Is There a British Bigfoot on Ben MacDhui?

by JoHarrington

It's big; it's hairy; it lives in a remote, wild place; and it has a bipedal humanoid shape. But this isn't the Pacific North-West. It's Scotland.

Ben MacDhui is the second highest mountain in the British Isles. Only Ben Nevis is higher. Its summit is usually shrouded in mist; a desolate, lonely place for intrepid mountaineers.

So what is it that lives up there, which so scares seasoned climbers that some have risked life and limb to get away quickly? Eyewitnesses include an eminent professor, who waited until the end of his career to report his story, for fear that colleagues would laugh at him.

Is there a Sasquatch in Britain?

Am Fear Liath Mòr: The Big Grey Man

Miles from anywhere, with a long climb to return to civilization, is the last place where you really want to spot a gigantic, hairy and hostile creature.

Between Aberdeenshire and Moray, in the Scottish Cairngorms is Ben MacDhui.  It stands 1,309 meters (4,295ft) high. 

Snow and mist cover the wilderness of its peaks and summit.  But something else may lurk up there too.

It's variously called The Greyman or the Big, Grey Man of Ben MacDhui.  The locals know it by its Gaelic name, Am Fear Liath Mòr.

The creature looms up out of the mist, indistinct through poor visibility half the time, but huge.  Very huge.  Eyewitnesses have reported that it stands as much as twenty feet tall.  Those familiar with the area point out wryly that mist can exaggerate size as a kind of optical illusion.

It is there, and then it's gone.  A shape in the landscape, with loud, resounding footsteps.  Those encountering it most frequently add how their instinct rang into overdrive; a primal panic sending them hurtling down the mountainside, often too close to the cliff-edge for safety.

These are not just hiking tourists.  Ben MacDhui (pron. Ben Mack-Doo-ey) is not a mountain for amateurs.  People climb that with spikes and crampons, camping equipment and training behind them.  It's not a gentle environment, and it's way too easy to lose your way in those perilous conditions.

Yet the Grey Man chases them into the unknown; and those who have seen it know that it exists.  But what is it?

The Testimony of Professor J. Norman Collie

Anyone can make a mistake in the wilderness, but when an experienced mountaineer and eminent scientist tells his tale, then it's more than just imagination.

Professor John Norman Collie was a well respected scientist.  His great gifts to the world included the discovery of the first oxonium salt; as well as important research, which led to the first x-ray.

He became a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1896, in recognition of his contribution to Chemistry.

Professor Collie was also a mountaineer, climbing peaks in the Alps, Himalayas and the Caucasus.  He also climbed Ben MacDhui.

He kept silent about what he experienced up there for nearly thirty-five years. He thought that it would harm his career, if he spoke out about such things.

By 1925, he was close to retirement, and it didn't matter so much if his colleagues laughed.  He'd already impressed them enough in other ways.  They knew him to be a reliable witness, a detail oriented scientist, and an academic in his determination to uncover the truth.  Professor Collie was not a man to let his imagination and emotions dictate his conclusions.

The Annual General Meeting of the Cairngorm Club was where he recounted the events from 1891.  He'd been alone on the high slopes of Ben MacDhui, when he became aware that he was being followed.

"I began to think I heard something else than merely the noise of my own footsteps." The Professor told the assembled mountaineers.  "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."

He stopped and looked back, but visibility was so bad that nothing presented itself in the heavy mist.  Nor could he tell the direction of the sound.  The mist muffled that too.  Though a calm, rational man, he began to panic.

"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." 

Professor Collie didn't see the creature, but he heard it.  He could not discern, even after so many years of pondering upon it, what had caused those heavy footfalls.  He concluded his speech with the words, "Whatever you make of it I do not know but there is something very queer at the top of Ben Macdhui and I will not go there again by myself I know."

The Big Grey Man of Ben MacDhui

Could the explanation be Brocken Spectre, imagination and misidentified noises?

Alexander Tewnion and Fear Laith Mhor

What precisely did the mountaineer shoot at on Ben MacDhui? He remained convinced it had been the Greyman.

Amongst those who heard Professor Collie's tale was a mountaineer named Alexander Tewnion.  A local man, he was well acquainted with the Cairngorms and there is no record of his initial reaction to the story.

But it was certainly at the forefront of his mind, when he had his own encounter in 1943.

Tewnion was hunting on the slopes of Ben MacDhui.  It's home to large herds of reindeer, as well as other hardy, mountain animals.  If he fancied some nice venison for his pot, then it seemed that he was not alone in that.

Out of the mists, a large shape loomed.  It was huge and hairy, grey all over, and coming right for him.  In shock, Tewnion suddenly recalled all that Prof Collie had told them.  Close on that thought was a second memory.  He'd got a gun in his hand.

As the gigantic creature charged, Tewnion shot at it three times.  But it kept on coming! 

He didn't wait for more, but turned on his heel and hurtled down the mountainside.  It wasn't until he reached the lower peak of Glen Derry that he slowed his pace.  He'd finally noticed that the Grey Man hadn't followed him.  It had merely wanted to chase him away from the summit and the deer.

Tewnion concluded, "You may ask was it really the Fear Laith Mhor? Frankly I think it was."

Nor was he the only local expert to be scared off the mountain by something strange.  Peter Densham was a member of the Cairngorms Search and Rescue Team, during World War Two.  He knew Ben MacDhui as well as anyone could.  He was used to both climbing it and flying over it in a airplane.  He was the one who guided other people to safety!

Two years after Tewnion's terrifying encounter, Densham had one of his own. He was trudging along the slopes, when he heard the loud crunch, crunch of something incredibly large and heavy coming towards him.

Well aware of the earlier tales, he didn't wait to see it himself.  He fled down the mountainside, until the footsteps faded behind him.

Books Which Mention Am Fear Liath Mòr

The Grey Man of Ben MacDhui may not feature heavily in these tales, but he gets a mention in different contexts.

A Plethora of Strange Sightings on Ben MacDhui

But is Am Fear Liath Mòr really Britain's answer to Bigfoot?

The stories told above are by no means the only ones.  But they're very much indicative of all the rest.

Just last week, I was listening to a podcast (mp3), which was primarily telling ghost stories.  One slipped into the greater realm of the uncanny by relating the experiences of two women camping in the Cairngorms.

Overnight, something circled their tent.  It was large enough to vibrate the ground beneath them, as the petrified women lay huddled in their sleeping bags.

They were on the foothills of Ben MacDhui and this occurred quite recently.

Then there are others, like the account of an anonymous friend of author Richard Frere.  That gentleman witnessed a humanoid, bipedal figure meandering down the lower slopes of the mountain.  It was covered in brown fur.  By his reckoning, the creature was twenty feet tall!

Whenever it's stated that there are no Sasquatch in Britain, someone will always nod pointedly towards Ben MacDhui.  The description fits it well enough. If any one of those sightings had occurred in Bluff Creek or Washington State's Olympic Peninsula, then everyone would be screaming Bigfoot.  So why not Scotland?

For many Sasquatch experts, the desolation of Ben MacDhui's summit doesn't look very 'Squatchy.  There are no trees at all, let alone the vast forests so beloved of Bigfoot. But that's only the mountain slopes.  Down at the bottom are the remnants of the once all encompassing Caledonian forest. 

Over ten million trees are in Rothiemurchus Forest alone; and the rest of the National Park has trees covering 370,000 acres.  All accessible from Ben MacDhui, where the reindeer herds graze.

Could that be 'Squatchy enough terrain for a Bigfoot?

Ben MacDhui in Scotland

All of the green shading is the Caledonian National Park. Lots of trees.

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Updated: 05/08/2013, JoHarrington
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Do you think that there's a Sasquatch in Scotland?

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JoHarrington on 07/18/2014

It depends who you're asking. Personally I think that the boundaries aren't nearly as fixed as we like to believe. Reality is, at the best of times, only a matter of consensus.

frankbeswick on 07/18/2014

Does the other order break in, or was it ever outside? It would be a worthwhile exercise for someone to collect and classify reports of "Faery"/otherworld phenomena.

JoHarrington on 07/18/2014

Something breaking in from another order then? What some may call the Otherworld, and the poets label Faery? It's a strong possibility.

People often fear what they don't understand. Those encountering this generally do feel fear.

frankbeswick on 07/16/2014

The word eldritch means weird. It denotes a reality that it does not belong to the natural order that can be accessed and explained by science, but belongs to the paranormal order. Twenty feet high is not normal for a ghost, which tends to be of human size, so it is a kind of reality different from a ghost. Such paranormal realities interact with the visible world, but are not explicable in conventional scientific terms. I do not think that it is a religious phenomenon either. There seems to be no religious significance to it.

What is significant is how those who experience it feel. What sort of impact does it have on them. It is possible to be aware of presences that one feels are not human, even though one has no ground for fear.

JoHarrington on 07/16/2014

Do please elaborate. Such phenomena certainly pique my interest.

frankbeswick on 07/16/2014

Some places are haunted, like Culloden, as we both know too well, but this is no ghost. It may be some kind of eldritch phenomenon.

JoHarrington on 07/15/2014

It's the very conditions which lead some to conclude that it's a natural phenomenon. But you could be onto something too. It would be great if someone with an open mind did research the place.

I know about the other locations only too well, but Scotland has more than it's fair share.

frankbeswick on 07/14/2014

I suggest that the yeti resides in uninhabited valleys, of which there are many in the Himalayas, and only at times crosses the higher, snowy passes. Hence the name abominable snowman is a caricature.

After posting, I was giving some thought to the issue and realized that the figure of the grey man is only seen in mist/cloud. If it is a paranormal phenomenon, maybe the mist is the medium through which it achieves visible form. It may be there all the time, but not visibly in bright light. It may be seen only as a pattern in the mist when light is low.

You and I agree on keeping an open mind to odd phenomena that cannot be easily encapsulated in the conventional world-view [or our own.] You are also right about haunted places. They are found not only in Scotland, but in other locations as well.

JoHarrington on 07/14/2014

I agree that Ben MacDhui is a strange habitat for what we generally perceive to be Sasquatch. But then the Yeti exists in a barren landscape too, mostly because of the dense foliage at lower levels. I do like to keep my mind open on such things.

I too have wondered about paranormal phenomena up there, rather than actual cryptid creatures. It wouldn't be the first time that Scotland has produced a haunted location.

frankbeswick on 07/14/2014

Sasquatch is a woodland species, so I don't think that there would be the habitat or food for the creature to survive on the bare slopes and summit of Ben MacDhui.

However, I am viscerally opposed to those who summarily dismiss phenomena that they cannot understand. There seems to be a phenomenon on the mountain that cannot be explained in conventional terms. I thought originally that it was a humanoid cloud formation, possibly generated by the structure of the mountain, but too many have heard it for this explanation to be sustained. I suggest that this phenomenon belongs to the paranormal category rather than to the cryptozoological.It is important to sustain the differentiation between the two categories.

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