Obituary: Clive Freshwater, entrepreneur

Founding spirit behind the Loch Insh Watersports Centre for nearly half a century. Picture: Contributed
Founding spirit behind the Loch Insh Watersports Centre for nearly half a century. Picture: Contributed
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BORN: 15 January, 1939, in Nottinghamshire. Died 21 January, 2015, in Inverness, aged 76.

For almost half a century Clive Freshwater was the pioneering spirit behind the Loch Insh Watersports Centre which is now a central part of the economy of the Highlands. The amenities the centre provides have gained an international reputation and won acclaim from royalty and locals alike. “So much has been done here,” the Princess Royal was heard to say when she opened the extension a decade ago – the year that Freshwater and the centre won the Highlands and Islands’ “Small Business of the Year” award.

Freshwater had the imagination, determination and canny business acumen that helped to ensure the centre’s success in one of Scotland’s most picturesque and unspoilt areas.

The venture started in 1969 as the Cairngorm Canoeing and Sailing School Ltd, housed in the Insh village hall and a derelict boathouse. The centre’s growth and the improved facilities it has brought to generations of families are immeasurable.

Tim Walker, former principal at Glenmore Lodge, told The Scotsman: “Clive was a giant of a man in both achievement and physical presence. He had a work ethic which was without equal and Loch Insh Watersports is an example of what can be achieved through vision and dogged determination. The centre is a tribute to Clive and the whole Freshwater family; for those who knew him, they know they will never see his like again.”

Clive Freshwater was the son of a railway signalman and after attending Alford Grammar School he worked in the watersport industry – particularly canoeing.

He was a passionate footballer and at 16 was signed by Grimsby Town. While playing he also studied for a diploma in physical education. For a few seasons Freshwater was the goalkeeper for the Leeds A team under Don Revie’s management.

An injury ended his playing days and while a teacher at Gedling School in Nottingham Freshwater he did voluntary work at Glenmore Lodge.

It was an experience that changed his life and in 1961 he was appointed outdoor activities instructor at the Lodge and by his example and enthusiasm greatly increased Glenmore’s activities to include canoeing, skiing, sailing and rock-climbing.

More recently wind-surfing and a plastic ski slope have been added.

By 1969 this enthusiasm was channelled into his own outdoor enterprise when he left Glenmore to set up as an instructor on Loch Insh. He and his wife invested £1,000 buying the hall and the boathouse and rented some land on the lochside from the Forestry Commission.

Through his own drive and energy the centre prospered and it became established as a place of excellence for instruction in skiing, canoeing and sailing. Indeed, the business has flourished and is now a major employer in the area and is highly regarded for its hospitality and safety.

Many schools and young groups – 200 students can be accommodated a night – visit the centre, all enjoying many of the challenging facilities. Freshwater ensured there was utmost vigilance at all times.

He diversified prudently and ensured the facilities moved with the time and the demands of a changing clientele. He became a proficient skier and qualified as an instructor serving for more than a decade as chairman of the British Association of Snowsports Instructors.

Freshwater was never one to be daunted by authority – or bureaucracy. He became heavily involved in a major trial, the Spey canoe case of 1969, when the owners of the salmon fishing on the River Spey brought a case against Freshwater, arguing that his two-day canoeing trips on the river were disrupting the fishing.

Showing typical tenacity Freshwater fought the case and, after a lengthy trial, an appeal and a hearing in the House of Lords, he was triumphant.

The Freshwaters were always keen to protect the environment. Many of the log cabins, for example, were constructed from telegraph poles salvaged from the old A9. Their own house, commanding a fine position overlooking the loch, was made from telegraph poles which had serviced the Edinburgh/London telephone lines.

The joy and pleasure the Centre has given is confirmed by Richard Cameron (former head of planning for Highland Region). “It was a year-round centre of activity with continuing economic benefit to the locality.

“The initiative of Clive and Sally Freshwater back in the 1960s and sustained over a period of some 45 years has been a material contributor to this phenomenon.”

“Freshwater was popular throughout the community and apart from his enthusiasm and professional vision he much enjoyed a ceilidh.

“He was not a Scot but wore the kilt with pride and sang ballads and played the guitar with an infectious gusto.”

Freshwater is survived by Sally, his wife of 45 years, and their three sons.