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Memories of Balquhidder Primary School

The piano tuner, Robert, was here today reminding me that he has been tuning my piano for 30 years. It was 30 years ago that I took over as headteacher, and solo teacher, of Balquhidder School , and he visited annually to tune the school piano and also mine.

Music played a big part in the school . The Lord's prayer at the beginning of the school day was usually followed by hymn singing of one of the children's favourite hymns, such as Rise and Shine and Give God the Glory, or the Arky Arky song as it was better known! The children sang heartily often playing percussion instruments while I played the piano. What a din we made, but it allowed the children to let off steam before getting down to serious work. I would like to think that we also gave God the glory for the new day!

Balquhidder School was a delightful rural school. The original school building of one large classroom dates back to the 1869 and was built by David Carnegie of Stronvar House. The roll at that time was about 70, and the children brought a peat to school to feed the huge fire which stood in the corner of the classroom. In 1960, with a roll of 40 children, the school was extended by boys' and girls' cloakrooms and two south facing classrooms.

In 1981 when I took over as Head, the school roll was around 17 children with every age from Primary 1 to Primary 7. I taught all of the children in one classroom with the second classroom used for art and craft and music etc. The former schoolroom provided us with an excellent gym and dining hall. The children came from as far afield as Balquhidder Station, Blaircreich, Tuarach and Balimore and weretaxied in by Mollie and Davie MacDiarmid of Tulloch Farm. Many of the children came from much further afield than the local community. Different nationalities were represented with families from England, Germany, Spain, Iceland, the Netherlands as well as the local Scottish families living in the community.

Balquhidder Primary School 1900's

Balquhidder Primary School 1900's

6 Different Nationalities attended the School, Scottish, English, German, Dutch, Spanish and Icelanders.

6 Different Nationalities attended the School, Scottish, English, German, Dutch, Spanish and Icelanders.

All of the children stayed for school meals which were prepared by the cook in Strathyre School and delivered by Geordie MacDonald, who delighted us with his dry humour. Gracie Stewart, formerly of Woodend Cottage, served the meals. Classroom Assistant, Gaylor MacNicol, supervised the children at break times and helped in numerous ways as she was also very artistic.

We were fortunate to have visiting teachers of Art, Crafts, Music and Physical Education, and every child had the opportunity to excel in his or her area of talent. The children worked hard on their school curriculum and, thanks to their supportive parents, achieved good results. The wonderful surrounding countryside was well used for Environmental Education, and we took advantage of sunny days to go pond dipping in Loch Voil, bird watching and nature walks to identify the variety of flaura and fauna around the school. Since Balquhidder is also steeped in history, we invited local people into school on a regular basis, and I recall interviews with Jean MacNaughton who told us of dances held in Stronvar House in the olden days with people arriving in horse drawn carriages. Betty Beauchamp, author and historian and former teacher in the school, also visited to recount to us some of the fascinating history of the glen. 

Animated Film Making with Lesley Arkatxa of West Highland Animations

Animated Film Making with Lesley Arkatxa of West Highland Animations

One memorable summer term we studied the life of Robert Kirk who had been a minister in Balquhidder Church from1669 and who had published a version of the Bible in Gaelic. He is also well known because he believed in fairies and had written ‘The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies'. With the help of Lesley Arkotxa and some lively imagination, the children spent three weeks reconstructing his first sighting of the fairies through animated film making. The storyboards, art work and characters as well as the camera work and soundtrack were all done by the children themselves. The film was shown at the Glasgow Film Theatre's Animation Festival and went on to win a Bronze Seal Award at the London International Amateur Film Festival. I took the Primary 7 children to London by overnight sleeper to receive the award at the Dorchester Hotel. We also spent some time visiting places of interest before returning home, tired but happy, on the evening train. Quite an adventure!

Balquhidder School with their Bronze Seal Award from the London International Amateur Film Festival

Balquhidder School with their Bronze Seal Award from the London International Amateur Film Festival

The children were very enterprising and never ran out of ideas for raising school funds. The more funds we had the more outings we could go on!

The Choir raising funds by singing in Stirling Shopping Centre ‘The Thistles'

The Choir raising funds by singing in Stirling Shopping Centre ‘The Thistles' 

Together we entertained the community with International Nights, when parents and children prepared food representative of their own country, Country Dance Nights at Creagan House led by Daphne Gompertz and hosted by Gordon and Cherie Gunn, Summer Fetes, one of which was opened by Mary Sandeman of Japanese Boy fame, displayed and sold their art, as the concerts and Art and Craft Fairs where local artists displayed and sold their art, as well as the usual school concerts and parties. The whole community took part and never a Halloween passed without toffee apples being handed in to school by John MacGregor Blain, turnips being donated by local farmers for carving into lanterns, and costumes judged by the minister, Jim Benson.

The summer term was when school sports were held on the manse lawn, with Lochearnhead, Strathyre and Trossachs Schools also taking part. This was a highlight of the year as afternoon tea was prepared by the parents and served by Maureen Benson, the minister's wife, so it was a lovely social occasion. Seven a side football matches also took place and joint school outings gave the children an opportunity to socialise with their peers from neighbouring schools.

Matthew Brown, Man of the Match, with the shield won at the Inter-schools Football Tournament

Matthew Brown, Man of the Match, with the shield won at the Inter-schools Football Tournament 

The children also took part in the annual Recorder Festival in Killin School and the Day of Dance, usually held at MacLaren High School

As a result, friendships were formed which made the transition from primary to secondary school less daunting. The children also took part in the annual Recorder Festival in Killin School and the Day of Dance, usually held at MacLaren High School.

June was also when the Aberfeldy Mod was held and, having started learning our songs in February, Balquhidder School Choir and recorder groups came home with lots of trophies.

Not one of the children spoke Gaelic. It had been my first language but I could not read or write it so my mother, who was a fluent Gaelic speaker, helped us to learn our words.

My mother, Margaret Bennett, also taught a Gaelic class for adults one day a week after school. Other after school classes included a Keep Fit class which was led by Edna Haydock, and a dance class which my daughter, Louise, ran for the children on Saturday mornings. Sunday School was also held in school and at the end of the school day on Friday I said good afternoon to the children, knowing that I would see most of them, plus a few from Strathyre, on Sunday again as I also ran the Sunday School.

Primary School 1987

Back Row; Julia Gorripertz, Johann Sigurdson, Frazer Telfer and Joan Mann
Front Row; Maria Gunn, Martin Sawer, Gillian Sawer, Sally Pickering, Birta Sigurdson,
Morag Bell, Yvonne MacNicol and Ewan Bell

From left to right Maida MacLaren, Lesley Arkatxa and Jean Innes in the classroom Such happy memories of a thriving, vibrant village school! I had gone to work in Kenya when the school closed in 1993, and wept when I heard the news. What a sad loss to the Balquhidder community, as the school played such a huge role in the life of the people of the glen. Balquhidder once again is home to many young families who value the rural way of life, but the children now travel to Strathyre School.

Sadly numbers have dwindled in Balquhidder Church and it values the support of The Friends of Balquhidder Church. What of the future? We are in a vulnerable position due to dwindling numbers and we must try our best to ascertain that the church will not suffer the same fate as our school did. Truly the church and the school are at the heart of any rural community. Having lost our school we must do our utmost to keep our church open, not just for this generation but for future ones also, so that, in the words of the Arky Arky song, we will continue to ‘give God the glory'.

Joan Mann

From left to right Maida MacLaren,
Lesley Arkatxa and Jean Innes in the classroom

 

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