Clavie night – great weather and an incredible tradition. A few tales of a dog and a phone down the loo!

Last night my wee village was busy I had a few pals overs as it was Clavie Night.

It’s a great night we had fun the weather was perfect with a full moon the village was mobbed.

Photo Al Swadel

As usual my wee house was busy with a few visitors and a dog. Sadly the dog left me a message in my wee office ! Enough said. You know who you are Coll! I blame the owners he also kept me awake and I had to dog sit him during the wee small hours.

We also had a visit from Drummond who arrived on his bike scaring us at the door.

The Drummond.

The we had another visitor who at the end of the evening she left and called in the morning she was missing her phone. Funny enough the loo stopped flushing and the rest was a reminder of my days on Everest clearing poo as my job as Bass Camp Manager. My Rescue skills recovered the phone and Dia —- was informed next day. My bill is in the post.

In all an interesting but smelly night. Great to see old pals and have a laugh. The Clavie of 2020 will go down in my memory forever. Will the phone or my carpets recover? Going for a nap now.

Did Drummond get home?

The Clavie – what is it all about ?

Thousands are attracted to the Broch for the annual event, which sees a tar-soaked barrel set alight and paraded around the streets to ward off evil spirits for the year ahead.The flaming spectacle of January 11 is led by Clavie King Dan Ralph and the local men who make up the Clavie Crew.

At exactly 6pm a burning peat will be used to light the Clavie before it is heaved onto the shoulders of crew members and marched around the town. Smouldering staves are handed out to householders and local publicans along the way and tradition has it that possession of a piece of the burning Clavie brings good luck during the coming year.

The Clavie’s final resting place is atop the altar of the old Pictish fort at Doorie Hill, where the fire is fuelled sending burning embers into the night.Mr Ralph said everything is now ready for the January 11 celebration.

“The barrel is actually made and the Clavie will be put together on Tuesday night. Then on Wednesday, it will be lit at the Old Manse Dyke on Granary Street at 6pm and we’ll be off.”Condemned in the eighteenth century as “an abominable heathenish practice”, Brochers continue to observe the ritual every January 11.

The Ritual

The event takes place on the night of January 11 (the original Hogmanay before the calendar changed in 1660). The “Clavie” is a half barrel filled with wood shavings and tar. In the past, it would have been a herring barrel. Today, iron-hooped whisky barrels daubed with creosote are used. The barrel is nailed onto a carrying post – the same nail is ritually used every year – which is hoisted onto the shoulders of a local villager.

The clavie is then lit, traditionally by a peat from the hearth of an old Burghead Provost and from there carried by the elected Clavie King Each of the ten or so men (traditionally fishermen) take it in turn to carry the burning clavie clockwise around the streets of Burghead, occasionally stopping at the houses of former eminent citizens to present a smouldering faggot of the clavie in the doorway to bring the household good luck for the year ahead.

The men proceed to the stone altar of an old fort on the ancient Doorie Hill, the clavie is set down here and more fuel is added until the hillside is ablaze with a beacon of fire.

Al Swadel Photo

When the Clavie falls to the ground, it is the official start of the Burghead New Year. The flaming embers are snatched up by onlookers and used to kindle a special New Year fire at home, kept for luck or are even sent to relations or friends who have moved away from Burghead.


As well as drawing comparisons with the Celtic festival of Samhain, various theories link its origins to the Picts (there was once a Pictish fort at Burghead) and the Romans. The word Clavie may have originated from the Latin Clavus meaning “nail” and it is speculated that the fort at Doorie Hill may have been an ancient Roman altar. However, contrary views suggest that there is not enough evidence to prove that the Romans came this far North. The festival also has many similarities with ancient Norse culture.

Whatever the origins, the practice of Clavie burning probably took place at many villages in the North East centuries ago, but was not always tolerated by the powers-that-be. It was condemned by the strict presbyterian establishment as “superstitious, idolatrous and sinfule, an abominable heathenish practice”. In 1704 a law was passed against Clavies. But the ritual practice of Clavie burning still continues each January 11th…


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A thoughtful short walk in the Cairngorms.

Yesterday I managed a short wander into the Corrie of the snows in the Cairngorms. Sorry but I needed a day on my own after losing my pal Ian from Crainlarich. Normally at this time of year the ski resort is busy especially on a beautiful day like yesterday. Sadly this year there is a lack of snow and the car park was empty. Most will know of the problems with the train on the mountain it is still out of service and is a great loss in the area to visitors.

There were mainly Mountaineering folk about plenty of Glenmore Lodge transport and a beautiful day blue skies and no wind. I had to get things done and just arrived at midday. The path into the Corrie was icy in places and I met a few visitors slipping about on the path. It was a slow wander in meeting a few folk and the Corrie was very bare but beautiful.

There is something about this place that I know so well yet it never ceases to amaze me. The wildness just 30 minutes from the car park takes you into another world.

Gary Smith author of Scotland’s Winter Mountains with one axe.

Sadly I still have an awful cough and chest but I just have to take it easy and its great to stop and take it all in. The no wind makes things wonderful and I passed a group getting lots of information in the area what a day to be out. I enjoy not to be rushing these days are gone and I met Garry Smith who has written a wonderful book Scotland’s Mountains with one Axe. I loved it and wrote to him in the past saying how much I loved this book. We had many years ago a list of easy gullies and climbs that you could do in the team. It was a great and took you to so many wonderful places.

Gary’s Book does this and gives you some great ideas. He wandered in with me to the lochans and we had a great chat. He is up Guiding and having a look of what available in the Corries.

In the Coire we could see folk in a few of the gullies the snow was sparse and most of the buttress’s black yet there was ice forming and its was good to see folk out. The Runnel, Central Gully, Alladins and a few others had teams in them. Its worth being aware of loose rock when conditions are so thin. I had a break at the Stretcher box and heard the ice starting to form on the lochans and the groaning of the ice as it moves about. Its still a great place to be and what snow was about was rock hard and the groups were doing what they could. There was lots of ice in the flat ice area which is a safe place to use crampons and gain the basic skills. I left the groups on the snow and walked round the lochan marvelling at the ice in the loch and the shopes.

I headed back the sun was setting and it was a stunning walk out taking care on the path and the ice. I was soon down and stopped at Loch Morlich to a bonnie view then a pop into Aviemore to see my pal Ray Sunshine Sefton and Mytrle for a catch up. It was then home in the dark with the temperature dropping rapidly.

A great book an unassuming cover.
Posted in Books, Enviroment, Friends, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Mountaineering, Views Mountaineering, Weather, Well being | Leave a comment

Kegworth – Aircrash- " lest we forget." Three weeks after Lockerbie in January 8 th 1989

A friend Steve Roberts wrote this and it worth remembering. Thank you Steve.

“Deepest respect and condolences to the relatives of the Boeing passenger jet which went down in Iran. Yet we must not forget the Kegworth Air Disaster – on this night in 1989. We were all invincible and most of us had been at Lockerbie too. This was 3 weeks before.

The shots in the fuselage include troops – Pete Winn, Hank Marvin, Kev Turvey, Johnny Musgrave, Steve Roberts .

What a night that was, never forgotten. “

Ropes used to stop wreckage moving.

The great thing was that that night they saved lives. Sadly at Lockerbie there were no lives to save.

Thanks to Steve for reminding us of this tragedy the RAF MRT from Stafford and Leeming MRT we’re on scene. They helped move the casualties from inside the fuselage. They also used ropes to stop the wreckage from sliding of the embankment.

The Kegworth air disaster occurred when British Midland Flight 92, a Boeing 737-400, crashed onto the motorway embankment between the M1 motorway and A453 road near Kegworth, Leicestershire, England, while attempting to make an emergency landing at East Midlands Airport on 8 January 1989.Flight origin: London Heathrow on board were 118 Passengers and 8 crew.

Of the 126 people aboard, 47 died and 74 sustained serious injuries. The Rescue services and others saved many lives. One can only think of all those involved and what a superb job they did in extreme circumstances. Thank you all as always little was said about what the Teams and Rescue Agencies did. Sadly Stafford RAF Mountain Rescue team is now gone but RAF Leeming is still very active.. My thoughts are with everyone involved.

Kegworth – Note the ropes.

You wonder how the modern media would handle such a tragedy. Most of the Teams involved were very young folk and yet they did what they could and it amazing that this happend just over 3 weeks after Lockerbie where both Teams were involved. What they did those who were there or involved will never forget.

How it effected them and their families is another story. Thinking of you all.

Posted in Aircraft incidents, Lockerbie, medical, PTSD, Well being | Leave a comment

More sad news Ian Ramsay the big hearted Policeman from Crainlarich has passed away.

Sadly a great friend of Mountain Rescue Ian Ramsay passed away last week. The funeral details are below .

Many in RAF MRT will have known Ian Ramsay he was the local Policeman at Crianlarich and a great local Policeman and a past member of Killin MRT. Ian was badly injured in the Wessex helicopter crash on Ben More in Feb 1987. He and the RAF winch-man Mick Anderson were badly injured. His colleague The Killin Team Leader Harry Lawrie was killed that day. It was a day those who were there will never forget. Ian became a great friend of the RAF Mountain Rescue Teams and SARDA over the years.

Funeral notice at the request of his family.

Ian Ramsay, Photo Killin MRT

Joseph “Ian” Ramsay passed away peacefully, on the 2nd January 2020, in Queen Elizabeth University Hospital. Beloved husband of Irene, much loved dad to Graeme and Fiona and loving papa to Laura and Eva.

The funeral service will be held on Monday 13th January 2020, at 11am, in Killin Parish Church and thereafter to Killin Cemetery.

All family and friends are warmly invited.

Family flowers only, donations if desired to Killin Mountain Rescue.

For any further information please contact Ross Anderson at Andrew Anderson & Sons, Callander 01877 330398

Ian and Bill Rose Killin MRT

Posted in Aircraft incidents, Friends, Local area and events to see, Mountaineering, Views Mountaineering | 5 Comments

Always Think Safety are you prepared for that simple slip that can make your day a bit more than you thought?

As the winter is mild and the winds are up its worth looking at a simple winter walk one day only 3 kilometres from the road that ended up a very interesting day.

Most of us when we go out rarely think of what we would do in the event of an accident to our party. How many talk about what would you do if this occurred. Many have a vision of a phone call to the Police and a helicopter emerges in a few minutes and plucks you from the hill to a place of safety. Thankfully this often happens but at times the phone reception is poor, the helicopter is on another task and you will have to wait for the local rescue team to assist. If you are in a remote area this can take take lots of time. Even in a busy area like the Northern Corries you may be waiting a while. This incident was in Corrie an – t Sneachda a few years ago when a walker broke her ankle after a simple slip. It was a typical winter day. The path was very icy in the walk in, it was gusting 30 – 40 mph, and when crossing the frozen river she fell and broke her ankle. It was a pure accident and can happen to anyone.

Coire an – t Sneachda – Flag marks the spot. less than 3 ks from the road.

Snow was coming and going and though Corrie Sneachda is only 45 – 60 minutes from the road things can quickly develop. The weather came in as it does we had called the helicopter as it was in the area.

Bivy Bag in action.

These photos show how easy things change. Within a few minutes the Casualty was cold and shocked as you can see there was little shelter. No matter how fit you are the shock of an injury can and does hit you very quickly. It is amazing how quickly you can become immobilised and this is winter where even with today’s kit hypothermia hits quickly. It was just before the big boulder field as you approach the cliffs and the lochans not far from the road. Even though we called the helicopter and we notified Cairngorm MRT we sent a couple of troops to go back to our wagon and bring a lightweight stretcher, this was as a back up. Past experience had shown that the helicopter may not get in as the winds were pretty gusty here.


Great news or so we think!

We get sorted the Casualty out the wind, treated and in bivy and bothy bag. It should be simple now as the helicopter on its way. Despite the Casualty having a lot of gear we had to give her more and put a troop in with her in the bothy bag to keep her warm (great gear)

Cloud now in and we have to get her out.

The weather comes in again the Helicopter has tried to get in we hear it but quite rightly is not coming. We have the news confirmned that its too windy and added with the not viable. Our quick stretcher nearly with us they have done us proud and we have diverted a few troops who are climbing nearby and we have enough to evacuate. We have been with her for about about an hour.

This is the weather as we move her out.

Few folk realise how hard it is to carry a stretcher especially in winter its not easy and need lots of man/women power. Even the short distance from the Corrie to the road in crampons is hard work but at least you keep warm. The path is covered by snow and ice. If you tried to do a Health and Safety Assessment of this and the Risks of a trip or fall it would make you think?

Even a short distance is hard work.

I have just found these photos and it shows how quickly it can all change. Accidents happen and this was one of our own a Controller from the ARCC that wanted to see what we did at weekend. She was a good lass and it was unfortunate that happened. The Controllers in these days sent the helicopters to assist the Police, Ambulance, Mountain Rescue Teams , Coastguards etc. We had a policy in the military to show them what the conditions could be like hence the wander into the Corrie. There was a lot of learning that day. It easy to sit in a warm Control Room and forget what those do in the front line.

This was a short carry off imagine one in winter from Loch Avon or up North where I have stretcher carried for over 6 hours all night. Your day out could be a bit longer than you thought!


A few points – Its worth looking at a plan if it goes wrong on a day out.

Make sure someone knows where you are going. Carry some extra gear share the weight a bothy bag is an essential in winter as is a small medical kit. Make sure you can navigate carry a map and compass and know how to use them. Carry a phone and back up battery know there limitations. Make sure your torch is serviceable. Talk over what you would do if someone has a problem.

Comments welcome.

Posted in Articles, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Mountaineering, Scottish winter climbing., Views Mountaineering, Weather, Well being | 2 Comments

1983 Canada Ice – the dream ice climbing venue. Koflachs boots, wooden ice axes, and basic ice screws.

Foot Fangs

As we wait for winter to come back my mind goes back to some great winter days and a special trip to Canada. I have so many wonderful memories of Canada and the Rockies from my early trip in 1983 when there were under 100 ice climbs there. My great friends Mark “Cheeky” Sinclair and Tom MacDonald had read Bugs MacKeith’s articles about ice climbing in the Canadian Rockies. It was I think in the SMC Journal and Bugs an expatriate Scottish climber who was living in Canada had written such an article we had to go. He told tales of huge ice falls many unclimbed, few climbers and of adventures on the ice. There was also some tales of incredible climbing taking ice climbing to a new level and so much scope for new climbing. They never mentioned the boldness of the climbing and massive Abseils of cliffs that have rarely in situ gear.

We were hooked and I spent 5 weeks on the best trip of my life in Canada in late February and  March 1983.  It was a group of six of us that went some top guys like Tom Mac Donald, Mark  Cheeky Sinclair and Pete Kay a bear of a man from down South in North Wales, Mark Ritchford  a young gun and a baby pilot from New Zealand at RAF Valley , Malcolm Taylor what a crew.

None of us had ever been to Canada and a winter trip was a very serious event. The flight over was exciting we wore everything as we had so much gear, we took the same as we climbed in in Scotland.  We hired a car nothing like the hire car nowadays as cash was tight. It was through “Rent a Wreck” real name and could not take 6 of us and gear in one go. It was all we could afford but did the job just. Three headed to Canmore our base near Banff in the Rockies about 2 hours away and three of us went and shopped for food and then hit the city Calagary but that is another story!  We had no clue it was a 5 hour return journey in mid- winter. Eventually we all arrived at the Alpine Club Hut at Canmore where we based ourselves for the first week. Money was tight for us all we lived frugally.

This was the ideal place to be and it became our Base for the whole trip as we moved about the key areas, rarely seeing anyone. We had the only guide a simple guide-book with a few routes in it.

This was the drawing that gave us the dream that took us to Canada by Bugs McKeith

We were lucky as staying in the hut was a young climber Guy Lacelle and Chic Scott little did we know how well-known and how incredible people we had met. As I said before there was little known about ice climbing and only a few climbers about Guy and Chic gave us so much information in these early days there were few fixed belays.

Scary belay !

There was a lovely place nearby called Grotto Falls and The Junkyard in Canmore we started a shakedown there. Tom and Cheeky had climbed some of the hardest winter climbs in Scotland a good few grade 5 climbs. I was a far more modest climber enjoying grade 3/4 and struggling on the harder grades. I had climbed lead things like the Mirror Direct in the Cairngorms, Green Gully and Comb Gully on Ben Nevis. They were like the introductory pitches on most routes it was frightening.  We were astonished at the steepness of the ice and the lack of protection we had in the way of ice gear. We carried 4 screws each and had little faith in them.   We had to buy some snargs after the first week on my Access card which I had just got and saved our trip financially.

At Grotto Falls

Next day we drove to Banff  for Rogan’s Gully  and Cascade Falls is a beautiful 300 metre grade 3 ice climb that probably sees the most ascents of any climb in the Rockies (when it’s in shape). It was a great introduction to ice climbing and the dangers of climbing in the Rockies, where the fear of avalanches is extremely serious.  Both routes were an interesting day and we were learning all the time. Descent is by abseiled points and abseils were off trees or ice screws, or ice bollards. There were few fixed belays it made one think and after two days climbing we had to have a rethink as we were running out of abseil tat ! We bought some hollow tubing that was recommended to abseil off later and had some scares watching it bend as we abseiled off, I was first to go as at that time was the lightest.

We had bought the wrong type of piping Guy put us right. We were also not abseiling with a back – up knot. We were very naïve then, I still have nightmares thinking of these abseils on frozen ropes and multi pitch abseils often in the dark. We knew little about ice belays and the Abolokov thread was un heard of. How things change.

The Abalakov thread, or V-Thread, is an ice protection device named after its innovator, Soviet climber Vitaly Abalakov. The Abalakov thread is a common method of protecting oneself while ice climbing because it is easy to create, does not require the sacrifice of expensive gear, and can be very safe when used properly. An Abalakov thread is often used in multi-pitch ice climbing routes. Because of its safety and convenience, the Abalakov thread is considered one of the most significant innovations in ice climbing. It significantly expanded the scope of possible routes and abseiling safety.

Abolokov with back – up early attempt.
Tom and his Foot Fangs.

We felt we were now ready to climb some harder routes and after some advice from Chic Scott and Guy  Lacelle we headed to Louise Falls a classic grade 4 climb near the magnificent Château at Lake Louise, this was the first of the steeper lines we climbed and gear was very simple then. We climbed with Chouinard Zero axes and humming bird and a couple of Chacals and even a what a great noise they made on sticky ice. We also used “Terrors” and carried a spare axe in case one broke in the cold, we climbed in some very low temperatures -20 to – 35.

This was our car that held 6 plus gear – we would climb in different areas. Mount Kidd Falls

As I said we only had a few ice screws about 4 per pair and they were hard work on the steep ice, nowadays you have possibly 12 screws per route and they are so easy to use. There were few in situ belays we had taken pegs but they were of little use and ran out of tat to abseil off.

The Abseils were pretty scary at first!

On our feet we had the Classic Salewa Crampons, the Chouinard crampons and Tom had a pair of the new Footfangs crampons.  We climbed every day one car 3 pairs all heading off in different areas, long wait in – 20 for lift tired but we got about. Most days were 12 hour days. Every weekend we headed back to the Alpine Hut at Canmore and partied but that is another story.  We met many famous climber the late Bill March and Rusty Bale so many others.

Mountain Route Mount Kidd Falls

We visited so many routes and had so much fun meeting few climbers on route ending up on the Weeping Wall and two of our team did an ascent of the classic Polar Circus in a day, pretty rare then. They also climbed a new route Sacre Bleau with Guy Lacelle who went on to become one of the best ice climbers in the World. I loved Canada and visited many times the last in 2011 how it’s changed. There are so many routes now it’s very busy but will always be a special place in my heart. Maybe get back and get a route in again before my 70 th birthday. I still have contacts in Canada. 

Louse Falls

It was a great bonus that first trip and led the way to so many trips by pals and helped push the climbing standards of many in RAF Mountain Rescue. It enabled me to climb some great routes back home even with my abilities.   To be on Ice that could take ice screws and that may hold a falling climber took a bit of getting used to.

It was a huge learning curb but what a place to learn! We had also invested in the new plastic boots Koflacks and they saved the day on a few occasions in the extreme cold. They were in the early days a white moulded plastic boots with felt inners an incredible improvement on all previous boots.

Polar Falls

Plastic boots came upon the mountaineering world like a rash in the late 1970’s and within a couple of years just about everybody had a pair. Scottish bog trotters said it was the first time they’d had dry feet for a hundred years, Himalayan climbers didn’t get frostbite and boot polish dried up in the tin – redundant. Unfortunately, there was a down side – condensation made your feet look like wrinkled prunes with blisters popping up on each wrinkle! Blisters appeared round the ankle where the boot top rubbed and if water did get in, it couldn’t get out. Some folk loved them, others hated them, but as if by magic, they almost totally disappeared from the scene sometime in the late 1990’s. Koflach were one of the main producers back in the 70’s, using technology gleaned from making ski boots and we’ve got a prime example of their ‘Ultras’ here in the collection. They were probably the most prolific boot on the market at the time. The locals at the time could not believe the temperatures we climbed in as the colder it got the more brittle the ice became. We learned so much and loved Canada and its people, so much I did 4 other trips, yet nothing was like that first trip.

Routes climbed on the first trip – Canmore Junkyard, Rogan’s Gully, Cascade,  Grotto Falls, His, Hers, Chantilly Falls, Louise Falls, Professor’s Fall, Takewaka and Whiteman Falls, Mt Kidd Falls, A Bridge to Far, Bow Falls, Grotto Falls, Silk Tassel,  Massey’s, Pilsners Pillar, Guinness Gully, Carlsberg Column,  Bourgeau  Snivelling Gully, Panther Falls, Weeping Wall, Right, Central and Left,  Polar Circus. “Sacre Bleau” a new route.

Weeping Wall

I must get the old slides scanned any idea of the best bit of kit to do it? Mine is out of date. In memory of Mark Sinclair and Guy Lacelle taken too soon. Mark took me up some great routes and Guy climbed unroped beside me at times, the best of the best. Tom Mac I will never forget our fun on Carlsberg Column thanks mate.

I wonder what the young guns wood think of our gear wooden axes and basic ice screws when they run up the routes?

Big thanks to Tom MacDonald for giving me the trip of a lifetime – Guinness Gully and the Stout climbed with Mark Sinclair was one of many great climbs. Thank you all.

Posted in Articles, Expeditions - Alaska - Himalayas etc, Family, mountain safety, Mountaineering, Scottish winter climbing., Views Mountaineering, Weather, Well being | 3 Comments

Dog Tales part 8 – the final chapter – you may need a hanky?

Part 8  – Tragedy – Just before we left Leuchars Kinloss Heavy’s great mate Al Macleod was killed whilst soling the North Face of the Matterhorn. The team was going out to Braemar for the weekend when the Police stopped the convoy and Heavy had to go to the phone and get the sad news. When we arrived Heavy at the village Hall he told the team Al was a big mate of mine as well and we had done some great days together especially after long hill days. He was leaving the RAF and had worked for Heavy for the last few months he was in the RAF as full time in the Leuchars MRT. He was an incredible mountaineer and man. Always smiling the women loved him, that evening after he told the team Heavy went to see Al folks. He took me as we had been before Al had taken us a few times when we were at Kinloss. I came in the house and Al’s family asked me in. I heard all the sad news, I loved Al as I was one of the few who could keep up with him after our sneaky days out. Al’s family lived in Blairgowerie and Heavy organised the funeral, it was an awful time. Al as many do had no Insurance in the Alps for climbing and a great officer who was with Heavy pulled the strings to get Al Home. The Team had a Wake at Leuchars where many came from all over it was a very sad night.

We left the troops early to celebrate Al’s life; Heavy had a hard time explaining to young Yvette that Al had been killed as just before he had left he had signed her autograph book before he went.   Most of the team had thought they were indestructible and invincible and this was a huge shock to them and the system. Al had been the man Heavy called after Lockerbie it hit us both very hard; running on the hill was never the same again without my big mate.  I was getting a bit older now and starting to slow down. I was finding how hard this mountain life can be.  We had only a few months to get ready for our move to RAF Kinloss this was Heavy’s dream posting.

Now it was not till late October 1990 that we moved to RAF Kinloss in Morayshire and it was hard leaving the troops. Heavy was taking over as the Mountain Rescue Team Leader of the Kinloss Team. We had a great farewell party at the Kingshouse Hotel in Glencoe. Amazingly the lassies were invited to it so we had a real party. It was a special night in the Hotel with Big Ian Nicholson the “mine host” looking after us. While Heavy was in the Hotel I was camping outside with some of the troops but it was a great night. The helicopter popped in and nearly took the tents out. After that it was a move to Kinloss. Now before in our moves it had been easy box stuff up and head off, now with the family it was so difficult. Old friends John and Mary helped and we had moved into a lovely rented house at Rafford till Heavy and Vicky found a house. I was in the last of 3 long journeys from Leuchars to Kinloss, it was snowing and very late and we had a full van and me and my mate Clova the cat. It was mayhem as Clova escaped her box in the van and was driving me nuts in the back. There was no room to move for me I was the last thing to leave Leuchars and for a moment thought they were leaving me.

We soon all settled down at the new house at Rafford and Heavy had a different Team at Kinloss to handle. There were many of the” Old and Bold” it took time but I was happy watching the world go by outside the old section at RAF Kinloss and listening to the craic.

 We hoped for a quiet time in the team but there was no chance of that winter. Straight after New Year we had a spate of Call – outs and then a near disaster when the Sea King crashed on the big Corrie on Creagh Meaghaidh. Amazingly no one was killed and the Team was heavily involved and we feared the worst at first. The helicopter was full of the “Old and Bold “from Lochaber MRT and as we flew in to the scene and could not believe that no one was hurt.  We also knew the aircrew and the film crew well that were on board it was a very personal call – out. After everyone was flown away I was on crash guard duties for a few days as both Kinloss and Leuchars MRT shared the crash guard duties. It had to be guarded at night as well so I was at the site for a few days. To see the big helicopter lying on its side was a big shock, but we still flew in and out with the team to replace the troops but not me. I was fed at the site and slept with the troops at the tent. We had a few visitors and then the Investigation Team arrived with the Crash and smash boys and we handed the site over to them. I was glad to get away after a few days.    I had proved my worth as the odd journalist and local climbers arrived for a look. They would see me and think I was a guard dog if only they knew.

Sea King Crash me on crash guard !

The team went back into the normal routine of training and call – outs but Al death had made many think of what they were doing. Al had pushed big routes in the Alps in in the Himalayas just missing out on the summit of Everest by the West Ridge. He had not long returned from Shiviling where he summited and told us that RAF MR  could achieve so much more on a purely RAF MR expedition. Heavy had taken him ice climbing to Canada where they had so much fun and I loved the tales, he would pop by the wee house in Dairsie when he was bouldering nearby and always brighten the day with his tales and huge smile. Life had to go on though and RAF Kinloss  was so busy.

It was straight into winter when we arrived and Heavy ensuring things were done his way caused a few problems but he was looked after by “Man Mountain Dan” his Deputy. The call- outs started straight away and came thick and fast. It was hard winter was I getting older but still the troops dragged me out. Heavy would give me a break on the big searches and the odd day off. The troops wanted me as I was still a good navigator.  The Mountain Rescue section at RAF Kinloss was very old and had holes in the wall and it was even worse in the winter as the now came inside under the war built wooden huts.  It was like an old bothy but what character. We had a few great call – outs in this time. At times where we found several casualties and one a 15 year old boy on the Ben a huge 3 day search was a great result. They were asked if they could keep going sometimes out for day after day the Rescue Teams were buzzing especially after such a long search. We had been away for over a week on call – outs and Heavy asked the team if they would continue and of course they did. This caused lots of problems for the wives and partners who hardly saw their families during this period. I was on the hill exhausted like everyone when the young lad was found. The cheers resounded round the Ben by everyone it was a special moment what a bunch.

Kinloss was a great place to be a slower pace with the Nimrod aircraft and most lunchtime many of the team would have lunch in the MR section and plan their hill day. At the end of the winter on the 30 May a lovely day for weather at lunchtime the phone rang and it was our control that a plane had crashed. It was amazing within 15 minutes we were in a Sea King helicopter heading for the Isle of Harris the weather was magnificent and as we flew so fast it was really busy on the aircraft. Heavy was up front and on the way they had reports of a Shackelton Aircraft with 10 on board had crashed. It was the only bit of mist on the Island as we arrived. It was a mini hell, the safety beacons were all going off and all the crew were dead.  It was like a battlefield again, I was used to it by now as was Heavy and the team. We were there for 4 days it was a sad time, we worked with the Investigation Board and I did crash guard as usual and the team worked so hard. The aircraft had come from the neighbouring Station at Lossiemouth and the tragedy was very raw.

A break at the Controll.

The Kinloss team had been flown in by helicopter, Hercules and a small jet the rest drove the long way.  We flew back ahead of the aircraft bringing the 10 bodies to Lossiemouth and landed in our Hercules aircraft from there. We drove through the station most were out to see their comrades returned but we received a few grateful thanks. It was very like Lockerbie for Heavy but he daren’t say anything, I flew back with the team in the Hercules how many dogs do that, it was very quiet on the way home. It was amazing the difference the way we were treated after we did an aircraft crash. After the Shackelton crash various VIP’s arrived at Kinloss and many were in the office speaking to Heavy. He told them regardless of who they were what a great bunch the teams were and in short sharp words what they did on aircraft crashes. It needed to be done and few realised that and we were under threat of cuts. I was under the desk listening until I yawned or walk out. Senior officers opening the door for an old dog was a great thing to see, the troops loved it and made me a Sergeant on the team nominal role.   

We arrived back to Kinloss and Heavy was busy as always with the media and the reports, it had been a hard few days and a sad welcome to RAF Kinloss. I was getting old by now I was over 10 and as they say had some “paper round” my body was as one would expect beginning to show my age. I was not allowed to jump over fences any more or jump out of the 4 tonner.  I still managed big days though but was very sore at the end of a day. I began to sleep even more not easy as home with Stephen and the cat on my case but I saw a lot more of them. The team had a plane crash just of the Station a Canberra aircraft crashed killing one of the crew but the team were there to help get the other aircrew out with their spinal boards. Heavy was running the Call outs and was on Control most of the time and I stayed with him. Meeting more God’s of Mountain Rescue. The Team had two Search Dogs now and we made friends, they even had a cage made for them to travel in the land rovers!  I still travelled in the landrover and knew when there was a call – out or the weekend Exercise as I would be in the transport waiting. Folk were amazed but I had by now seen it all.

Heavy went away for a long period to the Himalayas and for the first time I stayed at home and was looked after by the family and was I looked after very well, he was away for 7 weeks. When he came back I went out and had a hard winter, the cold really hit me, my joints were very stiff. We had lots of visits to the men in white coats, lots of pills and potions but you cannot stop ageing. I loved our walks with the kids, swimming was great for me and I would be in the sea every day not matter what the weather and still jumping off the rocks into the sea the kids loved it. We often went to Cummingston our local sea cliff and I loved the summer and the sun whilst the kids and team climbed.

Gradually I got worse and as happened my back legs started to fail, I could not get up easily; I was in pain but never showed it. Heavy had to put me in the car and weekends were spent with the cook at Base Camp but it was fun to be with the troops. My last hill day was at Bridge of Orchy we were setting out from the village hall and I got to the railway line and walked back to the bothy. Heavy came back and knew my hill days were over. My last hill was the local Ben Rinnes with the kids and after that it got a lot worse with my arthritis really affecting me.  In the end going to the toilet was not easy and getting up after it was worse, I just lay about and slept a lot more, the pain was worse and I even growled a bit when Heavy lifted me, but it was the pain that made me do it.

My life got pretty bad and there was little to be done, the man in the white coat said so. Heavy did not tell anyone but he did the right thing and we had a great wander down to Cummingston our local sea cliff he carried me down the path to the sea. After that we went to the vets and I had one of the few cuddles from him and then slept dreaming about the hills and all my friends and the kids. I was a proud dog but had lost my dignity and it was definitely the correct thing to do and I was asleep in seconds.

Me and Clova – look at the eyes.

The last thing I saw was Heavy’s tears and all and he had to go tell Vicky, Yvette, Steven and the team. What a life I had, hard but I had seen things and been places where few would ever go. I had met some of the best folk in the World all because I had big paws and a wee man with a big voice.  I had been on the hills since a pup loved every day. I never chased deer or sheep or any animal. I learned how to look after myself on the hill and what a life I had. I had flown in helicopters,  and the Hercules aircraft met so many but more important what a life in the mountains. What people I had met and seen.

Who will look after Heavy now?

What a dog, what a life thanks Teallach that last bit still makes me weep.

Heavy – January 2020

Last Munro An Teallach

Great advice about taking your Dog on the Mountains. In winter especially if your taking your Dog out the dog and you must be capable of looking after your dog. The link below will give you some great tips and a MUST READ for all Dog owners.  Please read it and be safe and have fun.

I would leave the Briefings when I got older and yawn if Heavy was going on!
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