FIFTY years have passed since an adventurous group of pupils and teachers completed a month-long canoe expedition to the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, Germany.

The trip was extensively covered by the Advertiser, with Drew Michie, the leader of the group, serialising the trip in logbooks and diaries which were published.

Coincidentally, it was earlier this year, months before the trip's 50th anniversary, that Drew was clearing out his home and rediscovered his diaries from the trip.

Margaret Carstairs, Wendy Hoey, Kenneth McGhee, James McMillan, Bruce Mackie, Fay Noble, Neil Roberts and Andrew Ross were the eight Alloa Academy pupils who travelled.

The adults on the trip were Andrew; his wife Linda, a Claremont PS teacher; Miss Hania Olszewska, needlework teacher at Alloa Academy; and Jim Mennie, a staff member at Lenzie Academy.

George Cleland and Florence Smart, pupils from Lenzie Academy, also travelled.

The trip – named the Alloa Academy Olympic Canoe Expedition – had taken almost a year to plan, with pupils being selected and trained while insurance and other legal documents were organised.

Drew, who became a teacher at Alloa Academy in 1969, was also involved with the Scottish Canoe Association Coaching Committee and started a kayak club at the school.

He recalled: “It was the first time canoe slalom was introduced [at the Olympics] and a guy from Edinburgh University was out there competing and managed to get tickets for us.

“We organised an expedition, which lasted for a month, travelling through Switzerland and Austria, canoeing along various rivers and ending up [at] the Olympic slalom site.

“I went on quite a few trips but it was a challenge at that time.”

The group left the Wee County on August 4 and returned on September 2, 1972.

Drew’s report in the Advertiser said: “The expedition was ready to leave Alloa on Friday, August 4, at 2pm.

“A small crowd of parents, interested onlookers and expedition pupils themselves gathered at Alloa Town Hall waiting for the school mini-bus.”

Recalling the preparations, Drew said: “We had to train the kids up so they could paddle in some of the Alpine rivers.

“I was only about four or five years into canoeing, the kids were two years into canoeing so the challenge was making sure everyone was prepared.

“[There was] anxiety and worry about keeping the kids safe – although they were 17 [or] 18 years old.”

Although the young people were slightly inexperienced, they were fearless.

Drew laughs as he recalled one hilarious moment which always springs to mind when discussing the trip.

He said: “The girl from Lenzie Academy [Florence], who wasn’t one of the best canoeists, got in her canoe and immediately capsized.

“I was filming at the time, I tried to film everything. Neil was beside me and asked: ‘Will I go and get her?’

“I said yes, thinking he was in his canoe. I was filming so I was looking through the lens and couldn’t see him.

“The next thing I saw was Neil jumping in the water and swimming after her.

“I’ve never forgotten that.”

The young people were tasked with chores such as shopping for food and finding suitable places to camp.

Drew continued: “We were self-sufficient, we stayed in small tents and groups and each group was responsible for buying the food and cooking every day.

“They had an allowance; I won’t say what it was but [nowadays] it wouldn’t last one person one day, never mind a mini bus load.”

Drew’s logbook also shows the trip used 188.16 gallons of fuel, which cost a grand total of £57.49.

Reflecting on the trip and the impact it had, Drew said: “I used to speak at conferences and I would ask: ‘What is the aim of physical education?’

“It took the PE department [at the school Drew was working at at the time] many weeks to agree, and we agreed that the aim of PE is to create a passion for physical activity.

“If young people leave school with a passion for physical activity, it doesn’t really matter what activity it is, it means they’ll engage in a balanced and healthy lifestyle.

“I wanted to provide pupils with an opportunity to engage in some activities which they could continue into later life.

“That was my philosophy and that’s why I got involved in it.”

Neil Roberts was a 17-year-old when he made the trip and it spurred a passion in him that burns to this day.

Now living in Skye and retired for four years, Neil reflected on the trip and told the Advertiser he mostly remembers the rivers and the scenery.

“We stayed in some lovely places,” he said. “The Olympics as well, they were very impressive.

“Some of the rivers were absolutely wonderful, they were quite meaty compared to some of the ones we had been doing.

“Some were bigger rivers than I’d ever done.”

Living in Skye for more than 40 years, Neil still has a canoe. It’s not used as much as it used to be, but he still enjoys it and it became more than a hobby for him.

He continued: “The good thing about Drew was he encouraged me to go through my tickets so I ended up becoming a teacher myself and then taking kids out canoeing.

“Drew was very encouraging in a lot of ways,” Neil laughs. “The thing is I was a hell of a lot more cautious than he was.

“He’d let us do things…some of the rivers we did were probably a bit beyond us but we all survived it all.”

Wendy Smith [nee Hoey], who was 16 years old when she made the trip.

She recalled: “I remember the excitement of actually going to the Olympics, especially since this would be the first time canoeing would be included as a sport.

“I remember the trip was really well organised and we had some great canoeing en-route to Munich, managing to enjoy wonderful experiences of Austria especially, which I remember was stunning.

“The Olympic park and the atmosphere around it was very special and I remember that first look at the canoe course, being shocked at how fast the water was flowing.

“We had tickets for the canoe events which was very memorable [and] I also loved watching the medal ceremonies.”

Much like Neil, canoeing has remained a huge part of Wendy’s life.

She continued: “After the school trips, I went to Aberdeen University where I joined the canoe club and enjoyed various memorable outings.

“Thirty years ago I moved to a house in Dumfries-shire on the edge of a loch. We bought a Canadian Canoe and it has been loved by my family and now my grandchildren throughout those years.”



PUBLISHED in the Advertiser on Wednesday, September 27, 1972, Drew Michie’s diary recalls the difficulty of finding a suitable camping spot.

A pleasant journey through the Klausen Pass with fine views was expected, but with the cloud level so low we were travelling in mist and didn’t see much of our expected views.

The only memorable feature of the pass was the gradient which meant us travelling most of the time in first gear and having to stop four times to refill the radiator before the top.
Once down into the valley of the Linth we were out of the mist.

Finding a campsite proved a little difficult, however eventually one was reached.

This was quite a picturesque site pitched in clearings down to the beach at the edge of the Wallensee.

After pitching the tents the duty group went into town to buy the evening meal, but returned without bread.

Andrew [Ross], Neil [Roberts] and Wendy [Smith, nee Hoey] then set off and canoed across the Lake to get some. When they returned the meal was almost ready.
We dined on the beach beside a large blazing camp-fire – the rain had stopped!