All film footage on page site has been
very kindly provided for our use by The National Library of Scotland's
Scottish Screen Archive
Benjamin Hutchison Humble M.B.E., Bennie to close family and friends, was born in Dumbarton in 1903. He lived at Rose Cottage in Arrochar from 1960 to 1970 when he moved to Aviemore and built a new home, Feithlinn, overlooking the Cairngorms. He was a prolific author and a noted Scottish climber who was involved in the early development of mountain rescue and in the formation of The Mountain Rescue Committee for Scotland, serving as it's accident recorder for over 30 years.
Ben Humble was born in Dumbarton in 1903, the seventh of eight sons of the Manager of Dennystown Forge. He qualified in dentistry despite rapidly progressing deafness, later becoming one of the first dental radiologists in Scotland and making important advances in forensic dentistry.
His deafness made Bennie, as he was known to close friends and family, slightly crusty with people. A published, unflattering photograph called the Humble Kipper, showing him at breakfast, caused him not to speak to the photographer for 10 years.
Though born within view of Ben Lomond, nothing indicated that Humble would become a mountaineer - until his discovery of Skye. Ben's nephew Roy Humble wrote his biography and stated "Ben's whole life turned on the 1929 Skye holiday." ("The Voice of the Hills - The Story of Ben Humble" by Roy M Humble 1995).
Skye was an adventurous destination in 1929, especially for a mountain novice like Humble. He travelled in the steamer 'Glencoe', built in 1846, which then had the longest record of service of any steamship in Britain. In the third-class cabin was a sign: "This cabin has accommodation for 90 third class passengers when not occupied by sheep, cattle, cargo or other encumbrances". Youth hostels still had not reached the island, and Ben Humble had to seek out crofters' homes to bed down in. In Glen Brittle he stayed with Mrs Chisholm at the Post Office which "received mails twice a week and had no telephone". Mrs Chisholm had entertained hundreds of climbers since opening her croft-hostel in 1912, including George Mallory of Everest fame. Humble remained in correspondence with her for some years afterwards.
But his most amazing and fruitful encounter was soon after he and his companion landed in Skye, when at Sconser he was directed to the Mackenzie house for accommodation and the pair slept in a loft reached by ladder. Humble puzzled over a collection of Alpine Club Journals and Ben and his curiosity was satisfied when the man of the house returned. "And what a man! He was an old man, yet he walked easily and his eyes were clear. That grand white beard would have made him notable in any company . . . The old man's interest was roused when we told him we hoped to climb one of the Cuillin peaks . . . instead of talking of danger as most folk would have done, he said that Sgurr Alasdair, the highest of them all, was 'just a walk, just a walk'. There seemed to be nothing about the Cuillin he did not know." ("The Cuillin of Skye")
By accident the young men had stumbled upon John Mackenzie - the famous Cuillin mountain guide after whom the peak of Sgurr Mhic Coinnich was named by his climbing partner of many years, Norman Collie. Mackenzie, though born a crofter at Sconser, had climbed every peak in the Cuillin - some for the first time - and had, with Collie and others, pioneered rock-climbing in Skye. It was Mackenzie's encouragement, Humble says, that gave them the courage to "leave the road" and embark upon mountaineering. After traversing the Trotternish Ridge and the Quirang, Ben Humble and his pal went to Glen Brittle and climbed Sgurr Alasdair - beginning a love affair with Skye and the Cuillin that would last Humble's life, and lead in due course to his publication of "The Cuillin of Skye". That lay more than two decades ahead, however.
Following the Skye holiday Humble published "Tramping in Skye" (1933), describing the trip, and he followed this with "Songs of Skye" (1934). Someone in Portree was so grateful for the humble boost to the tourist economy that they opened a Humble's Tea Room! On his next trip to Skye Ben visited the refreshment stop "and was presented with the bill in the usual way".
Humble in later life tried to make a living writing books and articles, but after dentistry spent much of his time as a voluntary instructor at Glenmore Lodge in the Cairngorms where he became a mountain rescue expert. This took much of his time for which his only remuneration was travel expenses and board and lodging.
He returned several times to Skye in the 1930s, but no longer in the 'Glencoe'. However, there was still adventure travel. "As to transport," he wrote in 1947, "the high spot was in the years 1935-7 when an aerodrome was maintained at Glen Brittle. At that time we could leave Renfrew at 9.30am and be in Skye at 11am." Probably just as well, for Humble says of the Glen Brittle road that "it is a nightmare" and not to be recommended for cars.
Though he did climb in Skye with such tigers as Bill Murray and Jock Nimlin (The picture to the right is the cover photograph for Ian Thomson's 1996 biography of Jock, "May the Fire Be Always Lit"), as a climber Ben Humble was not really of the first rank (partly due to balance problems caused by his deafness). But he had enormous stamina and grew to know the Cuillin like few others. This knowledge is shared with the reader in "The Cuillin of Skye", which is so much more than a history of climbing on the range. It is also an historical account of their exploration by mountaineers, and of the people who lived below them.
Though ending its story half a century ago, it is difficult to imagine this book ever having a rival. First editions are highly sought-after, and correspondingly many times more expensive than the 30/- charged for the hardback with its splendid photographs in 1952.
His biography is called "The Voice Of The Hills -
The Story Of Ben Humble" .
He also wrote a guide: -
He also wrote three booklets: -
"Songs For Climbers" 1938, a collection of climbing songs put
together by Ben and his publisher W.M.McLellan
He also wrote several pictorial guide books, two of which related to Arrochar, Tarbet and Ardlui and were called: -
"Sailing Up Loch Lomond" and
"The Three Lochs"
Other pictorial guides written by Ben Humble
Ben Humble's relationship with Skye was interrupted by the war, but resumed thereafter. He was a constant propagandist for the island, and wrote many articles - for example, advertising the first Skye Week in 1950. He noted with approval the spread of hostels throughout the island, the increasing numbers of young people coming to visit, and the prosperity brought by tourism.
"The Cuillin of Skye" had been long out of print when Humble died in 1977. He had always hoped for a reprint, but when this finally came in 1986 Humble was not there to see it. This facsimile reprint itself is now also out of print.
Here is a favourite story of mine written by Ben
featuring Hugh Macdonald and Arrochar and the Cobbler (kindly reproduced
from 'The Voice Of The Hills') : -
HUGH CLIMBS THE COBBLER
Ben was never idle for a moment during the thirties, collecting material
One year saw him taking time off from regular weekend climbing for
visiting every village and town within ten miles of Glasgow, seeing all
As Ben was by this time an experienced climber, it was natural that
Macdonald was not content with the
countryside immediately surrounding
The cottages by the Lochside were owned by comparatively wealthy
Hugh walked up to Whistlefield and entered the inn, where he
The hills, the everlasting attraction of Arrochar, remain the same.
Macdonald determined to climb the mountain, and ferried across
He thought of turning back, but did not like to say so to his companions
Hugh arrives at a mountain spring."... how immense our libations
Who would recognise the summit of the Cobbler from that description?
changed since Hugh's times of around 1850. Then they were regarded
During the war he produced various films to assist the war effort on topics like rescuing people in fallen buildings etc. We have collected a few short clips of some of his films.
If you don't have Quicktime then click HERE to download the free version. For further information regarding the short films Ben filmed please visit The Scottish Screen Archive web site at http://www.scottish-screen.com
Ben loved to film in Arrochar where he produced two films - A Cragsman's Day 1946 and Holidays In Arrochar 1949. Click on the name to open a new window and watch the film. These can be viewed from our VIDEOS page. These films were filmed and produced by Ben H Humble featuring many of this friends. A Cragsman's Day is an award winning instructional history film of John 'Jock' Nimlin, Harry Grant and David Easson climbing the peaks of The Cobbler. Arrochar Screen test is a film shot in Arrochar showing many of the local characters and children. A must see for Arrochar folk. Ben showed it in the village hall soon after finishing the film. We have another one of Ben's films on this site entitled In Days Of Old. This features lady climbers on The Campsies.
Ben had a knack of doing things that other folk never got around to. For instance, when the BBC Scotland were preparing a film to commemorate the 50th anniversary of D Day the only colour shots of that day they could find were taken by Ben Humble in Dumbarton and no record at all of Glasgow's WWII Civil Defences would exist without his efforts.
Ben Humble's nephew, Roy Humble, wrote Ben's biography - The Voice Of The Hills The Story Of Ben Humble MBE. Roy has kindly supplied us with some of the information in this page. Roy has also offered copies of the biography at a discounted price to readers of this site; RRP £17.50 but our special rate is £9 plus £2 P&P to the UK. If you would like a copy please EMAIL firstname.lastname@example.org with your name and address and we'll arrange delivery for you. For further information visit www.royhumble.com
During his frequent visits and time in Arrochar he published several informational books showing The Arrochar Alps and the surrounding mountains. The two images below are taken from 'Arrochar and District - A Complete Guide' published in the 1950's. Below are two of his more famous pieces. The first is a pencil drawing by Ben's good friend Rob Anderson showing Arrochar and the surrounding peaks. The second is a colour postcard again showing the surrounding mountains - the original drawing was by Arthur R Griffith.
And the man himself.....
As you can see, Ben had a sense of humour and liked messing around!
Ben spent much of his last few years as a voluntary instructor at Glenmore Lodge in Aviemore. When the original buildings were replaced by the current ones in 1959 Ben had the idea of planting a heather garden near the entrance in an area of 50 by 20 feet.
What he eventually created was a garden containing Alpine plants and heathers. He had been keen on heathers for many years and had experimented in the gardens of his previous homes, honing his horticultural skills which added to his already long list of specialities.
The garden at Glenmore was complete by 1960 and he tended it himself. The Lodge garden remained his pride and joy and as he was less able to tramp and climb he spent more time in the garden. He tended the garden right up until his death in 1977.
He also created a second alpine garden further up the the mountain. This was situated at the front of the old Lower Ski Lift. It had many native and non-native plants. He looked after this too until the mid 70's when it was taken out of his hands, leaving him dismayed by the loss of the associated perks of free access to the ski lift and free meals at the top restaurant! Although continuing to show splashes of colour from the plants he introduced, the upper garden largely reverted to the wild in succeeding years. Following the redevelopment by Cairngorm Mountain Ltd and the replacement of the chairlift by the Funicular Railway, the garden area has been renewed and enlarged, with much of the new planting done by local schoolchildren. Ben's early efforts are now well acknowledged for visitors to this new Mountain Garden Trail.
Whilst a touching précis this page dedicated to Ben only tells part of the story of Ben's array of talents.
Here are some images of the garden in 2007. Within the garden is a bench with the following inscription: -
"In memory of Ben Humble, MBE, who created this Alpine garden in the shadow of the hills he loved so well. A pioneer of mountain rescue in Scotland and for many years a voluntary instructor at Glenmore Lodge - 16-4-77
Here are a selection of photographs taken by Ben Humble that were used as post cards: -
Here is Ben's Obituary from 'Compass' August 1977
B. H. Humble
Here is a video featuring Ben Humble, Jock Nimlin and David Easson, all famous Scottish climbers, at Hogmanay parties at Glenloin House taken in the 1960's. This vide also features some of the local characters of the day including Jimmy and Heather MacTavish and many others.
Our thanks to Roy Humble, the nephew of Ben Humble, who travelled to Scotland from his home in Canada and met with us in May 2007.
See also Arrochar
Mountains by Bob Smith MBE
There is a voice the deaf can hear as clearly as any other person - the voice of the hills. (Ben H Humble 1934)