands and disappeared into the water. By now he was in a bad mood, and the boys were silent and scared. He brusquely ordered me to go and find another piece of rope, which by good luck I found on the beach - by which time Geoff discovered that he had fitted the outboard's fuel pipes up the wrong way round, which didn't improve his temper! We eventually got across - by now it was dark - and spent one of the coldest and most uncomfortable nights I can remember in the semi-ruins of the cottage. Not a very auspicious start!

But from then on, and over the next three years - and despite some very wet summers - things got much better, and it was a most imaginative scheme - we brought up canoes, we bought an elderly inshore fishing boat and taught some of the boys to sail it - we had barbeques and expeditions - and it only came to an end when the owner of the peninsula decided to let the whole area to, I think, Sandeman's Sherry. The cottage, which we felt we had patched up pretty well, was largely rebuilt, this time as a Highland Bothy - and in 2009 some of us hiked over there and had a great night in it. We had also scattered Geoff's ashes there - it was one of his favourite places on earth.

In 1971, my wife and I and the family left Gorbals and for the next five years lived and worked on Iona. During that time, Geoff moved the caravan from the centre of the hillside down to a corner by the trees. We visited it from time to time. My next clear memory of it is of coming up to spend a three-week family holiday in it in 1979. By then, sadly, Geoff had died, and we had acquired his car. We had also acquired an old frame tent, which we brought up and pitched beside the van, for the children. There were by then one or two other vans on the hillside, but it hadn't yet turned into a proper site - I don't think there were any toilets yet.

These three weeks were almost constant rain - I remember one morning waking up and being amazed to find that the sun was shining, so we rushed out and drove to Arisaig and took a trip to the Small Isles. But otherwise, it was three weeks of drying wet clothes, sliding about on slime, and keeping children happy with games in the caravan and the tent!

On the pitch where our present van stands, a Dutch couple had a van then. In conversation with them, we discovered they were planning to move - so we negotiated with them, and with the owner of the site, for their pitch. We borrowed money to purchase a second-hand towing van, from a place just outside Glasgow. Two of us towed it up to the site and put it on the pitch in 1980, and we had many happy holidays in it, and entertained many friends in it too, from then until we replaced it with the present one in October 1999.

Over the 1980's, the site grew to its present size. At one point, when the Hydro Board were bringing electricity into the area, Mrs. Clegg offered us electricity on the site, but all the owners turned it down. Sometime during that period, calor-gas-fired hot water and showers were installed, much to everyone's delight. (And we now also have piped water to all the vans on the site!)

The site has never been a touring site. Very occasionally, a touring van will draw up for the night. Mainly, though, its regular users are people like us who own the static vans, and who come up between mid-March and mid-October, when the site is open.

Our present van, with its separate bedroom and spacious living room, we bought from Brian and Jill Mooney, who had it on a pitch just below ours, and were planning on replacing it with a new one. (Jill sadly died in 2008 - a lovely, lively Geordie woman). A few years earlier, we had arrived on the site from a holiday up north in a lovely modern van, to discover our own wee tatty one with plenteous mouse droppings and surrounded by midges in swarms, and had decided to move - but when push came to shove, and we had by then found a new site near Rhu and even ordered a transporter to shift our van, we found we just couldn't drag ourselves away, it's such a beautiful spot (despite the midges!). In 1999, we decided again we would have to move, and had actually agreed to give our pitch to some other people on the site, but then discovered that we couldn't find a suitable site for our caravan anywhere else in the area - so we reneged on the agreement, much to our embarrassment (but the folk were really very understanding!). Then we discovered that the Mooneys were replacing their van - so we bought theirs, had ours taken to bits and removed (how we ever thought it would have survived being transported to Rhu!) and put theirs on our pitch. In 2000, we added the deck.

And so it's still there now (in 2012). We try to get up roughly six times a year - we don't have a car, but bus to Fort William and then the school bus to the site entrance works very well- but in reality we often only manage three times, sometimes even less. One of our family, and friends, goes up twice a year on average, to play golf at Arisaig, and other people use it as and when they ask. We feel it's such a gift to have it there - a real bolt-hole, and even if we can't get up as often as we like, just to know it's there is lovely. And from the bedroom window, we can look across the loch and see the Bothy at Peanmeanach, and remember . . !