Ben Macdui in the Cairngorms is the second-highest mountain in Scotland. For years hikers and climbers have reported witnessing the legendary "Big Grey Man" on the slopes, leaving them overcome with a feeling of dread. Here are some of the most famous eyewitness accounts of the feared Scottish mountain ghost.
Ben Macdui in the Cairngorms is a magnificent but lonely place. The upper slopes of the mountain have snow on them for several months of the year and make an amazing sight, but even in the summer, the landscape possesses a certain power.
The mountain is one of Scotland's Munros (hills over three thousand feet high) and is popular with walkers and climbers, but in spite of that, it is still very isolated. It's quite possible for the solitary walker to spend several hours on the mountain without coming into contact with another human being.
On occasion, lone walkers have claimed to have found that they do have company after all - not human company but that of Am Fear Liath Mhor - the Big Grey Man of Ben Macdui.
Sights and sounds of the Big Grey Man have been reported for more than a century now by multiple people. The ghost is not only seen on the mountain itself but also in the surrounding area of the Cairngorms, in the Lairig Ghru, and Glen Derry, for example.
Several common elements link the stories that have been told by various witnesses. One of the first reported experiences was that of Professor Norman Collie from London. He was climbing back down from the summit in 1891 when he heard something behind him in the mist. It sounded as if something or someone was following him down the mountain, taking one step to every three or four of his. Professor Collie was unable to make out anything in particular, as visibility was very poor, but he was sufficiently frightened to take flight, risking a fall rather than be caught by his pursuer.
In 1925, Norman Collie spoke out about his experience on Ben Macdui, he said:
"I was returning from the cairn on the summit in a mist when I began to think I heard something else than merely the noise of my own footsteps. Every few steps I took I heard a crunch, then another crunch as if someone was walking after me but taking steps three or four times the length of my own. I said to myself 'this is all nonsense'. I listened and heard it again but could see nothing in the mist . As I walked on and 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 nearly down to Rothiemurchus Forest. 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".
Other witnesses in the years that have followed have told stories that have strikingly common elements about them.
Often the first thing that the witness notices is the sound of footsteps; the footsteps are heavy and slower than those of a walker of average stature. This leads the witness to conclude that what he or she is hearing is probably a very large person. Sometimes this is all that the witness has experienced.
Other witnesses, however, have also seen something - generally a very large, upright figure in the distance. People who have seen the figure and have tried to follow it have seen no trace of footprints. Descriptions of the figure vary slightly, but it is usually described as being grey, very tall, human in form, but somehow not quite right - unnatural.
In 1943 a man called Alexander Tewnion was on Ben Macdui. He was a naturalist with considerable experience in the mountains. As he climbed, he became aware of the sound of heavy, slow footsteps. After a while, a large figure rushed at him out of the mist. Tewnion shot at the shape three times but seemed neither to hurt it nor scare it off. He turned and fled and eventually managed to shake off his sinister follower.
In 1953, Alexander Tewnion published an article in The Scots Magazine about his encounter, he said:
"I spent a 10-day leave climbing alone in the Cairngorms. One afternoon, just as I reached the summit cairn of Ben Macdui, 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".
Then in 1945, Mr Peter Densham was involved in some rescue work in the Cairngorm mountains during World War II. On one particular day, Mr Densham reported that he heard strange noises while the mist was closing in on his location, and felt intense pressure around his neck. He quickly fled before seeing anything to explain it.
A climbing friend of his, Richard Frere, wrote about his sense of "a presence, utterly abstract but intensely real" on the mountain and even claimed to hear "an intensely high singing note".
Then in 1948, Richard Frere also spoke out about another encounter that a mutual friend had on the mountain while he camped on Ben Macdui. His friend reported how he had woken up feeling an "inescapable feeling of dread", and looked out of his tent to witness a large figure with dark hair standing in front of the moon in silhouette.
The figure on Ben Macdui, whoever or whatever it might be, certainly seems to be a malign presence, and its manifestations have succeeded in inspiring great fear in even the most hardened mountaineers.