Something is coming towards me through the mist, I can see the figure of a man, easily nine feet high, striding in my direction. I decide that there has to be some explanation for this, I can’t be seeing this and yet, if you follow me, I am. I’m on the summit of Ben MacDui in the Cairngorms and walking towards me, as calm as you like, is The Grey Man.
I want to make one thing clear, I am a rational man. I don’t believe in fairies, or that someone can read my aura, or that there are ghosts. I don’t believe in healing crystals either. I notice the NHS don’t use them. If you get knocked down in the street the ambulance men don’t leap out with a nice piece of onyx and try and balance your chakras do they? I walk under ladders on a regular basis and the only time I’ve ever thrown salt over my shoulder was in an attempt to hit my mate Steve in a food fight at university. Don’t do it by the way, went in his eye, there was tears and everything, didn’t speak to me for weeks.
The mist closes in and the figure vanishes for a moment. Suddenly I feel very much alone, I’m high on the artic plateau and there is no one else for miles but there is “something” out there. The legend of the mystical Grey Man floods through my memory. Decades ago Norman Collie, an eminent chemist and inventor of neon, was walking alone, pretty well where I am right now, and met the same vertically gifted gentleman. Collie, despite possessing a very logical brain, legged it and was pursued by the spectre for several miles.
I suspect that Professor Collie was the owner of a very stiff upper lip and was made of much sterner stuff than me. My upper lip has been quivering for the last few minutes. I’ve told myself twice not to be ridiculous and both telling offs have had no effect what so ever. At this point the top half of my body is remaining fairly stoic, in fact I’m quite proud of it. I’m standing motionless, peering, with some interest, at the figure approaching, hands gripping my walking poles tighter and tighter. Unfortunately my legs have other ideas, they are twitching uncontrollably and threatening to carry me off down the hillside at any moment. I think I’m experiencing what psychologists call “fight or flight” and right now flight is winning.
Giant men wandering the hills are, of course, not only a Scottish phenomenon. North America has its Big Foot and the Himalayas their Yeti. I remember hearing one explanation of such supernatural beings is that they are the guardians of portals to parallel worlds hidden in our mountains. Perhaps I’ve wandered inadvertently into another universe. That would put an entirely new meaning on the words, “I think I went a little off course.”
A sudden gust of wind clears the hill of mist and suddenly the reality of my apparition is revealed to me. Heading towards me is not one nine foot man it is two ordinary men who are walking so closely in single file as to appear, in the mist at least, to be one giant man. I suddenly feel rather foolish but I am grateful at least that, when the mist cleared, these two gentlemen were not treated to the sight of me careering down the mountain in blind panic.
The mist closes in again and I trudge back to the Northern Corries, following my flickering compass needle across the broad and sometimes featureless plateau. Just before I descend from the last summit I am greeted by an Australian man in shorts and Tee shirt. “Good Day mate!” he says with all the irrepressible cheerfulness of his countrymen, “”Is this the way to Ben Muck Dooey?” He is clearly mapless, compassless and clueless. I pause for a moment wondering if I should utter some dire warning about the dangers and then decide we probably have enough barmen and one less is unlikely to be a crisis. “Just follow the cairns mate, it’s over there,” I point towards thousands of kilometres of barren wilderness. As I wander down to the car park I imagine my suntanned friend encountering the Grey Man looming out of the fog, “Good day mate!”