Broomlee Camp

Back in the early summer of 1983, a young Iain McNab went to Broomlee Camp south of Edinburgh with most of his primary school class. They stayed there for a week, playing in the woods, being bussed into Edinburgh and off to Melrose Abbey, doing treasure hunts and an orienteering course around the grounds, and sleeping away from their families for the first time. It was also the first time I stepped into a wooden hut, never mind lived in one for a few days. A couple of years ago I visited on a damp April day just before they opened up for the season and took these photos.

The Broomlee Centre, as it now is, is one of the three Scottish Outdoor Education Centres, and first established in 1939 as part of a network of schools in the countryside for children evacuated from cities to escape bombing during the Second World War. After the war they were converted into residential education centres, used by schools and urban youth groups like the Scouts, as they still were when my school took us there.

I only rediscovered the centre’s name a few months before revisiting, and I was half expecting it to have vanished by now. There were originally five camps, and three are still running. But this is not guaranteed. Things were already looking shaky before COVID-19 struck and unless something is done some or all will close in 2021. There is a petition to the Scottish Government to do something, and if you support what the centres do for children, please sign.

The entrance is off the road into the village of West Linton, where we spent our spending money on Mars bars and American Cream Soda in big and solid glass bottles with a deposit.

Each hut (on the left) is subdivided into blocks with rooms with 3 to 8 beds, a common area, bathroom, and a private room for an adult. And each hut has a class room (on the right.) I think this is the one we stayed in.

This is the main building, with the dinner hall and a staff room on the end. The food back in the 1980s wasn’t its strongest point though!

At the time I did find it quite hard being away from home, but I did like the centre itself and the setting. It was rather exciting to be living in the kind of place you read about in books: a cross between an army camp (or POW camp!) and a frontier outpost. I definitely grew up some more in those few days, and I relished the amount of independence we had. No one even asked where we’d been on an evening.

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