Memories of Buchan Mountaineering Club

Few folk will know I was posted to RAF Buchan near Peterhead after getting promoted to Corporal in 1978. It was a small station but very important part of the Cold War. Even though it broke my heart to leave Kinloss and the Mountain Rescue Team I had to take the promotion there was no way to refuse. I was told do your bit and you will get back to Mountain Rescue in a year.

Royal Air Force station Buchan or more simply RAF Buchan is a former Royal Air Force station-near Peterhead in Aberdeenshire. It has been there since 1952, although the domestic site in Boddam is now closed. Until 2005 it was also home of one of the two Control and Reporting Centres for the United Kingdom in the form of twin double storey underground bunkers (R3A). As such it was responsible for coordinating all aspects of air defence as part of The United Kingdom Air Surveillance and Control System (UK ASACS). We had lots of Exercises “Tacevals” this was the Cold War where we played war and most went to the bunker at the end it was awful. My job was to get the rations underground so we survived or a few did while the World had Armageddon. What crazy days these were.

I had just completed a Winter West to East of Scotland in November the previous year and was devastated to be posted away from the Mountain Rescue at Kinloss. I was very fit and strong and would miss the hill. In these days I still did not drive but arranged with my new boss a Warrant Officer Chef Danny he was good to me and let me still go out with the Kinloss MRT Team twice a month. In charge was a an Officer from Personal Services Flight (PSF) a real plonker who hated my attitude and being in Mountain Rescue. Yet my Boss stood up for me he was a good man and looked after me and I looked after him. To get to Kinloss it was a bus to Aberdeen then a train to Forres and taxi to Kinloss all at my expense. At least I was getting out with my mates.

My job was easy at Buchan and I soon had it sorted out. The Station had no Mountaineering Club so I had a meeting and we started one. We got transport from the Station and off we went. There were only 10 interested but we got things going. We had a night climb down at Longaven 4 on a rope exciting stuff but that became a haunt of the club it was pretty serious with the sea and the cliffs. I had used the cliff before with the Kinloss Team for techniques in the past and we had our then yearly techniques weekend here.

Our first mountain trip was to Lochnagar our nearest Munro. The station had a bothy that it looked after mainly used by skiers at Glenshee near Crathie that it looked after for the Miltary Outdoor Activities, sadly it was burnt down a few years later it was a magic place. The first trip out was to our local Munro Lochnagar and it all went well. Then came another weekend on the Glenshee hills. After that we planned a weekend trip to the Cairngorms and climbing Ben Avon and Beinn a’ Bhuird big Munros and a long day. It was still summer and what a summer we had.

We ended up planning some great trips all over the North Of Scotland we had some cracking weekends. The Aultguish Inn with the Fannichs and Beinn Dearg became favourite. Long days and great nights we formed a great wee group and did some really long days. The were a steady group limited hill knowledge, but soon got fit and we had fun. Rod Stoddart, who was at Buchan joined us and became a lifetime friend and joined Mountain Rescue and SARDA serving for many years. We had superb weekends in the North West with An Teallach and the Sheneval 5/6 with long drives back to Buchan getting back in the middle of the night.

The winter was coming so I managed to get a small winter skills week to give some of the Club member’s the basics. We got my old Team Leader Pete McGowan and Tom MacDonald an old pal to come. Now Lochnagar is not an easy place to plan some winter skills and hopefully a few climbs. Yet that winter was a hard winter big snows. We had a bit of an epic with a Cornice on Raeburns Gully with our group as the Cornice was huge. It was a great few days and the club remember learned a lot. They were now ready for some big winter days. I was really pushing the club and they were keen and learnt a lot in these days taking on some epic days.

After this we planned the Four thousand footers 4 in the Cairngorms:

Braeriach, Cairn Toul, (Sgor an Lochaine Uaine), Ben MacDui, Cairngorm. The next day the 4 in Ben Nevis area: Aonach Mor, Aonach Beag, Carn Mor Dearg, Ben Nevis. This was before metric system came in and the Mountains were in Feet. It was a hard weekend though with little sleep and we got back to Buchan again in the wee small hours. A classic two days they all completed it was a great effort the wee club was going well.

Ben Nevis1344m
Ben Macdui1309m
Cairn Toul1291m
Sgor an Lochain Uaine1258m
Cairn Gorm1245m
Aonach Beag (Nevis Range)1234m
Aonach Mor1221m
Carn Mor Dearg1220m

Carn Dearg.

I managed to plan to meet Kinloss MRT one weekend that they were at Breamar and the Sea Kings helicopters had arrived at Lossiemouth. They were wanting to practice troop deployment and we got dropped off on the summit of Ben A Bhuird along with the Kinloss Team. We dropped into the Corrie and 5 of us did a big winter grade 3. It ended up a long day with a huge cornice it took me ages to get over. We did not know that the glens were so full of unconsolidated snow that it was a long walk out. The snow was so deep and it was -10 freezing cold we got back to Invercauld at 0200 really struggling. We were lucky the weather was good with no wind yet one of my group got frost nip. We did nothing next day we were exhausted but what a day. Ray Sefton was the Team Leader of Kinloss at the time and was worried about us we had no contact with them at that time. I learnt a lot that day after breaking the snow on the 4 hour walk off. I had a great two years but it was costly getting out with the team and getting back for work. The Club was great but very hard work but we introduced a few to the mountains and had some great days. Some of the days are listed below.

The Mamore Ridge, The Fannichs, Beinn Dearg Ullapool 5, The North and South Clunnie Kintail, The Affric Munros, Strathfarra Munros, Knoydart, Glendessary and of course our local hills at Lochnagar and Glenshee the odd bivy on the summits and climbs like Curved ridge, Agag’s Groove, Tower Ridge and so many other fun day.

We regularly went to Glencoe and Ben Nevis doing some climbing and long hill days, the club was going well. The other weekends were spent with Kinloss but I found the travelling back to Kinloss hard going. I was out with the team when the Great Blizzards of 1978 struck we were at Fort William. I ended up being away for 7 days helping with the helicopters at Inverness with the team. All the roads were shut and I was dropped back at RAF Buchan at the end by Sea King helicopter. My Boss the plonker from (PSF)met me and told me I was in trouble and was in front of the Station Commander next day at 0900. My Boss Danny told me not to worry as I had told him what was going on and Ray Sefton had sent a signal explaining where I was. Yet here I was getting ready for to see the Station Commander.

I am sitting outside the Station Commanders Office and in my best uniform when in he walks. “What are you doing here” he says? I told him Flt Lt “Plonker” told me you wanted to see me. He went way called me into the office and said a big thank you for all your efforts. I told him that I thought I was getting a bollocking but he laughed and said he would sort it out and he did.

After that the Flt Lt hated me even more and when I applied to go back to a Mountain Rescue Station he stopped it, so I decided to leave the RAF. I told my Dad that I was leaving the RAF and he spoke to George Younger who was my MP in Ayr at the time. Next thing I knew I was posted full – time as Deputy Team Leader at RAF Valley MRT in North Wales much to my amazement. Sir George Younger was also Secretary of State for Defence Ministry of Defence 9 January 1986 – 23 July 1989 friends in high places. Poor Eric Hughes my Officer on the team told me this story and how he had to write a paper on me for George Younger. My Dad never told me what he had done.

Looking back what would have happend if I had a snag on some of these wild days. I learnt so much in these days and looking back we pushed the boat out a bit but we were young and invincible.

Memories from Buchan Mountaineering Club.

About heavywhalley.MBE

Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 37 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 3 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer and loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Bothies, Friends, Mountain rescue, Mountaineering, Munros, Rock Climbing, Views Mountaineering, Well being. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Memories of Buchan Mountaineering Club

  1. Mark Dryden says:

    Heady days for a novice climber at RAF Buchan!! One Saturday in February 1978 and barely 3 months out of basic training I am on my first Munro and first climb on ‘An Socach’ in white out conditions with you. You were always on the go once a Munro bagged then onto the next Munro no time to waste!


    • Great to hear from you how are you doing ?
      These were some days Mark !
      Take care


      • Mark Dryden says:

        Since I last saw you was in 1991 when you were at Innsworth on your cushy job! I got married to Heather a biochemist at Gloucester Royal in 1992, introduced her to some mountains in the UK and Switzerland! I left the service in 1999 after a stint at Fairbourne with Jim Morning. Continued to work in contract catering, semi retired in 2018 to look after my wife who has terminal lung cancer who has been very active until this lockdown. We have plans to go to Altnaharra near Lairg in September would be great to meet up if possible! Have enjoyed reading your blog and the memories of past great mountain days!


      • So sorry to hear that let’s meet up Mark

        My mobile is 07754596740 if you make it up let me know as early as you can?

        Do you have any photos of that period?

        Names of others in the Club?

        Thinking of you

        Take care

        Sent from my iPhone



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