Am Fear Liath Mor: The Terrifying Grey Man of the Cairngorms

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Am Fear Liath Mor, known also as the Big Grey Man of Ben MacDhui, or simply as the Greyman, is the name given to a creature said to live on Ben MacDhui, the second highest mountain, which is situated in the Cairngorm in the eastern Highlands of Scotland. Stories about the Greyman have been recorded as early as 1791, though the most famous account was given in 1925 by a highly respected scientist and mountaineer who was on Ben MacDhui in 1891. Actual sightings of this creature have been rare. The 1925 account, for instance, did not even involve a glimpse of the Greyman.

The Greyman

Despite the lack of sightings, the Greyman has often been described as being 3 m (9.8 ft.) in height, with very long arms and legs, an ape-like head, and covered in short hair. The Greyman has also sometimes been compared to the Yeti of the Himalayas or the Bigfoot of North America. Nevertheless, the Greyman is not a creature of flesh and bone, but has been likened to a ghost. Regardless, all who claim to have had encountered this creature were filled with dread.

The earliest known account of an alleged sighting of the Greyman dates to 1791, and comes from by a poet by the name of James Hogg. The poet is said to have been tending sheep on Ben MacDhui, when he saw the creature:

“It was a giant blackamoor, at least thirty feet high, and equally proportioned, and very near me. I was actually struck powerless with astonishment and terror.”  

Encounter with the Greyman. (ascensionearth2012.org)

Terrified by what he saw, Hogg fled home, only returning the next day to collect his sheep. The creature returned, and this time, Hogg is said to have decided to conduct a little experiment. The poet took off his hat, and he saw that the creature did the same as well. Thus, Hogg concluded that it was his own shadow in the fog that so terrified him the previous day.

Shadow Creation

Although Hogg had proven that the ‘creature’ he saw was just his shadow, the story of the Greyman had been born, and its existence seems to have become a reality. In 1925, a speech was given at the 27th Annual General Meeting of the Cairngorm Club in Aberdeen by Professor J. Norman Collie, a Professor of Organic Chemistry at University College London, and a mountaineer. The professor spoke about his experience on the summit of Ben MacDhui back in 1891, which has since been quoted rather frequently:

“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.”     

Photos of a shadow taken on Ben MacDhui (america.pink)

The professor’s testimony is said to have sparked a sensation, and soon, other hikers too reported that they have had similar experiences on Ben MacDhui. They, however, did not share their stories prior to this due to fear of ridicule. Most stories about the Greyman revolved around these elements – a feeling that one is being followed, and sounds perceived as following footsteps. Such sounds could have been produced by one of the many animals living on Ben MacDhui, and not necessarily by an unknown creature like the Greyman.

Creature Sightings

Few sightings of the Greyman have ever been made, and the closest pieces of physical evidence that we seem to have of this creature are its alleged footprints. In his book, Romantic Strathspey, James A. Rennie wrote that he had seen and photographed large footprints in the snow in the Spey Valley, about 24 km (15 mi) from Ben MacDhui. On a later occasion, Rennie had the opportunity to see how the footprints were formed. These footprints, according to the author, were not formed by some mysterious creature, but by precipitation.

Illustration of the Greyman.

Illustration of the Greyman (ascensionearth2012.org)

It seems that there is not much solid evidence that point to the existence of the Greyman. Hogg’s creature, for instance, was his own feeling, whilst Rennie’s footprints in the snow were formed due to precipitation. Furthermore, it is usually a hiker’s own feeling that he / she is being followed on Ben MacDhui that has contributed to the tales of the Greyman. Even Collie’s story, which is normally regarded as the most authoritative, speaks about the professor’s own gut feeling. Moreover, it has been said that the professor was himself a believer in the occult, and therefore, was perhaps likely to have felt that he was being followed by an unknown creature whilst on the summit of Ben MacDhui in 1891.    

Top image: Artist Illustration of a Yeti. Photo source: (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

By Wu Mingren

References

Dunning, B., 2012. The Grey Man of Ben MacDhui. [Online]
Available at: https://skeptoid.com/episodes/4292

Hall, J., 2006. The Cryptid Zoo: Big Gray Man (Fear Liath Mor). [Online]
Available at: http://www.newanimal.org/biggrayman.htm

The Scotsman, 2005. The Big Grey Man of Ben MacDui. [Online]
Available at: http://www.scotsman.com/lifestyle/the-big-grey-man-of-ben-macdui-1-465102

www.ghostclub.org.uk, 2000. Spring/Summer 2000 Newsletter Excerpts. [Online]
Available at: http://www.ghostclub.org.uk/summer2000.htm

www.Ghost-Story.co.uk, 2016. The Big Grey Man of Ben Macdhui, Cairngorms, Scotland. [Online]
Available at: http://www.ghost-story.co.uk/index.php/unclassified/160-the-big-grey-man-of-ben-macdhui-cairngorms-scotland

www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk, 2016. Am Fear Liath Mòr, the Big Grey Man. [Online]
Available at: http://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/usscotfax/outdoors/greyman.html



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