The Big Grey Man of Ben MacDhui – Affleck Gray
Impulse Books – 1970
In 1891, a hiker had a creepy experience while climbing Ben MacDhui, one of the highest mountains in Scotland. He was pottering alone when he heard footsteps approaching him from behind. When he turned around, there was nobody there. He didn’t tell many people until 1925. After this, other climbers who noticed strange happenings while climbing Ben MacDhui came forward. In this book, Affleck Gray, a Scottish mountaineer and historian, collects every single iota of public discussion of the mysterious mountain and the Ferla Mor.
Ferla Mor comes from Fear Liath Mor, Scottish for Big Grey Man (technically “man grey big”). This is the name given to the phenomenon. Apparently people have seen a giant grey man walking around up there. It seems pretty likely that these sightings could have been the Brocken spectre, a spectral phenomenon that makes an observer’s shadow look like a giant. I’ve come across mentions of the Brocken Spectre before when reading books about bigfoot or the yeti, and it definitely could account for visions of a big grey man in the mountains.
It’s not just big shadowy men that people have encountered up this mountain though. Several people have heard creepy music and sinister footsteps. Members of the Aetherius society claimed that the mountain was used as an alien base, and some nutty spiritualists claimed that the Fear Liath Mor was actually a Buddhist master. Is this lad supposed to be a Sasquatch, a ghost, an alien or a what? Another witness claims to have seen a fox walking upright, wearing a top-hat… Yeah. When I said that Affleck Gray collected every iota of discussion of the weird stuff up this mountain, I was serious. I admire the comprehensive nature of this work, but it’s this exact feature of the book that makes it unbelievable. This is a collection of folklore more than anything else. The author never really tries to convince the reader that anything specific is going on, and this is the book’s saving grace.
Some of the chapters feel like filler. There is a big discussion on the possibility of life on other planets that has very little bearing on the rest of the book, and there’s an unreadable chapter on ley-lines. Things get a bit repetitive towards the end of the book too, but it’s fairly short, so it’s not unbearable.
There’s been a few editions of this book. I believe the first one came out in 1970. There is also an ebook available from Birlinn Press.
I’m not convinced that anything particularly weird has happened on this particular mountain. A surprising amount of the book is taken up with discussions on stuff that happened on other mountains. Mountains are weird places though. I think that a mountainside is the perfect place for a person to get a bit freaked out when they’re on their own, and I only wish that I had the opportunity to do so myself. I live fairly close to some mountains, but they’re full of bears and wolves and I’d get eaten within minutes. Ben Macdhui looks like it’s fairly close to Loch Ness and Aleister Crowley’s old house, so I’ll try and get over there once I’ve made my fortune.