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They shall not grow old
by BlackPanther » Thu Aug 27, 2020 8:54 pm
Route description: Ben Macdui and Cairngorm
Munros included on this walk: Ben Macdui
Date walked: 01/08/2020
Time taken: 6.5 hours
Distance: 18.7 km
Ascent: 973m13 people think this report is great. Register or Login free to be able to rate and comment on reports (as well as access 1:25000 mapping).
As if we had never climbed it before... We visited MacDui several times, the most memorable route was the big circuit of Ben MacDui, Derry Cairngorm and Beinn Mheadhoin (my old report HERE). Today we didn't have such ambitious plans, but wanted to include another plane crash site into our walk. Many of you have probably heard or read something about this particular wreck, as it is one of better documented crash sites in Scotland and officially, the highest one. Yes, it's only 100m below the summit of Ben MacDui and less than half a kilometer from the main path. Despite the site location, so close to one of the busiest trails in the Cairngorms, we were the only people who took the detour to see the remains of Avro Anson DJ106. I guess the majority of walkers are not interested in old rusty pieces of fuselage scattered on mountain slopes and maybe it is for the better.
But before we get to the crash site, we have to climb the second highest mountain in Scotland. It is of course a Munro and the highest in the Cairngorms, also home to the mystic identity called Big Grey Man of Ben MacDui...
No it is not the Grey Man, just the Black Panther
We were surprised to find plenty of space in Coire Cas, the car park was 3/4 empty on a sunny Saturday in the middle of summer. After driving through hell on the road along Loch Morlich (cars, cars, cars everywhere, all laybys packed to bursting) we expected the same up here, but it was rather quiet - fine by me!
Meall a' Bhuachaille seen from the crossing of Allt Coire an t-Sneachda:
2020-08-01 ben macdui 008 by Kevin Dalziel, on Flickr
We didn't have any silly ideas this time and followed the main path up Miadan Creag an Leth-choin...
...hoping that by the time we reach the higher ground, the clag might lift and we get the usual fine views to the opposite side of the Lairig Ghru. In the meantime, we studied Fiacaill Ridge (it is on our to-do list):
Coire an Lochain from higher up the path:
2020-08-01 ben macdui 025 by Kevin Dalziel, on Flickr
Looking back north to Lurcher's Crag, we suddenly had an idea of another route in this area, exploring this interesting, rocky ridge:
Weather improved significantly before we reached the plateau, so when we emerged on higher ground, the views were there, just waiting for us to admire them:
The path to the summit is well-worn but no wonder - MacDui is a popular top, visited by crowds of tourists, not only dedicated baggers. I dare say it's probably the last place a dedicated bagger looking for solitude would want to stop for lunch
A little drop and then a gradual re-ascent to the main summit is easy enough even for kids. We saw several families with children that day. I'm always chuffed to see the young generation on high ground - it means that the hobby of hillwalking won't die with us, old farts
Speaking of old farts, we were glad to see our old friends Angels and Demons from the more steep side (we climbed them from Glen Feshie):
Looking back at Cairngorm and Cairn Lochan from the final climb to Ben MacDui:
A man on the mission, summit in sight:
The Big Grey Man?... Nah, just Kevin in grey fleece:
Lucy posing with the trig point, it was her 128th Munro. She's aiming for half way point (141) now!
We spent some time relaxing on the summit. Many groups of people came and went, some probably on the ambitious target of 3-4 Munros in one day, we also saw folks with bigger packs, ready for overnighting somewhere on the plateau. Good for them. We were on a different kind of excursion, but first, we wanted to wander around the summit area a bit, take photos and enjoy the sunny day.
The best vistas are of course to the south and west, to the Lairig Ghru and surrounding peaks:
Panther looking for inspiration:
Having spent some time on the summit, we left it to find the crash site. We had grid references from several sources (see the list at the end of report) so with GPS ready, we set off to descend due west for about 300m (losing 50m or so in height) to find the memorial cairn, built at the edge of the steep cliffs of the Lairig Ghru, to commemorate the brave young souls who lost their lives here in 1942.
The cairn is located at NN986991. Several small pieces of wreckage can be found amongst the rocks of the cairn...
...as well as a memorial plague with the names of all the crew:
They shall never grow old. I stood there, listening to the silence of the mountains and wondered... Are their ghosts still here?... Do they wander around the plateau in the mist, still looking for the way home?...
Away from the sentimental side of this report and back on planet Earth, the spot where the cairn is situated is a magnificent viewpoint, much better than the summit of MacDui, and I'd recommend taking a detour just to see the real beauty of the Lairig Ghru:
While Kevin was busy taking panoramic snaps of the giant glen below us, I looked around and not far from the cairn, I spotted something large and rusty lying on the ground. On closer inspection, it turned out to be one of the Armstrong Siddeley Cheetah engines from the plane, surprisingly well preserved, with the fuel pipes and the coils still attached:
The location of the engine as seen from the memorial cairn:
Another piece of wreckage we found next to the engine, containing some wooden parts as well as metal (possibly part of undercarriage assembly?):
According to our online research, most of the wreckage is located between 1150m and 1250m, some of it in the stream, Allt a'Choire Mhòir. Once we located the first engine, the other debris was easy to find and we could follow the trail of small parts down to the stream:
We took hundreds of pictures of every possible piece of metal/wood/rubber we found. A few examples below:
The stream was filled with debris, mostly aluminum parts of the fuselage:
...but we also found a wheel with the tyre still attached (though completely flat):
2020-08-02 ben macdui 111 by Kevin Dalziel, on Flickr
Just below the wheel, Kevin located the second engine from the Avro Anson:
2020-08-01 ben macdui 154 by Kevin Dalziel, on Flickr
This one is a bit more battered as it tumbled further down the slope. Notice the rusty oxygen bottle on the grass next to the engine.
2020-08-02 ben macdui 130 by Kevin Dalziel, on Flickr
We wandered up and down the stream, finding more and more pieces of wreckage, most of it impossible to identify (we are no experts on aviation).
Some parts were wedged in between the rocks where the stream made its way down the slope:
Other parts were just scattered on the grass alongside the stream:
2020-08-02 ben macdui 132 by Kevin Dalziel, on Flickr
We walked as far as possible, to the very edge of the cliffs. It's possible there is more wreckage lower down, shifted by weather and melting snow, but we didn't fancy descending the steeper section:
2020-08-01 ben macdui 167 by Kevin Dalziel, on Flickr
So what happened here on a cloudy night in 1942?
It was the 21st August 1942, the plane was on a navigation training flight from RAF Kinloss in Moray. I found conflicting information in different sources about the training taking place in daylight/at night so I can't say for sure, all they agree on is that the cloud was low, which is not uncommon in the Cairngorms. So we can safely assume that the cause of the accident was poor visibility. Not the first (and probably not the last) time when the infamous Scottish weather was to blame! Sadly, all crew members were killed in the crash. The Anson remained missing for several days and it was only located on the 24th of August. It took until the 27th of August to remove all the casualties off the hill.
The saddest part of the story is that these lost boys from Ben MacDui were young and still inexperienced, just learning their skills in a training plane with basic equipment. They were simply unlucky with weather and quite likely, a tiny error cost them their lives. And in the spot where it happened 78 years ago we still felt the atmosphere of sadness... The place is a bit spooky in itself and the war memories just add to it!
Scottish hills are full of such war memories, if only we had time to visit and explore them all!
Interestingly, this particular crash site was shown in a short BBC material in 2012 (link HERE - hope it works!).
To return to the main path we followed the stream up to its source - the path was just above us and we could see people walking on it (many of them probably wondered what the hell we were looking for along that stream!).
On the way back, we decided to visit the cliffs of Coire an t-Sneachda, following the obvious path from Ben MacDui to Cairngorm. En route we admired Beinn Mheadhoin and the Shelter Stone Crags - what we could see of them from this side:
We took a break on the cliffs above the corrie, stretched our legs and enjoyed the views...
...as well as the odd shapes of rocks around us:
Kevin noticed rock climbers on the rocks below:
The Cairngorm summit was only a short detour from the return path but we had been there before several times in the past, so didn't really need to add it today:
Instead, we followed the well marked path down Fiacaill a'Choire Chais, where we met many tourists - the path was busy lower down and the car park was now about half full but we had seen bigger crowds in the Cairngorms in the past!
Looking back into Coire Cas:
Overall, a thoroughly enjoyable trip, including a journey back in time. Visiting crash sites always adds something special to our mountain days. I'd like to underline though that we never take anything from the site nor do we move/misplace/kick/destroy any debris. There had been discussion on WH before, considering plane wreckage (should it be removed, is it litter, etc). Well, I did some research and found out that all military crash sites in the UK, regardless of how old they are, are protected by Protection of Military Remains Act 1986 and therefore, tampering with them is prohibited by law.
To end this TR on a lighter note, as we walked our route, we discussed other options and came up with at least two more variations fro Ben MacDui, maybe we will not do them this year but they were added to a long list of "routes to do in the future". Perhaps next time we will be more lucky and meet the Big Grey Man?... Who knows. The Cairngorms are full of mysteries and not only those of military kind...
List of sites with information about the Avro Anson crash:
by Border Reiver » Sat Aug 29, 2020 10:24 am
by BlackPanther » Tue Sep 01, 2020 8:15 am
Border Reiver wrote:Very enjoyable report and photos, I've loved exploring the Cairngorms for nearly 50 years and found this crash site many years ago while wandering about. I've visited it a couple of times since, just to sit and contemplate on the whole situation and hauntingly beautiful view. A very fitting memorial for a tragic event.
Thank you Every report describing a crash site is a small challenge - the right words to describe the atmosphere of such places can be hard to find sometimes. This one had been on our radar for a while since it's so close to the main path yet most tourists are unaware of its existence.
I understand that during WW2, the Cairngorms were the main training area for newly recruited crews so accidents were not uncommon. The next crash site on our list is Oxford PH404 on Beinn a Bhuird. It crashed in January 1945 but was originally thought to have been lost at sea and the debris were only found in August 1945 by two hillwalkers. 4 crew members died on impact but one survived the crash. He had even attempted to dress his wounds and hid inside the wreckage for warmth, but eventually passed as well. A heartbreaking story.
This page: http://www.archieraf.co.uk/scs/oxfordph404.html
gives a detailed description of the story.
We had climbed Beinn a'Bhuird from Deeside a few years ago but were not aware of the crash site. It is in a very remote location on the northern slopes of Stob an-t Sluichd. The easiest approach would be by bikes from Tomintoul. Something to look forward to next year...
by Fife Flyer » Tue Sep 01, 2020 6:36 pm
by Jaxter » Wed Sep 02, 2020 1:40 pm
A climbing friend was telling me about one that is in Coire Mhic Fhearchair on Beinn Eighe once. I think it's a bomber that crashed somewhere amoungst the rocks because he said it was a climbing joke that they could say "bomber bomber" - this meant nothing to me as a non-climber until he explained that "bomber" is a word they use to mean "safe"
by Jokester » Wed Sep 02, 2020 1:56 pm
A pair of US F15s also crashed just east of the summit 20 years ago though you'll be hard pushed to find any remains as they removed virtually everything afterwards.
by gaffr » Wed Sep 02, 2020 2:13 pm
by gaffr » Wed Sep 02, 2020 2:23 pm
Image taken by me several years ago at the site. It has obviously been tidied up quite a bit since then when the original wooden plaque with names scribed upon it had faded away. I think that the stone memorial was there at the time and was somehow stuck onto the wooden one. Angels peak behind across the vast coire.
by BlackPanther » Thu Sep 03, 2020 4:30 pm
Last year, after visiting Coire Mhic Fhearchair, I did my research on the Lancaster crash (report HERE) . Since I'm not a rock climber, I wasn't aware of the "bomber-bomber" phrase, but it makes sense. One of the propeller blades from the plane is wedged between the rocks high up in Fuselage Gully and it is used as an "anchor" by rock climbers. So they can say, they are safely attached to a piece of a bomber. We never considered getting that high up the Triple Buttress on our own. We might be mad, but not THAT mad