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The untold mystery of terrifying ‘big grey man’ that haunts UK’s second highest mountain

The grey man of Ben MacDhui is a creature said to stalk the Scottish mountains and although sightings of him are rare many climbers report sharing similar feelings of eeriness when he is around

The highland mountain ranges in Scotland are wild and magnificent places that attract many international visitors, but their slopes have a darker side that has terrified many people throughout the years. It is claimed that the mountains are haunted.

With a height of 1309 metres (4296 feet), Ben MacDhui 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.

Evidence of the Big Grey Man

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.

Recent encounters

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.

Wendy Wood, author of ‘The Secret of Spey’ approached the pass of Lairig Ghru in winter whereupon she heard a voice. She described the voice as being of ‘gigantic resonance’ and reminiscent of Gaelic. After a brief and brave scouting out of the local area to see if she could find the person she had heard speaking, she realized that she was indeed alone. When she hurried away, she could hear footsteps following her as if immediately behind. At first she thought the footfalls to be echoes of her own, but then noticed that they did not coincide or correspond to her own footsteps.

In 1965, footprints were discovered measuring 14 inches and with a massive stride that covered around 5 feet, just as Norman Collie had estimated prior to his panic-filled descent down the mountainside in 1891.

In the early 1990’s a group of three men walked along a forestry plantation track in the countryside close to Aberdeen when one saw ahead a ‘dark human-shaped’ figure run from the left of the track to the right about 200 yards ahead. He felt a ‘sense of terror and foreboding’. His friends had not seen the creature but when they looked ahead they saw a face looking at them from between the branches, a face which was ‘human… but not human’. One man threw a stone at it and it disappeared into the trees.

A few weeks after this encounter the trio were driving towards Torphins near Aberdeen when their car was pursued by the very same type of creature. They reported this dark, tall being running alongside their car as they drove at close to 45 mph. Eventually it gave up the chase and simply stood in the middle of the road and peered after the car.

A female friend of one of the men later told him that while she had been staying in a cottage in the countryside near there, she had seen a ‘dark, hairy figure’ standing just inside the tree line nearby watching the building on two occasions. After a while, it moved off into the undergrowth.

The sightings of strange creatures are not the only things people have experienced while on the mountain or in the area. Other people have reported being in the area and suddenly overwhelmed by either a feeling of utter panic or a downward turning of their thoughts which made them incredibly depressed, or both. Some have reported being drawn as if hypnotically to the edge of dangerous ledges while others are believed to have been chased to their deaths, in their desperation to escape, over the edge of the cliff known as Lurcher’s Crag.

There have even been reports that ghostly music and laughter could be heard wafting across the shadowy slopes and many accounts of heavy footsteps like those heard by Collie have been documented.

Reports are not wholly confined to Ben MacDhui either. One day during the early 1920s, experienced mountaineer Tom Crowley was coming down alone from Braeraich in Glen Eanaich, close to Ben MacDhui, when he was horrified to see a huge grey mist shrouded figure with pointed ears, long legs and finger-like talons on its feet. He did not stay for a closer look.

It may also be linked to other mountainous regions of the world. Another noteworthy possibility is that in view of the vast variety of unexplained phenomena reported from Ben MacDhui over the years, could this mountain be a “window” area; an interface between different dimensions or alternate worlds? If so, there is a good chance that such a significant portal would have a guardian, to deter would-be intruders or trespassers. Is it just coincidence that this is the precise effect so successfully demonstrated by Ben MacDhui’s sinister Big Grey Man?