Grey Man of Ben MacDhui

10/10/19

Imagine you are walking alone on the desolate, Martian-like top of Ben MacDhui in the Cairngorms. It is approaching dusk and the mist has settled on the mountain causing visibility to reduce even further. As you walk alone, anxious to get off the peak before dark you hear what sounds like footsteps behind you. You stop and call out but there’s no response. Carrying on you hear steps, loudly appearing to come closer, again no reply to your calls. Fear begins to build as you assumed you’d be alone on the mountain. Peering behind you through the mist you see what looks like the faint dark outline of a human. The mist swirls but the outline gets bigger and more distinct. The figure is tall, very tall, with long slender limbs and the head appears to be glowing. You stand frozen, the hair rising on our neck. The figure seems to be staring right at you. This must be the famed Am Fear Liath Mor, the Grey Man of Ben MacDhui

Tales of the Grey Man go back a long way. The poet James Hogg reported seeing the spirit in 1791 but the best reference was in when accomplished mountaineer and scientist Prof. J Norman Collie reported an encounter in 1924. He saw the creature when climbing alone and concluded that ‘Whatever you make of it I do not know, but there is something very queer about the top of Ben MacDui and I will not go back there again myself, I know.’ In 1943, naturalist Alexander Tewnion wrote of his encounter: ‘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.’

Many further encounters have been reported over the years, so is there really spectral being haunting walkers on the top of one of Scotland’s highest mountains? The answer is likely more prosaic as usual. When the sun is low in the sky, the shadow cast when walking at an angle will be very long. As the mist closes in, the shadow can reflect off water droplets giving the appearance of a vertical, but lengthened dark figure. The noises? These could be animals (hares, deer, ptarmigans etc) or rocks cracking as temperature fluctuates or even the echo of the climbers own footsteps carried through the mist. Add these ingredients to someone who may be anxious to get off the hills before the weather turns then it would be easy to mistake an unusual shadow and strange noise for another person. [Picture from biggreyman]

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