The Angry Corrie 20: Oct-Dec 1994


The Mystery of the Cairngorms:
A Strange and Dark Matter

by "Prospect"

The story so far:

On a winter trip to the Cairngorms I discovered a hitherto unknown "electric stream", and concluded that the true source of the Dee was the headwater of the Derry near the summit of Ben Macdui. I also fell waist deep in a bog. Later, curiosity aroused following a major rescue on Macdui, I uncovered evidence of a strange secret concerning the highest summit of the Cairngorms and the mysterious Wells of Dee. Unable to proceed further with my investigations, I decided to visit Professor PP Posselthwaite (or "Old Possel" to his friends)...

"DID YOU KNOW," asked the Professor, as he ushered me down the hall of the sprawling Elizabethan mansion (a house which, perversely, he refers to as his "country cottage"), "that throughout history most men have believed that the highest mountains were inhabited by gods?"

"Really?"

"Except, of course," he continued, "those who believed that they were inhabited by demons."

"Oh."

"But mostly they were gods, on the very highest summits. You know that no-one has ever climbed to the real summit of Kangchenjunga? They can't, you see, because that's where the gods live."

"Right."

This seemingly irrelevant and nonsensical conversation came to a close as we reached the Professor's study. He opened the door, not without some difficulty, and I followed him in.

"Must get that handle fixed. They just don't make them like they used to. Now, make yourself comfortable. Drink?"

"Aye, usual?" I replied, expectantly. The Professor has the finest selection of malt whiskies south of the Tweed. I wasn't disappointed. He selected a bottle of forty year old Lagavulin and joined me by the fireplace. Although it was a warm evening, a healthy fire was ablaze in the hearth. He passed me a glass, Waterford crystal. It was almost full.

"Slainte mhath!"

"Slainte mhor!"

And then my glass wasn't almost full any more.

"So what've you been up to lately?" I asked, as Possel refilled my glass. I'd decided to lead gently into my suspicions about Ben Macdui, a few pleasantries first. "Anything interesting?"

"Oh, this and that," he replied, "nothing special really. Just been sorting out the problems of the universe."

"Oh, that all?" Always one for understatement, the Professor.

"Most peculiar thing," he continued, "where the universe is. No-one seems to know."

"Er...?"

"Well, that is, I mean to say, everyone knows where some of the universe is, it's the rest of it that's a bit of a problem. You see, when they worked out how much material there was involved in the Big Bang, and how much there is in the universe today, they found out that a lot of it is missing. Astronomers have been looking for years, but it's not easy when you don't know what it is you're looking for. Made of dark matter you see. Very strange stuff. Can't see it. Invisible, or something. Anyway, I've found it. Well, some of it. A little bit. Got to go over to see Patrick Moore next week, think he might want to interview me on that programme of his. Possibly."

All of which made about as much sense to me as walking the West Highland Way in August wearing a dayglo orange cagoule. The Professor saw my bemused look. "Well, enough of that for now. Maybe more later. So, tell me, what brings you out here tonight? I'm sure you didn't come all this way just for a wee dram. Or maybe you did." he added, noticing that my glass was empty again. "I suppose you want that filling again?"

After he had given me another refill I cleared my throat and began to explain how I'd discovered what I though was the real source of the Dee and my resultant suspicions about the summit of Ben Macdui. The Professor listened patiently, but with a slightly distracted look in his eyes. Throughout, I had the strange feeling that what I was saying was nothing new to him.

"Ah yes, indeed interesting", he said when at last I'd finished narrating my tale. "The key, as you quite rightly suggest, would seem to lie with the Wells of Dee. Or, rather, whence comes the water that forms them. Clearly the terrestrial source of the Dee is on the eastern shoulder of Ben Macdui. The Wells of Dee are something else altogether. Perhaps - yes I think - perhaps I have something you should read. Now, let me see. Where did I put it? Please pour yourself another wee dram while I look."

The Professor wandered to the far side of the room and began scanning his long bookshelves. Meanwhile, I helped myself to a not-so-wee-dram. The fire crackled and cast strange shadows around the room. The coals seemed not to have diminished in the hour or so we'd been in the room, and I thought for a while it was actually one of those hideous imitation gas fires. But no, it was the real thing. Well, it was real flames and real coal, but there was definitely something odd about it. Perhaps the Professor had simply discovered the source of continuous combustion or something. I wouldn't put it past him.

"Ah, I see my fire interests you", Possel said, as his search brought him closer to where I sat. "It's nothing really, just a few old tin cans. They burn for ever, great in bothies - once you know the secret! Now, that book must be here somewhere..."

Finally, Possel gave an exclamation. "Aha! Here it is, Barrie's journal. Found it myself you know, a few days after MacKenzie discovered his body in Gleann Einich. Never told anyone of course, not when I saw what he'd written. You're the first to read it, actually."

The Professor passed me what, at first glance, appeared to be a particularly old and battered bothy book. But inside, instead of the usual profanities and monosodium glutamate stains, I saw it contained just one person's neat, rather spidery handwriting. The first entry was dated the 28th day of December 1927.

"You found this?" I asked, as it dawned on me who Barrie was. "You found this in 1928? But that was sixty-six years ago!"

"Aye, so it was, so it was. And it has sat on that shelf ever since. I always thought that Barrie had been on drugs or something, most peculiar narrative. But, well, read for yourself, maybe it makes sense after all. Sort of. Now, I have a few things to do. Yes, I think you may have opened my eyes as it were. Please excuse me for a few minutes, and while I'm away you might as well finish off that bottle. Not that there's much of it left!"

The Professor left the room, muttering under his breath something about "quarks" and "strange particles disturbing the dark matter on Macdui." Meanwhile, I poured myself more whisky, and sat back to read the diary of a man who had died in the Cairngorms' earliest recorded mountaineering accident, on January 1st 1928.

When, at length, the Professor returned, the bottle of Lagavulin was empty and I was fast asleep. It must have been the soporific effect of his fire. I'd finished reading Barrie's diary, though not without difficulty - the words seemed to dance about a bit near the end. But for some strange reason when Possel roused me, I couldn't remember anything of it. There also appeared to be three professors wavering in front of me, and I was having great difficulty by in walking and speaking.

"I think," said the Professor, "you had better stay the night. Explanations are always better in the cold light of morning. And I fear that you are not in quite the best state of mind for hearing what must be said."

I replied by falling back in the chair. Clearly I was not well. Perhaps it was something I'd eaten? The Professor helped me to the guest room and I thankfully fell onto the bed, straight into a strange, dream-filled sleep full of grey figures chasing me around impossibly high mountains.

It was not, therefore, until the following morning that I finally learnt the strange truth about Baird and Barrie, and discovered the answers to those questions which had been plaguing me for so long:

  • Where does the water which forms the Wells of Dee really come from?
  • Who is Fear Liath Mor? Where does he live, and why does he only ever appear at night or in thick cloud?
  • Why have there been so few recorded accidents on Macdui? And why, when one does occur there (this February) is there an apparent cover-up, with those involved claiming they were really on Derry Cairngorm?
  • What are the real derivations of Ben Macdui and the River Dee? (WJ Watson suggests Macdui means Hill of the Son of the Dark One, while Dee may derive from Dh‚, Gaelic for god. But if so, why?)
  • And is it just coincidence that a man of the cloth, Rev George Keith Skene, discovered the Wells of Dee, in 1810, and "proved", contrary to popular opinion of the time, that Ben Nevis was higher than Macdui?
  • What is dark matter? Has the Professor really found it? If so, how and where? And anyway, what on earth has it got to do with the Cairngorms?
  • Why has the "Scottish Munro Centre" proved so difficult to locate? What is the missing factor which makes the computation so difficult and, invariably, leads to a nonsensical result?
  • Is there any truth in the legend of Tir nan Og, land of eternal youth where gods dwell and time stands still?
  • And, most important of all, why have the English always been obsessed with conquering the Scots? What is so important about Scotland that the English so steadfastly refuse to loosen their iron grip? What do they know that we don't?

All this, and more, will be revealed in the third and final part of The Mystery of the Cairngorms...


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