Memories Of Finnart  > 

Finnart


(By Alistair Smith)
 

In early youth I first saw Loch Long from the inside of a 1920 Morris.  Approaching from the south, through Helensburgh, along the shore of Gareloch to the lovely old village of Garelochhead, as yet unchanged by the impact of two world wars.  Winding quietly past the head of the Gareloch the road rises suddenly and very steeply to Whistlefield, past the old Inn which long ago gave heart to those who travelled the hill, but alas dispenses of its hospitality no more. 

The Inn is left behind us, a stone’s throw and a scene of grandeur unfolds.  Deep in the hollow of majestic mountains, rugged, but softened by the purple of heather, the soft call of the larch, the deep waters of Loch Long join Loch Goil to form a picture which never fades.  Here is a perfect blending of sky, Loch and mountain, ageless, romantic.  A thousand years gone, the Norsemen sailed their ships in these waters, later a galleon of the great armada found its last port.

From the summit of the hill, we pass the Railway Station of Whistlefield and after two miles of switchback road which winds through open moorland we find ourselves on the top of Finnart Hill with another magnificent view spread before.  Aware to the north is the ‘Cobbler’, mist crowned, and the mountains of Loch Sloy closing in the steep glen of Loch Long.  From where we stand there is no sign of anything made by man save only the road.

Going down Finnart Hill these days was quite a thing.  You engaged low gear and still hoped the brakes weren’t too tired if it became necessary to use them, and it generally did.  This was in the era before car manufacturers displayed a red triangle on the rear wing of a car denoting that four wheel brakes were fitted.  The hill, by the way for a considerable part of its length is steeper than the old ‘Rest and be Thankful’.  Halfway down we run into heavily wooded countryside, between dykes topped with well cared for hedges and soon come to the neighbouring estates of Finnart and Arddarroch – their gate lodges separated by a but a few yards on the right and left hand sides of the road respectively.

Both of these places at this time were well known for their horticultural achievements, Arddarroch particularly for its extensive collections of hybrid Rhododendrons, including many rare Himalayan varieties, Azaleas, shrubs and a great number of orchids under glass.

 The first impression I had, and still have, of these twin estates is one of riotous colour, unexpected paths, stately trees and a feeling of tranquility as though man's husbandry and art had come to terms of understanding with the natural grandeur surrounding them.

Some years later I came to live in this district.  The saying, ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ just does not generally apply.  At first I believed my sojourn to be of probable short duration, but it is now considerably past a quarter of a century since my coming and still can feel the power of this great valley in all its diversity of sunshine, storm and rain; like an old friendship it renders contentment and never wearies with monotony.

The residences which form part of these grounds were built in the years 1832 and 1837, Finnart and Arddarroch respectively and have many architectural features in common.  They were built by two gentlemen who had married sisters.  Could it be that the beauty of the sisters inspired the choice of settings for their homes?  It is likely.  Both sites have been obviously carefully selected to take in as much of the view as possible.

Finnart House was built close to a croft which had been worked for many generations; the last owner, Donald Fraser, having left his mark in the form of an inscribed stone to commemorate the laying of the road by the Duke of Argyll.  This stone is still in good shape and can be seen in its original setting in the wall opposite Arddarroch Lodge.  It is of interest to note that the date on this inscription has been the subject of much debate over many years but it seems likely that 1787 is the correct one.

Living here between the wars, considering that public transport was both inconvenient and infrequent – the trains only stopping at Whistlefield if they missed the points somewhere – it is not surprising that the community largely made their own amusements and on the whole, looking back, I simply refuse to believe that our modern mass entertainments, TV and what have you, even start to compare with what our local life was then in the country.

The Second World War came.  I came home on leave after four years overseas.  At Finnart gates the view seemed to have changed.  There wasn’t so much hill and Loch showing.  The reason became apparent.  There was a jetty pushing out from the road in line with Finnart House, more than that, there was an awful lot of aircraft carrier at the end of it.  Well I had a week to find out about this situation.  It appears that early in the war, the Americans had laid down a complete bunkering port, complete with pumps, tanks and all the equipment necessary to the organisation.  Finnart House was requisitioned (it by the way having been turned into a hotel just before the war) and was used as the admin block.  After completion of the project it was manned by local people for the most part.  The Navy had a personnel depot in the southwest corner of Finnart Park.

The jetty during that week had several ships in and altogether with the unprecedented activity around, I curiously enough felt that a new ear in the history of the district was here.

 

 

After the war was over, Finnart was handed back to its owner, the grounds were cleared, only the jetty and the wooden pier remaining.  The hotel functioned brightly until the estate was taken over again by the Anglo Iranian Oil Co and sometime later Arddarroch followed.  The gardens of the latter, well known as far south as Kew, and now a jetty that is known the world over!
 

 

Arddarroch 

The ever-growing necessity, accentuated by the present desperate situation, for the provision of berths to accommodate the new mammoth tankers now on order has focussed attention on the recent announcement that a new deep-water jetty is to be built on Loch Long shores between Arddarroch House and Portincaple.

Local interest in Arddarroch has been further sharpened by the appointment of Mr. Richard C. Brooman-white, Rutherglen MP, as Party Whip for Scotland. Arddarroch (the high oak) was built in the 1840’s by a Mr. MacVicar, brother-in-law of John Burn Anderson, prominent Glasgow merchant, who had built Finnart House in 1832.

In course of time Arddarroch property passed from the MacVicar family to Lady Henry Gordon Lennox, wife of a famous Victorian statesman, and her only son, Richard Brooman-White, grandfather of the present Mr. Richard, ultimately inherited the estate.  The Brooman-White family resided in Arddarroch until a few years ago and are remembered with affection by their many friends and admirers in the district. 

This small estate had for many years an esteemed reputation for its high standard of horticulture, having been famous some 50 years ago for its magnificent collection of orchids, to mention but one of its attractions. Within the well wooded grounds there were, and, in fact, still are many quite rare and beautiful trees.  The tree from which the house derives its name is a Turkish Oak of apparently great age.  It measures fifteen and a half feet in girth and has a span north to south of 113 feet.  A similar oak grew at Bendarroch, Garelochhead, but it, unfortunately, was blown down in a severe gale some years ago.

Since being taken over by Scottish Oils (now BP, Grangemouth Ltd.), Arddarroch House has been converted into five very attractive flats without the original gracious design being marred in the least degree. The mansion looks across Loch Long to Mark Ferry, which in bygone days linked the old drove road through Argyll’s Bowling Green with Portincaple (Port of the Mare) on the east shore. It is a curious coincidence that on this ancient road, a little to the north-east of Finnart Jetty, there are the remains of a whaler’s settlement.  Thus, it would seem that there has been a trace of oil in Finnart’s history for much longer than many might suspect. 

 

The picture below shows the stone built into the wall opposite the main jetty at Finnart. It reads "This road was made from the Castle Rosneath to Tenne Clauch in the year 1777 by his Grace John Duke of Argyll. Erected by John Fraser.


Stone at Finnart

 

 

 

Memories of The Port Hawksbury

(by Ian McLeish)

During the sixties I was employed by a shipping company called Scottish Ship Management based in Glasgow in fact where Princes Square Shopping Centre now is. In the late sixties I was a Ships Agent and part of my responsibilities was to be present when a ship on our books berthed at its unloading terminal. We had taken on a contract for ships berthing at Finnart and one day I was instructed to attend at Finnart where the 'biggest ship ever to visit the Clyde' was due to dock late afternoon.

Tanker near FinnartThe ship was named Port Hawksbury and she was registered as weighing 250,000 tonnes; her cargo of crude oil destined for Grangemouth. I remember being mesmerised by the sheer size of this vessel as she was guided into the jetty by 6 tugs which I, as a 'wee' 18 year old, had ordered....... I was totally awestruck by the size and the novelty that the crew had of using scooters to get about the decks because of the vast length of the tanker.

We used to visit Finnart regularly and were picked up at Helensburgh Station by the head guy at Finnart and driven by Land Rover up to the port. I suppose you would now call him the Operations Manager......