An Old Classic – On Scottish Hills B.H.Humble

This old classic book was returned to me a few years ago by an old pal. I put it way as it was my Dad’s copy that he loved. It had been scribbled on by one of my step kids many years ago . It was given to me by my Dad and was published in 1946. My Dad loved this book as I still do it is full of classic photos and tales by Ben Humble .

The maps in the front piece are superb and the book has a foreword by the mountaineer Geoffrey Winthrop Young. It was just written after the war in 1946. I imagine to entice folk out on the hills and wild places after the horror of war.

Stunning maps !

I love reading these old books the effort to get to the hills in these early days was never easy, the roads poor. There are photos of open air camping/ bivying ( we call it wild camping now and swimming in the lochs now open / wild water swimming) I wonder what Ben would think of the tragic mess left in some places nowadays ?

I was privileged to meet Ben Humble on a few occasions what a character as he was the Mountain Rescue Statistician at the time in the early 70’s. He was a friend of the late John Hinde and the RAF Mountain Rescue Teams. Though profoundly deaf he was such an interesting man full of mischief even at an old age. I have written about him in my blog in the past what a character he was. He was some man and a great friend of Glenmore Lodge where he was well looked after. He was at Kinloss when I completed my Munro’s in the 70’s a great influence on me. John Hinde and myself all took over as Mountain Rescue Statistician in the years after Ben passed away. He was a huge exponent of Mountain Safety and wrote often on the subject.

These old Mountaineering books are incredible and well worth a read. For there era they are a superb insight into another world. I have pride of place on my desk in my wee office it’s a battered copy. Yet it has been read and enjoyed by many. I am so glad I have it back even with the scribbles and I laugh when see it. Some books hold memories that few will understand.

I gave away my copy by Ben of Tramping in Skye another classic it now has a good home in Skye where hopefully others will enjoy reading of another era.Books are a great joy to me as are poems.

I love Mountaineering in Scotland Undiscovered Scotland by W.H.Murray a classic and Hamish MacInnes Call – Out, Hamish’s Mountain Walk and Climbing the Corbetts and many others.

What is your favourite ?

Ben Humble

I was looking through some old photos and found this photo of the late Ben Humble (1903 – 1977) was a prolific author and a noted Scottish climber who was a pioneer of Scottish Mountain Rescue. As a member of the Scottish Mountaineering Club he was very involved in mountain Safety. I went to a couple of his lectures on mountain safety in my early years and they were an eye opener to a young climber. He was the compiler of the Accident Stats  for 30 years for Scotland and could be very critical in his analysis of an accident, especially of English climbers  but I am sure that was part of his sense of humour.   He was also a keen photographer and film maker. During the war he produced several educational films in order to support the war effort. Ben  Humble and was born in Dumbarton in 1903 he loved the Arrochar area and spent much time exploring the hills near his home.. Despite his total deafness he became a dentist, later making advances in Forensic Dentistry.  A biography of his life, “The Voice Of The Hills – The Story Of Ben Humble” was written by his nephew Roy Humble in 1995.

Ben liked the RAF Mountain Rescue Teams and always enjoyed their company. He was treated as a bit of a celebrity by us. He enjoyed taking the micky out of the younger guys especially me. John Hinde another legend at the time was a great friend of Ben and was always ensuring that Ben was looked after. Ben would tell us young lads some great stories especially about remote howffs that he knew that may be worth a visit. Great memories.

It was Skye that Ben loved as a young man he went to Skye with a friend no easy task in these early days. By accident the young men had stumbled upon John Mackenzie – the famous Cuillin mountain guide after whom the peak of Sgurr Mhic Coinnich was named by his climbing partner of many years, Norman Collie. Mackenzie, though born a crofter at Sconser, had climbed every peak in the Cuillin – some for the first time – and had, with Collie and others, pioneered rock-climbing in Skye. It was Mackenzie’s  encouragement, Ben says, that gave them the courage to “leave the road” and embark upon mountaineering. After traversing the Trotternish Ridge and the Quirang, Ben Humble and his pal went to Glen Brittle and climbed Sgurr Alasdair – beginning a love affair with Skye and the Cuillin that would last Humble’s life, and lead in due course to his publication of “The Cuillin of Skye”. That lay more than two decades ahead. What a man. They do not make characters like this any-more.

There is a small plaque at Glenmore Lodge beside the Alpine garden where Ben spent so much time in his later years. it states “In memory of Ben Humble, MBE, who created this Alpine garden in the shadow of the hills he loved so well. A pioneer of mountain rescue in Scotland and for many years a voluntary instructor at Glenmore Lodge – 16-4-77″

This is a precis of a survey of the late Ben Humbles Survey on Mountain Accidents from the period 1925 – 1945 Ben Humble – Incidents 1925 -1945 Total Involved-  106 Fatalities – 45

This is a precis of a survey of the late Ben Humbles Survey on Mountain Accidents from the period 1925 – 1945 . It is an incredible piece of work and shows the early days of Rescue in Scotland when the Scottish Mountaineering Club, climbers and locals were heavily involved in Rescue. It was the norm for climbers to assist in Rescues and at times parties of experienced climbers were sent from Glasgow and Edinburgh on a regular basis.

This is from the final summary:

In pre – war times First aid post were maintained at Glen Brittle, Fort William and Clachaig in Glencoe more than half the accidents in the survey occurred in these areas. The rest were fairly widely dispersed and a reasonable inference from the available statistics  would be that there is little need for post elsewhere?

In the climbing season there are usually sufficient climbers in Glen Brittle to carry out any necessary rescues. As regards Glencoe and Ben Nevis in pre – war times a call for help usually came in to the Glasgow/ Edinburgh officials of the club (Scottish Mountaineering Club) SMC who had the task of getting together the rescue parties!  Ben also states it is good to see that the Fort William folk themselves at last getting to know the mountains which have meant so much to the town. The recently formed Lochaber Mountaineering Club now  a section of the JMCS has already been tested and not found wanting in rescue operations. This allows the Glasgow officials  of the SMC will heave a sigh of relief!  The early days of the foundation of Lochaber MRT. (See my blog 13 August 2013 on the formation of Lochaber MRT.)

Nowadays there will be climbing parties in Glencoe almost every weekend throughout the year. For a Saturday or Sunday search or rescue there need no difficulty to get a party together but for mid-week days it will not be easy, when most people are unable to get away from work. Now that all the younger climbing clubs are co operating and full details of the available transport  and personnel are listed , this difficulty may be overcome?  Imagine the Climbing clubs doing this today and the problems they would face over Insurance etc?

Ben Humble is this Survey has a real go at the press, remember this was written in 1947

” In pre – war times owing chiefly to the sensational way the press treat mountaineering the general public get a warped idea of the sport of mountaineering! He then quotes from an article in the Daily Herald of an incident in Glencoe that was sensationalized beyond all recognition of what really happened!  After this and similar accidents articles and letters would follow condemning climbing as too dangerous! Some even suggested restrictions including the closure of Ben Nevis in winter! (Some things do not change?) Work was done with the press and a saner voice was heard about Mountain Safety, get fit for the hills: then go and enjoy them. Ben stated that the Statistics proved beyond all doubt that it is much safer to be a climber than a pedestrian, a cyclist or a motorist. Ben also states that over half the accidents could have been avoided had those involved taken more precautions  and fitted themselves for the hills?

Ben finished with the fact that in the coming years greater numbers than ever will flock to our hills. He states that it is good that various organisations are offering training in mountain craft and the mountaineering clubs are co – operating. It is hoped that newcomers to our sport will take advantage of these opportunities and that unnecessary hill accidents will be reduced. Education, Education, Education!

The Late Ben Humble with his RAF MRT Tie!

Ben Humble was a true man of vision! So much of this survey is still relevant today! The SMC Journals are a wonderful piece of Scottish Mountaineering History and has some unique articles and it is a huge source of reference. The early days of Mountain Rescue are well documented and it hold the Statistics of Mountain accidents that are invaluable for research and education.  This is the only source of Accident Statistics from the early days as far as I know?

A book about Ben’s Life

The SMC journal is published annually well worth a read, it is due out soon and has so many new climbs and great articles inside.

“The hill-goer’s memories are many and varied, and can never fade: of winter climbing when in the morning the tops are bathed in the rose flush of dawn; of the climb and maybe the hearty labour of step cutting; of gaining the summit and gazing around on a sea of snow-capped peaks sparkling in brilliant sunshine; of the descent and the exhilaration of a long glissade. Memories too of wild stormy days and the fierce joy of battle through the wind, rain, and the mist, and of perfect summers days and bivouacs high up on the mountains.

And the sunsets? After a long day on the hills there comes a pleasing sense of well-being and fitness, and the hill-goer appreciates the more those glorious West Highland sunsets. The lovely peaceful sunsets over Jura from the hills of Knapdale, the stormy sunsets over the mountains of Rum from Mallaig, and above all, the sunsets in Eilean a’Cheò [Skye]. To see the mighty steel blue range of the Cuillin, splintered peaks against a crimson sky, is unutterably splendid.

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 when body slows, loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Books, Enviroment, Friends, Gear, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Mountaineering, SMC/SMT, Views Mountaineering, Well being. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to An Old Classic – On Scottish Hills B.H.Humble

  1. Ken ross says:

    Another “old” book from c. 1939 is
    “Always a little further” by Alistair Borthwick
    Highly recommended

    Liked by 1 person

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