As with so many Wholehope tales, this one is a stark testimony to the rash enthusiasm of youth and the dangers of strong drink! It all started in the Rose and Thistle in Alwinton, the main players being John Sloan, Bill Lang (universally known as ‘Jock’ in those days), A.N.Other and myself. At that time, we were equipping the inside of the old blacksmith’s shack in Cove quarry at Pondicherry near Rothbury, and hearing that the old Kidlandlee Shooting Lodge was in the process of being dismantled, we thought that we might be able to liberate some swag to help our construction efforts. The general plan (never well formulated in our group!) was to carry on from Kidlandlee over to Wholehope, then back down Clennel Street to Alwinton.
With a few pints aboard, we set off at normal pub closing time and headed off up the Alwin Burn. At Kidlandlee, the place was already largely demolished with piles of stuff lying around in the rather spooky moonlight, but we eventually found an abandoned mattress that we thought would suit the shack and, rescuing a rough hewn plank from a pile of salvaged lumber, we wrapped and lashed the mattress around it and set off across the hill for Wholehope.
The increasing wind, rain, and cloud soon blotted out the moonlight (the only source of light, we didn’t carry torches in those days) and after what seemed like a very long time, and with the McEwan’s vapours all but exhausted, we realised in our increasingly sober state that we were LOST (we didn’t carry maps and compasses either). A beacon then appeared, in the form of a light from heaven; beaming through a rent in the cloud.
Confidently, I informed everyone that this was the friendly ‘light in the window’ at Wholehope, so we ploughed on, sure that warmth, salvation, and a hot brew would soon be reached. Niggling doubts sapped our confidence a bit because the light (which was not constant) seemed to be very high, suggesting that we were in a deep gully and although we seemed to be heading uphill towards the light we were actually going downhill.
Predictably, the increasing weight of the rain soaked mattress soon snapped the plank so we sat on the wreckage for a while, pondering the light, when the clouds parted, the sky cleared, the rain stopped and there high above us was the moon; but no sign of Wholehope!
We left the rain soaked mattress at a fence junction (Editor: But which fence junction?) and headed downhill until we came to a river. You can imagine the scene as we debated, in the pitch dark, whether to cross the river to follow the bank downstream; confused as to the direction we should take as the river was apparently flowing the ‘wrong’ way. After following the bank downstream for a while we attempted to wade across to what looked like a road on the other side (the river was narrow but flowing quite fast). Jock set off first, but halfway across lost his footing, was swept off his feet and disappeared downstream. After a while we heard the cry “Cruachan” from the other side of the river and knew that at least he was across. John put his smokes under his hat (always a sign that he meant business!) and the three of us waded across, arms linked for stability.
Once across and all together we set off down the track, but by this stage, we were all tired, wet through, and very cold. We were probably hypothermic, but in those days we didn’t even know that the word existed, so we continued on until one of the guys collapsed and said he couldn’t go on, at which point we heroes said we would just leave him, which perked him up enough for us to continue.
Around 2 a.m. we stumbled across a cluster of buildings which turned out to be Alwinton and heard merriment coming from the backroom of the pub, into which cosy atmosphere we were warmly embraced. In about four hours we had walked in a complete circle and ended up back in the pub!
We made it back to the shack in time to cook breakfast. Happy days!
Part two of the story is down to the generosity of the YHA. Trevor Hipkin told us that the blankets at Wholehope were to be replaced, and that the old stuff would be taken away to be burned. Always on the lookout for swag, we thought that the blankets would suit the shack very well, so we arranged to call in at Wholehope one Saturday night to uplift them. Of course, while passing through Alwinton we went in for a couple of quick ones, so that when we set off up Clennel Street we were quite merry, but definitely up for the walk and the return trek to Rothbury.
Lots of pals were at Wholehope that night, so we had a cup of tea and enjoyed the ‘craic’ before setting off, in the dark, swathed in blankets and looking rather like a tribe of Arabs on the move.
Back in Alwinton, the pub was still open, so we went back in for a couple of bracers before setting at about 1 a.m. on a misty night to walk back to Rothbury, with the blankets draped over our heads. At one point we saw the lights of an approaching car heading toward Alwinton, and for a joke we hid by the roadside then emerged as a ghostly band of brothers into the headlights. I recall the car skidding, swerving, and almost going off the road; stalling, then after restarting, speeding away with smoking tyres!
As of 2013, the shack is still there and is now apparently used for storing bits of old steam engines!