ONE of the great writers about Scotland, its countryside and wildlife in the 20th century was born in Helensburgh and had two spells of living in the burgh.
Campbell Rodger Steven, who was born in April 1911 and died in 2002, loved the outdoors — and it provided the inspiration for both his work and how he spent his leisure time.
He was born when the family lived at Davaar, 36 Charlotte Street, the second of three sons of John Steven and his wife.
His father worked for 65 years in the family lift manufacturing firm of A. & P.Steven, which was founded by his father and uncle in Glasgow in 1850.
When Campbell was very young the family moved to Edenkerry, 15 Havelock Street, a street he was to return to much later in life.
In his autobiographical book Eye to the Hills, published in November 2001, he wrote: “It is difficult to think of a happier place to have grown up than Helensburgh.
“That is — it has to be said — if you lived a fair distance up the hill. Down town at the time of World War One there were still plenty of bare-footed boys to be seen about on the cobbles. Not on the streets higher up.”
His first school from the age of five was Miss Johnstone’s in Colquhoun Villa, Colquhoun Street, and when he was nine he progressed to Larchfield Academy prep school, on the other side of West Montrose Street. Later he went to Merchiston boarding school in Edinburgh.
In 1929 he was admitted to Queen’s College, Oxford, to study modern languages, spending time in France and Germany and also playing a lot of golf, some of it competitive in the university team and sometimes to the detriment of his studies. He always regretted not winning a Blue.
His lifelong interest in climbing began in Scotland in 1927, and seven years later he was accepted as a member of the Scottish Mountaineering Club.
In the summers of 1938 and 1939, despite the dangerous pre-war atmosphere in Europe, he paid his first two visits to the Alps. Later he was a member of the Alpine Club for some years.
The outbreak of the Second World War meant leaving Helensburgh for war service, and in February 1940 Campbell volunteered for 5th (Special Reserve) Battalion Scots Guards which was looking for people with mountaineering and skiing experience.
The following month they sailed to France and then to Chamonix for skiing training — then they returned to Britain again and the Battalion was disbanded. Next he joined the Intelligence Corps.
After an expedition to Iceland, and because of his climbing experience, he was recruited as an officer in the Commandos as a climbing instructor, serving first at Lochailort, near Mallaig, then in Cornwall where the cliffs near Lands End provided an ideal training ground for D-Day.
In the autumn of 1944 he led a reconnaissance raid on the Dutch island of Walcheren, from which he had a miraculous escape, and later he took part in the crossing of the Rhine.
Back home after the war and living in Glasgow, he wrote football and rugby reports for the Glasgow Evening Citizen, and started to write about the outdoors — subjects close to his heart such as hill walking, mountaineering, bird-watching and island-going.
In 1946 he had his first article published in the Scottish Field. It was the start of a forty-year association with the magazine, working under six different editors and progressing to a monthly column. He also started writing books, and his first, Island Hills, was published in 1955.
In 1941 he married a kindred spirit who loved the countryside, Helen Murray, and they had two children, daughter Helen and son John. Sadly she died in September 1962 after a battle with ill health.
Four years later he married for a second time. His bride was another outdoor enthusiast with a love of the Highlands, Maisie Catherine MacIntosh, known as Mais, a lecturer in nutrition and dietetics who was also a writer.
The couple (pictured left) made their home at Woodville, 22 Havelock Street, Helensburgh, for the next ten years, and in 1968 had a son, Kenneth Campbell. Together they climbed Munros, summits over 3,000 feet — with Campbell completing all the climbs, some 280, in 1976 — and enjoyed cycling expeditions with friends.
In 1976 they moved to Crieff, where Campbell worked for a period at St Ninian’s, a Church of Scotland conference centre, and six years later they moved to Aberfeldy.
In 1988 he achieved a 26 year dream of publishing An Anthology of Hope, a collection of quotations and other inspiring texts which he had started collecting when his first wife took ill. Many people were to thank him for the comforting words in its pages.
His other books were Scotland (for Panorama Books); The Central Highlands (for the Scottish Mountaineering Club); Enjoying Scotland; The Story of Scotland’s Hills; Proud Record — The Story of the Glasgow Fire Service; and Enjoying Perthshire.
His final book was Eye To The Hills, of which he said: “My wife and family felt I had some stories to tell, so they kept pressuring me to tell them in this book.”
For 50 years Campbell served as a deeply committed elder of the Church of Scotland, for some of that time at Old & St Andrew’s Church in Colquhoun Square, now the West Kirk. At home he and Mais often studied and debated the implications of their faith with friends from the church.
They also gave their time and energy to help a range of charities in the fields of overseas aid, development, and justice.
In particular they worked for 25 years as voluntary representatives for the Tearfund, a UK Christian relief and development agency which works in over 50 countries to tackle the causes and effects of poverty.
Their son Kenneth is also a writer, but in very different fields. He writes poetry and novels for both adults and children.
- Images kindly supplied by Mrs Mais Steven.