Invertrossachs - A History
1. Early Days (1966 - 1972)
The story really starts in 1966, when the concept of district campsites and activity centres was promoted in the Advance Party Report of the Boy Scouts Association. In chapter VII, Camping and Adventure Activities, recommendation 139 of the report stated that “the availability of space for camping, outdoor training and adventure activities be ensured by the allocation of specific responsibilities for its provision at Headquarters, Regional and County levels”. It also concluded that … ”there is an existing need to provide more Scout camping and activity sites, and this will become more pressing in the years ahead.”
Furthermore, recommendation 140 stated that “all Counties and Areas be charged with the responsibility of providing permanent camping facilities for use of their own Scouts and for the use of visiting Scouts, either by acquisition of ground or by long-term guaranteed access.”
In 1966 Major Norman Bruce, a farmer who lived at Munnieston farm near Thornhill, was District Commissioner of the Dunblane and Menteith Scout Association, part of Perthshire Scout County. His “patch” included Killin, Crianlarich, Gartmore, Thornhill, Doune, Dunblane and Callander, but despite covering such a large geographic area scout groups only existed in the main centres of population, with none north of Callander. Annual census figures for this time show only 3 groups with a total membership of less than 200.
Having digested the Advance Party Report, he called on his District Executive “to raise funds for canoeing, boating and other outdoor activities”, whilst he set about looking for a suitable campsite. A few months later, in February 1967, he reported back to his Executive Committee that he had found a site for…
…. “a proposed activity centre at Lendrick on Loch Venachar which he considered suitable.” [Lendrick Lodge is on the north side of Loch Venachar at its western end, so is not the location of the present-day campsite.] “Certain works would be needed such as drainage, fencing and two jetties for boat activities. Also two huts would be necessary, one for storage and the other as an H.Q. in summer, and sleeping in winter. Grants (of 75%) were available from the Scottish Education Department for equipment and capital expenditure. Groups should immediately apply for equipment”
It was also recorded that there should be uniformity in the type of boats being purchased to facilitate competitions between groups.
At the same meeting there was discussion on how much would be needed, and how the district would raise it’s 25% of this amount. Initially a figure of £500 was agreed upon and, after some discussion, it was decided that the district’s contribution of £125 would be raised by asking all groups to donate, for that year only, the monies raised from Bob a Job week.
This seemed a very ambitious project for a relatively small, rural District, but obviously when Major Bruce set his mind on a course of action, things happened.
However in 1968, just over a year later at the A.G.M of the Dunblane and Menteith Scout Association, Major Bruce reported that …“Callander Town Council had scuppered their plans for the centre on Loch Venachar by refusing permission for the activities proposed, and that to go ahead in defiance of the Council would not have been in the best interests of Scouting.” So it was back to square one.
The name of the Dunblane and Menteith Scout Association was changed to South Perthshire in 1969, and the next reference to the project was at the South Perthshire A.G.M. held in November 1970, when Major Bruce advised that “the central theme for the new year was the Venachar Project which was the Activity Centre for all groups.” However, this tantalisingly short reference to the scheme was not elaborated upon and we are left in the dark about what had transpired, but obviously there had been some significant progress in the interim.
It is known that Major Bruce was an acquaintance of Peter Tennant of Invertrossachs House and Estate, and at some point around this time he negotiated the use of a field for camping near West Dullater House, on the southern side of Loch Venachar. (It is recalled that Mrs. Tennant used to have the curious habit of smoking a clay pipe, inverted; how the tobacco stayed in remains a mystery.)
At last Major Bruce had located a site that was ideally suited for all manner of adventurous pursuits, especially water activities. Not only that, the District had expanded to over 300 members, comprising 143 cubs, 129 scouts, 3 Venture scouts and 33 scouters, spread over 6 groups.
What is also known is that by the summer of 1972 the land had been acquired (although the lease was not in fact signed until 1973). The rent was set at 1d (old penny) per year. It also seems that an application for a grant had been submitted to Perth Education Committee in early 1972 for the Invertrossachs project, as the District Secretary had been asked to contact them regarding its progress. A plan of the site, probably drawn up to support a planning application and dated October 1972, shows the location of the cabin, boatshed and toilets, which corresponds to their current locations.
Obviously a lot had happened between November 1970 and 1972 – negotiations, drawing up plans, costings, obtaining planning permission, applying for funding, local fund raising, etc. but no records of these have been found.
David Vass, former scout leader of the 85th Perthshire in Dunblane, took over from Major Bruce as District Commissioner in 1972 and recollects that around this time the District was fundraising for Invertrossachs. By December 1972 presumably everything was in place for the work to proceed as it was reported that the joiners were ready to start on the construction of the timber buildings, which were supplied and built by a local company. A similar but larger building to the cabin exists at Aberfoyle Golf Course.
By early spring 1973, the shell of both the cabin and boatshed were substantially complete at a cost of about £4,000; this excluded the floor of the cabin, which was still beyond their financial means. (David Vass recalls a Father and Son Camp at Invertrossachs in 1974 where they used the still-floorless cabin.) This was eventually installed in 1975 after further fund raising.
2. Consolidation (1973 - 1992)
1973 through to 1977 saw a programme of works that gradually brought the basic site up to standard. Alex Scott took on the role as Acting Warden in 1974, and the boatshed was stocked with the District’s canoes. Scout groups were asked to help with the fitting out of the cabin and undertake small projects. Even the Guides offered to help, although one entry in a minute of a district scouters meeting seemed to voice concern: “The Ranger Guides had started painting the cabin and it was felt the Scouters should finish the job”.
The electricity supply, which involved installing over 300 metres of overhead cables on poles and linking it to the Invertrossachs Estate supply, was connected in the spring of 1975.
The toilets initially consisted of a couple of chemical toilets, but it was recognised as early as 1974 that “flush toilets would ultimately be needed”. However these would need a septic tank, which was another major investment, and there were other demands on funds.
Meanwhile in 1975 there had been a reorganisation of Local Government and also in the Scout Associations Administrative areas, and South Perthshire was transferred from Perthshire to Forth Valley Area and became Trossachs District. David Vass continued as District Commissioner.
At the 1976 District A.G.M. it was recorded that the work at Invertrossachs was nearing completion and already attracting a great deal of interest. The Invertrossachs management committee was formed, consisting of Mr A.A.P. Mair (Convenor), and members D.J. Evans (District), A.W. Smith (Callander), C.G.S. Laird (Dunblane) and R. McCowan (Thornhill). Scout groups from within the District did not pay for the use of the site, but paid an annual district levy of 10p per head, and were expected to carry out some work on the site. The camping fees for other visiting groups were 7p per person per night for the site, but if you wanted to sleep in the cabin (max 20 persons) it would cost 15p per person per night, plus electricity. Later that year it was reported that 12 groups from outside the District had camped, generating £115 of income, and district groups had used the site extensively. A report of some chopped-down trees had caused some concern.
High drama in 1977! A sofa was reported missing from the cabin. At a District Executive meeting it is recorded that the person responsible for providing the vehicle in which the said sofa had been removed (a leader from Callander), would be held responsible and must answer for his actions.
That year Mr. Mair resigned as convenor of the Invertrossachs Committee due to pressure of work, and was replaced by Alf Payne, the Venture Scout Leader from the Allanforth Unit (Dunblane). Alf reported that the Unit had carried out a lot of work at the site over the last year, a point acknowledged by the D.C. when he stated that “there had been a vast improvement (at Invertrossachs) over the last 6 months.”
Eventually in late 1977 a septic tank for the new flush toilets was installed at a cost of around £500. This was not without its problems as the excavation for the onion shaped tank, which was over 3.0 metres deep, hit rock and installation of the tank was postponed for several months until additional monies could be raised to pay the contractor. Apparently the septic tank adorned the car park for most of the summer.
Invertrossachs was a place that Allanforth Venture Scouts would get to know very well over the ensuing years, and for many of them it became a home from home. It provided a base for many of the activities that appealed to that age group, and it offered the opportunity to carry out service work that was challenging and fun. Under the guidance of Alf, they became the backbone of the service team and provided much of the muscle that was required to maintain and develop the centre. During 1978 they constructed a concrete dam in the woods above West Burnside to provide a water supply and laid a pipe down to the sites and cabin. Alf later reported that a further £500 would still be required for materials to complete the drainage and water supply.
One of the tasks for the members of Allanforth unit was the maintenance of the District’s equipment, and they were continually repairing boats and canoes (made of wood, canvas and fibreglass in those days). However, in return they got unlimited access to the craft and many of them became quite proficient in handling them on the water. In 1980 a section of the boatshed was converted to a bunkhouse for use by the service team, with electric lighting and a small cooker, which meant that the unit could stay on site independent of the cabin. By this time Allanforth was devoting 1 day every 3 weeks to maintenance and other tasks at Invertrossachs.
In 1979 there was news of the Estate changing hands again, the new owners being Thomson Scottish Forestry (possibly part of the D.C. Thomson empire). There was some early dialogue regarding the future of the site, which was guaranteed, but the new owners proposed an annual rent of £50. This was eventually negotiated down to £10. The new owners waived the fee in the first year, but the District opted to pay it anyway to foster good relations, and it was agreed that there would be an annual on-site meeting and walk round the site with the factor.
At the 1979 AGM of Trossachs District, held in November, Alf Payne reported that despite recording just over 1800 camper nights, not many local scouts had used the facilities and this was very disappointing. A canoeing course and a camping course had been held, all of which shows the popularity of the site. However the big news of the year was …………. there were now curtains in the cabin!
In the early 80’s, infra red heaters were installed in the cabin to discourage the use of gas heaters, and two new domestic electric cookers were installed in the kitchen. Camping fees rose to 20p per head plus £2 per booking. It was proposed that a separate bunkhouse and toilets should be built to encourage “lady cub leaders and female venture scouts to use the site more”. This apparently was not followed up, but perhaps indicates the concern regarding the under-usage of the site by local groups, and that every avenue was to be explored.
In 1985 new flush toilets were being built and were in operation for the following year.
By the mid 80’s concern was growing over the finances of Invertrossachs. Although the revenue from campers was adequate, with a high of 2,600 camper nights recorded for 1984, the campsite did not have a Capital Fund (or reserves) and the Estate was seeking a large increase in rent. The District agreed that a Capital Fund would be set up with money raised from a one-off 50p per head levy, based on the 1985 census figures. Following negotiations with the landlords, it was agreed that rent would be based on the number of camper nights (@ 10p) and a percentage of the road maintenance costs.
Up to 1986 the District Secretary had been responsible for site bookings, but as this was becoming an increasingly time consuming task it was decided to create the post of Booking Secretary. Alf Payne’s wife, June, took on the role, which she would continue to do for nearly 30 years.
In 1988 Alf Payne was forced to retire through ill health and Sue Pringle took over his duties at Invertrossachs. Rumour of the Estate being sold yet again raised concerns about the site’s future. At a District Executive the condition of the cabin was described as “in a sad state of repair, with a leaking roof”, but given the uncertainty regarding the future it is not surprising that the District did not wish to make any further outlay until the situation had been resolved. The cabin windows and toilets suffered some vandalism but owing to the site’s remoteness it was recognised that there was little that the District could do about it other than make the place as secure as possible. There was also concern at the drop in numbers using the centre.
The same year Trossachs District received an offer of help from Stirling District with regard to Invertrossachs, both with manpower and finances in exchange for some use of the site. Discussion on this was deferred for further investigation.
By early 1989 the future of the site was still uncertain. Recognising the value of Invertrossachs to the wider scouting community, Forth Valley Area offered to make £1000 available to invest in the centre. This coincided with a request from Richard Rogers, who had taken over from Alf Payne as Allanforth Venture Scout leader and was assisting Sue Pringle with the maintenance of Invertrossachs, for funds to carry out repairs to the cabin and boatshed. Some funds were made available, and a letter was sent to the Area Commissioner requesting further information regarding his offer, and “what strings were attached to it?” This would appear to have come to nothing.
Later that year Richard resigned as Venture Scout leader, and also his joint wardenship of Invertrossachs.
By the end of the year the Estate was finally sold to Scottish Woodlands, who wanted to review the lease. At the 1990 A.G.M. in April it was recorded that a letter had been received from the new owners, which seemed quite positive and “held promise”. However the District was still awaiting a new lease agreement. It also received confirmation that a new roof to the cabin, costing £1300, was required. Confident that the future of the Centre would not be affected, work went ahead with repairing and re-felting the cabin roof as a matter of urgency. It was reported that “a small work party had a hard weekend” stripping and replacing the felt roof of the cabin.
April 1991, and things were still up in the air, with no communication from Scottish Woodlands. There did not appear to be any problem, just that the new owners did not seem to be in any rush. The offer of help from Stirling District was still on the table and a small team led by David Vass had discussions with their counterparts from Stirling District regarding their offer. (There had been some suspicion amongst several leaders in Trossachs District that Stirling viewed Invertrossachs with envious eyes, and that Trossachs District had worked hard to establish the site and did not want to relinquish control over its management.) Most fears were allayed when David reported back that he “believed that Stirling was simply looking for an activity area and Invertrossachs fitted their bill”. After some discussion it was agreed that the District should proceed with negotiations with Stirling on joint use of Invertrossachs.
Six months later at the District A.G.M. Sue reported that she was very concerned regarding numbers using the site, particularly local groups which camped only 4 times in 1990 and 5 times in 1991.
But it was the D.C.s announcement that had everyone sit up in their seats. An Area Boundary Review had been carried out in which it was proposed that Stirling District and Trossachs District should amalgamate. Whilst some reservations were voiced, it was recognised by the meeting that the natural geographic marriage of Trossachs and Stirling would result in a numerically much larger district with around 700 members, with a stronger and more focussed District team, which would be beneficial to both Districts in the long term.
And so it was, that in 1992 the new district of Stirling and Trossachs came into being, with camp site at Invertrossachs forming part of the assets.
3. The Millennium and the Centenary of Scouting (1992 - 2007)
Stan Sanderson, the D.C. of Stirling District, was appointed D.C. of the new Stirling and Trossachs District, with David Vass stepping aside to become A.D.C. General Duties and Chair of the Invertrossachs Management Committee. June Payne and Sue Pringle continued as Booking Secretary and Warden respectively.
With the larger district, potential users increased, but also more volunteers were available to help run and maintain the facility, as by now Venture Scouting had started to decline, and Allanforth Unit were not able to commit so much time, effort and numbers in supporting the centre. As mentioned previously the buildings were looking a bit neglected, but by early 1993 the new team had already held a “Bucket and Barbeque”, attended by 36 volunteers, to start tackling the backlog. Work was carried out on the dam, a new bridge was constructed, numerous smaller jobs undertaken, various measures put in hand to improve safety and a second-hand electric range was donated. Sue Pringle resigned as Warden (but offered to stay on to assist in finalising the lease) and Jim Mitchell took over as Site Manager.
The rejuvenated Invertrossachs committee undertook a review of the pricing structure. It was decided that the annual levy that scout groups in Trossachs District used to pay for the use of the site would done away with, and that fixed charges would apply to all campers. Local groups in Stirling and Trossachs however paid a discounted rate.
The state of the water activity equipment had declined through lack of usage and maintenance, and was barely being used. New rules regarding water activities, more stringent requirements for permits and tighter controls had led to very few (if any) active permit holders in the new district. It was decided that Invertrossachs should become the centre for all water activities with the district concentrating all equipment there, and training would be encouraged and supported. The equipment at Invertrossachs consisted of an assortment of fibreglass kayaks and double canoes in various states of repair, 3 mirror dinghies, a GP 14, and a fifth dinghy, (possibly a Heron). A survey around the Scout Groups in the District revealed nearly 60 canvas, plywood and fibreglass kayaks of varying age and condition, gathering dust in halls, sheds and garages. Groups were happy to donate most of their kayaks to the district, and a dozen of those in the best condition were retained for use at Invertrossachs with the remainder being sold on or disposed of. Gradually water activities were re-established.
By the end of 1993, the new lease had still not been finalised, although a draft lease was in existence. Initially there were some minor problems with local residents, then an issue with unruly campers, but these were resolved and there did not appear to be any obstacle to the lease being agreed, but the District was still wary about major expenditure.
It took another year for the lease to be finally signed; a 21-year lease, with the landowner settling for a rent of £500 per annum. Meanwhile, a working group comprising Jim Mitchell, Colin Smith, Bruce Michie and Sue Pringle (who had been co-opted because of her previous knowledge and contacts) had been set up to consider further development the site. The main proposals were a new toilet block, an extension to the cabin, the alteration and refurbishment of the cabin interior to create a larger kitchen, and expansion the water activities.
Three further workdays were held in early ’95, with all scout groups being asked to support these with 4 persons from each group. These proved very successful, but it was reported at the Executive held shortly after that ”over 90% of the man-hours spent was by warranted leaders”.
Colin Smith had also been looking into possible funding sources for water activity equipment, and at the AGM held in June 1995, 10 new kayaks, worth £3,500 were presented to the District by Gary Edwards, the chairman of Central Regional Council Charity Garden Fete Committee. These boats, made from polyethylene, would form the core of the kayaking fleet at Invertrossachs and were robust, requiring little maintenance. Later that year, an application to the Development Fund at Scottish Headquarters was successful and a cheque for £1500 was received towards the cost of a second-hand Wayfarer dinghy.
The redevelopment of the facilities was progressing, with the plans for a porch to the cabin and a new toilet block being drawn up and planning permission sought. Volunteers busied themselves panelling the interior of the cabin and refurbishing the kitchen, including the installation of a second-hand electric range donated by one of the groups, but money was being spent faster than it was coming in. Financing all this new work was proving difficult, but Stan turned out to be adept at sourcing grants and funding, a skill that he applied to many of the projects undertaken at Invertrossachs over the years. Almost £29,000 was secured from a variety of sources, the main contributors being the Foundation for Sports and Arts with £18,488, Stirling Council with £4000, and a contribution of £2,500 from the Scottish Scout Association.
The main construction went ahead in late 1996. A local contractor carried out the building work, which was completed just before the start of the 1997 camping season. Dorothy Kinloch, the Chief Commissioner for Scotland who lived in Callander, performed the opening of the new and refurbished facilities in April.
The water supply system, which was located in the woods just above West Burnside, comprised a concrete dam and catchment tank on the stream bisecting the East and West Burnside sites. This was starting to give some problems as the dam was regularly silting up with stone and gravel washed down during heavy rain (in other words, quite frequently). In 1998 the old dam was finally abandoned and smaller and more easily maintained dam was constructed upstream. A 500-gallon aboveground plastic storage tank was installed and a new UPVC pipe was also laid from the tank to the toilets and cabin, with spurs to 2 taps on East and West Burnside.
Whilst one water problem had been solved, it was reported at the District Executive in December 1998 that “there is concern over (sailing) water activities – the boats are not out often enough due to lack of instructors”. So much so that the intended purchase of a second wayfarer dinghy was cancelled. It was also noted that the camp night fee was to increase from 40p to 50p.
Around this time, although it was not recorded, Jim Mitchell stood down as Site Manager, and Colin Smith took over the role.
In June 2000 there was an outbreak of E coli at a scout Millennium Camp held near Aberdeen at New Deer Showground, which would have a great impact on camping practices for the movement. It was found that contamination from sheep faeces at a recent agricultural event held on the same ground had caused the outbreak and, as a result, camping on land occupied by livestock during the previous 4 weeks was banned, thus virtually wiping out green field camping. Invertrossachs, with no grazing animals, might have expected to see a large increase in campers, but this was not reflected in bookings. The following year an outbreak of foot and mouth disease saw campsites all over the country shut for several weeks.
In 2001 the decision was made to focus on kayaking as the main water activity at Invertrossachs, and sailing was relegated to a secondary activity. A further 4 kayaks more suited to smaller scouts and cubs, were purchased.
By this time Venture Scouting, after a gradual but steady decline, had collapsed entirely and there were no units operating anywhere in the District. This was particularly felt at Invertrossachs, which had always relied on a number of younger, fit adults in the service team to carry out the more strenuous tasks and duties. Scouting generally was at a low ebb.
Scout HQ at Gilwell announced a revision to the age ranges and structure of scouting, fixing the scout section upper age limit at 14, and replacing Venture Scouting with 2 new sections, Explorer Scouts (14 – 18 years) and Scout Network (18 – 25). Whilst this saw a revival of scouting amongst the pre-university age group, network never really got going and still struggles to recruit and retain numbers. [As a result, the service team at Invertrossachs had to, and still does, rely heavily on more “mature” and retired volunteers.]
Autumn 2001 also saw the area of boggy ground, bushes and scrub birch between the cabin and boatshed being reclaimed. The area was cleared, roots removed, and around 300 tonnes of rock fill and topsoil imported to create a flat games area, the only level piece of ground on the whole site. But imagine the frustration of the volunteers who had meticulously raked, de-stoned, levelled and seeded the field, when they discovered a few weeks later that a small herd of cattle had escaped from a field at West Dullator, made its way ¼ mile along the water’s edge, and ensconced itself on the lush, green pasture which had been recently sown. Their hooves cut up the ground making quite a mess, and it was several months before the games field was fit for use.
Also in 2001, the aging electric range in the kitchen was just about on its last legs and, upon investigating replacement options, it was decided to install a gas range run on bottled gas. A new 6-burner Dominator gas range with oven was installed and a gas cage erected outside the cabin to take the 2 propane gas bottles that were required, which made a marked difference to cooking times.
Over the winter, the camping sites on West Burnside were re-levelled and additional topsoil was brought on site. As is the way of things, the weather during this operation was dismal and the contractor was not able to fully complete the work. Several weeks later when the site had dried out, volunteers completed the soiling and seeding operations.
Up to 2002 no work had been carried out on the main camping sites in terms of ground maintenance. Without any grazing animals it was just allowed to grow wild, relying on human traffic to keep it in check. In June 2002 all that changed with the purchase of a power brush cutter and a rugged powered rotary mower (sit-on mowers could not cope with the terrain). Since then the sites have been regularly maintained, being cut 2 or 3 times a year, with the games field and the area around the buildings cut up to 6 times. I’m sure that this is much appreciated by campers, but spare a thought for the volunteers who have to cut it. To mow all 3 sites, games field, and the ground around the cabin takes the best part of a day. In that time you walk at over 8 kilometres.
With all the improvements being made to the campsite and facilities, it was felt that the 50p per night was not a realistic amount to be charging, and therefore new campsite fees of 75p per camper night, and £25 for weekend use of the cabin were introduced.
If you camp regularly at Invertrossachs you will be aware that you can be lucky with the weather, or not, and the weather can be abysmal. In July 2002 a group of scouts camping at Invertrossachs had gone into Callander for the afternoon, when there was a torrential downpour that lasted a couple of hours. So severe was the rain that streams burst their banks, many roads were closed and properties affected. The scouts were advised by the Police the that the road back to site was not recommended, so they, and over 100 other people, ended up sleeping in the McLaren Centre, which was turned into an Emergency Shelter.
In the summer of 2004 a very large group of over 80 German Scouts camped at Invertrossachs for around 10 days, and got virtually 10 days of non-stop rain. Not only was it miserable for them, but also the campsite turned into a sea of mud and by the time they left in early August, both East and West Burnside sites were in an appalling state. However 3 weeks later it had dried out, new growth was flourishing and the campsite was ready to welcome its autumn campers.
Things were getting a bit fraught over the number of volunteers, or lack of them, who were prepared to help in the “service team”. It was noted that those who were soldiering on were getting a bit long in the tooth and new blood was urgently needed.
Around 2005, because of the rules and the types of dinghies that were used at Invertrossachs, sailing continued to be a big drain on manpower in terms of the number of qualified instructors that were needed to run sailing sessions (approximately 1 instructor/adult to 2 pupils overall). As this was proving impractical, it was decided to phase out sailing entirely and concentrate on kayaking, although the same difficulty in recruiting qualified instructors for that activity continued.
2007 marked the centenary of Scouting, and it was decided that one of the ways Stirling and Trossachs District would celebrate the event was by introducing a new activity to Invertrossachs, Bell Boating. Stan Sanderson had first seen these boats at Lochgoilhead in 2004 and thought they would be ideal craft to have at Invertrossachs. The bell boat had several advantages over other watercraft. They were stable, so unless you wanted to, there was no need to get wet; up to 10 crew members could go out in a boat requiring only one adult instructor; it was relatively easy to obtain a bell boat helm permit. This major investment involved the purchase of 2 bell boats, launching trolleys, ancillary equipment, and the construction of a storage shed and slipway. Also included with this package of work was the construction of gabion protection to the games field, which was eroding at a rate of 1 metre per year. The sum of almost £30,000 was the target. After a substantial effort the money was raised, mainly by Stan, through successful grant applications. Colin Smith project managed the construction operation during the summer of 2006, and the new bell boats were installed in the boatshed in early 2007. A bell boat trainer was brought in to carry out training and over 1 weekend almost 30 leaders attained a bell boat helm certificate. This is still repeated every 3 or 4 years to ensure that the opportunity for bell boating is widely available in the district.
Bell boats have undoubtedly proved to be a great success and a popular activity, generating around 10% of the centre’s income.
4. Recent Times (2008 – 2015)
After a decade of falling numbers and a period when Scouting was regarded as being “uncool” with youngsters, the fortunes of the movement changed. Whether this was due to the positive publicity surrounding the Centenary in 2007, the appointment of Bear Grylls as Chief Scout, the extensive range of adventurous activities and trips that were now being untaken, particularly by the Explorer Scout section, or a combination of all these and other factors, it was undeniable that Scouting was now definitely COOL, and numbers were increasing.
At Invertrossachs, things were allowed to just tick over for a couple of years whilst the management team took stock and considered what would be the next priority.
In 2011 Stan Sanderson retired as District Commissioner to be replaced by David Wilson, former scout leader of the 7th Stirling (Beechwood). Stan took over as District Chairman and Chair of the Invertrossachs Management Committee from David Vass. June Payne and Colin Smith continued as Booking Secretary and Site Manager.
Early in 2011 a powered barrow with 0.3 Tonne capacity was purchased to help make life a bit easier for the volunteers in getting materials around the site. This proved to be a double edged sword as it encouraged the management team to consider more ambitious projects up on the sites.
The first of these was in the summer the same year when 2 wooden cooking shelters were constructed; 1 on West Burnside and 1 on the Woodland site. Adult volunteers erected the first one on West Burnside and sorted out the construction problems, enabling the second on the Woodland site to be built by the BIO Explorer Unit in double quick time (mainly because of the midges).
The Woodland site had been under-utilised for many years simply because more of an effort was required to get to it; with scouts now being younger it took too much time and effort carrying all the accoutrements that modern day scouts (seem to) require up to the site, especially just for a weekend. However the Trossachs is an area popular with Duke of Edinburgh Award Expeditions, and suitable campsites are few, so the Woodland site was promoted as an ideal overnight stop for lightweight expeditions, remote enough to give a sense of isolation, but close enough to amenities such as potable water and toilets. The restriction on “scouts only” groups was relaxed to include any D. of E. Expedition.
Whilst Bell Boating was continuing to be a well-supported activity with plenty of authorised helms in the district, the same cannot be said for kayaking. The classification of Loch Venachar as B2 waters meant that kayak and canoe instructors needed to have quite a high level of competence to gain a permit. It just so happened that in 2011, several leaders in the district with the appropriate qualifications, came together and things started to happen. Picking their way through the myriad of scout association rules and regulations Charlie Rowley, Mark Wright and Niall Williamson, with the help of Colin Smith, worked towards establishing Invertrossachs as a centre for paddle sports by running pool training in winter and outdoor training in summer to enable leaders to gain activity permits. Charlie, in a first for the District, trained six Explorer Scouts in canoeing skills to enable them to undertake their Duke of Edinburgh Gold Expedition by canoeing most of the Caledonian Canal.
In 2014 a third canoe was donated to the District and the following year, 8 new Pyranha kayaks replaced most of the aging Eurokayaks, which were almost 20 years old.
Onshore, the volunteer team undertook the construction of a permanent bivouac on West Burnside, modelled on a similar structure at Meggernie Scout Centre in Glen Lyon. It proved to be quite a tough task for the aging, and diminishing team of volunteers.
At end of the 2014 camping season, June Payne stepped down from the job of Booking Secretary, a post she had held since 1986. This also drew to a close a family involvement with Invertrossachs since 1974, an amazing 40-year association. Carla Wilson, wife of District Commissioner David Wilson, took over as Booking Secretary.
For several years it had been the ambition of the management committee to build a shower block at the centre, to serve both campers and those undertaking water activities. The design had been chosen from several that had been proposed, and finally by mid-2014 all obstacles, with the exception of funding, had been overcome to allow building works to proceed. Sadly, plans to include a new ladies toilet were shelved due to cost. Architect Tom McCord and Project Manager Toby Kliskey, both of whom were connected to the Callander Scout Group, gave of their time for the duration of the works and offered valuable assistance and advice to the project team of Stan Sanderson, Colin Smith and Roy McQuaker.
The electricity supply to the site, even with an upgrade, could not provide sufficient additional power to run the four electric showers that were initially proposed, so an alternative gas operated commercial boiler was selected to provide the hot water. A Calor Gas tank was installed, and by extending the supply pipe to the cabin, the bottled supply to the cooking range was dispensed with. A local builder constructed the new building, comprising a shower room with 3 unisex shower cubicles, a new disabled toilet and shower, and a plant/store room, with volunteers carrying out much of the finishing work and landscaping. The project cost of over £40,000 was raised predominantly through grants, chiefly the Commonwealth Games Legacy Fund (£18,343), the Stafford Trust (£7,500), the Robert Barr Trust (£5,000) and the Robertson Trust (£4,500). Once again, it was Stan Sanderson who worked his magic and secured the funding. In May 2015 the official opening of the new shower block was held, and an old friend, Dorothy Kinloch, now the Honorary President of the District, was invited to perform the unveiling of a plaque.
Which brings us up to date.
Invertrossachs has grown and developed considerably since it first opened, and the management team are constantly being kept on their toes with new challenges, and some old problems.
- Mention Invertrossachs, and one of the first things that springs to mind is….midges. From mid-May to mid-September these little blighters can be a bit troublesome. Periodic references to them in various minutes testify to their unwelcome presence but unfortunately the combination of woodland, grassland, bracken, water and the weather conditions provide ideal breeding conditions and habitat. It is one of the few things we have no control over. Midges, as they say, go with the territory.
- The other irritation, literally, is from ticks, which seem to be becoming more prevalent. No means of eradication exist for either ticks or midges, so campers will have to be vigilant and continue to take precautions to minimise the discomfort caused by these annoying wee beasties until a solution is found.
- From the mid eighties through to the early noughties the Loch Venachar Users Association, comprising all those who had a water frontage or an involvement in activities on the loch, took on the mantle as guardians of the loch. It managed and monitored those who used the loch and it’s environs and took to task anyone responsible for upsetting the equilibrium of the status quo. It was a body not to be taken lightly. David Vass represented the Districts at these meetings; the feeling was that the Scouts were tolerated rather than encouraged. With the creation of the National Park, and the Right to Roam legislation, this body became less influential and although still in existence today, the scouts have no involvement and virtually no dealings with this organisation.
- The site has been part of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park since 2002 – a good selling point for visiting groups, but the Park Authority can be a bit bureaucratic when considering new developments. For example, when the plans for the new shower block were prepared, it involved the felling of half a dozen mature trees. Planning permission was granted on the understanding that we would plant 6 saplings to replace those felled. The irony was that, at that precise time, the Estate was harvesting 6000 tonnes of timber a mere 500 metres up the hillside!)
- Sheep have occasionally been a problem, especially during periods of drought. During these rare periods, the ends of fences would be exposed as the water level of the loch dropped, and sheep would escape along the water’s edge from farmland around West Dullater and meander along the shoreline to Invertrossachs. However grazing in the vicinity has now ceased so that is one less problem to deal with.
- Since 2007 Stirling Council has checked the water coming out of the taps. In 2008 it advised that a filtration and Ultra Violet treatment system would be required. This was duly installed, but it begs the question; how had all these scouts survived for the previous 30-odd years?
- Stirling Council changed from weekly to fortnightly bin collections to encourage more recycling (something that campers at Invertrossachs are not very good at). One visiting overseas scout group managed to leave over 60 black bags of waste, plus 2 full bins.
- Regulations now do not permit sleeping in the cabin, other than in emergency situations, and the Fire Service carries out regular inspections of the premises, checking alarms and fire fighting equipment, and advising on improvements.
- The Scout Association regularly review and revise the rules for water activities and the permit scheme, and it needs careful and continual monitoring to ensure all users comply with the regulations.
- All aspects of the site have to be looked at with one eye on Health and Safety.
It is a never-ending list of things to keep on top of, but it is a small price to pay if our beavers, cubs, scouts, explorer scouts and networkers can continue to enjoy the spectacular location and amenities that Invertrossachs has to offer.
Thanks are due to Major Norman Bruce who had the foresight, drive and determination to get the project started, and the numerous leaders, scouts of all ages, occasional helpers and parents who have contributed to the maintenance and development of the Centre.