North High Corrie Croft.
Compiled with the help of John Orr & Elma & Stevie Stevenson
Around 1967-8 the idea for a Residential Outdoor Centre for Ayrshire came from The Adviser for Physical Education for Ayrshire, Alistair Aitkenhead and Head Teacher, John Reid from Stanley School in Ardrossan along with teachers from schools across the County. The concept was to involve pupils in the whole experience from exploring the Arran Mountains to converting an old ruined croft into what became known as North High Corrie Croft. These pioneers of Outdoor Education John Reid, Alistair Aitkenhead, Stevie Stevenson and other were recently described by an authority in Outdoor Education in Scotland as absolute legends in this area of Education.
The building and site at North High Corrie was leased from Arran Estates and in the years from 1968 to1971, interested schools, staff helped by pupils tackled all manner of projects in Ayrshire schools and then came to Corrie to fit them or to build parts that they had made back in school. In one school the member of staff, John Shaw was a pioneer of using fibreglass and built all the water tanks and septic tank. There was another technical teacher from Ardrossan, who had been a plumber before entering teaching, and so his pupils worked on the plumbing for the tanks toilets showers etc.
They built bunks, kitchen units, fitted out a drying room and all manner of storage units. The Home Economics departments and Adviser decided on what cooking facilities would be required for the full complement of staff and pupils.
There were two water supplies, one from the burn, like most of the properties in the Corrie village, and a second one from a spring which fed the toilets and the Drying Room sink. This was important because at times the burn dried up but the spring never did.
There was just a rough track up to the Croft at that time and everything was carried up the hill from wherever it could be delivered to. Runnels and ditches were cleared and put in by pupils.
In August 1971 "The Croft" was ready to start offering schools a residential Outdoor Educational experience. The first instructor, John Orr was appointed and the first visiting school arrived in August 1971. Two other instructors helped for a short period in 1971 Colin McEwan and Paul Devine and in 1972 John was joined by Chris Norris, Tom Reilly, Nigel Metcalf. Instructors tended to stay for 2-3 years gaining experience in Outdoor Education. David Butcher, and Jean Metcalf then joined John in 1973
All Secondary Schools in Ayrshire were offered a Monday to Friday course or a Friday to Monday visit. The accommodation was two dormitories sleeping eight. There was a staff bunk area in one dormitory and three bunks for staff in a separate room between the dining social area and the other dormitory. The total number that the Croft could have at anytime was sixteen pupils with two visiting staff.
Pupils planned and budgeted for their meals while at school with the Domestic Science staff, and drew up shopping lists. All the food was bought daily from the shops in the village, and shopping alternated month about between Annie Watsons' general store and the Co-op, managed by Bert Robb. In 1971 George Watson ran his Butchers business from Craigard in the village. Milk was supplied by John Miller at Sannox Farm into the gallon cans left in the box at the foot of the hill.
Each day pupils were assigned to be “Day Workers” looking after the meals, the cleaning, and maintenance work, under the guidance of the visiting staff or a member of the permanent staff. The permanent staff were qualified teachers of Physical Education with a personal interest and experience of the outdoor activities that were offered. At that time there was no degree qualification in Outdoor Education but staff held certificates from the National Governing Bodies RYA, SCA, MLC etc.
Pupils were taken Hill Walking, Climbing, Abseiling, Camping and Canoeing. Canoes were kept at Springwell and the Sandstone quay gave a readymade safe introduction area. The hill paths were not like they are today and pupils really felt they were trail blazing! Pupils abseiled at the Limekilns in Corrie and the Blue Rocks, and did single pitch rock climbs in Glen Catacol and Mullach Bhuidhe. Coire an Lochan, Glen Catacol and Millstone Point were popular spots for camping.
Arran Transport buses were used to provide transport to collect groups from the pier, take them back to the boat and to take them to various drop offs for walks. After 3 years of lugging everything up the hill a Land Rover was provided by the Council. However most pupils had to still walk up and down to the shore on the rough track.
The permanent staff lived in a 12ft x 8ft hut and there was no such thing as “contract hours”. The instructors had only one weekend in three off. No additional payments were made and the instructors were employed as teachers.
These experiences are still very fondly remembered today by pupils who came to the “Croft”. John Orr : "I sometimes meet people, who came as a pupil and who still remember their time there and the experience of an Residential Outdoor Centre as being very valuable, special and positive, giving them a unique opportunity to have fun while learning new skills and learning much about themselves".
Life as an Instructor at High Corrie Croft
Whilst giving pupils the opportunity to learn outdoors was the prime objective, the island benefited not only from the increased economics involved in transport but also from feeding all these hungry pupils and instructors. These resident instructors made a huge contribution to island life mostly in their free time.
The Arran Branch of the Scottish Sub Aqua Club was started in 1971 led by John Orr but driven by Joe Rae, PE teacher at Arran High, who spread the word and recruited the numbers it needed to become the Arran Branch. which was twelve. The initial members were Joe Rae, Jimmy Gordon, Derek Smith, Dave Warwick, Jim Lees, Tom Hill, Alastair Kerr, Dougie Kerr, Mike Gill, Howard Walker, Robin Crawford, then in the following year by Alastair Bilsland, Irene Murdo, Jo Morgan, Mike Rose, Robert Watt and Howard Wood. In 1973 Croft instructor David Butcher joined John in organising the training. Robin Crawford gave pool time in the Kinloch. David Butcher took over Both as Croft head instructor and as the Diving Officer in 1975 when John left the island. So in fact the staff from the Croft started organised diving on the island, which proved to have had a great influence on the island. Corrie croft Instructors taught Howard Wood who in turn became the Arran SAC Diving Officer who then taught Don MacNeish to dive. A decade later they both went on to found The Community of Arran Seabed Trust (COAST) which has contributed so much to recovering marine life around Arran and is now a multi-award winning charity.
The instructors at the Croft were also pioneers of early conservation, John Orr assisted by Robert Watt carried out a unique rescue of a Basking Shark at Corrie. The huge shark had been trapped all night in a salmon net off Corrie, the divers attempted recovery out at sea but this proved impossible. So the shark was towed in the net to the Sandstone Quay and beached to remove the net. It had been in the net overnight and was tightly wrapped up and at first appeared dead until the tail flipped on the beach. The shark was then hauled back into the sea, with John on one side and Robert on the other, held the dorsal fin and pectoral fin. The shark was walked for about an hour, forcing water through its gills until it regained enough strength to be taken to the entrance to the quay to swim free.
The instructors were also very much involved in the social side of life on Arran whether that be in the Corrie Hotel dart team or the social side of the Sub Aqua Club, fundraising dances at the Kinloch or Folk Concerts in Whiting Bay by non other than newly trained diver Robert Watt. Robert knew who to get on the bill ( from the Tannahill Weavers to at that point a little known banjo player called Billy Connolly) as well as performing himself Robert did an amazing job raising funds for club dive equipment.
Outdoor Centre instructors were always on hand to use their skills to help out where they could with things on the “hill”. On one occasion helping farmer, James McKinnon recover a sheep which had been stuck for a couple of days on a ledge on the Witches Step. They went with ropes and climbing gear and lowered James down to rescue the sheep.
This ethos of community involvement by instructors continues to this day with staff and their families making a significant contribution to island life and using their skills to the benefit of local groups and services.