Perthshire, Scotland is beautiful with its mirror-like lochs and deep forested glens. Ancient stone fences crisscross the hilly land while sheep and cattle graze peacefully on its grassy slopes. Home to Queen’s View, one of the most spectacular vistas in the UK, it is no surprise the area is big draw for tourists. This is especially true of Pitlochry—a picturesque village where people come to take in the lovely scenery and enjoy the quaint shops and cafes.
But, Pitlochry is also home to another scene: Only a few strides away from a pretty little car park—full of tourists on the day of our visit—is a dirt road leading up into the trees. If one continues up this road—minding their feet to avoid stumbling over the potholes—they will come across several trailers in varying stages of decay—as if forgotten by the rest of the world, which in fact, one could argue they have been.
This is the home of a Gypsy Traveller camp that has been in place since 1947. According to our university educated hosts (and residents of the site), the site was originally set up as an assimiliation experiment by the Scottish Dept. of Health, the local authority and Church of Scotland. Its primary purpose was to see if it were possible to “eradicate the ‘Tinker Clan’” through making them useful to society.
The deal was that if children attended school—as they obviously did (remember our university educated hosts)— then properties were to be upgraded by 1962. It was also agreed that electricity could be added at a later date.
Unfortunately, none of this ever happened. Instead, in 1947, the Department of Health built the wooden huts to the lowest possible standard, stating that “normal standards need not apply.” This resulted in four sub-standard, one-bedroom wooden huts to house four families. One of these families eventually consisted of nine children and their two parents: eleven people living in a one-bedroom building without hot water or electricity. Eventually, to offset terrible overcrowding and the inaction of the government, residents provided caravans for themselves.
Since that time little has changed. No improvements have ever been made to account for the ravages of time: trailer floors are buckling, roofs are leaking, and the unpaved dirt road to the site is pitted with rocks and potholes making it impassable in winter. Promised electricity and hot water have yet to make an appearance.
Even more compelling than this scene of neglect are the lived experiences of the residents – most of whom are descendants of the original families placed in the experiment. Their stories paint a grim picture of having to endure unspeakable conditions due to the discrimination and subsequent neglect by officials to fulfill their part of the bargain: namely to provide upgrades and install even the most basic of services. This is made even more frustrating given that the original resident of the site is a decorated war veteran who proudly served his country yet is now treated like a second-class citizen (a practice not unique to Scotland, I know, but it does not make it right).
It is difficult to believe that one of the wealthier councils in Scotland cannot provide even the most basic of improvements for these people. With one of the largest general funds in Scotland, surely some of that wealth could be allocated toward the Pitlochry site?—especially when it is obvious the money that is poured into attracting tourists (an example being the abundant flower baskets hanging in the car park leading up to the site). But what about equitable attention and care for its own residents? Residents the government surely has an obligation to care for, especially given their complicity in the experiment.
Until then, the residents of Bobbin Mill continue to go without electricity and hot water—services most inhabitants of the developed world enjoy (it is interesting to note that despite the absence of these basic services, residents are still charged for them via council tax).
While money alone cannot take away the years of neglect and wrongdoing, it can go a long way toward ensuring that future residents have a more equitable chance at accessing the same opportunities the wider community enjoys, while also ensuring the preservation of their culture and race.
Yes, Perthshire Scotland is beautiful… Depending where you look.
This blog was compiled with the help of several sources who shall remain nameless, but forever appreciated for sharing their stories and granting me their trust. Any errors or inaccuracies are purely the fault of the author – me.
Posted By Lynne Engleman (United Kingdom)
Posted Jul 28th, 2014