Of one of Scotland’s most mysterious enigmas (no, not Nessie), Brian Dunning says: “For more than a century, hillwalkers have been stalked by Am Fear Liath Mòr, Scottish Gaelic for The Big Grey Man. He’s known best for his footsteps crunching in the gravel just out of sight; but for a certain unlucky few, the fog has thinned enough that they caught a glimpse. The Grey Man stands at least three times as tall as a man, and is dark and very thin. Some say he is covered in short brown hair, like a horse. But all who see him are filled with dread.” The BGM (as the phenomenon has become known) is predominantly seen on Ben MacDui, which is the tallest mountain on the Cairngorms range. This takes us to Professor J. Norman Collie, a respected scientist and mountaineer. Professor Collie said of an 1891 encounter he had with the BGM:
“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. For every few steps I took I heard a crunch, and 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. 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 boulders 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.”
This issue of being “seized with terror” is something that the definitive expert on the Big Grey Man, Andy Roberts, has addressed. Andy states: “All the witnesses in the ‘good’ accounts report some form of extreme, uncontrollable panic reaction, leading them to flee in blind terror, often for miles. Fair enough, you might say, anyone would panic if they saw the BGM. But some of the ‘panics’ take place prior to any ‘sighting,’ and in the majority of cases the whole experience is solely a panic, the trimmings of BGM legend being tacked on later by writer or witness because of the geographical context of the experience…”
Andy continues: “So is there a genuine mystery, after all? Well, if this core phenomenon were isolated to the Cairngorms and the BGM legend, we could probably discount it as an artifact of the storytelling process. But accounts of being gripped by an uncontrollable panic, one which results in fleeing to the point of exhaustion or narrowly avoiding death by falling over cliffs intrigued me. In digging deep in both the paranormal and mountaineering literature I discovered that this core experience is relatively widespread in wild or mountainous areas, but has been either ignored or subsumed into the broader, and more “exciting”, area of ‘ghost’ stories. This is a mistake because, whether paranormal or psychological in origin, there appears to be a very real phenomenon at work.”
It’s intriguing to note that similar “encounters” have been reported elsewhere. A fascinating account that deserves a mention was brought to my attention by Sandy Grace, who had seen a “Goat Man” up close and personal in August 2001 – at White Rock Lake, Dallas, Texas. Grace had been jogging around the lake on the nine-mile long trail when, at around 2:00 p.m., out of the trees, she told me, stepped the strangest looking thing she had ever seen. Large, and covered in thin, coarse brown hair and with two large horn-like protrusions, the half-man-half-beast strode purposefully in her direction with a malevolent, sneering grin on its face. Bizarrely, when it got within about fifteen feet of the terror-stricken Grace, the animal crouched on its four limbs and vanished in a flash of light. She was sure that it had not been a hallucination, but was equally sure that such a thing could not live within the confines of White Rock Lake – or, indeed, anywhere on the face of the Earth. Very interestingly, and of deep relevance to the words of Andy Roberts, Grace told me that less than a minute before the Goat Man appeared, she was overcome by an intense feeling of fear – albeit for no particular reason she could fathom, then or now. She had never suffered from panic attacks (before or since) but figured that this was probably the best way to describe how she felt.
Such states of terror have been reported in relation to Bigfoot encounters, too. And it may all revolve around what is known as infrasound. In simple terms, infrasound is an extremely low frequency sound, one which is significantly lower than 20HZ, which is the typical extreme of human hearing. A number of animals use infrasound as a means to communicate with each other. The long list includes giraffes, whales, and elephants. It’s a form of communication in the animal kingdom that can be highly effective for miles, even in excess of one hundred miles. There is another important aspect of infrasound: when it is directed at humans it can provoke a wealth of unsettling physical sensations, as well as hallucinations of both the audio and visual kind.
“Miss Squatcher” notes the adverse effects that seeking Bigfoot in Elbow Falls, Alberta, Canada in June 2013. She said: “I felt as if my chest was heavy, my breathing was shallow and I could hardly catch my breath. I stood up from examining the scat and scanned my surroundings, the sensation of my pulse pounding in my head. I saw nothing. I could feel panic setting in. I was on the edge of a full-blown panic attack and had the unrelenting feeling that I needed to leave the area, NOW. My anxiety was increasing and I shared this with the others. They were startled when I took out my compass, oriented myself in the direction we had come and started walking straight through the bush. ‘I have to leave, I don’t feel right.'” Are supernatural “things” using infrasound to keep us away from them? Maybe.