With a height of 1309 metres (4296 feet), Ben MacDui is the highest peak in the Cairngorms and the second highest peak in Scotland. Many mountaineers are certain that this region of the Cairngorms harbour a malign humanoid entity known locally as ‘Fear Liath Mor’ (meaning big grey man) that is grey in colour, big, and fearsome in appearance. The legends tell of these beings stalking anyone who trespassed into their territory.
Actual sightings of the Big Grey Man have been rare, but “eye-witness” descriptions of his appearance describe him as being around ten feet tall, covered in hair, with very long arms and legs.
Ben MacDhui’s sinister occupant first came to widespread notice when eminent climber Professor Norman Collie made an announcement to the members of the Annual General Meeting of the Cairngorm Club during their 1925 gathering. He reported that in 1891 he had been descending from this mountain’s summit through heavy mist when suddenly: “I began to hear the sound of noises in the loose rock behind me coming down from the natural cairn on the high plateau. 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.”
Dismissing this as an aural hallucination, he continued, but so did the mysterious steps. Gradually he became more and more apprehensive, until he was seized with terror and fled blindly down the mountain for five miles until he reached Rothiemurchus Forest.
Although he was unable to catch any real sight of it, Collie was left with a sinister impression of being stalked by a huge and menacing creature. He vowed never to return to Ben Macdhui alone, and remained convinced that there was “something very queer about the top of Ben MacDhui”.
Following his disclosure, he received a letter from Dr A.M.Kellas detailing his own strange experience on that mountain. Dr Kellas and his brother Henry were on the mountain close to the summit when they saw a ‘giant figure’ approaching them from the direction of the cairn. For a moment it disappeared from sight as it moved into a dip, but the men did not wait to see it reappear, and ran as fast as they could to get off the mountain.
This chilling account, coupled with the unquestionable reliability of professor Collie’s story, attracted great media attention. Moreover, other mountaineers began to confess that they too had experienced similar sensations of uncontrollable fear and panic with no rational reason while on Ben MacDhui and had come away with the vivid impression that a malevolent, paranormal presence existed here, which sought to frighten away anyone venturing upon this lonely, desolate peak.
In a possibly related event the author of “The Thirty Nine Steps”, John Buchan was walking in 1910 through a wood of pine trees on the Alps in Bavaria with a local forester. Suddenly both men were overcome at the same instant by a feeling of panic. Neither man spoke but they ran together down to the valley below where they collapsed from exertion.
One story related to the author of ‘The Big Grey Man of Ben MacDhui’, a man called Richard Frere. He told of a friend of his who decided to spend a night camping on the top of the mountain in 1940. In his tent near the cairn he began to suffer a feeling of morbidity and a sense of unreality but finally fell asleep.
He woke up with moonlight shining through a gap into his tent and suddenly realized that he could see something brownish between himself and the moon. Horrified, he froze, and waited for the thing to move away. When it did, he looked out into the brilliant moonlight and saw a large brown creature ‘swaggering’ away down the mountain side. He said the creature had ‘an air of insolent strength’ about it. Incredibly, he estimated the height of the thing to be twenty feet, and described it as having an erect posture, broad shoulders and a tapering waist.