Is Scotland’s Great Grey Man Real?

The remote wilderness of Ben MacDui, Britain’s second highest mountain In 1891, experienced mountaineer Professor J

Norman Collie encountered something on the desolate slopes “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… as if someone was walking after me but taking steps three or four times the length of my own… I listened and heard it again but could see nothing in the mist As… the eerie crunch, crunch sound behind me, I was seized with terror and took to my heels, staggering blindly among the boulders for four or five miles… down to Rothiemurchus forest Whatever you make of it I don’t know, but there is something very queer about the top of Ben MacDui and I will not go back there again myself, I know” Professor Collie had encountered Am Fear Liath Mor, the Grey Man – an unnaturally tall humanoid creature that stalks the Cairngorms of eastern Scottish Highlands

The Grey Man has been compared to the Wendigo, the Yeti, the Bodach Mor, and Bigfoot His origins remain as mysterious as all of his more famous brethren Many other climbers have reported encounters with the Grey Man, all of them on Ben MacDhui Their reports all begin with sudden, fearful feelings of a presence nearby He stalks lone explorers, and the first tangible thing they notice is the crunching sound of his great stride over the rocks

When mist envelops the peak, witnesses have seen the huge shape of the Grey Man following them Most witnesses run away before getting a good look at him According to the scant descriptions we have, the Grey Man is about 3 metres tall, with very long arms and legs He has an ape-like head and his body is covered in short hair Everyone who has come across him has recalled being filled with dread

Most evidence for the existence of the Grey Man comes in the tales of those who have experienced him In 1904, a climber noted his “slurring footsteps, as if someone were walking through water-saturated gravel” In 1943, mountaineer Alexander Tewnion had a very close encounter “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” Then, in the winter of 1956, James Alan Rennie was walking in the Spey Valley, about 24 kilometres from Ben MacDhui, when he came across footprints in the snow “[They were] 19 inches long by about 14 inches wide and there must have been all of seven feet between each stride There was no differentiation between a left and right foot, and they proceeded in an approximately single line

” However, these tracks were hardly definitive proof of the Grey Man’s existence James Rennie discovered similar prints again, and this time observed how they were made He determined they were formed by rain thawing the snow in patches In fact, one of the earliest reports of the Grey Man suggests he is very much a human creation Scottish poet James Hogg was frightened away from Ben MacDhui by the Grey Man in 1791

He returned to find the creature – and became convinced that he had not met a rare monster Instead, he found that the giant grey humanoid who had pursued him in the mist was really his own shadow This phenomenon has a name: the Brocken spectre It was first identified by scientist Johann Silberschlag in 1780, on the peak of the Brocken in northern Germany He found that when the sun is at a low angle behind a person, as it often is on the rounded, sloping mountaintops of the Cairngorms, it will cast their shadow onto the low clouds around them

The shadow appears like a giant being close to the observer because of an optical illusion created by the confused depth perception of the eye in fog Forester Affleck Gray spent his lifetime studying the Cairngorms and the Grey Man He was convinced that “it’s a whole load of rot!” But what about the eerie footsteps witnesses describe hearing when the Grey Man is near? Well, Brian Dunning points out that it is a recognised natural process that temperatures fluctuate as fog thickens and thins This causes rocks to expand and contract, and split On a slope, the broken rocks may tumble

The unfamiliar sounds of small rocks cracking and tumbling may be further distorted by the acoustics of the sloping Cairngorms Indeed, it may be significant that the most famous person to encounter the Grey Man, Professor Collie, never claimed to actually see it – he only heard it Sadly, evidence for the Grey Man is far less compelling than evidence for, say, Bigfoot or the Yeti The Cairngorms are a wild and sometimes forbidding place, but they are largely explored Given the sightings are all on Ben MacDhui, it seems unlikely that a creature the size of a car has remained hidden well into the 21st century

The romantics among us might like to seek out the Grey Man They may have a disturbing experience similar to the ones described here But if they do, they should ask themselves – was it really the Grey Man, or just a trick of nature?

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