Ben Humble MBE at Arrochar

 

 

 


                         Ben H Humble MBE 1903-1977 > 

Ben Humble MBE 1903-1977http://www.scottish-screen.com
 

All film footage on page site has been very kindly provided for our use by The National Library of Scotland's Scottish Screen Archive    http://www.scottish-screen.com
 

 

 

Ben Humble in the early 1910'sBenjamin 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.The Humble Kipper

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, Strathview - this semi detached house on Oxhill Road Dumbarton is where the Humble family resided and Ben was born before moving to Bellview. 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).All that remains of Bellfield now is the original wall and entrance

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")Tramping In Skye by Ben Humble

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 - The Songs Of Sky - an anthology - By Ben H Humblebeginning 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 cover photograph for Ian Thomson's 1996 biography of Jock Nimlin, "May the Fire Be Always Lit"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.On Scotish Hills - by Ben Humble

  • Ben wrote five books in total : -

    Tramping In Skye by Ben Humble "Tramping In Skye"                 1933
    Tramping In Skye by Ben Humble "The Songs Of Skye"                1934
    Tramping In Skye by Ben Humble "Wayfaring Around Scotland" 1936
    Tramping In Skye by Ben Humble "On Scottish Hills"                     1946
    Tramping In Skye by Ben Humble "The Cuillin Of Skye"                 1952

His biography is called "The Voice Of The Hills - The Story Of Ben Humble" .
 

He also wrote a guide: -

Tramping In Skye by Ben Humble "Arrochar and District: A Complete Guide" 1930 . Click HERE to view this in its entirety.

He also wrote three booklets: -

Tramping In Skye by Ben Humble "Songs For Climbers" 1938, a collection of climbing songs put together by Ben and his publisher W.M.McLellan
Tramping In Skye by Ben Humble "Rock Climbs On The Cobbler" 1940, written with the assistance of J.B.Nimlin and G.C.Williams
Tramping In Skye by Ben Humble "Rock Climbs At Arrochar" 1954, written with the assistance of J.B.Nimlin.
 

He also wrote several pictorial guide books, two of which related to Arrochar, Tarbet and Ardlui and were called: -

Tramping In Skye by Ben Humble "Sailing Up Loch Lomond" and Tramping In Skye by Ben Humble "The Three Lochs"
 

Other pictorial guides written by Ben Humble included: -

"Sailing Down The Clyde", "The Burns Country", "Through The Trossachs", "Fort William and The Great Glen" (all these ran into three editions) and also "The Scottish Scene - A Pictorial Journey".

Ben was the first person in Scotland to produce this type of publication and had sold over 10,000 guides before his publisher, W.M.McLellan went into liquidation.

 

Arrochar and District A Complete Guide by Ben H Humble        Wayfaring Around Scotland by Ben H Humble        The Voice Of The Hills - The Story Of Ben Humble MBE - Biography by Roy M 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
for "Chronicles of the Wayfarers", "In the Footsteps of Hugh Macdonald",
"Mountain Indicators of Scotland", "Wayfaring Around The Firth",
and "Viewpoints of Scotland", five separate series which followed
"The Open Road" articles. It would take a book in itself to include all
the stories he wrote in these years. Every one was part of his celebration
of the Scottish outdoor scene. In hundreds of miles of walking he
neglected little of Scotland, seeing things that few others did, seeing things
that some still miss today. What a wonderful guide he would have been,
given normal hearing, one is tempted to think. What a wonderful guide he was
without it, with the gift of special perception added to his naturally enquiring mind!

One year saw him taking time off from regular weekend climbing for
a few months, spending most Saturdays and Sundays exploring the
Glasgow environs, following the rambles of Hugh Macdonald, trying to
find what was left of the Glasgow of 1850. In his classic book," Macdonald
described twenty-one tramps within a radius of ten miles around
the city. Ben followed them all, making what he called "a pleasant
pilgrimage, which involved some adventures in trespassing" - tracing the
windings of the Clyde up river and down, and on both banks; walking
by the Kelvin, the Luggie, the White Cart, the Black Cart, and the Earn;

visiting every village and town within ten miles of Glasgow, seeing all
the by-roads and glens, all the best viewpoints. At every stage Macdonald’s
writings reminded him of the historical, legendary and antiquarian
lore of each district, and he revelled in his mid-nineteenth century
descriptive prose . . . "It is sheer delight, for Hugh never uses one word
when five will do instead!" How many Glaswegians today could claim
to have even thought of attempting such a pilgrimage?

As Ben was by this time an experienced climber, it was natural that
he found a special interest in a reference to an early ascent of the
Cobbler. "Hugh Climbs the Cobbler" was published towards the end of
the Hugh Macdonald series, following the review of all his sojourns
around Glasgow; it is presented in Ben's usual personal style, a
commentary on the climbers of the nineteenth century:

Macdonald was not content with the countryside immediately surrounding
Glasgow, and set off to explore the sea lochs and hills of the west.
Arrochar was his first destination, and he sailed to Garelochhead.
Today's Sunday excursions arc no new thing. The first one to
Garelochhead was organised about 1850. Macdonald tells the story of it.

The cottages by the Lochside were owned by comparatively wealthy
folk, and they and their laird resented the intrusion. When the first
ship arrived a band of Gillies held the pier. They threw off the mooring
ropes and threatened violence to anyone who landed. The excursionists
replied with a volley of lemonade bottles and potatoes, and
a landing party armed with sticks made their way ashore, routing
the Gillies. There was no interference after that.

Hugh walked up to Whistlefield and entered the inn, where he
found he could obtain "beverages varying from the pungent blood
of the barley to the wholesome produce of the animals that browse
on the neighbouring pastures". In other words, he had the choice
of whisky or milk and he did not drink milk! He tramped the eight
miles to Arrochar and said that the walk was preferable to the sail.
Arrochar was then "a quiet and secluded hamlet at the head of the
loch". It was neither quiet nor secluded the last time I was there.
Cars and buses were racing through, dozens more parked outside
each hotel, discharging their occupants by the Lochside - campers,
trampers, cyclists and would-be climbers.

The hills, the everlasting attraction of Arrochar, remain the same.
Hugh talks of the Cobbler, and of the resemblance of the hill to a
shoemaker at work. I have yet to sec that resemblance, and prefer
the explanation that Cobbler was an Englishman's attempt to
pronounce Gobhlach, the proper Gaelic name of the hill.

Macdonald determined to climb the mountain, and ferried across
to Ardgartan, "a plain but neat mansion". Now Ardgartan is a youth
hostel in the centre of a dream come true - the Scottish National
Forest Park. To those of us who know the Cobbler well, Hugh's
description of the ascent makes delightful reading, and is full of the
exaggerations inseparable from descriptions of mountains in the old
days. To begin with, he took the route by the ridge instead of the
much easier journey following the course of the Buttermilk Bum,
where there is now a well-marked path. "We zigzag along, now
scrambling through a dense forest of bracken, now leaping from one
tuft of green to another, and anon climbing almost on our hands
and knees over some swelling and precipitous acclivity."

He thought of turning back, but did not like to say so to his companions
because, "In ancient times no individual, whatever his claims
of blood may have been, was reckoned personally qualified to succeed
to the chieftainship of the Clan Campbell until he had demonstrated
his prowess or strength of limb by putting his foot upon the cowl of
the Cobbler." Could a Macdonald give up when a Campbell had gone on?

Hugh arrives at a mountain spring."... how immense our libations
- native from the hillside, or dashed with a slight modicum of the
soul inspiring dew." They met no one on (he way. Nowadays it is
impossible to ascend the Cobbler at weekends without meeting dozens
of climbers, either hill walkers or cragsmen intent on the various
rock climbs. As Hugh neared the summit, ". . . the grandeur of the
scene became awful, and huge masses of embattled rock threatened
to crush the aspiring climber." Come now, Hugh, it is scarcely as
bad as that! By dint of ". . . scrambling, crawling and gliding" he
eventually got to the cairn. Most of us have seen photographs of the
actual summit of the Cobbler. Listen to Hugh: "One scraggy and
precipitous projection seems ready to topple over, and we almost
tremble as we approach it for the purpose of taking a look through
a rift in its sides called Argyll's Eye-glass, lest our touch should send
it thundering down. There are cliffs all around of immense depth
and the most harsh and jagged features, while projections of gnarled
repulsiveness shoot out on every side."

Who would recognise the summit of the Cobbler from that description?
If Hugh were to go there to-day he would find boys and
girls crawling through the "eye-glass", walking along the narrow ledge
on the other side and climbing up to the summit rock which he
considered unattainable. I have seen a dozen folk on that boulder
at the same time, and it showed no tendency to topple over. Had
he seen modem rock climbers at work on the Cobbler, language
would have failed him. The South Peak, once thought inaccessible,
is now climbed in many different ways, while the Centre Peak arete
and buttress and the crags of the North Peak offer dozens of routes.
The overall outlook towards the Scottish mountains has also entirely

changed since Hugh's times of around 1850. Then they were regarded
with awe, the heights of many of them were unknown, and the climbs
were all "terrific and full of danger." The ordinary man - if he
considered them at all - considered the hills a nuisance, something
to be avoided. Now we fully appreciate their grandeur, in a way
that Hugh and his companions never imagined, and we know that
the climbing game is the best in the world. Though all the mountains
are well known, and all the great climbs fully explored, the bolder
spirits can yet find new routes to test nerve and sinew to the very
utmost. Long may the good old Cobbler be a training ground!

 

    The National Library of Scotland  Scottish Screen Archive Access Catalogue

 

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.

  • Here is 'A Bomb Fell' 1941 - Shots of bomb damaged buildings during reconstruction of the aftermath of an air raid. Rescue services demonstrate their techniques and first aid methods.  View Quicktime Clip 

  • Here we have a clip of Re-enactments of Cine Cameradangerous situations made in 1942 to demonstrate civil defence procedures and the organisations involved in coping with them. filmed by B.H. Humble in1942  in black and white silent.  View Quicktime Clip  

  • Here we have another 1942 clip Glasgow. Emergency services are seen in action as the alarm is raised for a gas raid. View Quicktime Clip    

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 thevoiceofthehills@arrocharheritage.com 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.

 

Ben Humble MBE's drawing of Arrochar

 

 

Ben Humble MBE's postcard of Arrochar

 

 

And the man himself.....

Ben Humble MBE at Arrochar

As you can see, Ben had a sense of humour and liked messing around!

 

 

 

Glenmore LodgeGlenmore Lodge, Aviemore

 

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.

 

there is a voice the deaf can hear as clearly as any other person - the voice of the hills - Ben H Humble 1934He 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

 

 

 

 

Inscription on Ben Humble's bench at Glenmore Lodge, Aviemore

Glenmore Lodge, AviemoreBen Humble's Alpine Garden at Glenmore Lodge gardens, Aviemore

 

 

 

Ben Humble's Alpine Garden at Glenmore Lodge gardens, Aviemore

 

 

Ben Humble's bench at Glenmore Lodge, Aviemore 

 

 

 

 

 

Here are a selection of photographs taken by Ben Humble that were used as post cards: -

 

Glenloin Caravan Site Post Card - Photo taken by Ben Humble from the area of Glenloin House

 

 Post Card - Photo taken by Ben Humble

 

 Post Card - Photo taken by Ben Humble

 

 

 Post Card - Photo taken by Ben Humble

 

Ben Humble on holiday in Iceland in 1930  Ben H Humble in the 1950's  Ben H Humble receiving his MBE in 1971

Ben H Humble looking through a telescope at the Matterhorn in Switzerland

 

 

 

Here is Ben's Obituary from 'Compass' August 1977

 

B. H. Humble

Ben Humble's Grave stoneBEN HUMBLE. S.M.C. stalwart, well-known writer on the Scottish scene and life long campaigner in the cause of mountain safety, has died from stroke at Grantown-on-Spey. Ben. who was 73. was a dentist who, owing to increasing deafness, turned to writing and photography for a living. He contributed regularly to the Scots Magazine and wrote two well-illustrated books. On Scottish Hills and The Cuillin of Sky He also edited for some time a magazine called The Open Air in Scotland As a rock-climber Ben took part in a number of minor first ascents in the Arrochar area with Jock Nimlin and co-edited two guides to the area. One was an appendix to the 1949 S.M.C. Southern Highlands guide and the other a slim green volume published in 1954. The name of B. H. Humble appears in the first ascents list on climbs such as Slab and Groove on Creag Tharsuinn end Pinnacle Gully on A'Chrois But Ben had far wider horizons than crags. He slept In caves, he hostelled, he led parties of youngsters from Glenmore Lodge. And for 40 years he recorded and analysed deaths and injuries on the Scottish hills. He helped to found the Mountain Rescue Committee of Scotland and was awarded the M.B.E. His life-long friend Tom Weir writes in the Scott Magazine:  "In his time Ben must have introduced hundreds of school- children to the Cairngorms, walking with them, camping and enthusing them with the joy of the tops He loved athletics and record-breaking, and was vary proud of the fact that two years ago he had climbed Ben MacDui from the Lairig Ghru in exactly the same lime as it had taken him 20 years before. In his early youth he laid the foundation for his stamina by cross-country running and cycling. "To my mind. however, his greatest accomplishment was how he overcame his handicap of deafness. He faced the silent world and overcame it by sheer force of character. He was a doing man who got things done. If you go to Glenmore lodge, look at the Alpine and heather garden he built, and think of him.”


Tom Waghorn   
Compass August 1977

 

 

 

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.

Click on the icon to see the video - It may take a few moments to load as it is quite large - 3.5Mb so please be patient.......

 

 

Roy Humble at Rose Cottage, home of Ben H Humble MBE 1960 - 1970

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Bellfield Today

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Roy humble with members of the Arrochar Heritage Group

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

See also Arrochar Mountains by Bob Smith MBE
                     - Climbing History

Arrochar and District - A Complete Guide

A Cragsman's Day    In Days Of Old  

Arrochar Screen Test
 

 

 

There is a voice the deaf can hear as clearly as any other person - the voice of the hills. (Ben H Humble 1934)