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Am Fear Liath Mòr: A Scottish Terror

A published folklorist, Pollyanna enjoys writing about hidden histories, folk customs, and things that go bump in the night.

Scotland has always called to the adventurer to come and explore, to test oneself against the rugged mountains and admire the breathtaking scenery. The Cairngorms National Park is a popular area of outstanding natural beauty, attracting would-be explorers to come and discover its amazing landscape.

Ben MacDhui is the highest mountain in the Cairngorms, and the second highest in Scotland. The challenges it presents any mountain climber are daunting enough, but there are legends of a creature up there. Legends of "Am Fear Liath Mòr" – The Big Grey Man.

"I was returning from the cairn on the summit in a mist when I began to think I heard something else than merely the noise of my own footsteps. Every few steps I took I heard a crunch, then another crunch as if someone was walking after me but taking steps three or four times the length of my own. I said to myself, 'this is all nonsense'. I listened and heard it again but could see nothing in the mist." [1]

This account was made to the Cairngorm Club in 1925 by renowned scientist and mountain climber, John Norman Collie. 35 years before his chilling recollection, he had been climbing Ben MacDhui, Scotland's second highest peak, alone. Collie had had the terrifying experience of being followed by something near the mountain's summit. Alone and with no way of calling for help, he had nothing to do but make a stand or run for his life.

"As I walked on and the eerie crunch, crunch sounded behind me I was seized with terror and took to my heels, staggering blindly among the bounders for four or five miles nearly down to Rothiemurchus Forest. Whatever you make of it I do not know, but there is something very queer about the top of Ben MacDhui and I will not go back there again by myself I know." [1]

Locals will tell you about the Big Grey Man that wanders the mountains, that he is a tall humanoid with a body covered in short hair. More commonly reported are feelings of being followed, the sounds of footsteps behind as climbers scramble up towards the peak of Ben MacDhui, and an overpowering feeling of terror and panic.

The creature has been compared to Yeti and Sasquatch myths [2], but nobody has yet been able to find physical evidence or take a photograph of this strange being. So what could it be?

Brocken spectre on Grisedale Pike.

Brocken spectre on Grisedale Pike.

Theories around Am Fear Liath Mòr suggest that it might simply be a case of climbers jumping at their own shadows. Extreme exhaustion can cause hallucinations, and sound travels in strange ways high up in the mountains.

One natural phenomena that could describe the visions of this grey man is the Brocken Spectre, also known as the Brocken Bow or Mountain Spectre. With the sun to their back, a shadow of the observer is cast upon a cloud or mist and appears to be greatly magnified. An optical illusion occurs when the clouds appear to be at the same distance as faraway ridges or peaks, causing the shadow to appear enormous. The resulting spectre can move and jerk about with movement in the cloud layer, and variations in cloud density. It would certainly appear to be a living thing to a tired and frightened mountaineer.

This makes it a plausible explanation for what Collie saw. Remember, he was walking on the summit in a mist when he saw Am Fear Liath Mòr.

Yet there are those who are still convinced that strange spirits roam the peaks and glens of the wild places where a man can go mad with fear. Tales continue to emerge, with sightings of giant grey men giving chase to the wary traveller popping up every few years.

So, if you are considering a trek in the Cairngorms, don't go alone. Am Fear Liath Mòr may find you.

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[1] The Big Grey Man of Ben Macdhui,

[2] Karl P. N. Shuker, The Unexplained: An Illustrated Guide to the World's Natural and Paranormal Mysteries – ISBN – 978-1858681863

© 2015 Pollyanna Jones


shanebroderick on July 08, 2015:

you can google fata morgana and get images.really cool actually.ive know of these mirages with a while and only just thought to google it now lol

Pollyanna Jones (author) from United Kingdom on July 08, 2015:

Bugger! That's a shame, I would love to have seen something like that.

shanebroderick on July 07, 2015:

happened centuries ago

Pollyanna Jones (author) from United Kingdom on July 07, 2015:

That sounds amazing, Shane. You'll have to find some photos of that one!

shanebroderick on July 07, 2015:

the brocken spectre photos reminded me of another visual phenomenon that has been recorded twice in youghal, its called a Fata morgana (apparently named after the arthurian morgana and her penchant for creating mirages of castles and such).its a mirage in the sky that can distort what its showing.One of the ones in youghal was seen across the bay and showed town walls with burning towers.stayed in the sky for 15-20 mins im sure.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on April 26, 2015:

This is an enjoyable hub, Pollyanna. The logical explanation for the phenomenon is interesting, but so is the possibility that the explanation isn't always correct!

Pollyanna Jones (author) from United Kingdom on April 26, 2015:

Thanks Jodah. I am always fascinated by these stories, and possible rational explanations for them. Sometimes that's not possible though. I love how there is still room for mystery in our world.

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on April 26, 2015:

Intriguing article Pollyanna. I think there is some substance to these tales, but it could be a broken spectre. I am not climbing Ben MacDui to find out though. Voted up.

Pollyanna Jones (author) from United Kingdom on April 26, 2015:

Thank you! Mountains are scary enough, without this sort of thing!

CMHypno from Other Side of the Sun on April 26, 2015:

Fascinating hub Pollyanna and I for one won't be climbing that mountain to find out if the story is true! Voted up and shared

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