Trail Tales heads to the Northwest Highlands and to Torridon to uncover the hidden history that changed mountain rescue as we know it.
How does an RAF navigational training exercise in one of the UK’s most iconic aircraft, the Avro Lancaster, turn into a wholesale change in how mountain rescue operates on our shores?
Trail Tales heads north and west to investigate a little-known accident with far-reaching consequences to this day.
Torridon is a name synonymous with great riding and hospitality to match. Here, the mountains are over 1000m high and loom over extensively deep sea lochs. The Ice Age made its mark here long ago and helped to create this beautiful yet rugged landscape.
Most hikers and riders in these mountains are unaware that a rescue in the United Kingdom would change forever here in the early hours of March 14th 1951. The events of that day and what was learned from it, would shape how both people, whether military or civilian, would be extracted from the mountains when they could no longer do so under their own power.
A hard glance at crash sites in the UK show a considerable quantity of accidents and RAF Mountain Rescue would be the result of this. In reality, it was merely a team that used equipment they already had available and little to no special training. These men were responsible to use that equipment regardless of the time of year or the location of the crash.
That lack of specialist equipment or training would come into sharp focus before the sun had risen on March 14th 1951 when a four-engined, heavy bomber would slam into the summit of Beinn Eighe above the now infamous Triple Buttress.
The low cloud and harsh winter conditions would hide the crash site for a full two weeks until rescue teams arrived. This team would then spend the next five months working their way tirelessly back and forth from the crash site until all eight bodies had been recovered.
It was only in the aftermath of this tragedy that the lack of specialist training and equipment was brought into sharp focus.
All this is narrated by David “Heavy” Whalley who has been involved in the RAF Mountain Rescue team for 36 years. He is also the eyes and the voice of a place with a very important historical legacy.
Nowadays, The Northwest Highlands of Scotland has some of the best and most remote riding to offer anywhere in the World. People travel from all over to feel and ride uniquely, difficult technical trails, a playground for outdoor enthusiasts.
Torridon is not a place for the faint-hearted; its ever changing weather and remoteness call for a reliable and punchy ride. Enter our Occam – a bike that can handle the rough with the smooth and the bike both Angus and Rory chose to tackle the ups and downs of Beinn Eighe.
A well-made stalkers’ path descends into a labyrinth of shattered Torridonian sandstone, one of the oldest stones on the planet and another thing that makes this area so unique. The stone is also one of the few that gets no less grippy in the wet. For Its unforgiving rocky terrain, Angus opted for double Maxxis Minion DHF and Rory went for the Assegai to trail-blaze upfront and the Dissector in the rear. A lot of grip was required.
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