Fearn Balintore and Hilton Community Collage

Chapter 20 - Recreation

Generally speaking, there was not much time for play or amusement, yet with home-made pleasures, simple games and the visits of itinerant entertainers life doesn't seem to have been dull.

During the long dark winter evenings the ceilidh was very popular.  Neighbours simply dropped in to each other's houses and passed the evening telling stories and singing, accompanied on the melodeon and fiddle, or even the trump (Jew's harp.)

The festive season was invariably the New Year, not Christmas, and then the children might be asked to a 'treat' or party at a neighbour's house. There was a splendid tea prepared for them and in the centre of the table was a steaming duff. Afterwards they sang and recited, played games and generally enjoyed themselves. It was a great thing to be asked to a treat.

Occasionally special events occurred - on July 23rd 1878, for example, all the school children were invited to a treat at Invergordon Castle by Mr. Macleod of Cadboll, and the following year there was a celebration of his son's majority. In 1887 all the children were
entertained at a fete to mark Queen Victoria's Jubilee.

Throughout the year there were congregational soirees organized by the Church of Scotland, the United Free Church and the United Presbyterian Church at Chapelhill. These were highlights in the life of the people and very enjoyable. Speakers and singers were invited and the local choirs, who had held choir practices throughout the winter months under the able leadership of Mr. D. Mackenzie, Cadboll, sang hymns and anthems. There was always tea and 'baggies.' The Sunday School picnic, then as now, was also a red-letter day to the children.

But the outstanding event of the year for the children was the school picnic, held on the last day of the session on the site of the new cemetery. It coincided with the prize-giving. Every pupil was dressed in his or her best, the girls in their white lacy pinafores and a new hair ribbon complete with button-hole rose got from, in Hilton, an old man, Sandy Ally, who had a sweet-smelling rose bush at his cottage door in Braefoot. Boys wore their usual school outfit and footwear consisted of a pair of 'gutta perchas' (plimsolls) or simply bare feet, all the better for the races run during the proceedings.

Two huge urns were filled with water and heated on fires lit and tended by some of the teachers assisted by one or two 'mums' (Mrs. Duncan, Mrs. Ross and Miss Urquhart) from Balintore. Tea and baggies were handed round the classes seated on the grass. A
programme of sports preceded the refreshments and the afternoon's activities ended with the prize-giving. Thereafter the V.I.Ps and the children dispersed, the latter in high glee because five weeks' holiday stretched into the dim and distant future before them. This picnic is said to have been provided annually from funds sent by a former pupil who had emigrated to South Africa.

During the long, warm days of the summer holiday bathing and paddling would occupy most of the free time of the younger generation, with the very small ones building sand castles on the beach. Singing games were many and in the school playground particularly there could be heard such rhymes as 'The Farmer's in his Dell,' 'Oranges and Lemons,' and others:

'Eetle, ottle, black bottle,
Eetle, ottle, out.
If you want a piece and jam
Just walk out.'
'Once in China there lived a great man,
His name was Chie-er-ac-chi-chi-cho . .'
'Scotty, Melotty, King of the Jews,
Sold his wife for a pair of shoes,
When the shoes began to wear
Scotty Melotty began to swear.'
'Queen, Queen Caroline,
Dipped her hair in turpentine.
Turpentine made it shine,
Queen, Queen Caroline.'
or a ring game:
'Water, water, water-flower,
Growing up so high,
We are all maidens, but we must all die,
Except (name of a girl) the fairest of us all.
She can dance and she can sing,
And she can turn her back to the ring.'

Apart from a ball there were few toys so games had the minimum of equipment. They played Port (Hop Scotch) on the school's wide door-step, or Spider's Web, drawn on a sandy part of an otherwise stony playground. They hopped neatly into the sections of the web and having completed the full round into the centre could write their initials in one 'box!' The next player had to hop over that space, made well-nigh impossible if the name was written near the centre where the 'boxes' were much smaller and narrower. The player with the largest number of initialled 'boxes' won. Boys often played marbles or raced each other on the roadway with girds or hoops.

Every Friday night the Little Templars, the junior branch of the I.O.G.T. (Independent Order of Good Templars) met in the school under the leadership of Mrs. Watt, the headmaster's wife. They paid 1d. to join and had talks and readings on the benefits of temperance and the horrors of drink. Those of the children who were office-bearers had a splendid regalia - red velvet collars edged with gold braid and I.O.G.T. written on them. The chaplain was supplied with a prayer book from which he or she read the appropriate passages, mainly Scripture texts e.g. 'Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging, and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.' The programme consisted of songs and recitations volunteered by the youthful audience. There was an adult branch as well, 'The Fishermen's Rescue Lodge,' which met regularly and every year a concert was held in the school under the auspices of the I.O.G.T.

After the First World War an army hut was obtained and sited opposite where the Free Presbyterian Church now stands in Hilton.  Here very popular dances were held on Friday evenings. The 'band' consisted of a well-known fiddler, commonly known as Scotty. Some years later this dance hall was mysteriously burnt down and the weekly dance ended but young people regarded it as fun having to walk to Nigg, Arabella or Fearn to attend a dance. Before the First World War dances were often held in the old herring yard loft until it became too dangerous to use for such a purpose. A canteen hut near the site of the Seaboard Memorial Hall was used after the Second
World War for dances and whist drives till it was no longer safe.

Entertainment came to the school before the First World War in the person of the conjuror. When Happy Sandy's visit was announced every child made sure they had the necessary ld. given willingly by a parent out of the scanty store. His visit was an 'occasion' and the children were enthralled by his magic. Swallowing fire and pulling ribbons from his mouth never failed to fascinate his youthful audience and they were sorry to see him take his leave - with a heavy pouch of coppers - for the next school. The magic lantern, a simple slide projector as it really was, was very popular though poor in quality compared with its modern equivalent.

The ventriloquist with his talking dolls was another treat and the children sat in awe and wonder, convinced that the little figures could really talk and sing.

From time to time the villages were visited by travelling showmen of one kind of another. The dancing bear and his master always gathered a crowd. The scissors-grinder and his monkey were hailed with delight as the antics of the dressed-up animal never failed to fascinate young and old. When the monkey went round using his red pill-box cap as a collecting box the pennies rained in and everybody was happy.

Melodeon Nell, or Nellie the Togles, as she was often called, came around regularly. She attempted to sing, play and dance, none of which she could do well and she was regarded with pity by the villagers who gave her a few coppers for her pains.

A more accomplished figure than the aforementioned one was Tipperary, or Paddy as he was also called, being Irish. He was dressed in national costume - green swallowtail coat, breeches of white corduroy, a gay red waistcoat, green stockings and buckled shoes. While he sang and danced he twirled a shillenlagh. His song seemed to be,

'I'm Irish, ye understand,
Tipperary I was born,
And I have come from Paddy's land,
To reap and mow the corn.'

Every autumn as the evenings were closing in, the breathless whisper went round, 'the Shows are coming.' Sure enough, down the Balintore brae were seen coming the gaily painted wagons and caravans of the travelling shows known as 'circuses,' though Dick's
was the only one to have small animals in cages and acrobats who performed on the green. Evenings of fun on the swingboats, the side-shows, shooting galleries or at the hoop-la stalls gave endless delight to all ages and added colour and music to an otherwise drab existence.  Mothers trying to get their offspring home to supper and bed acknowledged defeat many a time. Names like Dick's, Bidall's, Hughson's and Hercher's had a magic ring about them and year after year, especially between the wars they never failed to arrive and set up their fun fairs on the green Balintore.

During the First World War concerts were held now and then in aid of the Red Cross, and often children took part in the programmes. Those who could sing, and many could, or recite were trained by Miss Anna Skinner, Hilton, now living in California. Shyness was overcome and the budding artistes trod the boards with tremendous enthusiasm. 'Caller Herrin" rang out by the young 'fishwife' dressed for the part complete with miniature creel. Where it existed the dramatic talent was further developed by Mr. Crawford, the schoolmaster. He trained drama groups recruited from the local branch of the S.W.R.I. and presented them at the annual Community Drama Festivals, and Hilton W.R.I. once came second in Tain and third in Dingwall. The 'try-out' or first night concert was always held in Fearn Hall and was the draw for the entire countryside.

Mr. Crawford organized a Boy Scout Troop and during the Second World War he trained R.A.F. cadets among his older boys; and one of the teachers, Miss Elizabeth Macdonald, was associated with a Girl Guide company.  Mr. Crawford was indefatigable and constantly organized whist drives and dances in the school, putting the money aside to help to build a hall.  After 1918 an interest in football developed and the first team,

Seaside Swifts, was begun by Captain Dewer, a wealthy Lanarkshire man who holidayed in Tain and took a great interest in promoting sport in the villages. He obtained a pitch for the team just east of Hilton and provided goal posts and their blue and white strip. Later  on the Swifts gave way to the Seaside Rovers who had their pitch behind Balintore, now the site of Rovers' Crescent, and many a lively game was played there with all three villages represented.  Captain Dewar is thought also to have given a sum of money towards the building of a hall, and these efforts, along with those of other people, resulted in the building of the Seaboard Memorial hall in 1958.

In addition, Captain Dewar presented gold brooches to the first three girls in the swimming races. This occasion was the forerunner of the regatta and gala day which is now the outstanding day of the year, the culmination of Balintore Carnival Week.

Later on around 1948 a Hilton lad W. A. Ross, now a lieutenant in the R. N. and himself an ardent footballer and staunch supporter of the Seaside Rovers as they were then called, donated jerseys and shorts to the current team along with a First-Aid kit.  These were much appreciated by the Club and put to good use for many seasons.

Today the team is known as the Balintore Football team with their own new pitch and pavilion up to the crest above the village and continuing to give a good account of themselves throughout the Highlands.

Balintore Football Club

The Ross-shire Journal of 11th September, 1925, reports a gala day in Balintore in which there was a race for local fishermen with a handsome silver cup presented by Captain Dewar. Six boats took part and the report says, ' A fairly strong breeze blew from the north, and the boats gave a splendid account of themselves over the three-mile course, showing wonderful sailing capacity and skilful seamanship. All boats, considering their comparatively small dimensions, made very creditable time. The results were:

1. The Elsie, Balintore. (John Vass)
2. Dolina, Balintore. (David Skinner)
3. Happy Return, Hilton. (Hugh Macdonald)

Continue in Chapter 21
Terms & Conditions     © Ross and Cromarty Heritage