Grampian Club History

The Club was founded through a letter to the Dundee Courier in January 1927, and the first meet was held in Glen Clova in March. 12 members, both men and women, attended and a snow gully was climbed on Mayar. In December 1928, a party was avalanched in Corrie Fee- “a valuable lesson had been learnt”. In summer 1929, the Club visited Skye and 2 years later recorded their first visit to Raeburn’s Gully on Lochnagar (curiously 70 years later 2 members recorded the fastest unintentional descent of Raeburn’s, but that is another story). In 1932, the Club was joined by the renowned Dr JHB Bell who remained with the Club till his death in 1975 as Hon. President.

Group of Founder Members of the Club in Winter Conditions, c1930

In 1935, the Club held the first of many slide shows at monthly indoor meetings. A group emerged as expert rock climbers with a number of first ascents which raised the Club’s prestige in climbing circles.

From 1939 to 1945, regular meets were held in the Sidlaws, Fife and Angus, using public transport, except for 15 months from February 1940. A few managed weekend train meets to Aviemore and Crianlarich and membership numbered 65 with 25 on active service and 2 as prisoners-of-war.

Not being outdone – Lady Members in similar winter conditions, c1930

Thereafter things returned to some normality though local food at hotels on meets was being reported as “a problem” as late as 1948. Membership rose to 102 in 1950 and in that decade Club parties ventured as far afield as Wales, Ireland, the Alps, Norway, Greenland, Iceland and Africa.\

Climbers on Spearhead Arete, Ben Narnain 1933. The belayer is the legendary Eric Maxwell [1891-1978] keeper of the List of Munroists from 1958 until the SMC took it over.

In 1954 the first Grampian Club Bulletin was issued. This annual publication continues to this day and constitutes an invaluable reference. Past issues can be consulted in the Archive Department of The University of Dundee.

There were regular and popular meets to the Cairngorm Club’s hut at Derry Lodge. Eventually the Club acquired its own at Inbhirfhaolain which was leased in 1961 and officially opened in June 1962. The hut was closed for 2 months in 1967 because of an outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease.

In the 60’s, membership was around 160 and overnight meets were started (and often never-to-be-forgotten!) Overseas trips continued and bagging Munros became popular. Member, Eric Maxwell, the official Keeper of the List of Completionists at the time, completed his own 2nd round at the age of 72.

In the 70s Club membership peaked at over 200 and in 1977 on the 50th anniversary meet some 86 members made it to the top of Mayar including a founder member in his 80s. This revealed an active club with a varied programme of meets all over Scotland. Members visited mountain ranges abroad including Norway and the Alps. As international travel became easier, trips were made to New Zealand, Canada and the USA.

In 1981 Don Green, our first hut custodian, retired on the 20th anniversary of the acquisition of Inbhirfhaolain and it was left to the new custodian to install electricity and to his successors to continue the tradition of steady improvement. Indeed the hut is now almost unrecognisable to those who knew it in the 1960s and the glory days of gas lighting, cast-off furniture and crockery. A composting toilet replaced the old Elsan Hut in 1998. A significant event occurred in 1991 when The Forestry Commission finally sold the hut to the Club after leasing it for almost 30 years.

Club Hut Opening, 8th July 1962. An old roadman’s cottage rented from the then Forestry Commission Scotland, later purchased. Now much upgraded and is used by other outdoor clubs.

In 1984, the Club had a major hand in the construction of the Roy Tait Memorial Bridge at Bachnagairn to commemorate a fine climber and member killed in the Black Spout of Lochnagar in 1981.

The Club purchased our cottage in Torridon in 1984. Terry Isles, the first custodian, retired in 2009. In 1988 the Club bus was involved in a major road accident on a Club meet at Auch which resulted in the death of Club secretary, Liz Stenhouse. A memorial gate at Newton Cottage was erected in her memory.

Summit Party for 50th Anniversary Meet, Mayar, March 1977

In 2002 the Club celebrated its 75th Anniversary when, at the Annual Dinner, the health of the Grampian Club was toasted by the then President of the MCofS (now Mountaineering Scotland), John Donahoe.

Throughout this time members have made a major contribution to the Dundee Mountain Film Festival and on a less serious note to the local Mountain Mind Quiz with some success. The Club continues to have a keen interest in environmental issues and access to the Scottish Hills. Members have assisted in the work of MCofS, Tayside Mountain Rescue and other local and national organisations involved with the mountain environment in Scotland.

Membership continued to be maintained in the range 220 -230, recruitment being increasingly via the web as well as through friends in the workplace. The annual programme of monthly and weekend meets continued as before, despite the difficulties arising from EU working time rules governing bus driving times. This led to increased costs when two drivers were needed and sacrifice of the evening meal on summer meets. The rock climbing group flourished and an informal group of retired members started to organise mid-week walks which explored the lesser known hills, moors and glens of Angus and Perthshire.

In 2005 work was started on a review and renewal of the Club Constitution and the way Council operated. Following this in 2007/08, Council was reorganised for the first time in its history. The aim was to improve efficiency by separating day-to-day matters (membership and meets) from those of finance and policy. In 2008 the new Constitution, Guidelines and Information for members was published in a Members Handbook. Farther changes followed in 2021.

Newsletters began to be sent by e-mail as well as post. In early 2010 it was clear that the old website needed substantial overhaul and that a new more user-friendly, interactive and up to date site was required. After several months of painstaking work by dedicated members the new site went live in September 2010 encouraging members to engage with Club affairs, book meets and exchange news and views and bring Club communications into the 21st century. Its interactive style continues the Club tradition of a friendly welcome to all.

Our membership subscription remained at a modest £25 from 2010 until 2023 when it increased to £30. Over this period the monthly Newsletter has developed into a very polished publication, keeping members up to date with Club activities. In 2012 we celebrated the 50th anniversary of Inbhirfhaolain and the 25th anniversary of Newton Cottage. That same year a GC Facebook page was launched proving an immediate success with 51 supporters within the year.

In 2017 member David Cooke, a plant pathologist at the James Hutton Insitute, recognised dying Rhododendron at Inbhirfhaolain. The plants had been infected by Phytophthorum ramorum – a notifiable plant disease. This resulted in clearing and burning plants all around the hut.

Changed Days – 90th Anniversary Gathering in Corrie Fee prior to heading up Mayar and Driesh, March 2017

A year later yet another shock came for Kevin Green, the hut custodian. A developer, Dickins Hydro Resources, submitted plans for seven run-of-the-river hydro schemes in Glen Etive. One of these was for the Allt Fhaolain which is our water supply. In spite of a spirited campaign in the press, spearheaded by member David Gibson, the plans were approved by Highland Council. Work is now underway constructing the turbine house upstream from the hut. One unexpected benefit of this development will be that Inbhirfhaolain will at last have a piped water supply.

In 2020 Covid-19 resulted in suspension of indoor meetings, curtailment of meets and closure of our properties. Both the AGM and the Annual Dinner were cancelled. The Club appointed Past President Morag Dodds as Covid Officer. She made it her business to study Government Guidelines and advise Council on mitigation measures. Considerable improvements were effected at Newton where the newly appointed custodian, Colin MacDonald, was obliged to replace floor coverings, beds and mattresses in accord with the strict cleaning regime required by the pandemic. These and other improvements were assisted financially by a Covid-19 Small Business Support Grant from the Scottish Government.

Encouragingly, membership remained loyal and by 2021 day meets resumed with the requirement to be masked on the bus; weekend meets also began again with 2 meetings, and both properties re-opened. However, indoor meetings continued to be online only although a return to actual indoor meetings was envisaged. By 2022, with the exception of early Indoor Meets, Club activities had returned to normal.

Looking ahead, the Club is proposing to celebrate its centenary in 2027 by planting up to 2,000 trees in partnership with the Woodland Trust on land close to our Torridon property. Each tree will represent a member of the Club since its very inception in 1927. Besides being a contribution to restoring the natural environment, the project will highlight such a significant occasion.

Compiled with the assistance of Roy Partington and Peter Davidson

Mountaining Scotland Club Member

The Grampian Club is a Club Member of Mountaineering Scotland