Brass Monkey

Believed by many to be the home of the “Brass Monkey Camp”, the Scottish Borders can trace their camps back to 1968. The original camp was the brainchild of Jack Robb, District Commissioner for Roxburgh, and was a challenge for the Scouts of East Roxburghshire to camp out for one night during November, December, January or February. Traditionally the camp took place around the date of the shortest day, which would be approximately the middle weekend of December.
The first camp was held at Scotchkershope and attracted approximately 45 participants from the District. Following the weekend, Jack was inundated with letters and phone calls enquiring when the next camp would be held. He decided to include all of the County, and with the formation of Borders Area, it was further opened up. To mark their achievement of having completed the camp all participants were admitted to the “Brass Monkey Troop” which entitled them to wear the coveted white neckerchief which eventually had the Brass Monkey badge attached. Two rules were imposed on those wishing to attain the neckerchief :
1. A night had to be spent under canvas during the months of November, December, January or February
2.Anyone from the Borders Area organising their own camp, and sleeping under canvas, had to provide a certificate completed by their leader.
The rules were subsequently amended to include Guides, Rangers and Mixed Units as well as those from outwith the Borders.
In 1981 the organisation of the camp was in the hands of a small team led by Derek Wilson, and the camp was held in a field adjacent to the small hall at Ettrickbridge End. This allowed the Saturday evening entertainment to take place in more comfortable surroundings than a marquee which would need drying after the weekend (difficult in winter!). This camp was particularly noted for the extremely low overnight temperatures. In several areas of the camp the gas bottles had their contents frozen, and others were only saved due to being covered by some straw bales, which had been left in the field. Another outcome of the camp was that one particular group was unable to remove their tent pegs and it transpired that some were found in 2009, causing interest amongst the locals until an explanation was given later in the year.
The camp was now well established within the Scouting calender and while the venue moved throughout the Borders, the numbers steadily increased, although at no time was any advertising carried out. Groups attended from the North East of England, Central and Western Scotland and the farthest travelled were a group of Scouters from South Wales, who on their second visit presented the Area with the Brass Monkey Trophy which is still in use today. The trophy was awarded to a person or persons who had been deemed to have contributed most to the camp in the view of the organisers – the first recipient being the founder Jack Robb. The largest number attending a camp was around 400 at St Aiden’s , Gattonside in 1986/
During the camp local halls were often used on the Saturday evening to host a range of entertainment from ceilidh dancing. to singing and sketches. It was at this time that supermarket bags became very handy to use as boot covers to save cleaning and damage to floors! A trophy, the “Brass Monkey Potty” was awarded for the best performance, but this seems to have disappeared in the mists of time. It was also noted that a number of groups held their annual Christmas dinner on the Saturday night. It would be remiss not to mention that everything was not all bright and shiny, and unfortunately it became necessary to have late night patrols operating as some participants let their behaviour spoil the event for others.
In relation to souvenir items outwith the much prized neckie, some of the older members still have a pottery mug from 1981 and a pottery woggle from one of the other camps.
The logbook, which is now in safekeeping but still used, gives a very clear indication of the widespread interest that the camp created across Scotland and beyond. It contains the names of those attending the camps since 1977, and is still completed by those attending the camps today.
Camp venues according to the logbook are as follows :

1978Ayton Castle
1979Wellbush - Tweeddale District
Floors Castle - Borders Area
1980Yetholm Mains
1982Thirlestane Castle
1983St Aidan's, Gattonside
1984St Aidan's, Gattonside
1986St Aidan's, Gattonside
1987St Aidan's, Gattonside
1988Duns Castle
1989Thirlestane Castle
1991Loaningdale House, Biggar
1992Venue not recorded
2001Venue not recorded
2003Wellbush Bothy
2011Bonaly, Edinburgh
2013Springwood Pk, Kelso
2014Springwood Park, Kelso