Feb 12, 2023 I Nick Redfern

When a Monster can be Physical and Non-Physical, Too: It's Scotland's Most Feared Beast

Bigfoot: it’s a controversy-filled word that is instantly recognizable to just about one and all. And, regardless of whether one is a true believer, an open-minded skeptic, a definitive non-believer, or a semi-interested observer of the controversy, pretty much everyone knows what the word implies and describes: a large, hair-covered, ape-style animal that is said to roam, and lurk within, the mysterious, forested wilds of the United States. The number of people who claim to have seen a Bigfoot is, now, in the thousands. The beast has been the subject of big-bucks, hit movies. Today’s world of reality television loves the legendary monster – viewing figures make that abundantly clear. It occupies the minds and weekends of monster hunters and creature seekers everywhere, each and every one of them hoping to be the person who finally bags a Bigfoot and, as a result, goes down in history. But, there’s more to Bigfoot than that. In fact, there’s far more. The term, “Bigfoot,” was created in 1958, when huge, apelike footprints were found in Del Norte County, California. We have a journalist named Andrew Genzoli, of the Humboldt Times, to thank for coming up with the famous, monstrous moniker. It’s a fact, however, that giant, lumbering, hair-covered, upright creatures have been encountered in the United States for centuries, and long before “the B word” was even a dim blip on anyone’s radar. 

 Ancient Native American lore tells of the legendary, and sometimes savage, beasts that were as feared as they were revered. Encounters with violent, so-called “wild men,” of thick woods and ice cold, frozen mountains, were regularly reported in the pages of 19th Century-era American newspapers. Photographs and film-footage – of varying degrees of credibility and clarity – purport to show the elusive animals, in action, so to speak. Audio-recordings exist of the creatures’ eerie chatter and bone-chilling screaming. Startling witness accounts abound. There are whispers that elements of the U.S. Government have the bodies of several Bigfoot on ice, hidden at some Area 51-style, secret installation. There are claims of a UFO link to Bigfoot. Theorists suggest the reason why we lack a body of a Bigfoot, and the reason for their near-mystifying, overwhelming elusiveness, is because the creatures are the denizens of a vast underworld; animals that spend most of their time living in dark caves and deep caverns, unknown to man, and which extend and spread out for miles underground.

(Nick Redfern) Nessie isn't the only Scottish monster.

Then, there is the matter of the other Bigfoot-like creatures. That’s right: while Bigfoot – also known as Sasquatch - is certainly America’s most famous unknown ape, it’s far from being a solitary monster. Florida is home to the Skunk Ape. Southern Arkansas has the Beast of Boggy Creek. Texas is the domain of the Lake Worth Monster. In fact, the creature has been seen in every single U.S. state – aside, reportedly, from Hawaii, which is not surprising, given that it is not connected to the mainland. Bigfoot, and somewhat similar creatures, extends widely, and wildly, outside of the United States, too. Australia can boast of its own equivalent to Bigfoot. Its name is the Yowie. And, just like Bigfoot, the Yowie is a towering, hairy, man-like animal, one best avoided at all costs. In China there are reports of a similar creature, the Yeren. The Abominable Snowman – also known as the Yeti – forages on, and around, the vast Himalayas of Tibet. The cold, harsh landscape of Russia is the territory of the Almasty. Even the people of England and Scotland claim to have such legendary beasts in their midst. The names of the animals of the U.K. include the Beast of Bolam, and the Man-Monkey. Moving on, and demonstrating that there are very few places on the planet that do not appear to be home to cryptid apes and monkeys of very strange kinds, there is the Orang-pendek of Sumatra, India’s Mandeburung, the Kikomba of the Congo, Pakistan’s Bar-manu, the Hibagon of Japan, Cuba’s Guije, and the Mumulou of the Solomon Islands. And that’s just barely touching upon what amounts to a vast, monstrous menagerie of Bigfoot-like creatures seen across pretty much the entirety of the globe. Now, we get to the key-creature of this article:

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.”  “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.”

(Nick Redfern) The mysteries of the Mountains.

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…”

(Nick Redfern) Mountains are famous for creepy creatures.

“...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.” A sensational story surfaced in 2004 from Tom Robertson, a noted expert on paranormal phenomena and the author of Ghosthunter: Adventures in the Afterlife. While on Ben Macdhui in July 2004, Robertson and a colleague had a nerve-jangling experience, at an altitude of around 4,000-feet, as Robertson made abundantly clear: “At about 1:00 a.m., after we climbed into our sleeping bags we heard the footsteps of something coming to the tent and heard mumbling noises outside. I looked through the air vent in the roof and saw a large arm crashing down. The figure of what seemed like a yeti was standing over the tent, then all hell broke loose and it was trying to get at us. I remember something landed on my foot. My toes are black, kind of bruised. I have never been so scared in all the sixty years I have been interested in such things. I don’t know what it is, but it isn’t human. I reckon it could be the Gray Man or something from outer space.”

From September 2006, we have the following from someone using the pseudonym of “Big Max.” He or she states: “I was climbing back down Ben MacDhui in May 1988 when I experienced the footsteps phenomenon mentioned by others. It was pretty misty and I was alone. But it was like ‘something’ was behind me, only 10 meters or so, keeping track of me. I back-tracked to see if anyone was there. I didn’t see anything, but it was weird enough to scare me, particularly as the sounds occurred both when I was moving or stationary. It was only after I told this story to a Glasgow cousin years later that I first heard about the Grey Man.”

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.”

Nick Redfern

Nick Redfern works full time as a writer, lecturer, and journalist. He writes about a wide range of unsolved mysteries, including Bigfoot, UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster, alien encounters, and government conspiracies. Nick has written 41 books, writes for Mysterious Universe and has appeared on numerous television shows on the The History Channel, National Geographic Channel and SyFy Channel.

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