Village Hall feedback from Mark Hartree – Inverailort castle was my most memorable place with a quite interesting host in Mrs Cameron Head. It had a post office that she ran and generally smelt of cat pee. I had a nice cup of tea with her and she told me a bit of history of the place back to the war. I forget the details but included big events and parties in the ballroom we stayed in. Quite unique and definitely slightly eccentric perhaps.
Did any PS ever ‘accidentally’ add something to the ridiculously low hire receipt for the rental fee for some of the halls, in the spirit of Highland hospitality perhaps…?
Yes we did MOD paid a Base Camp Fee and many halls survived on the money and there use in winter.
Lee Wales – I think the roughest village hall for me was Carbost although the area made up for it! Cairndow was a lovely place to go and Plockton. Yes Ballater is a heat hall too. Bags of character.
The troops have gotten used to more accommodation in bunkhouses and the like now and I guess its probably right that we should always try to improve the standard of weekend living for the guys. However you can not beat the communal feeling of all sleeping on the village hall floor together. That is lost in dorm rooms in bunkhouses.
In later years the teams move into a lot of private Hostels and the odd Youth Hostel at Ullapool and Torridon, many a walker shared a meal with us after a day on the hill. They were maybe not so happy when we left in the middle of the night for a call -out. The great things was that these places had drying rooms and at least you could get some kit dried on long wet call outs and a shower at the end of a day became magical. Before this it was the sea or the loch before wild swimming became popular. We had some favourites where a bed for the weekend was not a luxury and was so important. Places like Roybridge Hostel, Inchree Bunkhouse and chalets, Portnalong Bunkhouse in Skye where the owners looked after us so well and became friends. Here we met many of the top climbers of the day and sadly were involved in Rescues and recoveries for a few. These were the days where most climbers knew each other and we also bumped into many other walkers and climbers. It was a hard fight to improve the conditions as the RAF thought we should still be in tents at weekends and living rough. If you give up 30 -35 weekends a year then the least you are due is a bed a shower and maybe a place to dry your gear?
The Duty Cook – everyone had to do it apart from the Team leader and he cooked at New Year or Christmas.
Part of the trial to join the RAF Team was to cook for the team for a complete day. This meant no hill and getting up about an hour and a half before the team to cook breakfast. Later on you were put on first time with a cook ( one of the team) who would advise you then you were solo. Many top mountaineers were terrified by cooking, I was lucky my Mum gave me the basics when I was younger, so a breakfast and mince and tatties was not to bad, Keeping it all warm and when parties were late off the hill or a call -out meant a long day.
Normal cook Day
Up at 0630 sometimes earlier in winter or call – outs and the breakfast started with cleaning up from the team mess they may have left the night before, after pub food could vary. This could be a late night fry up if rations allowed to sandwiches. It could be messy but we all had to do it.
Breakfast would be porridge, plus bacon eggs, sausage tomatoes and beans, tea would be served to all team member’s in bed about 15 – 30 minutes before breakfast. There could be 15 -20 to cook for in my day even more.
then it was clean up as the team went off training. Soup homemade had to be ready by 1200 in case the team got a call – out.
Evening Meal usually about 1800 was soup, main main meal mince stew chicken roast etc fresh veg, potatoes,rice and a sweet. In between you had radio checks and other tasks it was a busy period. Failing in the task used to mean a swim in the loch or river but a better solution was a re cook next weekend. The standard of food was pretty good but as Health and Safety and Food Safety took over in the 90,s things got more organised. Food safety training , certificates etc. There were lots of phone calls to Mum and even the odd panic visit to Base Camps by worried parents.
I remember the long days when team was out all day and night and trying to save a meal for their return, also the first light searches meant cooks could be up at 0400.
It was in the early days we cooked with a petrol bomb that you worked by a valve that leaked fuel and you lit it till it vaporised, scary in a tent. It was called the Hydro Burner and all who used it would have a real fear of it. It would flare up like a flame thrower!
Then we got gas 4 burners stoves field kitchens a lot better but still interesting with a small oven. We had limited refrigeration but things are so much better now. They had a small fire extinguisher attached and had to be taken out before use. One ex Team Leader did not remove it and the extinguisher exploded like a rocket no one was hurt thank God.
Looking back these were some days and many of the team have stories of the Duty Cook but food is so essential on the hill so it was an important job. Most of the meals were excellent and we all learned how important a job it was another skill learned by us all.