Come and enjoy the magical village of Kinlochleven.
The story begins in a remote valley accessible only over boggy, marshy mountain passes in 1900. The small dwelling at the head of the long winding stretch of shallow water named Loch Leven consists of two shooting lodges, their cottages and one farm.
At this time, aluminium was in great demand and the Brittish Aluminium Company started looking for a suitable site for the construction of a dam. An act of parliament was obtained in 1901 by the Loch Leven Water and Electricity Power Company to utilize the great water power of the two areas known as the Blackwater and Loch Eilde baisins. Construction was postponed for a few years and in 1904 a revised scheme was submitted to parliament and accepted.
Between 1904 and 1909 there were between two and three thousand employees working on building the dam. The majority of these were Irish ‘navvies’ and ‘haddies’ from the highlands & islands who would travel to wherever they could find work. They were used to hard work and living in difficult conditions. They lived on the work site in wooden huts of various sizes. They were good quality huts, a better quality than the majority of workers were used to. They had a living room and sleeping quarters and the hot plate for their cooking was commonly outside, under a separate roof. They slept in their clothes and boots as anything left lying around soon disappeared.
One such Irish ‘navvie’ was a man named Patrick MacGill who in 1914 at the age of 24 published a book telling of his travels from his home in Donegal, Ireland to Glasgow and on foot eventually to Kinlochleven where he worked on the building of the dam with such friends as Carroty Dan and Moleskin Joe. The book, ‘Children of the Dead End’ is an amazing story and well worth a read!
The workers were paid a ‘tanner’ an hour (2.5p). Many borrowed against their wages as soon as they arrived to start work and therefore were never out of debt. Most of the money earned was spent on drink. They would walk over the hill to The Kingshouse Inn, in Glencoe, which was the nearest pub, when they finished work. A few were lost on the hills returning after a night out and were not found until the following spring, when the snow had thawed.
The dam was built using large blocks of granite embedded in an ordinary concrete. Its construction was started near its centre on the south side of the river and worked out both ways. The valve house is made of sandstone with a domed roof of reinforced concrete. Inside the house there are six valves, together with telephones and equipment which records on weekly charts the differences in the water level of the dam.
Transport at the time was non existent, there were no roads and the river was too shallow for anything other than the smallest of boats until it was dredged. Supplies and provisions were transported from the jetty to the dam by the use of the blondin line, which was in the form of an ariel railway, it ran for 5 miles.
The factory was ready for production in March 1909, but there had been a temporary factory producing aluminium before then. It was built just below where the Penstalk is now but on the other side of the river. This opened on Christmas Day 1907 and produced its first aluminium 1 week later on Hogmanay.
Because only a few families lived in the area before the British Aluminium Company built the smelter and most of the navvies moved away when the construction work was completed, a work force had to be brought into the area. Most of them were from the Slate Quarries at Ballachulish who were tempted by better wages and the islands where work was hard to find. The rest were the few navvies who stayed, and men from England and Wales, who came looking for work.
The earliest village shops were not ready until 1908. There were four of these and were occupied by a butcher, baker, grocer and draper. These along with accommodation were on the south side of the river in Kinlochleven but later (after the 1st world war) spread across to the north of the water to Kinlochmore and a bridge was built to join the two. However the bridge which stands today is not the original and followed to accommodate a growing amount of traffic which was coming round the loch to avoid the long queues for the Ballachulish Ferry crossing before the building of the Ballachulish Bridge.
The population continued to grow and Kinlochleven evolved into a fully functioning community. And so to the present day.
Conceived in the 1960's but finally opened in 1980, the 95 mile West Highland Way is Scotland's first official long distance route. This wonderfully scenic route has been in existence for over 25 years. The West Highland Way links Milngavie, just outside Glasgow, to Fort William in the Highlands as a final stop over point for the last stage of the walk. This has been a major boost to the economy of Kinlochleven in recent years.
The Factory ceased production in June 2000 and many jobs were steadily lost in the years leading up to the closure. Morale was low and many locals were forced to leave the area in search of work.
However, there has been an impressive £10m regeneration of the village and the factory site. Incorporating an Ice Climbing Wall, this is the largest of its kind in Europe
In August 2008, Kinlochleven welcomed children back to a new term in a lovely £11m upgraded High School a fantastic learning environment for pupils of all ages; a brand new 21st Century facility offering education to approximately 239 pupils.
Thank you for taking the time to look at Kinlochleven as it was and will be. We hope you enjoy your time here and remember when walking through the streets, the people who paved the way for you.
Though up may be up and down be down,
Time will make everything even,
And the man who starves at Greenock town
Will fatten at Kinlochleven;
So what does it matter if time be fleet,
And life sends no one to love us?
We’ve the dust of the roadway under our feet
And a smother of stars above us.
The Children of the Dead End – Patrick MacGill