Uncanny UK editor Richard Holland sets his sights high as he continues his personal chart of the most haunted places in Britain.
11. BEN MACDHUI: Cairngorm Mountains, Aberdeenshire
Scotland’s second highest mountain and the highest in the spectacular Cairngorms National Park is arguably Britain’s most haunted open space. The ‘ghost’ of Ben MacDhui, if it can be called that, is a terrifying phenomenon known as ‘the Big Grey Man’.
The most abiding aspect of the BGM phenomenon is the sound of heavy footsteps crunching along the empty peak or mountainside. Several reliable witnesses have experienced this, including professional climbers; a climbing enthusiast who happened to be a Professor of Organic Chemistry; and a botanist from Aberdeen University collecting samples. The botanist’s brother, who was accompanying him, also heard the footsteps. Other weird sounds have been reported, including unearthly music and, on one occasion, ‘an enormously resonant Gaelic-speaking voice’. These latter phenomena were both reported from a pass leading up to the summit called Lairig Ghru. Lairig Ghru and the area round the cairn on the summit of Ben MacDhui seem to be the focal points of the BGM.
Often accompanying these inexplicable sounds is a feeling of mindless dread. Several sober academics and experienced climbers have suddenly turned tail and run down the dangerous crags for no very good reason. In 1945 expert mountaineer Peter Densham told colleagues he had been eating his lunch near the summit when he suddenly heard crunching footsteps coming from the cairn. The next thing he knew, he was dashing across the mountain in an uncontrollable panic. He ran so wildly, that he nearly charged off the edge of a cliff and only just managed to stop himself in time.
Despite its name, the Big Grey Man itself has rarely been seen. Those who have generally describe it as a huge, hulking, shadowy figure in the mist. Some think this might be a so-called ‘spectre of the Brocken’, caused when a climber’s shadow is thrown onto a bank of cloud, but most mountaineers are familiar with this natural phenomenon. Those who’ve seen it more clearly have variously described the BGM as ‘a tall, stately human figure’, ‘a great brown creature’ and a figure ‘with pointy ears, long legs and feet with talons’.
Whatever the nature – or rather the supernature – of the Big Grey Man, the phenomena are ongoing, with a sighting and a separate report of the sounds of crunching footsteps being made be separate witnesses just a few years ago.
[SOURCE: The Grey Man of Ben Macdhui by Edinburgh Psychic College; Karl Shuker in Paranormal Magazine issue 42]
Text c. Richard Holland 2011. Photo of the summit of Ben Macdhui c. Oliver Mills