A large and mysterious mountain in a Scottish range called the Cairngorms, Ben Macdhui is said to be the lair of a sinister, lumbering, Bigfoot-like creature known as the Big Gray Man (BGM). Legends of its existence date back centuries, and they show no signs of stopping. Although definitively animal-like in both nature and appearance, the Big Gray Man reputedly possesses paranormal powers that allow it to plunge the unwary traveler into states of terror and panic. A form of monster-based mind-control, one might be justified in suggesting. Without doubt, the foremost expert on the BGM is anomalies expert, Andy Roberts. Andy has noted that witnesses to the creepy phenomenon describe how they have heard heavy footsteps on the fog-shrouded mountain, felt a distinct sensation of a threatening presence, and experienced an overwhelming feeling of unbridled terror. The experience is graphic enough to compel witnesses to flee – in fear of their lives – and, in some cases, to run wildly and in crazed, fear-filled fashion for miles. Taking into consideration the fact that encounters almost exclusively take place on rocky, dangerous ground, and often in weather conditions involving mist and snow, Andy stresses that “we should not underestimate the power of the experience.”
As far as can be determined, the first encounter of any real note with the BGM occurred in 1791. The witness was a poet and shepherd named James Hogg. He reported seeing a massive figure on Ben Macdhui, which appeared to manifest out of a strange halo. Says Andy: “As he watched the halo which had formed around him due to the combination of sunshine and mist he suddenly noticed a huge, looming figure. It was vaguely human in shape and he imagined it to be the devil. Hogg fled in terror, not stopping until he reached fellow shepherds.” Then, from 1831, we have the following from Sir Thomas Dick Lauder. In his own words: “On descending from the top (of Ben Mac Dhui) at about half-past three P.M., an interesting optical appearance presented itself to our view. We had turned towards the east, and the sun shone on our backs, when we saw a very bright rainbow described on the mist before us. The bow, of beautifully distinct prismatic colors, formed about two-thirds of a circle, the extremities of which appeared to rest on the lower portion of the mountain. In the center of this incomplete circle there was described a luminous disc, surrounded by the prismatic colors displayed in concentric rings. On the disc itself, each of the party (three in number), as they stood about fifty yards apart, saw his own figure most distinctly delineated, although those of the other two were invisible to him. The representation appeared of the natural size, and the outline of the whole person of the spectator was most correctly portrayed. To prove that the shadow seen by each individual was that of himself, we resorted to various gestures, such as waving our hats, flapping our plaids, &c., all which motions were exactly followed by the airy figure.”
Moving onto the 20th century, in 1921, the Cairngorm Club Journal reported that a recent letter-writer “…called attention to a myth prevalent in Upper Deeside to the effect that a big spectral figure has been seen at various times during the last five years walking about on the tops of the Cairngorms. When approached, so the story goes, the figure disappears.” Andy Roberts reveals a further layer of the puzzle: “In 1924, Dr. Ernest A. Baker’s book, The Highlands with Rope and Rucksack, appeared. Here, Baker relates the experience of a friend whose job took him into the mountains, a deer stalker or perhaps a shepherd. Alone on Ben Macdhui one day he became aware of a terrifying presence which Afleck Gray [the author of the book, The Big Gray Man of Ben Macdhui] recounts, ‘disturbed him in a manner which was beyond his experience.’ Gray makes the point that this was no ordinary fear but something so powerful that Baker’s friend fled from Ben Macdhui, the terror only subsiding when he reached low ground. Baker also reports how one mountain climber had told him that he would under no circumstances spend any time on Ben Macdhui alone, even in daylight.”
One year later, in 1925, Professor Norman Collie revealed the facts concerning his very own encounter with the Big Gray Man, decades earlier. Collie recalled: “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 by myself, I know.” A man named Alexander Tewnion told of his very own encounter with the terrifying thing of Ben Macdhui in the 1940s:
“In October 1943 I spent a ten day leave climbing alone in the Cairngorms. One afternoon, just as I reached the summit cairn of Ben MacDhui, mist swirled across the Lairig Ghru and enveloped the mountain. The atmosphere became dark and oppressive, a fierce, bitter wind whisked among the boulders, and an odd sound echoed through the mist - a loud footstep, it seemed. Then another, and another. A strange shape loomed up, receded, came charging at me! Without hesitation I whipped out the revolver and fired three times at the figure. When it still came on I turned and hared down the path, reaching Glen Derry in a time that I have never bettered. You may ask was it really the Fear Laith Mhor? Frankly, I think it was.” Cryptozoologist Dr. Karl Shuker says: “Even more incredible, however, was the entity reportedly spied one night on Ben MacDhui by a friend of climber-writer Richard Frere. Having pitched a tent beside the Cairn, Frere’s friend awoke, to see a brown shape standing between his tent and the moon. So as soon as the shape moved away, his friend peered outside his tent, only to discover (according to Frere’s subsequent description, which follows) that just 20 yards away…”
“...a great brown creature was swaggering down the hill. He uses the word ‘swaggering’ because the creature had an air of insolent strength about it: and because it rolled slightly from side to side, taking huge measured steps. It looked as though it was covered with shortish, brown hair…its head was disproportionately large, its neck very thick and powerful. By the extreme width of its shoulders compared to the relative slimness of its hips he concluded its sex to be male. No, it did not resemble an ape: its hairy arms, though long, were not unduly so, its carriage was extremely erect.” As for what the Big Gray Man may be, Dr. Karl Shuker says: “During the 1970s, inorganic chemistry specialist Dr. Don Robins proposed that some minerals may be capable of encoding a type of electrical energy, in turn yielding a moving image that could be projected under certain specific conditions, i.e. a veritable geological hologram. Could it be that the BGM is one such hologram, stimulated by certain specific, mountain-related mineralogical attributes, and exhibiting an additional aural component?” Horrific hologram or Scottish Bigfoot, the mystery of Ben Macdhui’s Big Gray Man lives on.
As for the final word, it goes to Peter Densham, who, as the leader of the Royal Air Force Rescue Team from 1939-1945, was very familiar with Ben Macdhui and its mysterious, foggy and snowy surroundings. He said of the BGM enigma: “...tell me that the whine was but the result of relaxed eardrums, and the presence was only the creation of a mind that was accustomed to take too great an interest in such things. I shall not be convinced. Come, rather, with me at the mysterious dusk time when day and night struggle upon the mountains. Feel the night wind on your faces, and hear it crying amid rocks. See the desert uplands consumed before the racing storms. Though your nerves be of steel, and your mind says it cannot be, you will be acquainted with that fear without name, that intense dread of the unknown that has pursued mankind from the very dawn of time.”