Ardgour – Garbh Bheinn – A past visit to Alan Grouts Memorial.

Ardgour  is special place and has a ferry and if not used a long drive along some wild single track roads, It has no Munros but many great Corbetts and acres of unclimbed rock. Many of the hills are pathless and these are wild hills with a test in bad weather. Access is by the Strontain Ferry just off the A82 Or a long 40 mile drive along single track roads but the views and peace and solitude are exceptional. It is a must visit and I have been often.

It had been my plan for many years to visit Ardgour and visit the memorial to a young RAF Kinloss Team member Alan Grout who was killed whilst rock climbing on these cliffs. The story is a sad one and  vague as it happened over 60 years ago but young Alan was a new team member at the time in 19 August 1956 and it seems that he climbed above the leaders belay and took a big fall. In 1956 there was little gear, no harness, no helmets and protection was very basic. The story is told in Frank Cards book “Whensoever”

He took a big fall according to the book falling 50 – 70 feet and the pendulum meant he sadly hit the rock!  He was killed instantly! The photo below shows gear of the same era on Waterfall Buttress near Slioch and a new severe climbed by the RAF Mountain Rescue Team.  

The team was climbing all over Scotland in these early days many were new climbs for the time.

Whatever happened to Alan it would be a teal tragedy for all concerned especially the family and the RAF Kinloss Team. In 1957 they built a memorial to Alan in this wild corrie, nowadays Memorials are scorned  quite rightly on the hills but  it was the thing to do in that era. For years when I was in the team at RAF Kinloss we visited this wild place and climbed many of the routes in this incredible corrie.  It became a place of pilgrimage for me we often took a wreath from the family. It was also a place to show even the best young climber that mistakes can be made and at times they can be so costly.

Few who arrive here are not impressed with the situation. There are so many climbs about all defended by a usually wet long walk in. The Great Ridge dominates the corrie and is the classic as is Pinnacle Ridge, Great Gully and many more incredible rock climbs. There are acres of cliffs and gullies and this is wild Corrie and one of the finest in Scotland for rock scenery.

I was going to go myself into Garbh Bheinn no one else was available but felt I had to go and visit the Memorial. I had been there on the 50 th Anniversary in 2006 with Jimmy Coates another Team member. The RAF Kinloss Mountain Rescue Team is now sadly gone but there is still a RAF team at Lossiemouth and I managed to get my old mate Dan Carrol to come with me. Dan was a former RAF Kinloss/ Leuchars and St Athan Team Leader and I was glad of such great the company. We had talked about it in the past and as I have a small operation on Thursday the only day we were free was Monday and he wanted to come. It was a long 3 hour drive across to Ardgour and the short Ferry crossing from the Corran Ferry was incredible it was a blue sky day, hot even at 0600 in the morning and there was a wind so no midges. This wee ferry takes you into another land Ardgour is some place that few realise missing this area out for the big hills of Glencoe and Ben Nevis.

Argour is such a wonderful place and the ferry makes it special and the views of these hills are superb. These are really rough wild mountains, there are few paths and the hills are covered in rock and steep ground and days on these hills are precious and few venture in. We parked at the old road and the very wet and boggy path takes you into Coire an lubhair it was hard going and so warm today. This is some walk in and I found it really hard going, we had taken some rock climbing gear with us which did not help as we maybe fancied a climb after our visit to the memorial. The memorial used to be marked on the map but we had to use our battered memories to remember where it was. Off the path it was hard going no path and real rough ground but we found it and what a situation it is in. It is on the top of a small buttress and looking spectacular in the sun.

Dan was well ahead by now but I stopped to take photos and the memorial on the top of the small crag that glistened in the sun. It has a wonderful backdrop of huge cliffs and buttress it was a long 2 hour walk in the heat. The memorial was in great condition for 60 years old and we had a great break here. It was strange but we thought of what may have happened here. The accident must have been awful for all concerned, no phones in these days and someone going for help, then the long evacuation by your pals so many sad questions. My thoughts were with the poor family and the loss of a young life so many years ago. This was a tragedy that would affect many for the rest of their lives a tragedy.  I suppose as Team Leaders it had always been in our thoughts how would we have dealt with and accident like this to our team and we had a few near misses in our 30 odd years. We spent some special time here and decided that time was moving on we wandered up into the corrie. We had not enough time to climb and it was a day to relax and enjoy this stunning place I have always wonder why was the memorial is in this place well off the path and rarely visited?

I was feeling a bit rough the sun and my neck injury hurting and sore so it was the right move to enjoy this place and not climb. We would have had a rush and long day that I would have struggled with. Dan as always was fine about it.  There was no one around just so many memories of many ascents of this fine cliff and opening new team member’s eyes to this wild place. There were some good past winter ascents; grand climbs a few epics and always the pilgrimage to the Memorial and the thoughts of why we climb. It is also at times the consequence of a mistake and the long-term effect on the family and those involved?

Dan took the rock gear off me (he is still a bairn even at his age) and we had a long wander back stopping and drinking, lots from the river. It was great cooling down and enjoying the views and I had feeling a bit dizzy at times until I drunk more fluid and then it was okay. It was the effect of the sun was battering down all morning it must have been about 25 degrees. Time was moving on and we were soon back at the car and then the Ferry back to the mainland.

It was so warm the sea so flat calm and a quick visit to see Sue at Onich and coffee at Crafts and Things in the Coe and then the long drive home. It was great weather the hills were sparkling and what an incredible day we had. No summits but a lot of reflection, thanks Dan for the company and understanding on this special place and looking after me on a wonderful day.

The Memorial is at NM 9097962798 and worth a look it is some wild place to visit.There are some great rock  routes here and the Corbett is a magnificent mountain. My mind still goes back to the family who lost Alan a young man on these wild cliffs. For years we took flowers up for his mother and then climbed some of these great routes. I always think of Alan’s family when I visit this mountain.

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 Articles, Books, Corbetts, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Mountaineering, Recomended books and Guides, Views Mountaineering, Well being. Bookmark the permalink.

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