Tae A Guider

— #11 Whale Brae

Overview John Pottinger Whaling and Newhaven Tae a Guider

Thoughts on Guiders

A Personal Reminiscence by George Venters

In Newhaven and Leith “guiders ” were built for speed and practicality — not the staid “sit up straight in” carties that Oor Wullie and the west of Scotland seem to favour. We made them ourselves — a wee bit practical carpentry and basic engineering. There was always timber available if you knew where to look for it.

They had a platform surface — like a sledge — that you could leap on to — flat spars on a T shaped frame.  The wheels and axles were usually salvaged from a pram but sometimes the front ones on the steering axle could be ball races.  The only brakes we had were the toes of our boots scraping on the tarmac.

They were handy.  You could pull people or loads along on them.  But the best fun you could get with them was to race downhill.  Mind you, you had to choose your slope carefully.  The Whale Brae was a no-no – too fast but the ‘Vale was probably manageable.

The fastest run I ever did was down the Gipsy Brae at West Pilton and that was too fast.  It’s such a steep brae you didn’t need to run to accelerate your guider before diving on.  My first run was from half way down and it went well so I took the guider up to the top. Big mistake! The top part was Whale Brae steep but I thought I had a long enough run to slow down safely.  Of course I was wrong. It just kept accelerating from the start. By half way down I knew I had no way of safely taking the curve at the bottom. Rather than clatter into the kerb at a high rate of knots, I turned sharp right towards the wall on that side of the road and of course couped the guider – better rolling over than a high-speed, head-on collision. I had scrapes and bruises but no broken bones.

Nowadays, with the level of traffic on the roads, this kind of venture couldn’t happen and probably for the best but it was good fun at the time.

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A Personal Reminiscence by Dougie Ratcliffe

We were always on the lookout for old prams that had been dumped. Once you found one you were set: take the wheels off complete with axles, then look about for scrap wood to make the body.

Rectangle shape, about three feet long and a couple of feet wide if my memory serves, with a piece sticking out of the front to take the front axle and the steering gear. A piece of rope was the steering wheel. Another type of guider, though not so common or popular was made using steel ball races for wheels. Lots of fun and a different experience when you went sliding off going round corners, just like a racing car.

My favourite place was the wee hill at the south end of Jessfield Terrace when we would have someone at the junction of Jessfield and Hawthornvale to shout “all clear” before you started your run to make sure there were no pedestrians or cars coming, not that there were many cars about then.

Guiders weren’t just fun things, I remember making a few pennies using it to move stuff about. The most profitable was going round to the coalyard, where Nichollfield is now, and getting a half dozen coal bricquettes (remember them?) for neighbours who couldn’t wait for the coalman to deliver.

Happy days, no helmets or elbow pads in those days, just skint knees and lots of fun, and of course lots of rows from your mother for wearing the toes of your shoes out as you used them for brakes!!

Tae a Guider

Oh long and widden four wheeled cart
What a glorious stream-lined work of art
Wi’ mony a splintered hand did start doon the brae
And gatherin’ speed tae free ze yer heart – on a simmer’s day.

A smelly fish box for the basic chassis
Four wheel frae the pram o’ some wee lassie
The claes line tae steer wi’ – it’s lookin’ classy, then wi’ a shout
Yer mither yells “yer neck is brassy” and gies ye a clout.

Neck and neck we gather speed
A trusty knight hadna a better steed
The warrior cries “Ahm in the lead” ower stone and boulder
Chariots replay the immortal creed o’ the Roman soldier.

Then wi’ broken axle and buckled wheel
Up the brae back hame we steal
An skin frae elbies begins tae peel, but oh! the glory
The skelpit lugs such pain tae feel, and that’s anither story.

So when auld age comes and oor guiders replaced
By a chair on wheels we remember the taste
O’ the speed and the days o’ the chariot race, the memory’s a glimmer
And so that a snail can match oor pace —

by Moya Flockhart

Guider Boy with thanks to Moya Flockhart for the poem and to Jim Rae for the illustration