THE shore at Cardross has always been a great attraction for local people as well as those from further afield, and it has attracted quite a few poems.

This final part of Eye on Millig’s four-part series on local poets and poetry looks at one time-honoured event which attracted verse - the village Wulk Fair.

The origins of the Whelk Fair go back quite some way, but over time a dominating influence came to be that of Bonhill Fast Day, which took place on the Thursday before the Communion Sabbath, usually the one held at the end of April or beginning of May.

On that day, all the textiles factories in the Vale of Leven were closed, and many employees took the opportunity to make their way over to Cardross by Carman Hill or Stoneymullin.

As the name of the Fair suggests, shellfish, especially whelks, were at the centre of it, but there were many other attractions, including stalls of various kinds, all calculated to appeal to the visitor.

One person recalled: “Cardross Fair was associated with wading, inhaling the smell of the alleged sea, the eating of gingerbread cut from a block like bars of soap, the selecting of the crumpy sweets in the Scotch mixtures, and the licking and sucking of the pink-coloured and rose-flavoured sweetie hearts the size and weight of a girl’s peever.”

READ MORE: Eye on Millig: Poems recall the past in Cardross

Cardross women were kept busy harvesting shellfish in good time for the big event, although some of those attending would have preferred to pick their own.

In its heyday, the Wulk Fair also offered donkey rides, swing boats, games, and booths with coconut shies, and no doubt Punch-and-Judy shows.

One of those who wrote a poem about the Fair was Humphrey Davie - not to be confused with his near namesake, the inventor of the miner’s safety lamp. Davie was the son of a farmer who had the tenancy of Maligs Farm, later engulfed in housing.

Born in 1848, Humphrey was brought up in Helensburgh and held various posts before becoming chief cashier with the Milton Ironworks in Glasgow. In due course, he took up residence at Geilston.

A biographer wrote: “Since moving to Cardross five years ago, Mr Davie has devoted himself to mainly literary pursuits. He is master of many moods, but it is considered that he is particularly strong as a raconteur.

“In social circles, Mr Davie is a genial good soul. He is also imbued with antiquarian, artistic and other tastes of an elevating nature.”

READ MORE: Eye on Millig: Helensburgh bakery boss-turned-poet James Hunter

One of Davie’s poems is called “Cardross Whelk Fair”, and begins:

“Wife and weans, yer faces wash, Don yer claes fu’ hasty.

Owre tae Caurdross let us bash, On the shore tae draig glet dash,

Aff wi’ care! Awa wi’ sulks! Whit is’t is sae tasty,

As wulks an’ cockles, mussels, dulse?

Oh, mussels, cockles, dulse an’ wulks!...”

Another verse relates:

“Fires alang the shore we’ll hae, Tea and shellfish bilin’,

Owre tae Caurdross let us gae, Sookin’ sweeties - dancin’ tae -,

Clap the coo the lassie mulks, Wha is’t thinks o’ tilin,

Whaur’s wulks an’ cockles, mussels, dulse?

Oh! mussels, cockles, dulse an’ wulks!”

The poem concludes with the happy but tired return over Carman, set against the backdrop of the sun sinking down “Whaur a’ Cowal grandly bulks”.

The First World War and its aftermath had a bad effect on the Wulk Fair, though it may only have hastened the end.

The Fair did soldier manfully on into the early 1920s but its days were numbered. A later attempt to revive it failed.

Even so, the Cardross shore continued to attract many visitors wishing to enjoy the surroundings and the seaside fresh air, many arriving by train at the nearby station.

READ MORE: Eye on Millig: Luss poet John Walker's tales of heartbreak and history

The attraction was so strong that some people erected a variety of temporary and even semi-permanent summer shelters along the shoreline.

The Helensburgh and Gareloch Times reported in July 1922: “The community starts at the west end of Cardross, where about thirty tents are pitched adjacent to the Burns Park.

“Opposite Cardross Station, animated scenes are witnessed daily between the campers and the day trippers; dozens of fires being kept going for cooking purposes.

“Here also are numerous stalls for providing refreshments in the form of ice-cream, aerated waters, confections, etc, all doing good business.

“Crossing Geilston Burn, the tents are more congested for about a mile along, all of various shapes and sizes, good, bad and indifferent, many neither wind nor watertight, composed principally of sacking, ground sheets, and any other like material.

“A favourite form is large tarpaulin, which provides a roomy, comfortable bivouac.

READ MORE: Eye on Millig: Story of Wind in the Willows author Kenneth Grahame

“The feature among this lot of temporary dwellings is the artistic taste developed, many of the occupants vying with one another in the decoration of ground surrounding their tents.

“The work is done in sand, shells and white pebbles, the name of the tent, or the nickname by which the occupants choose to be known, being neatly figured out and bordered.”

A poet who wrote of the continuing lure of Cardross shore was Andrew Stewart. Born in 1905, he was brought up in Alexandria by an aunt, Margaret Ross, whose maiden name was Stewart.

He did well at school, but family circumstances dictated that he entered the world of work on leaving, and he spent many years in local textiles works.

He later composed several poems which highlighted the harsh and unhealthy conditions for workers in those factories.

Andrew loved the social life, but it was not until 1940 that he married his sweetheart, Dumbarton girl Jessie Campbell. There was one child, a boy, but he died shortly after a difficult birth.

Read all the latest Helensburgh and Lomond headlines here

With the coming of Detroit-based Burroughs Adding Machines to the Vale of Leven around 1948, he became their photographer. At one stage, the firm employed around 2,000 people at Strathleven Industrial Estate.

Andrew had a talent for writing, and in addition to composing poetry, he was a frequent contributor of articles to the local press.

He worked for several years as an editorial assistant at the then Helensburgh Advertiser office in East King Street.

A very popular member of the department, he died on December 29, 1995 at the age of 90.

One of Andrew’s poems, “The Jeely Eater’s Quiz”, was published in the County (now Dumbarton) Reporter newspaper in 1973, and it asks all sorts of questions about local haunts and personalities from his younger days.

One verse runs:

“Did you ever cross Carman, wae some pieces and a pan, or walk ower Staney Mullen to Ardmore?

Yet never seemed to tire, as you kenneled up a fire, and sampled Caurdross tea doon by the shore?”

Another poem, entitled “A Renton Reminiscence”, was written at the request of the Rev James Currie of Millburn Church, Alexandria, a much respected minister and after-dinner speaker, for use as a quiz.

It centres on an old man who takes his grandson on a walk and describes to him various episodes from his younger days. Happy days at Cardross shore are recalled:

“He spoke of the picnics at Cardross, and the walk o’er Carman coming back,

With his tea-pan hung from his shoulder, and a big bag o’ wulks upon his back...”

It would be interesting to know when such local rituals fell into disuse, but it might be that the Second World War would have seen them out.

* * * * * * * *

Email your suggestions for historical Helensburgh and Lomond topics that could be covered in future Eye on Millig articles to