Am Fear Liath Mòr or the Big Grey Man of Ben Macdui
In October 1943 I spent a ten day leave climbing alone in the Cairngorms... One afternoon, just as I reached the summit cairn of Ben MacDhui, mist swirled across the Lairig Ghru and enveloped the mountain. The atmosphere became dark and oppressive, a fierce, bitter wind whisked among the boulders, and... an odd sound echoed through the mist – a loud footstep, it seemed. Then another, and another... A strange shape loomed up, receded, came charging at me! Without hesitation I whipped out the revolver and fired three times at the figure. When it still came on I turned and hared down the path, reaching Glen Derry in a time that I have never bettered. You may ask was it really the Fear Laith Mhor? Frankly, I think it was.
So wrote Alexander Tewnion, an experienced mountaineer and well-known naturalist in an article in The Scots Magazine in 1958. It took him fifteen years to have the courage to put his story of Ben Macdui down on paper. He was not, however, the first to encounter Am Fear Liath Mòr.
Am Fear Liath Mòr or the Big Grey Man is said to haunt the summit of Ben Macdui, the second highest mountain in Britain across which the border of Aberdeenshire and Banffshire passes. The first recorded encounter with the Big Grey Man was reported in 1891 but wasn't made public until 1925 when the noted climber JN Collie recalled a frightening encounter when he was alone near the summit of the mountain some 35 years earlier.
"I began to think I heard something else than merely the noise of my own footsteps. For every few steps I took I heard a crunch, and then another crunch as if someone was walking after me but taking steps three or four times the length of my own.... [as] the eerie crunch, crunch, sounded behind me, I was seized with terror and took to my heels, staggering blindly among the boulders for four or five miles.”
Other climbers have reported similar experiences, many describing uncontrollable feelings of fear and panic, some seeing a huge grey figure behind them, and others only hearing sounds. In 1945, Peter Densham, an experienced mountaineer and rescue worker not given to flights of fancy, heard “a crunching noise” and was “overcome by a feeling of apprehension” and, three years later in 1948, Richard Frere, a climber, wrote about his sense of “a Presence, utterly abstract but intensely real” on the mountain and heard “an intensely high singing note”.
Many believe it is a Brocken Spectre, an optical illusion, but who knows; and what accounts for the crunching footsteps heard by many?
The landscape as inspiration
Landscape and the environment, whether natural or built, are powerful sources of stories, myths and legends. People are inextricably connected with places and the often show a profound sense of connection and a deep and meaningful relationship. Landscape, places and buildings often serve as the inspiration for stories and can be used to stimulate people's thinking. The landscape can often generate deep, powerful stories about themes such as connection, loss, belonging, identity, notions of home, yearning.