Hoots from the Archive - MGS and Scotland - A History by Ian Bailey

Posted by Rachel Kneale on 01 Dec 2022

Scottish Trek 1963

We are currently in the process of sorting through a box of material belonging to the late Ian Bailey. The material includes typed transcripts of many of Ian’s assemblies and talks on the history of MGS, and is a treasure trove of material. To coincide with St. Andrews Day, here is a transcript from a talk given in the 1980s by Ian on the links between MGS and Scotland, covering the history of Scottish Trek and an expedition of teachers to climb the Munros in one weekend:

Our great tradition of camping and trekking was started by High Master J.L. Paton. In his first year here, in 1904, the first Alderley Camp was held in the Whit Holidays and the first Grasmere Camp in the summer. At both these camps, boys and masters went out for two or three days at a time, sleeping rough, and that could be called the beginning of trekking, the first of which went to Germany, shortly before 1914. Trekking here became thoroughly established by that great duo, Lob and Green from 1919 onwards. And although it could be said that when one thinks of Lob's treks, one had in mind his excursions abroad to France, Italy, The Tyrol, The Black Forest etc, nevertheless he did trek in the UK and in fact his first Scottish Trek was in 1922, to Perthshire - one of the campsites was amongst the cattle pens of Perth market! In 1927, they were went to the Trossachs and the account in Ulula begins with the ominous quote "The rain it raineth every day"! 1931 saw us going to the Cairngorms, in those days a very highly-reserved area for the shooting, but Lob had a way with him and by enlisting the help of his old C.O. during the Great War,. Col. Campbell, a raw boned old warrior in a faded reddish kilt who we saw at Glenmore Lodge where he lived, the local landowners were persuaded to "let my friend Lob camp and trek over your land". Ben Macdhui, Cairn Toul, Braeriach and Cairn Gorm were climbed and we did the classic march through the Lairig Ghru - and slept on the Games Field at Braemar. The following year Lob was in Scotland again, this time in the West Highlands; Ben Lawers was climbed and again, in 1939, Lob's last trek, they went to Perthshire. Then the war stopped all trekking.

                                                                                                             Scottish Trek, 1965

John Lingard, one of Lob's lieutenants in the 1930s, performed a great service to the School when he restarted trekking after the war with an untrained group of Masters and boys, he went back over Lob's 1939 Perthshire trek - it was at Killin that a bull savaged one of the tents - cost in those days £2-12-6 - but fortunately there was nobody inside it. But Lingard's great love was France, so there were no more visits to Scotland until I started the Scottish Treks in 1956. In ten years, we saw the glens and hills of Argyll, the Cairngorms, Inverness-shire and Wester Ross, Skye and Mull, and lasting contacts were made with the people we met. Scottish Trek was restarted after a lapse of ten years, in 1975 by John Bentham and for the last ten years, under various colleagues, the emphasis has been on the high hills and they have amassed a formidable number of climbs.

                                                                                                      Ian Bailey, Scottish Trek 1963

All of which brings me to our latest link with Scotland - The Munro Marathon - to help our neighbours, the children who live at The Birches round the corner from us - but not quite. As a spectator on the side lines, confined to "the green parts" of any map, I have searched in my mind for a reason to explain this ploy, this escapade, call it what you will. And then, of course, it came to me. The Explanation is found in our past, rooted in a sentiment that is an essential art of MGS and of Manchester. We all know about Manchester, the leader of the Industrial Revolution. They all came to Manchester to see it, De Tocqueville, Engels, etc, this remarkable phenomenon that transformed Europe and indeed the world - and Manchester started it. But that was only in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Because there is another side to Manchester, an older, romantic, softer side, liable to compel its citizens to do what the world would say were wildly foolish things. Remember that Manchester had another name - Mancunian, Mameceaster, meaning The Mother Fort, suggesting something gentle, the very opposite of hard, driving industrialism. And that explains why it was Manchester that raised 300 men to fight for Prince Charles Edward, in 1745, when he came down with his Highlandmen, all the way from Glenfinnan, hoping to reach London and put his father on the throne. Nobody helped him on his way down through England, but Manchester did. Maybe they were carried away by the sight of the Highlanders, marching nine abreast, 17 year olds and 70 year olds, up narrow Market Stead Lane (Market Street), in step to the bragging tune, only recently composed, that the pipers were playing: "Thainig mo righ tir name Muirdeart" - My king has landed in Moidart. The Manchester men didn't achieve any glory on the field; but they nearly all suffered from brutal Hanoverian justice. Three Old Mancunians at least joined. Thomas Coppock, a product of BNC Oxford was teaching at School. He was given a tartan sash and a commission. He was with the Manchester men when Charles retreated to Carlisle. He was captured, along with the Manchester men there and condemned to death. He was ordered to be taken to London with the other officers to be put to death whereas the rank and file and Cumberland said it didn't matter where he died, so long as he died. So Thomas Coppock the erstwhile schoolmaster, was first on the scaffold and as he stood there with the rope round his neck, he looked down at the Manchester lads below him and said "Never mind boys, we shan't be tried by a Cumberland jury where we are going" - real panache there. Of the other two, James Bradshaw fought at Culloden with Lord Elcho's Guards, was captured and taken to London and was condemned to death at Kennington Common in 1746. But he was a difficult man and he never lost his nerve and protested the righteousness of his cause to the end. William Brettargn, along with some of the Manchester men was shipped as a slave to the North American colonies from Deptford in 1749. In retrospect there is something gallant, almost feckless - in hard industrial terms - about the whole venture. And the strange thing is, that other people recognised this side of Manchester's character. The Germans before the first Reich knew it; the Germans of the old gemutlich Deutschland who lived in the afterglow of the days of Kant and Goethe, before the shadow of Prussian Militarism had fallen over it. And they coined the word Manchestertum - Manchesterness - expressing what Manchester really meant to the world, a queer inlying spirit that foreigners have been quicker to notice than we ourselves - the warm-hearted, romantic, non-commercial spirit Manchester.

So, quietly, without any fuss, having taught their periods on Friday morning, 7th June, with their friends and a few recent old boys, the Chief and my colleagues, two ladies on the Staff and two ladies on the Admin side, took to their cards and headed North; their aim to climb the 277 Munros in Scotland - and to be back at School on Monday morning. They had Saturday and Sunday to do it - some had to climb six.

Ben Lomond was the most southerly peak they climbed - precisely one penny on the tram to Balloch at the south end of the loch from Glasgow when I was an infant there! Then some went to Perthshire. How fitting that our ladies would climb Schiehallion, with its charming translation into English: "The Fairy Hill of the Caledonians". I wonder how they fared in the Cairngorms. As they went up Glen Derry, I think of those stalkers of the past, who were the Kings of Derry: Charlie Robertson, John MacKintosh, know as "The Piper", who loved to play his favourite tune "Donald Cameron" when he was living in the Corrour Bothy in the Lairig Ghru during the stalking season. Maybe an echo of the tune helped the climbers as they struggled up Cairn Toul. And there was Donald Fraser of the Serry, a grizzled old hillman who gave us a greeting when we were there with Lob in 1931; nor will I forget Bob Scott on the Derry who helped me out of a difficult situation in 1956. It was a relief to know that the Fear Liath Mor, the Big Grey Man who was said to confront strangers on Ben Macdhui was in a benign mood, certainly the climbers didn't see him, although my colleague on Beinn a' Bhuird thought he might have caught a glimpse of him! In fact there are 17 Munros in the Cairngorms and they were all climbed. Those who tackled Cairngorm might have been put off if they had read the relevant chapter in MacFarlane's Geographical Collections, a kind of Statistical Account of Scotland written by various well informed members of the community, published in the 1740s, because it makes the uncompromising statement: "There is a hill called Cairngorm which is four miles high".

It didn't take them long to climb Ben Dorainard by the Bridge of Orchy. This was the hill that was especially loved by Duncan Ban MacIntyre, or Donnchadh Ban nan Oran, Fair Duncan of the Songs who lived with his wife Mairi Bhan Og at Druim liart near the Inveroran Inn at the south end of Loch Tulla, where he was employed as a fox catcher by the Duke of Argyll. He composed poems about Ben Dorain and on one occasion a forward young man asked him if it was he that made Ben Dorain. "No" replied the venerable old man, "god made Ben Dorain, but I praised it." He was a resourceful man too, because when he was in England during the 1745 rising, he was once seen reading an English newspaper upside down. When this was pointed out to him, he gave the withering reply: "It's all the same to a scholar!"

There is one Munro on t'Eilean Muileach, the Isle of Mull, or to give it a more poetic name: Muile nan Fuar Ben Mor - Mull of the Cold High Bens. I had hoped they might have come across some big stones arranged to read: "MGS 1963" when they were reaching the top of Ben More, but it was too misty. It was a mild day when we passed that way on Trek. But I like to think they were inspired to reach the top by the lingering echo of the tunes that Duncan Lamont of Pennygael, an old piper of the 8th Bn The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders played to us as we marched down to Bunessan on the Ross of Mull on our way to Iona. The defiant sound of "The Siege of Delhi", "Tel el Kebir" and the old Cameron rant "The 79ths Farewell to Gibralter" would get the adrenalin flowing in the weariest of limbs.

They went to Skye. And it is worth recalling that the Alpine peaks were all conquered about 100 years before Alexander Nicholson made the first recorded climb in the Coolins in1873, hence the name of one of the peaks, Sgurr Alasdair. Two recent OMs went and traversed the whole ridge, a remarkable performance.

Those who went to Lochaber, the capital of Clan Cameron, climbed Ben Nevis and the Mamore. It was on Candlemas Day 1645 that Montrose, with his famished band of MacDonalds, Camerons and MacLeans after performing one of the greatest flank marches in history, from Fort Augustuc over the hills to the foothills of Ben Nevis, won their famous victory over the assembled might of Clan Diarmid (The Campbells) at Inverlochy, now Fort William. On that day, another man was seen climbing the side of Ben Nevis; it was Ian Lom MacDonald, the bard of the Keppoch MacDonalds, They asked him if he was going to fight. His lofty reply was that there were plenty sons of Clan Donald to do the fighting, but only he could compose a suitable poem about the victory that was sure to follow - and this was the explanation enough. He was later made Gaelic Poet Laureate by Charles II.

They climbed the Glencoe peaks in better weather than that which prevailed when the children of MacIan MacDonald had to take to the inhospitable hills in the night of 13 Feb 1692, as they fled from Campbell of Glenlyons men. Far to the west , beyond Fort William, they climbed Gulvain, Ladhar Rheinn, Sgriol and Sgor na Chice. They were in the district known as the Garbh Criochan, the Rough Bounds, an area devastated by Cumberland's men in 1746, which was afterwards called the Year of the Great Wasting; and an area for ever associated with the Wanderings of Prince Charles after Culloden, where on more than one occasion he was "plagued by midges" - many an odd MGS trekker has suffered from their unwelcome attentions, over the years.

An old Scottish trekker with me, an Old Mancunian, now teaching at Lochaber High School, climbed Creag Meaghion, whose mighty mass looms above Loch Laggan. When he reached the top, I've no doubt he gazed to the north and Looked as MacAskill's croft of Meall Garbh, the last house before the old wade road over the Corrieyairack Pass really starts. We camped there twice before tackling the romantic road over the Pass to Fort Augustus. Prince Charles Edward came over it from the Fort, hoping to meet General Cope in the Spey Valley, but the General thought better of it and retreated in Inverness, leaving the route to Edinburgh open for the Highland Army. A small clump of trees, surrounded by an iron fence, marks Cope's camp, and it is still called by the Spey Valley people, "Cop's Return".

Others went to Glen Moriston and climbed the peaks south of Cluanie Inn; others went farther down to Glen Shiel to climb the Five Sisters of Kintail, on of which, Sgurr na Spainndeach, recalls the battle fought there in 1719. Some Spanish troops had been brought over, and when told to scatter, they ran up the nearest hill, which now bears their name.

They climbed the peaks that dominate the three parallel glens of Affric Mullardoch and Strathfarrar, some went further to the Fannichs and then to the great hills of Torridon.

During his wanderings, Prince Charles Edward went as far east as the side of Loch Ericht, and spent some days high up on the side of Ben Alder, with Cluny MacPherson, the Chief of that Clan, hence the cave where they hid was called Cluny's Cage. Probably the climbers were too tired to notice a smaller peak near Benalder Lodge. It is called Carn Mhic Ill Onfhaidh. Prince Charles had more than one alias while he was skulking in the hills: John Thompson, Betty Burke, Lewie Caw and Dougal MacIllonie. The latter recalls the time he spent on Ben Alder before he went back to the coast to be picked up by the French ship, L'Heureux in which he sailed to France and into legend.

Finally, a few went beyond Inverness, to "The North Country" as it is called by the people there, because there were still Munros to be climbed: Ben Mor Assynt, Ben Klibreck and lastly, Ben Hope. They were now in the Reay country, of Clan MacKay, in remote Sutherland. Surely Robb Donn Mackay, the celebrate 18th cnetury Gaelic poet, who lived there, would have been inspired to write their praises.

On Monday morning, 10th June, they were back at School, faces a bit wind-roughened. They went for 277 Munros; they climbed 248. It may sound paradoxical, but that was the real triumph. When Boswell and Dr. Johnson had reached Ellon, north of Aberdeen, on their way to the Hebrides, a lady asked Boswell what kind of Doctor Johnson was. Boswell replied: "he is only a very learned man". The lady then said: "They say he is of the greatest man in England, except for Lord Mansfield". On hearing this Johnson said: "I like the exception: to have called me the greatest man in England would have been an unmeaning compliment, but the exception marks that the praise was in earnest". So, to have climbed them all would have made it appear easy; after all, pros could have done it. But to have done fewer brings home the magnitude of the effort. 277 would have been humanly perfect: 248 was divinely imperfect.

And that was the Munro Marathon, something unique, a cup of Mancunian kindness. How fitting the setting should have been in Scotland, where MGS masters and boys have had their spirits uplifted over the years. Scottish Trek will be there this summer, and waiting for them will be a welcome, when they reach 'Tir nam Bheinn, nam Gleann, nam Gaisgach" - the land of Bens and Glens and Heroes.


Gavin James

1 Like Posted one year ago

I have fond memories of going on the Scottish Trek in perhaps 2001. We spent much of it in campsites, but also slept halfway up a mountain, taking water from a stream. I suspect it was a deal more easygoing than some of trips described here. 

Barry J Morgan

1 Like Posted one year ago

What an incredible piece of writing with its depth and breadth across time and place.

I look forward to Hess!

Paul Ormerod (1961-68)

1 Like Posted one year ago

Thanks for this piece, very interesting.

However, I have two comments.

First, I feel that a compleation (sic) of the Munros is rather marred without its extension to the 226 subsidiary Tops.  You might have considered tackling some of these.

Second and more importantly, it is regrettable to read yet another eulogy to the reactionary “Bonnie” Prince Charlie.  Had he won, he would have preserved a pre-feudal economic structure. The population of the Highlands would have continued to be subjected to the endless drudgery of a purely subsistence economy at near starvation levels of living.

As it was, the victory of the combined forces of the Lowland Scots and the English eventually enabled, as Marx so memorably put it, “the bourgeoisie to rescue the population from the idiocies of rural life”.

Laurence Copeland

1 Like Posted one year ago

Fond memories of Ian “Basher” Bailey who was our form master in 3C and 4C.

Reading the grim story of Thomas Coppock, I cannot help but wonder if he was an ancestor of Prof Dennis Coppock who was Head of Manchester University's Department of Economics where I was a Research Assistant, back in 1974-5.  

David Pearson 1960-67

1 Like Posted one year ago

I was on Basher Bailey's 1965 Scottish Trek and slept in his tent. I have a very similar photo of him but finding it in my boxes of slides would be a herculean task. He taught me both English and History but my recollections of his classes are numerous anecdotes about his correspondence with Scottish landlords.

Chris Henshall

1 Like Posted one year ago

I did three treks in my time at MGS. The first, led by John Bentham, took place in the summer of 1975 and traversed some wonderfully remote and wild country between Killilan (north of Dornie) and Ullapool. The second, also led by John Bentham in the summer of 1976, started in Blair Atholl and took in the Cairngorms; I remember that I wrote an account of it for Ulula. My final trek, led by John Wilson, was in 1977 and traversed the South Western Highlands from Dalmally to Roy Bridge.

Despite an introduction to the hills at camps in Borrowdale, these trips opened up new horizons for me and I have been trekking, climbing and mountaineering - in Scotland and all over the world - ever since; after spending 50 years or so on the job, I should finish the Munros in 2025 or thereabouts! My thanks go out to those members of staff who were dedicated enough to run these trips, especially John Bentham, Ray Davies and John Wilson. If I have been able to do anything similar in my own teaching and instructing career, it is thanks to them. 

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