The early part of IMC history

A bus not to be missed

This story of the early years of the IMC is by Ross Martin, who was a leading member of the club and combined the offices of Secretary and Treasurer for many years.

My active involvement with the IMC covered the period from 1956 to 1966, and some recollections of these faraway days may interest and amuse the younger members of the present day and stir some memories in the older generations.

As the club approached and passed its tenth anniversary, many of the founder members had moved away from Inverness. Happily at this time there were two fertile sources of new recruits, firstly the many young engineers working on the many hydro-electric schemes then under construction, and secondly university and college students who had cut their mountain teeth with Inverness Royal Academy Outdoor Club.

The pivotal feature of the club in the l950’s was the club bus that then provided a unique form of regular transport for those wishing to travel to the wilder parts of the Highlands and back in the same day. There were virtually no rival forms of transport particularly on a Sunday (Sunday because most members worked at least part of Saturday) and the bus formed a focus for a happy and diverse band of people with a common interest in the outdoors. In addition to climbers and hillwalkers, the bus was patronised by botanists, ornithologists, and even, despite some protest, skiers! The bus left (relatively) promptly from Strothers Lane at 7.30am on Sunday. It returned there at varying times, on occasion up to four hours after its scheduled time of retum.

The proportion of hillwalkers to rock and snow & ice climbers on meets varied considerably from year to year, but my recollection is that hillwalkers were always in the majority. Wednesday evening meets were held during the summer months to local outcrops, mainly to Duntelchaig but also to Dunain Hill and Dun Riach, always with an eye on the routes pioneered by Richard Frere. The IMC can take credit for introducing the RAF Mountain rescue team to the Duntelchaig crags on a joint meet in the late l950’s. In winter it was the custom for a member of the committee (or more accurately his mother or wife!) to hold “open house” on an evening in the week preceding a meet, when plans were laid for great deeds on the following Sunday.

On the hill, although vibram soled boots had become the rule in summer; Timpsons supplied the boots in commonest use for four guineas, or £4.20, and it was considered irresponsible not to wear nailed boots, or at least a combination of nails and vibram soles in winter. Crampons “were only for use abroad” and we believed the dictum “their use in Britain leads to slovenly technique”. Ice axes were of walking stick length, wooden shafted, and frequently bore the WD broad arrow dating them to World War II.

In the l960’s we entered into a period of rapid change. Earnings were increasing, and car ownership amongst members became less of a source of astonishment. The resultant flexibility of private transport combined with increasing costs of buses placed increasing pressure on the club to cut down on or abandon bus meets. Unofficial day and weekend meets became more frequent, but IMC membership still provided a strong bond.

Social Functions in the Fifties

The writer, John Aird, was a very active member of the club, being President for three years in the late Fifties and early Sixties. In recognition of his contribution to the IMC he was made an honorary member at the club’s 50th Anniversary. The photo is from a later era; a pub meal at the Ballater meet in November 2017.

The Club used to hold “Indoor Meets” in members’ houses, apartments or digs, and these would take place every two months or so.  We would chat about past and prospective Club expeditions and about club matters generally.  The host or hostess, or in my case my landlady, would provide a light supper on these occasions.  We also met each Thursday night in the former Ness Cafe in Ardross Terrace to discuss plans for the following weekend.

There would normally be two Club dances each year – one held about Halloween and the other just before Christmas.  These took place in the long-since-demolished Highland Ski Club hut off Haugh Road by courtesy of that Club.  The arrangement was that the lady members would provide the food in exchange for free admission!  We would engage a local band and there would be a licensed bar provided by Mr Ron Annand of the “Crit” bar in Church Street (whose site is now occupied by Lauders). These functions were always very enjoyable and consisted largely of the more vigorous Scottish dances. The only snag was the floor which was not entirely suitable being of uneven dusty concrete – it was a former Army hut!

I should mention one amusing incident which happened on what was, probably, the last time we used the Ski Club Hut for a dance.  The usual application to the Licensing Court for a Special Certificate was made by Ron Annand, but this time it was refused on the grounds that the Police found that the place was too difficult to supervise – in other words it was too far for them to walk!

Well, we were not going to be put off. We were going to have the dance, come what may! Individual members would bring drinks appropriate to the occasion.  This would have been in order if no payment was being made for the drinks.  In my capacity as honorary legal adviser to the Club, I had to draw the committee’s attention to the provisions of the Licensing (Scotland) Act 1865 (applicable at that time) which made provision for heavy penalties for running an unlicensed bar (known as a “shebeen” in Scots Law!).  The dance went ahead; the bar was duly set up.  We took turns to run it and “You name it, we love it!” was the situation.  Well, the Police did turn up (very sneaky) late in the evening and do you know, when they appeared everybody was on the floor dancing and there was not a glass to be seen!

After that the Club moved to more sophisticated (and expensive!) accommodation in a function suite of one of the town’s hotels.

Honorary Membership and Club Traditions

This is the final extract from Peter Biggar’s tales of the early years of the IMC. We start with Honorary Membership; neither of the two mentioned below is still with us, understandably given the lapse of time. There are now five honorary members, the most recently created being former President Michael Garrett for services to the club over the last forty-plus years. The picture is of the Ben Nevis observatory in the late 19th Century.

From 1950-’64 the Club created only two honorary members.  Indeed these may be the only such members it has ever created. In 1952 a Mr. C.G. Crawford became the first hon. member, but almost nothing seems to be known about him.  However, post Everest, in 1954 the committee invited the expedition member Tom Longstaff to become an Hon. Member.  However as is wont to happen, the committee had exceeded its powers under the then prevailing constitution.  Only an A.G.M. had the power to confer this honour and Mr. Longstaff had to  wait until April of ’55 to be “homologated”.

Plainly, in the early days, honorary membership was thought of as an honour conferred on outstanding mountaineers who happened, perhaps, to live in this area (Longstaff apparently lived in Achiltibuie for a while).  Nowadays it is more likely that honorary membership would be bestowed on someone as a mark of gratitude and affection for long years of service to, and interest in the Club.

Club Traditions from the Early Years

There seem to be three chief traditions which date from the fifties and early sixties: the meets, the weekly meetings and the annual dinner. (One can hardly count A.G.M.’s and committee meetings: these phenomena being pre-conditions of any enduring organised society).

In this period the meets gradually evolved from day meets to weekend ones.  Details of what was done are scarce: precious logbooks have been lost.  The Club went out in all weathers and at all times of year.  We know that the Club from its earliest days contained both walkers and climbers.  The balance between these two facets of mountaineering has seldom been even.  Gil Ward has said that when he joined the Club (Dec.’56) it was dominated by walkers and that climbers were slightly looked down upon.  By ’58 Ward was actively working to change this trend.  He wrote to the committee in the Spring of that year suggesting that the Club did not have enough meets to climbing areas.  This letter provoked a lively discussion at the A.G.M. and the committee took note of Ward’s request arranging meets to Kishorn, B.Nevis, Glen Finnan, Stac Pollaidh and Torridon; from at least three of these venues climbing would have been possible.  Gil Ward’s influence on the early club is very interesting. In the Summer of ’58 when John Aird was president (another very influential figure) Ward suggested that the committee should meet more often in order that “the running of the club might be better shared amongst committee members”, and this suggestion was unanimously adopted.( There is a delightful irony, and one I am sure Gil would find amusing: in the second year of his own distinguished presidency the committee, if records are complete, met only twice.)

While early “indoor meets” took place in hotel rooms, members’ homes and, later on in the Ness Cafe, it is also to Gil Ward that the Club owes its long running tradition of meeting each Thursday evening in a local bar-room for he suggested this at the A.G.M. of 1961. Plainly the membership liked the idea because they made him President on the spot.  By September of that year pub meetings were held each Thursday in the Carleton Cocktail Bar, and these for a while continued in tandem with monthly meetings in members’ houses.  It is  a less than sobering thought that almost every Thursday from that year to the present, members of I.M.C. have gathered in some hostelry or other in Inverness.

 Paradoxically, the annual dinner did not necessarily occur on an annual basis in the first few years of the Club’s existence.  There was none in the first year, and it seems probable that the first was held in May of ’51 after J. Frew had succeeded Cattanach as President.

Horreurs! Dommages!

This is a further extract of Peter Biggar’s early history of the club, gleaned from Minute books and logbooks. It’s a shock-horror expose of controversy at AGM’s; that could never happen nowadays. Could it? The photo is of the Fannichs, taken on a club meet in 2018 by Arthur.

Ordinarily the Club’s activities have been free from the breath of controversy, but there are notable counter instances.  In October of ’53 it was discovered that Alec Sutherland had not paid his sub. and his name was “deleted from the books” (an oversight no doubt hastily remedied).

At the A.G.M. in ’57 the Club might well have had its first woman president who would have pre-dated Alison Robertson by the best part of forty years.  What happened was that Miss Gwen Bush, by all accounts an excellent Meets Secretary and a great servant to the Club, proposed the sitting President Bill Cooper; he returned the compliment and proposed her: he won and a historic victory was prevented.

On the hill in ’55 members of a meet to Loch Droma got lost in a snowstorm on Sgurr Mor and descended to Fannaich Lodge instead of the Ullapool road where the bus awaited them.  Consternation was averted by a ‘phone call to Aultguish Inn.  The owner took her Landrover up the snowbound road to Loch Droma to alert the folk on the bus.  The committee sent her 7/6 petrol money, a letter and a box of chocolates.

In recent times, A.G.M.’s have tended to be somewhat sleepy affairs, but the Meeting of ’64 was not at all soporific.  When it came to electing the Secretary-Treasurer, the Inverness equivalent of all-Hell broke loose.  The incumbent was Ross Martin, again by all accounts a most respected and dedicated Club servant.  He was proposed by the newly elected President Cammy MacLeay.  Up stands the maverick figure of Phil Larder who has already been the subject of a severe rebuke by a former President (Gil Ward) for “rowdiness on the bus”, and this before he was even admitted to membership!  Larder proposes several members in turn to stand against Martin.  None of them would do it.  Then – horror of horrors – he proposed a vote of “No confidence” in Martin.  A deathly silence ensued.  But nobody would second the motion.  In the end the President – who must have been wondering what he had taken on – declared Martin elected.  There was a communal gasp of relief: the attempt of an upstart to impugn the honour of a noted Club officer had been averted.  But the story doesn’t quite end there, for five years later Larder himself was actually elected President (’69).  He was President for one year: a dashing,  somewhat cavalier figure with a R.A.F. background.  There is some merely anecdotal evidence that in the matter of computing the number of Munros he had climbed his calculations could be erratic.  Be this as it may, Ross Martin is almost universally adjudged to have done a great deal for the Club yet he, like Gwen Bush before him, was never made President.  A personality clash perhaps?

The poverty of information about dinners and meets in the early years is due to the relative failure of another club tradition: that of recording its doings in a logbook.  As early as the very first committee meeting in April ’50, the Secretary was instructed to purchase a “logbook to record the activities of members”.  Alas, alas, only one of these documents is extant.  With great unwisdom it was decreed that early logbooks should be brought to social gatherings and lent to members for their amusement and edification.  Nobody thought of the future and, of course, many logbooks were borrowed never to be returned.  What a mine of information they must contain for the would-be historian.  Is it too late to hope that some former member, hearing of the Club’s 50th Birthday might find in his or her attic a musty volume full of inky scribblings and perhaps even faded photographs?

Social Events – the early years

Another extract from Peter Biggar’s researches into club history, published in the 50th Anniversary Journal. The photo above is from an IMC dinner dance at the Nethybridge Hotel in 2017.

Almost since its inception, one of the chief functions of the committee has been to bewail “poor attendance at meets”.  In ’55 the committee realised, somewhat belatedly, that some “older members” had “dropped out” and that there were insufficient “new members” to take their place.  Numerous possibilities were explored including Inverness Royal Academy, the Air Cadets, the Rover Scouts and Cameron Boys’ Club, and the President had the bright idea of putting a notice of the next meet in “the Tourist Board Offices”.  None of this did much good and one suspects the reasons for the poor attendances were not really very hard to seek.  The weather as always was quite unpredictable, the buses large, bone shaking and malodourous and the roads narrow and twisty.  The trip to Torridon might seem a good idea on Thursday night, but on a wet and wind lashed Sunday morning?  Most meets were still day meets and these are high risk endeavours.   

Scanning the minutes one cannot help noticing that while meets were not always popular, sociabilities of one sort or another nearly always were.  There were Christmas dances and parties, Halloween Parties and Annual dinners as well as the regular weekly meetings held rather temperately in those days in the Ness Cafe each Thursday at eight; and if these opportunities were not enough they were supplemented by a diet of monthly “at homes” in members houses.  The Club’s members, it seems, never tired of each other’s company and in those rather more austere times welcomed any excuse for a party.  Although no self-respecting mountaineering club committee could ever have admitted it (indeed they probably couldn’t see it), the answer to the problem was to arrange more parties and perhaps gradually to steer the club towards weekend meets and the use of private transport.  Ever so gradually the diehards rallying round the buses and badges of post Suez Crisis Britain were losing the war. But the individual battles raged long and furiously before the last club bus disgorged its load in Academy Street.  

“Young” Alec Sutherland in full flow at the Burns’ supper 1975

In April of 1960 the committee discussed the question of “dispensing with a bus in favour of private transport”.  However, this was not immediately successful, and two years later, at the worst attended A.G.M. in the Club’s history (9 members) the forces of reaction staged a notable, but ultimately quite futile, comeback: weekend meets were to be abandoned, all meets were to be by bus and a clarion call to the effect that “we must have a well-attended meet in June” was issued.  In September of that year the committee even considered purchasing a bus, but were mercifully restrained.  Alas for the bus lobby, by the A.G.M. of ’63 membership had reached an all-time low (just 12) and it was discovered that despite all the piping and drumming most meets that year had in fact been by car.  

Wearily the committee agreed to try weekend meets once again and an edict went forth that members new to camping should be helped by the more experienced.  What was happening was quite beyond the control of the committee, the Free Church, the Government or anyone else, for as Harold Wilson defeated Alec Douglas-Home in the General Election of 1964, the times they were a -changing; buses were lumbering into the history books, the age of individualism was upon us and, even in Inverness, the swinging Sixties had arrived.

To be fair to the bus lobby, the fears they voiced were genuine and to some extent justified.  The fear was expressed that with private transport being used, “the club might split into small groups”.  Looking at the more recent history of the club, and of other clubs, who is to say that this has not happened? The mistake however is to imagine that what preserved unity in the past, in this case the buses, can be artificially kept alive in order to preserve it for the future.  The buses had had their day.  Every year the S.M.C. sings at its annual dinner about “My big hobnailers”, but nobody seriously  suggests using the things: they are pleasant sentimental relics of the past.  The challenge is to find new ways of interesting people in co-operative hill activities, especially perhaps young people.

Early IMC Meets

This article was written by Peter Biggar for the IMC’s 50th Anniversary journal. The photo above is sadly not taken on an IMC meet, but was found by Arthur when he was clearing out his study. It shows a very impressive cornice on Braeriach in 1956, possibly in the Garbh Corrie or Corrie Bhrochain. You have to wonder how the climbers escaped; I hope not by tunnelling the cornice.

The Club’s first meet took place on Sunday 30th April 1950.  Nobody seems to know what was done – Cairngorm, Bynack More, Meall a’Buachaille all seem possibilities, as does a demure walk around Loch Morlich for the “less experienced”, but half a century is a long time without written records and the Log Book tradition was not yet established, and even when it was, strange and unaccountable things happened to these invaluable sources of information.

The first meet was preceded by the first Indoor Meet at which the Vice-President – one Dr. Barclay – gave a “short talk” for those in need of experience.  Little is known about Dr. Barclay, but if he is the same man who climbed Observatory Ridge in Winter with Gwen Moffat (see Space Below My Feet) – she ended by passing their one piton up to him on the pick of her ice-axe – his credentials as an instructor hardly seem unimpeachable.  The other attractions at the first indoor meet were to include a “lantern lecture” or “an epidiascope display of members’ photographs”.  Cattanach was by all accounts a spirited hillman but, as the arranging of all these attractions was left to him, there may be a little doubt as to whether any of them actually took place. He stood down as President after the inaugural year and, despite at least one attempt to be elected to it, never again appears on the committee.

The Club’s next meet was to Kinlochewe on Sunday 28th May.  Thus began the great East- West pendulum swing which, to this day sees members heading for Aviemore and the ‘Gorms one week-end and the Garve or Loch Ness roads the next.  In the early days most meets were day meets and took place on Sundays because many members would be working on Saturdays.  It is interesting that the tight corsets of Presbyterianism were unlaced enough to allow organised hill-walking on Sundays.  It may have been felt that the weather in any case usually made this an appropriately penitential activity, and members no doubt heeded St.Paul’s instruction and were “not drunk with wine” but were rather “filled with the Spirit”.  The bus left the La Scala Cinema at seven -thirty in the morning to return quite late in the evening.  On the first Western meet the bus was to drop members at different “desired points” along the Torridon road and dinner was to be in the Kinlochewe Hotel at eight-thirty.  It cost three and sixpence (21 pence); by the time the bus got back to Inverness there would be very little Sabbath left.

Mountain rescue, and a Club hut?

This is another extract from Peter Biggar’s researches published in the 50th Anniversary booklet. The photo above is the Ling hut in Torridon, now maintained by the SMC.

Mountain Rescue and The First Aid Kit

Quite early in its existence the Club decided to assemble a First Aid Kit. By 1952 the President had the rucksack and the Secretary had the dressings; it was solemnly agreed to unite them.  If a camel is best conceived as “a horse designed by a committee” the attempts of I.M.C.’s committee to design a first aid kit also had a certain lumpiness.  By the time the First-aid kit had metamorphosed into a Mountain Rescue Kit and was kept at Garve in 1954, it contained: “..a 120′ length of three quarter weight hemp which belonged to Mr.Shorthouse an ex-member of the club who had not claimed it and whose whereabouts were unknown…2 tins of soup, tea, sugar, biscuits, dried milk”  and “a flask filled with paraffin”.

Mountain Rescue in the early 50’s was in its infancy in Scotland.  Despite its somewhat amateurish beginnings, the Club’s association with the rescue services has been a long and honourable one.  In the early years there was useful collaboration both with the local police and with the emergent R.A.F. team at Kinloss.  However, in 1959 came the shocking news that the Kinloss team might be disbanded.  This rumour was the ancestor of similar rumours which have plagued the rescue service ever since.  On this occasion, the solution seemed to be for I.M.C. and Moray M.C. with whom there have always been friendly relations, to form a rescue team amongst themselves.

A Special Meeting was held in Sept. ’59.  At this it transpired that the Club had 8 members who could be counted on to “turn out”; it had transport for all personnel but not for the “collapsible stretcher” which would be needed.  It was resolved that our members would mainly be of use in “prolonged searches” or “complicated rescues”.  The Sec. and Treasurer (one position in those days) was to be on the “Joint Committee”.  It was further resolved that the Club’s first aid kit was to be “given a Spring-clean” and the Sec was instructed to purchase “two tins of self-heating soup”. (This latter item proved difficult; the Sec. Ross Martin reported at a later meeting that he couldn’t get just two tins – eventually four were purchased).

Sadly for all this endeavour, the Government, as usually happens, changed its mind, Kinloss was saved and the joint-team project abandoned.  Perhaps the prospect of some unsuspecting victim being pursued by I.M.C. members with ancient hemp ropes, collapsing stretchers, tins of self-heating soup and a bottle of paraffin was just too much for the authorities.

What eventually happened was that a list of members willing to be called out on rescues was given to the Police.  This involved some dedicated members in a great deal of effort and inconvenience.  There is a note in a later minutes book to the effect that having been called out on numerous occasions, Peter Moffatt’s name should now be removed from the top of the list.

A Club Hut?

At various times in its history the Club has toyed with the idea of owning or renting its own hut.  In the early 50’s it was thought that the B.M.C. might offer a large grant for the purchase of a hut.  The Sec. actually wrote to the Council suggesting “the ruined keeper’s cottage at Loch – “.  The name the committee couldn’t spell was probably Lochan an Iasgair, and the cottage what is now the Ling Hut, but nothing came of it.  The Council apparently only wanted the Club to act as custodians.  A couple of years later the Club was offered a lease on Ben Alder Cottage, but this too was declined – probably wisely considering the distances and isolation involved.

The issue of a club hut rose again at the end of the 50’s when the Club considered “renting and repairing Shenevall”; a cottage at Polldubh in G.Nevis was also under consideration.  In the end, of course, the Club was to have a long and fruitful relationship with Shenevall, but while members vainly poked about under boulders in various remote corries looking for suitable “howffs,” no committee has really been prepared to shoulder the work and responsibility of hut ownership and like the Clan MacGregor flitting through the mists, I.M.C. goes about the North happily using the facilities of its more provident fellow clubs. Matter here for further thought?  On one occasion, the committee, hard pressed for suitable accommodation in Glencoe, sought “to obtain a large tent for the use of female members,” but there is no record of this admirable solution being put to the test.

IMC 70th Anniversary – the early years

The Club’s 70th Anniversary falls on 1st April 2020. Sadly, we can’t have a mass celebration as the committee intended – although I’ve no doubt that we will when the current madness is over. There will be no more meets for the immediate future; instead, I’m putting extracts from the IMC’s 50th Anniversary journal on the website. The first extract is written by Peter Biggar and deals with the early years of the Club. The photo at the top is of “Ice axe practice in the Cairngorms 1974”, with one Marion Potten to the fore.

The Club was born out of a meeting held in the Caledonian Hotel on the 4th of April 1950 at 7.15 p.m.  There were sixteen men, including four doctors, Alec Sutherland who was later to look after Shenevall Bothy on behalf of the Club for the Mountain Bothies Association for sixteen years, eight women, including Miss May Mathieson who was to become a long-serving Meets Secretary and one Sergeant MacKenzie, but whether he was there to become a member or control the crowds, we are not told.  It has been claimed that as many as sixty people attended this meeting – and this may be so – but these are all that are recorded by the spidery handwriting in the first minutes book which runs from 1950 to 1964 and is an invaluable document for those interested in the history of the Club.

An early moving spirit of the Club, Donnie Cattanach was in the Chair (and may even have been responsible for the ad. in the Inverness Courier which called the meeting).  However, during the proceedings Cattanach, in the words of the minute taker, “became indisposed”, a lovely phrase which could mean anything, and a Mr. I. Roberts took over.  Alec Sutherland, who was at the meeting, cannot remember why Cattanach became indisposed.  No matter.  After brief discussions the meeting passed a motion that “this meeting [should] form itself into a mountaineering club”, and an amendment put forward by two of the doctors to make the infant club part of the Junior Mountaineering Club of Scotland was defeated by 21 votes to 4.  Small wonder: the J.M.C.S. did not admit women!  And women have played a conspicuous part in the history of I.M.C.

Despite his indisposition, Cattanach was duly elected the first President of the Club.  A committee was formed and charged with exploring the possibility of holding “indoor meets”.  An experienced member was to be found who could deliver a lecture to the Club on general aspects of mountaineering “for the benefit of those members who have little or no experience.”  Happy days! After all that they must have been as dry as dust, but whether they had beer or tea history, sadly, does not relate.

The Issues

During the fourteen years of this period, various issues alternately seep or rage through the deliberations of the committee.  Information was sought about “Campbell’s Rubber Company of Aberdeen” who, it was rumoured, would give a ten per-cent discount “to members”.  This organisation was also involved in the saga of the badges.  Somebody, it seems, decided that it would help to give the Club a sense of identity if the members wore badges. The modern equivalent is probably the Club “Logo”.  Campbells agreed to supply 144 badges at 4/6 each.  Sadly it was discovered that the Club could not afford this outlay.  The solution was to ask Campbells to supply 72 badges to begin with and the rest at a later date.  Campbell’s were having none of it: 144 or nothing!  Consternation reigned: the committee actually voted to have a “General Meeting” after the next A.G.M. to consider the matter. Plainly, in the more cohesive society of the 1950’s badges were important.  They never materialised.

Homologation

This sounds uncomfortable, but in fact merely means acceptance by the Club. Nowadays there seem to be no particular entrance requirements for being a member, but it was not always so.  Miss Duncan, in the early 50’s, had  to attend “one indoor and one outdoor meet” for the privilege.  All through the early years the committee seem to have wavered between (sensibly) taking anyone they could get and (less sensibly) going through all the rigmarole and hooha of entry forms, trial periods, solemn discussions, white smoke etc.  One suspects that the Club’s bank balance largely determined which selection procedure was used.