In deepest Argyll, nestling among stunning scenery and mountains, lies the town of Kinlochleven. Many books have been written about the area, one of which is ‘Children of the Dead End – The Autobiography of a Navvy’ – By Patrick McGill – this book is exactly what the title says, it’s the story of an immigrant manual worker or ‘navvy’ as they were called. This book which is rated as one of the best 100 best Scottish books of all time, describes the times when the Aluminium smelter and factory was being constructed at the end of the 1800’s. Kinlochleven flourished as a direct result of the creation of the Aluminium factory which employed around 1,000 workers and produced high quality aluminium for the world. These employees came from far afield and settled in the town, one such settler was Ian Murray Pollock, who was originally from Falkirk, Stirlingshire. Pollock had been through the second world war, having served in the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders regiment in Palestine. When he was effectively demobbed from the British Army, Pollock was fortunate to secure employment with the British Aluminium Company Ltd at their Kinlochleven smelter. The ‘BA’ as it was universally known, was a major employer both there and at their Fort William operation, which exists to this day.
Pollock started his career as a ‘fitter’ but quickly progressed through the ranks to become a shift foreman at the plant.
Being an active young man who had forged many friendships in the locality, Pollock took an interest in the annual Scottish Six Days Trial which made use of the hills near to Kinlochleven during the ‘Sporting Holiday in the Highlands’. Pollock had amassed quite a knowledge of the local paths, bridleways and rough country high above the town. This was to eventually forge a strong bond between him and members of the Edinburgh & District Motor Club, who promoted the Scottish Six Days Trial.
Ian also became involved in local events, eventually becoming a central character in the Kinlochleven Motor Cycle Club, which he helped form.
Pollock in association with his good friend, Lithuanian refugee, Paul Kilbauskas discovered there was more land available to the SSDT than perhaps the organisers were aware of!
The SSDT up until the late 1960’s, made extensive use of main and secondary roads, proper foot and bridle paths, sheep paths but very little open moorland. It wasn’t until Jimmy Mulvie became Clerk of Course that the SSDT made use of open moorland stretches.
It was Pollock and Kilbauskas that investigated the possibility of going out over the hills from Kinlochleven back over to the Fort William area other than by the original Mamore Road, which is the water bound surface that is still used by the SSDT and Pre’65 trials to this day. It stretches from Mamore Lodge across to Blarmafoldach, just outside Fort William and links into the Achintore Road.
Pollock and Kilbauskas were both energetic men, they liked the outdoors and they both jointly and severally, explored the many trails, paths and rocky burns and outcrops that littered the hills high above Kinlochleven. They also knew all the local keepers, shepherds and landowners, so permission was never a problem. Many of the hills surrounding the town had been purchased from estates at the end of the 19th century primarily for the water rights. This enabled the factory to operate and ensure plentiful supply of water via the Blackwater area, high above Kinlochleven. Pollock and Kilbauskas were trusted individuals and it helped the SSDT greatly by having reliable people such as Pollock and Kilbauskas on hand.
These explorations bore fruit aplenty, for the Pollock/Kilbauskas venture yielded many new sections in the form of ‘Loch Eild Path’; ‘Mamore’; ‘German Camp’; ‘Leitir Bo Fionn’; ‘Grey Mare’s Ridge’ and of course ‘Brump Brae’, later to be renamed ‘Pollock Hill’.
In the period 1955 through to 1959, Ian was listed in the official programmes of the SSDT as an observer, but Pollock was much more than that, he was the journeyman who discovered many of the iconic hills that would eventually unearth the most famous of them all, ‘Pipeline’ probably the most famous motorcycle trial section of all time! Alex Smith, from Bathgate, a former assistant Clerk of Course confirms that ‘Pipeline’ was first used as an observed section in the 1967 SSDT.
‘Pipeline’ is just a couple of miles out of the town and is the subject of many of the most stunning motorcycle trials photos to come from the cameras of Nick Nichols, Eric Kitchen and photographers of their age.
Pollock was an enthusiastic observer at the SSDT and when Johnny Brittain won the 1957 Scottish, his photo adorned the cover of the following year’s programme, the observer in the background watching intently being Ian Pollock. The original photo used on the 1958 SSDT programme front cover was a ‘Motor Cycling’ print which is now the property of Mortons Motorcycle Media, Hornchurch, but a personal copy still hangs in Pollock’s daughter Pamela’s home in Glencoe.
By 1962, Pollock was now listed as an Assistant Clerk of the Course and was held in high esteem by his peers and by the ‘Clerk’ himself, the late George Baird who described Ian as ‘our man on the spot’ in the official programme.
Paul Kilbauskas was also a ‘Tunnel Tiger’ who worked on the many hydro-electric schemes in the Scottish Highlands, he was an explosives handler during his time on these massive projects. He concentrated more on riding the Six Days on Matchless, Royal Enfield and BSA machinery, always a 500cc machine. He helped find a sizeable part of the route was in effect a ‘displaced person’ who had to flee his native Lithuania in 1947. His first port of call was Market Harborough in Leicestershire. Paul eventually settled in Kinlochleven, worked at the Aluminium factory for a period where he met and eventually married his sweetheart, Rose who also worked at the BA factory and was originally from the Orkney Islands. They had two daughters, Marina and Rachel. There is now a Paul Kilbauskas award in the SSDT in remembrance of the one-time course plotter and explorer for the event.
‘Mambrec’ was yet another of the sections discovered by Ian Pollock, a section that has been used in the Pre’65 Scottish Trial many times. Pollock was fortunate to strike up a good friendship with Johnny Graham who also became Clerk of Course SSDT. Graham would leave a trials motorcycle at Ian’s home to give him something to explore with. One such machine was the ex-works 350cc Matchless registered ‘OLH722’ of Ted Usher and another was the ex-factory BSA of Brian Martin registered ‘BSA350’.
Pollock would regularly fire these ‘loan bikes’ up and take them up onto the Dam Road and into the hills to see what he could find.
In 1963 the SSDT committee honoured Ian by calling one of the sections ‘Pollock Way’, this was just off one of the many paths near the River Leven, that Ian and Paul Kilbauskas discovered on their explorations.
When the Lochaber and District Club was founded, they enlisted Ian’s help to organise their ‘Spring Trial’. This particular event was eventually re-named as The Ian Pollock Trial in his honour and is regarded as one of the best one-day trials in the Scottish trial calendar to this day.
Ian Pollock is survived by his only daughter, Pamela who married local man and trials rider, John MacGregor, they live in Glencoe and regularly watch the Pre’65 Scottish Two-Day Trial.
John MacGregor was at one time himself an Assistant Clerk of Course SSDT and Pre’65 Scottish in its formative years.
So next time you climb up the ‘Dam Road’ to watch riders in either the SSDT or Pre’65 Scottish trials, spare a thought for the man who discovered many of these sections – Ian Murray Pollock.
More on Kinlochleven:
Kinlochleven in Scots Gaelic is Ceann Loch Liobhann, it was the first village in Scotland to have electric street lighting because of the electric power generated by the British Aluminium Company smelter. It used hydro or water power which was pioneered at Foyers in 1895 on the south side of Loch Ness, not far from Inverness. Kinlochleven was actually formed from two small villages, Kinlochmore (Large head of the loch) and Kinlochbeg (Small head of the loch). Kinlochmore on the north and Kinlochbeg on the south of the River Leven that runs into Loch Leven of which Kinlochleven sits at the head of.
The British Aluminium Company became part of Alcan, the Canadian based aluminium producer which laterly became Rio Tinto Alcan, part of the multi-national Rio Tinto company, which employs local personnel at their Fort William smelter operation. Rio Tinto (Alcan) is the world’s leading aluminium mining and producer. Rio Tinto Alcan can trace its roots back to Alcoa founded in 1928.
High quality, pure Aluminium was first produced at Kinlochleven at the ‘wee factory’ which was a temporary establishment high up in the hills on the Blackwater path. The ‘wee or temporary factory’ opened in 1907 with the main factory opening in Kinlochleven in 1909. The Blackwater dam or reservoir was formed purely to hold water reserves for the British Aluminium Company by flooding a sparsely populated valley high above the town, effectively trapping many of the River Leven’s tributaries and led down to the power house by six pipes, which are of course visible and beside the famous ‘Pipeline’ SSDT section group.
Trials Guru is indebted to Pamela and John MacGregor of Glencoe, Argyll for information supplied which made this article possible.
Text Copyright: Trials Guru / Moffat Racing, John Moffat – 2015
Photo Copyright: Iain Ferguson – ‘The Write Image’, Fort William – All Rights Reserved.
Photo of Paul Kilbauskas, by kind permission of Ms. Marina Kilbauskas.
Special thanks to: Alex Smith, former SSDT Assistant Clerk of Course and former Chairman, Pre’65 Scottish Trial.
Thanks to the Edinburgh & District Motor Club Ltd – For use of the cover of the 1958 SSDT official programme.