Rev James Dey

A man who could make chocolate cakes!

I first posted this piece about High Corrie in 2015.  It was linked to the article I’d written about that unusual coterie of men and women for whom High Corrie was a special place. Just last week the last of that group, my father, Rev James Dey, passed away. In many ways it’s the end of an era. They were all men and women who had experienced the reality of war, of poverty, of suffering and hardship. Yet they were all men and women who looked to the future with courage and determination.

They helped make their world a better place for all, not just for a few. Something I’ve tried to do in my life, and see reflected in the words and actions of my own children. Life is never static. Change is always with us. I hope we always try and make those changes good ones. Just as my father did.

***********

Burnbank Cottage in High Corrie

High Corrie on Arran, Scottish Islands Explorer, September/October 2015

If someone asks you to name your favourite book, or song, or food, or place, it’s not always easy to come up with an answer, even though the question itself seems perfectly straightforward.  Somehow it all depends on a host of factors, and in the end, for most of us, it isn’t really possible to come up with a once-and-for-all favourite.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t books, or songs, or places that are special to us – and  some that are more special than others.  For me, a very special place is High Corrie on Arran.

Sunshine on Burnbank, 1973

Sunshine on Burnbank, 1973

It’s special because of the island it’s on, special because of its wonderful setting and special because of all the happy associations and memories it brings with it. Wonderful carefree family holidays, when the sun always shone (well, most of the time!) and we were free to roam the hills and shore and cycle safely wherever we chose (there were far fewer cars back then!).  Each year we stayed in Burnbank, one of the small cottages in High Corrie, a clachan designated by Historic Scotland as being of ‘outstanding historical interest’.

High Corrie United c 1969

High Corrie United FC 1969

There was the High Corrie Burn to explore, Goatfell to climb, and a flat-ish area where we held our own ‘olympic games’ and football matches, along with a home-made two-hole golf course set on a steep slope with the sea far below.  Not far away was Corrie, and then Brodick,  so there was also putting and crazy golf and rowing boats and sandy beaches to enjoy. Adventure beckoned at every turn!

1973: James Dey and playwright Robert McLellan relax during a break in filming in High Corrie

1973: My father Rev James Dey of the BBC (left) and playwright Robert McLellan relax during a break in filming in High Corrie

It was also a place where summer-holiday stories were written and where there was time to slow down and talk and think and unwind.  But it was also a place where adults could stop and unwind too.  For my parents it was a break from their challenging jobs at the BBC and in a tough Glasgow secondary school respectively. The cottage opposite Burnbank was the home of the playwright and poet Robert McLellan and his wife Kathleen. Nearby, the summer homes of the editor of the Guardian, later the Controller of BBC Scotland, the Director of the Royal Scottish Museum and many artists.  A small place but one alive with thoughts and ideas.

It’s a place I’ve been back to on many occasions and I’ve written about some of the things that made this place special not just to me and my family, but to many others (see link below). It’s good to have places like this, places that played their part in our young lives and continue to hold such a store of fond memories. Whilst I’d still find it impossible to name a favourite place, High Corrie comes pretty close!

High Corrie article

 

Power and Beauty in the Glens: Loch Sloy Dam Part 1

It was freezing cold, with snow in the air and on the hills, and colder the higher we went. But, as so often when walking in Scotland, we knew the destination would be worth it. And that destination was the Loch Sloy dam, flanked by the mighty and rugged Ben Vorlich.

Parking at Inveruglas Visitor Centre on the west bank of Loch Lomond, we followed the signposts for Loch Sloy & Hills, which took us past the impressive Loch Sloy Hydro-Electric power station. Construction of the dam began in May 1945 and was the first in the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board’s revolutionary scheme. Work was completed in 1949 and the station officially ‘switched on’ in October 1950. The construction work was back-breaking and dangerous, with twenty-one men losing their lives in the process.

Loch Sloy Hydro-Electric station on Loch Lomond

The dramatic history of ‘Power from the Glens’ has long interested me. The water for this power station comes from Loch Sloy, high in the hills, with its massive dam, 56 metres high and 357 metres long. From here it is channelled through a 3km tunnel, hewn through of the massive side of Ben Vorlich. On reaching the valve house it thunders down through four mammoth pipes to drive the turbines below.  Such is the power of the water that the station can generate enough electricity to meet sudden peaks in demand, reaching full-capacity within 5 minutes of a standing start!

It’s a straightforward walk, a round-trip of 11km. When you reach the access road to the dam, walk under the railway bridge and then it’s up! And the higher you go, the better the views of Loch Lomond and the surrounding hills become. The construction of the Loch Sloy dam and power station was, quite literally, a groundbreaking start to one of the most progressive and far-reaching engineering projects in the world. So when you reach the dam, take a look at your map, and wonder at how it was possible, all those years ago, to carve such tunnels through these mountains. Some of the work force were even prisoners-of-war awaiting repatriation. In a booklet published by Scottish Hydro Electric, due credit is given to these men:

After the Second World War, men from all over Scotland came to work on the schemes, attracted by high wages. The highest wages were earned by the men who dug the tunnels. Germans, Poles and Czechs were acknowledged to be skilled tunnellers. They became known as the ‘Tunnel Tigers’ because of their cavalier approach to safety in their quest to earn the huge bonuses that were available. The lower regard for health and safety issues than there is today inevitably led to high accident rates and deaths amongst the workers. No definitive accident statistics exist, but in one camp alone, which housed some 1,000 workers at its peak, there were 22 deaths in just one year. For the vast majority of workers the rewards were great. In the late 1940s, a ‘Tunnel Tiger’ could expect to earn up to £35 a week, compared to £3 or £4 for a Highland estate worker. Mostly they lived in temporary work camps built near the construction sites. Not surprisingly, the sites looked like military camps, sometimes housing up to 3,000 men.”

The scheme was masterminded by Scottish politician Tom Johnston (1881-1965) and, under the auspices of the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Scheme, succeeded in bringing power to the glens in a way never before imaginable. By 1963 90% of the Highlands were attached to the grid, more than twice as many as when the scheme began just after the Second World War. ‘Power from the Glens’ ultimately changed the face of rural Scotland and the benefits continue to this day.

Their achievements are all the more remarkable given the harsh conditions and often unforgiving terrain they had to work in, and we owe them a great deal. For not only is Scotland a country of great natural beauty, but it’s also one rich in natural resources. And so it’s doubly remarkable that Tom Johnston and his fellow visionaries harnessed hydro-power without damaging the landscape, and also left dams and power stations of great stature and beauty.

As renewable and sustainable energy become increasingly important, the hydro-power schemes these men bequeathed us become equally more significant. We need renewable energy like hydro-power: and in a country of rivers, lochs and plentiful rain, hydro-power is definitely here to stay!

Snow- and cloud-capped Ben Lomond from the road to Loch Sloy dam

Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park

The Berlin Wall – Sunday Morning with Ricky Ross

The view from a derelict watch tower on the former 'Death Strip' of the Berlin Wall

The view from a derelict watch tower on the former ‘Death Strip’ of the Berlin Wall

Sunday 9th November 2014 is the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and I was delighted to be asked to take part in BBC Radio Scotland’s “Sunday Morning with Ricky Ross” programme to discuss that exciting time.  It was an historic turning point for Europe – and the world – and I was privileged to have made many visits to East Germany both before and after those amazing days.

The courage, determination and hope of the people who lived through that brutal regime is remarkable.  The endless shortages, the ban on travel to the West, the constant spying and fear of the dreaded Stasi (the secret police) made life extraordinarily hard.  But in the end the regime fell and life changed for the people of the former East Germany.

My friends there live a very different life now and although the transitional period was not always easy,  there was a whole new Europe for them and their children to explore, enjoy and contribute to. Political reform is rarely easy as those with power seldom wish to relinquish any of it!  But events in what was East Germany – and the other countries in the former Soviet Bloc – show what can be done if people are determined, courageous and persistent enough!

The picture above shows the cover of the book I wrote about these experiences.  It is still available from Vival Publications and will soon be out on Kindle.

Links: Sunday Morning with Ricky Ross,

Listen to the broadcast here

Border Crossings

The Fall of the Berlin Wall – BBC Radio Scotland

Knocking down the hated Berlin Wall

Bringing down the hated Berlin Wall, 1990

It is 25 years to the day since the Fall of the Berlin Wall – 9th November 1989.  A quarter of a century ago the seemingly impossible happened and that grotesque symbol of a brutal totalitarian regime was breached.  Not through violence or bloodshed, but through the non-violent, patient, persistent refusal of the people of the GDR – East Germany – to tolerate any longer the brutal, unjust and economically inept rule of a decaying communist regime.

It was a day not many had foreseen but what a day of rejoicing it was!  This morning I took part in a discussion of that wonderful time on BBC Radio Scotland’s “Sunday Morning with Ricky Ross” programme and you can listen to it by clicking on the link below.

Radio scotlandThe Berlin Wall

It’s 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. We recall that historic turning point through the perspective of two people who had unique experiences of it at the time, Hans-Dieter Robel and Vivien Martin.

You can listen to it here:

The Berlin Wall BBC Radio Scotland 9 11 14

A Piece of the Berlin Wall

A piece of the Berlin Wall from that momentous year of 1989

A piece of the Berlin Wall just months after ‘The Peaceful Revolution’ when the Wall was finally breached

Believe it or not, but it’s 25 years since the Berlin Wall came down – or rather was brought down by the people of East Germany.  No-one thought it would ever go.  Set in stone, or more accurately in huge slabs of concrete, the Berlin Wall seemed to be there for all time, the bleak physical emblem of a brutal and hypocritical regime, dividing the lives of so many people.  An insurmountable and ever-present barrier.  Yet the spirit and courage of ordinary people were to prove that to be untrue.

From the late 1970s I had been in touch with young East Germans, friends made during an unforgettable visit behind the Iron Curtain in 1978.  I was one of a group of young Scots on a church exchange that was in fact no exchange.  We could enter the GDR, but they were not able to visit us in return.  On our departure at the end of that first remarkable trip we bought our S-Bahn tickets – one way – back to the West.  “Tickets to freedom…” as one of our new friends commented wryly, “…for only a few pfennigs“.  It was a tearful farewell – it didn’t seem likely that we would ever see each other again.

It had been hard enough for us to get there in the first place.  The visit had been discouraged by the GDR, an avowedly atheistic state that regarded both us and our hosts as holding undesirable beliefs, incompatible with the state ideology.  But it was also seen as undesirable in the eyes of the British authorities, who paid me a visit before our departure to encourage us to think twice about going.  However, go we did, facing a long and arduous journey from West to East, past heavily armed guards and grim border crossing points to get there.

Despite all obstacles though, we were determined that from that initial visit onwards this contact should be maintained and we visited whenever we could – later even taking our young daughter Alison with us.  These visits were of immense importance to us all.  We grew to understand the full extent of lives lived under a totalitarian regime, while for our East German friends we were the lifeline to a world outside, proof that other ways were possible. They asked us not to forget them. Through all those years we were deeply impressed by their dignity and courage and determination not to give up hope.

And it was this courage and determination that eventually proved too much for the regime – in November 1989 the Wall came down.  During those exciting – and dangerous – days, our friends would phone us, uncertain as to how much we were able to see in the West.  “Do you know what’s happening?”, “Can you see what’s going on?”  Then a momentous call when Dietmar and Martina rang from Berlin – “The Wall is breached!  We are in West Berlin!  We can hardly believe it’s true!”

But true it was.  I remember so vividly those heady days as the unimaginable happened and the whole edifice of Soviet control began to crumble, finally swept away for good.  As soon as possible we travelled to Berlin and, along with our friends, took up hammer and chisel and helped to bring down that hated edifice that had separated families and countries for so long.

It’s not been an easy transition – no system of government is perfect, but some are definitely better than others.  My friends faced a huge change from one of life to another – new and often daunting challenges – but now they were free from the mental and physical tortures used by the regime to keep the people down.  The Berlin Wall, monstrous in itself, had hidden from the West many of the horrific things done to people who dared to question the state in any way.

The piece of the Berlin Wall that I brought home from that visit is a treasured possession.  The symbol of the courage of my friends, who without weapons, took on a hated regime and brought it down.  My piece of the Wall is a constant reminder to me of their determination in the face of what seemed an indestructible and permanent evil.  My piece of the Wall is a tangible witness to enduring friendships that continue to this day.  Something I will treasure forever.

The story of these remarkable events is told in full in Border Crossings 

Reviews of Border Crossings from Martin Dey and David Pattie