I met a pal yesterday from my days at RAF Leuchars Mountain Rescue Team who was celebrating his 50 th birthday Tommy Pilling.
He joined the RAF Leuchars MRT as a young lad in 1988. Now Tommy like me when he joined looked about 12 yet he proved he was made of the right stuff.
Tommy was new to the Scottish hills but loved them and was typical of those young folk who joined the RAF Mountain Rescue Team .
As in my early days if they stayed in the team they gave you everything and it was a huge honour to work with them. It was in the main a young team at RAF Leuchars in Fife but what a strong team they became.
They were my first team as Team Leader and they never let me down. It would be great to meet Tommy again after all these years.
I had left early mainly to see a wonderful memorial to my mate Tom Jones who passed away last year. On the way I saw red squirrels, young deer and buzzards the rain of the last few days had stopped at last the land and forests were looking so green.
Carrbridge was busy even early in the morning . I located the carving It is an incredible piece next to the village hall in Carrbridge.
This is where Tom lived and became a big part of the local community with his family.
I enjoyed seeing it spending time and met some folk from Caithness we had a bleather about Tom.
To me this carving was a wonderful tribute to a special pal. Tom was one of the inspirations for the wood carving festival held every year in the village. It is now the biggest in the Uk and Tom loved it, the area and its people.
Tom worked for many years as an Outdoor Activities instructor at nearby Grantown on Spey and abroad. The carving is from a tree that was being cut down and the local Community decided that they would carve it as a tribute to Tom, it is a powerful piece to a man we all miss.
The family love it and in the early morning sun it was a powerful and moving place to be. The birds were singing it was the right place to be.
I arrived at Cairngorm car park early to meet Tommy and Mandy. She had sorted a weekend away to Aviemore for them from Huddersfield and they invited me to have a day on the hill.
Tommy had wanted Mandy to climb her first Munro Cairngorm.
They had a good day on Meall a’ Buachaile the day before so we met at the car park. It was a great walk up to Cairngorm in good weather.
It was perfect walking weather and we chatted all the way. Mandy enjoyed it and I then took them round the plateau away from the crowds.
We were soon of the path and into the space that makes this place unique. I told Mandy that these were places we had searched in wild days on call outs. It can be an awful place at night in winter in bad weather. Today out of the wind it was benign and beautiful. There were still snow patches about .
Tommy told me that I took him out on the 4 Cairngorm tops on his first day on the team in 1988. He was so happy he completed it and he hung in on a big day in the hills. After that he never looked back in the team got fit and loved the mountains after that. We spoke about the Alps a Rescue on Mt Blanc of two skiers in a crevasse the Pyrenees all a blur in these days as we went from one story to another.
We wandered round old haunts enjoyed the views the wild life and no folk about. We visited the old snow hole sights looked down to Loch Avon marvelled at the space and wonderful rock formations. The huge cliffs and skies today darkened but we stayed away from the rain and were sheltered from the wind.
It was a lovely day we chatted and I told Mandy about a few of our adventures with Tommy in our days with the team.
These were sometimes hard days big searches call outs and of course Lockerbie. Tommy like others had only been with the team for a few months but like the rest was a stalwart despite his youth.
He told me about an epic on the climb “Savage Slit” in late December with Mark Richford with the team. This was the Christmas period a few days after Lockerbie.
He remembers it as a hard day running on empty coming across the plateau. This was after a hard day on the route in poor weather. He spoke of taking ages to get the gear out of the cracks, freezing hands and running on empty.
On the same day I went out to Macdui and Derry Cairngorm with my dog running alone to clear my head. I had a radio with me and spoke to Tommy who was having “fun”on the climb. I was in my own world that day trying to make sense of the tragedy of Lockerbie. It all came back when we spoke and I was then fit and in my prime.
It was great to hear him chat and speak about this wild day, one he and I would never forget.
It’s amazing looking back the effect the Mountain Rescue had on these young folk. They put so much into it and we ended up being a real family. They became like my sons and daughters and what a bond we still have.
Before Tommy and Mandy arrived I met the RAF Lossiemouth MRT in the car park out for a day on the hills. I had a catch up with Mark the Team Leader it’s great to see the teams still out doing it.
“The mountains give you this unique bond and it remains with you for life.”
We headed back down Mandy had loved the day and enjoyed seeing a little part of this incredible place and it’s wildness and space.
We then went for a coffee at Rothiemurcus and I said goodbye heading home what a day. On the way home I stopped to see Toms wife Alyson and Chris in Carrbridge. We had a great catch up and I wanted to say how much I loved seeing the Carving. There were so many stories of that unique man Tom Jones. We had a laugh and a cry but it was so needed. Then I headed home to see the football.
Sadly I heard on the hill that a pal is missing in the Himalayas Martin Moran. Martin is a good pal I have known for many years. I served with him on the Torridon Team. He is a Mountain Guide and another incredible man.
I pray he and his group are okay. Martin is a good pal and we often bump into each other on the hill. I have known him for many years since he was the first to climb all the Munros in winter on one trip.
These mountains can bring you such joy but also great sadness .