The last time I visited the Angus Army Cadet Force camp at Dalbog in Glen Esk must have been more than 50 years ago Not that I was ever a Cadet, but my father, Alf Coutts, was the Sergeant Major in the Brechin Cadets and each spring and summer in the 1950s he would spend training weekends at the camp with the boys. Although he had been a professional solider before the Second World War, and had much to share in training the cadets in the ways of soldiering, the task that he assumed at Dalbog was cook.
Regimental Sergeant Major Alf Coutts (1958)
In the early days, before the “luxurious” brick-built cookhouse, with its calor gas cookers, cooking was done on an open fire. My father was very proud of the broth he cooked on that fire. Even in later life, while living on his own in Dollar he would inform visitors, “Even if I say it myself, that’s a grand plate of broth!”. He would often tell of the compliments he received one particular weekend. He used to use a dirty cloth to lift the hot handles of the dixie pots, moving them around the fire, Well on this occasion the wood smoke flavoured cloth fell into the broth, only to be retrieved surreptitiously, before anyone saw. No one had though of food hygiene regulations in those far off days! That day he was told, “That’s your best broth ever!”
The food stores for the weekend would be loaded up into an big army truck from Anderson’s wholesale grocery store in Market Street in Brechin and the journey was made, bouncing up the rough track on the west side of the River North Esk. When I made journeys to spend a Saturday at Dalbog with by primary school pal, Grant Geddes, it was in the Colonel’s car. James Geddes was Grant’s father, the Cadet Colonel and also the Brechin High School Headmaster. Along with the rest of people who would spend the weekend at Dalbog we travelled up the “main” Glen Esk Road, parking in spaces at the side of the road, then following the little path through the woods down toward the camp on the other side of the river.
J P Morgan, the American financier had built a little footbridge there over the river. He was a regular shooting tenant in Glen Esk in the days before the War. The bridge made make access to shooting butts easier for his guests. We called it the Pierpont Bridge, although I have seen it referred to as the Morgan Bridge, providing access to the flat ground on which the old army huts stood, a wonderful base for the Cadet training weekends, and the perfect playground for little boy visitors.
And what a playground it was, woods, river, hills, and of course some fine broth to eat. It wasn’t just Grant and me, others, including by big cousin Lindsay, would joint us for our Saturdays, In those far away days, it wasn’t just food hygiene regulations though that hadn’t been thought about; we used to be able to play soldiers, borrowing real rifles and bren guns for our games: much more fun that the official training the cadets received. Just think of that in today’s culture.
Later I did make one or two private visits to Dalbog. I remember Tim Davis, another childhood friend and I cycling from Brechin up the track followed by the army lorry and spending some time on a summer’s day at Dalbog on our own, and I also remember visiting it with my Auntie Muriel, again by bike I think, but this time following the Glen Road and wheeling our bikes over the footbridge. But search as I like I cannot find any photographs of these visits in days gone by.
At some point the old wooden Pierpont bridge was replaced with a metal structure. Was it the the Army Engineers who did this? But still the only real access was on foot over the bridge.
We spend a couple of days in Glken Esk recently and I though it would be great to visit the place again, to reawaken the memories of boyhood games and smoke flavoured soup. As we drove up the road towards Tarfside I looked in vain for any indication about where the path to the camp might be. Later, over lunch at the Retreat, I spoke to Joyce who works there. She told me that she thought the bridge had been washed away in last December’s floods, and the camp was now in quite a derelict state. I was to look for a draw in place, and I would find the path.
Sure enough, just as she said, we found a place to draw in with the van, and I went off with camera in hand, remembering as I went, the lay of the land. Sadly, the bridge was indeed no more… just the east end, a “diving board” over the river, and piers washed away. I could see the camp, but there was no way to get to it. It did look quite derelict, no longer in use. Too much money would have to be spent on it to bring it up to standard. It stands now as a relic and a jog to the memory of all the people who through the years spent time there.
One other little memory came back. I recalled that there was a white wooden signpost by the side of the road where we used to park in the 50s, advertising that the Retreat was well worth a visit by those who would travel a few more miles up the Glen. What a surprise to see that there still is a sign to the Retreat. A different sign now 50 or more years later, but it looks as if it was in the same place. That will help me find where to stop if ever I want to find Dalbog again.