Why did you establish the Cowal Way?
After leaving the Army, I was living in Glendaruel and running a management development company specialising in residential outdoor training. In this role I was very aware of the country-wide interest in the outdoors and walking holidays in particular. Places like Fort William and the Lake District appeared to be bursting at the seams with visitors. Meanwhile the Cowal Peninsula was relatively undiscovered. I was Chairman of the local community council and in the late nineties we were looking for a suitable project to boost tourism and also to celebrate the Millenium. A long distance trail across the peninsula seemed like a good tourist attraction and a worthwhile project. We put together a successful Lottery Fund application and we haven’t looked back since.
Where did your love of the outdoors come from?
As a small boy I roamed the Pentland Hills with my brother and friends. We didn’t have television or computers then so we made our own entertainment. I didn’t even own a bike so it was normal to walk everywhere. Once, aged about ten years, I got lost 1,500 feet up Allermuir, overlooking Edinburgh, about 6 miles from home. A kind lady at Hill End gave me a tomato and sixpence for the bus. I kept the sixpence and walked. My real love of the hills however probably came from school geography trips. As a teenager I remember climbing Ben Nevis, Ben Lomond, Snowden and Scafell so by the time I joined the Army I was already smitten by the great outdoors.
I assume your career in the Army enhanced your relationship with the outdoors? Tell us a little more about your career.
As a schoolboy I loved sport, particularly athletics, hockey and football. I nearly became a professional footballer but back then wages were only £20 a week maximum! I managed to get a place at Loughborough, the top sports college. However, on leaving school in 1958 I was called up to do National Service and my college place was put on hold for two years. National Service was brilliant. Although I was a soldier I was virtually a professional sportsman. There were a lot of professional footballers doing national service and at one point I captained the Army team against Germany, Holland and Belgium. I think I only got in the team because by then I was an officer and they needed somebody to be in charge of the bus! The Army also encouraged ‘adventure training’ for personal and leadership development. If you wanted to climb, ski, canoe or sail you could. So I did, and enjoyed arranging and taking soldiers on expeditions. After my two years of National Service I took a regular commission and stayed in the Army for 27 years, retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1985. I have been fortunate to have served all over the world – as far east as Hong Kong and as far west as Hawaii, as well as Falklands in the south and Alaska in the north. My last two years in the Army involved running an adventure training camp for the American Army in the Rocky Mountains. This gave me the experience to run my own Leadership Centre in Glendaruel with my wife for the next twenty years.
How long have you lived in Glendaruel?
We have lived here for 30 years. Our daughter Kirsty is a journalist and she and her family live next door to us. Our grandchildren attend Dunoon Grammar. We also have two sons who joined the Army and they now live in the Borders and France with their wives and children.
Is it true that when you see walkers pass your house, you run out to ask them questions about their experiences of the Cowal Way?
Our house is on the Cowal Way and from my office window I see walkers passing my gate. I frequently rush out and accost them – asking “how is the walk, where are you from, why did you choose the Cowal Way, how did you get here, etc”. I like to try to get a picture of their experience and find out what they have enjoyed about the Way. I like to think they appreciate that the Way is different. I often hear them say it is so quiet and peaceful and indeed so very different from other routes. Although it is meant to be a tourist attraction, it was also conceived to link rural communities using old rights of way and public footpaths. In addition to the widely diverse scenery, flora, fauna and wildlife, it also links heritage sites in each of the communities. I’m really thrilled when I hear the appreciation of these aspects of the Way. I am also delighted at the spread of nationalities I meet on the Way. It appears to have a particular attraction for northern Europeans, who thankfully nearly always speak English. I have yet to be called upon to use my rudimentary Swahili!
With the exception of the Cowal Way, where is your all time favourite walk?
I suppose it has to be something like Helvellyn. The walk up to Red Tarn followed by the scramble up Striding Edge and down Swirral Edge is really exhilarating. Again in the Lake District there is a lovely little walk from Lakeside in Windermere through the woods to Finsthwaite which my wife and I love. Having said that, the challenging little stretch of the Cowal Way from Tighnabruaich to Ormidale is an absolute delight and is still frequently enjoyed by myself and my family.
Apart from managing Cowal Way, what else keeps you busy?
Retirement gives you new opportunities, particularly for travel and mini expeditions. We like to visit the south of France where one of our sons lives. In the last few years I’ve also been to the Alps (Mount Blanc and the Jungfrau), Argentina (Mount Aconcagua), Kilimanjaro (a favourite), and for my 70th birthday the family paid for a trip to take me to the Everest base camp (one way I hasten to add!) I am also a trustee of Colintraive and Glendaruel Development Trust. The Trust took over the Cowal Way as a tourism project and it is now one of several economic development initiatives which we are pursuing. I am also the line manager for our two full time Cowal Way employees. Finally, I have a large garden to maintain. My wife is creative and grows flowers and shrubs. I just cut the grass and maintain the machinery.
And on a lighter note ….What is your favourite meal?
I cannot cook to save myself. Though everyone else in the family is a ‘foodie’ and can produce lovely meals, if left to my own devices I go for beans on toast. My granddaughter got it right when she put a tin of sardines in my rucksack, to be consumed at Everest base camp. If I had to choose, I suppose I would say seafood – or mince and tatties!
If you could consign something to Room 101 (i.e. get rid of it forever), what would it be?
I hate ‘management speak’. The convoluted attempt to sound impressive, educated or knowledgeable whilst conveying nothing by way of understanding really frustrates me. The ‘officialdom’ of local government also drives me up the wall. (Sorry, that was two).