Lochwinnoch's Noah's Ark
by DEREK PARKER
THE old Lochwinnoch railway station at St Winnoc Road fulfilled an important role in the commercial, recreational and social life of the village until its closure in 1966.
The station was the starting point in June, 1950, for the record long distance train removal in the history of British Railways. This took place when local famer Hugh McLean Walker transferred his entire family, along with 40 brown-and-white Ayrshire cattle, horses, poultry, farm implements and motor car all the way from Lochwinnoch to Bude in Cornwall, not far from Land's End.
The 'Noah's Ark Special,' as it was called, travelled a total of 550 miles and the journey lasted for nearly 24 hours. Special arrangements were made for the steam engine-drawn train to stop at Birmingham in the English Midlands to allow farmer Walker and his staff to detrain and and milk and feed the cows. An additional stop at Okehampton in Devon was cancelled because the train ran 90 minutes late.
Mr Walker lived at Conveth Farm, halfway up the lonely Calder Glen, between Lochwinnoch and Muirshiel estate. The farm, also known as East Tandlemuir, was subsequently occupied for many years by well-known sheep-farmer Quinton McKellar and his wife, Betty, our renowned village poet.
Mr Walker was aged 29 when he decided to seek pastures new and move to Cornwall. He looked all over England before choosing Great Beer Farm, near Bude, which covered 188 acres.
It was an amazing spectacle as the livestock moved from the Renfrewshire hill farm and were driven down the road from Conveth to the railway station where they were loaded into covered wagons.
Mr and Mrs Walker and their children sat in a passenger coach at the rear end of the train, along with their dog, cats and portable wireless. They were accompanied by their cowman, Mr Andrew Todd, and his wife, who also travelled to Cornwall to make a new home for themselves.
Following his arrival at Bude, Mr Walker told newspaper reporters he would concentrate on dairy farming. He expected his first two years to be hard work but the winter feeding of livestock would require less of his time than in Renfrewshire because the Cornish climate was milder and drier.
And he was confident his family would have a comfortable living once he recouped his capital. He considered his Ayrshire herd would do well in the Cornwall weather and that he would breed them for milk and beef. But he reckoned the land and buildings needed considerable attention to get the farm up and running.
Sadly, things may not have gone as well as Mr Walker hoped. Less than eight years later, on January 10, 1958, the freehold of Great Beer Farm was offered for sale by public auction. Also on the market was what was described as the 'Conveth' herd of 58 TT/attested and officially milk recorded cattle – along with a 'splendid collection of farm implements, machinery and baled hay.
According to the brochure, the sale was held to dissolve what was described as the Messrs McLean-Walker and Co partnership. We can only hope that farmer Walker's agricultural pilgrimage on the Noah's Ark Special to his promised land of milk and honey did not terminate in a flood of tear.
Derek Parker worked as a countryside ranger at Clyde Muirshiel Regional Park, Lochwinnoch, from 1985 to 1999.