A caravan site with a hidden past

The former RAF camp at Crosslaw was gradually converted into a caravan park in the 1960s
The former RAF camp at Crosslaw was gradually converted into a caravan park in the 1960s

The sale of Crosslaw Caravan Park at Coldingham, which has been part of the Kelso firm Rodger Fish and Son Ltd for over 50 years, was the final chapter for the family firm.

Last year was a difficult one for the Fish family healthwise and when Verdant Leisure made Alastair Fish “a realistic offer” for Crosslaw, he decided that at the age of 70 it was time to pass on the business.

Crosslaw caravan park has catered for a mix of static and touring caravans.

Crosslaw caravan park has catered for a mix of static and touring caravans.

Alastair’s family bought the former RAF station at Crosslaw, Coldingham, back in 1962. At the outbreak of World War Two, Drone Hill near the village was the first Chain Home Radar station in Scotland.

In a piece written for the info.coldingham website, John Shrapnell, senior aircraftsman, Royal Air Force, during the war, reminisced: “Our camp, RAF Crosslaw up the hill leading out of the village to Co’path was disguised as a holiday camp with little chalets.

“Our radar station was high up in the remote moors and buried deep underground to protect it from atomic attack. The entrance to the site was through what appeared to be a crofter’s cottage.

“As well as being the front line of Britain’s defence radar, the station was also one of the network of homes for government should we come under nuclear attack. Once you’d passed down the corridor, those atom bomb proof doors could be closed, and buried deep in the cliff you’d be safe.”

Former RAF buiildings continued to be used when Rodger Fish & Son Ltd took over Crosslaw.

Former RAF buiildings continued to be used when Rodger Fish & Son Ltd took over Crosslaw.

Describing the site when his family business took over at Crosslaw Alastair Fish said: “There was an officers’ mess, hospital, guards house, WAAF quarters, accommodation for Military Police - it was a mini village when my family bought it to convert into a holiday park.

“It was in a bit of a state, however, the winter of 1962/3 was a bad one and we worked hard to get the place ready for opening in March 1963.

“In many ways it was perfect to develop in that it had all the services and roads, street lights and officers’ mess which became the first licensed bar on a caravan park in Scotland. One member of the licensing court in Duns voted against, since he expressed the view that he felt people on holiday ought not to have drink so available and might not be able to cope with it.

“We demolished most of the buildings as they didn’t suit the modern theme and others were converted into chalets. They didn’t last long though because it was the end of the Hi-di-Hi era, and we put caravans in.”

Rodger Fish & Son have been a familiar sight at agricultural shows in the Borders for decades.

Rodger Fish & Son have been a familiar sight at agricultural shows in the Borders for decades.

The family business Rodger Fish and Son Ltd, established in 1926 and incorporated in 1936, had always been in the motor trade.

After the war Alastair’s father started selling touring caravans because he couldn’t get enough cars to sell. Supply of materials was short in the post-war years and having moved into selling touring caravans the company’s first foray into running caravan sites was at Seaview, Spittal, where they leased ground from Berwick Corporation. As the lease conditions became more difficult at Spittal and Crosslaw began to develop, the family business eventually gave up the lease at the Berwick site.

Rodger Fish and Son Ltd ran the caravan site at Coldingham alongside their motor trade business but they gave up their Peugeot dealership in Kelso and Berwick in 1996. By then they had bought another field at the Coldingham caravan site which meant increasing capacity for caravans from 160 to 300 units, plus serviced plots, with water, drainage and electricity, for 50 tourers.

By the mid 1990s it became clear that the old officers’ mess prefab building, despite being well-loved by everyone, had had its day and it was replaced with a completely new building.

The Rodger Fish & Son Ltd site at Kelso which is now occupied by a branch of Lidl.

The Rodger Fish & Son Ltd site at Kelso which is now occupied by a branch of Lidl.

Verdant Leisure now own Crosslaw Caravan Park and the Rodger Fish and Co Ltd name and having travelled the route between Kelso and Coldingham for decades Alastair is now getting used to a well-earned retirement.

“I for my part, have to thank all those who helped create Crosslaw and our customers, some of whom have been there since the beginning.

“Now 55 years later and 91 years since the company started, it is the end of my family connection. Good luck to the new owners and to all my customers. I hope you enjoy many more happy holidays at Coldingham.”

Alastair Fish at home in Kelso with his wife Janice and their dog Daisy.

Alastair Fish at home in Kelso with his wife Janice and their dog Daisy.