The Angry Corrie 21: Jan-Feb 1995

The Mystery of the Cairngorms:
The Secret of Tir nan Og

by "Prospect"

The story so far. I had discovered evidence that the true source of the River Dee lay not at the Wells Of Dee but on the upper slopes of Ben Macdui. Sensing something strange, I sought the advice of Professor PP Posselthwaite - who told of mysterious "dark matter". He also handed me the diary written by Baird and Barrie in 1929 - along with a bottle of 40-year-old Lagavulin...

It was January. The day before my trip to Corrour when I would discover a hitherto unknown "electric stream". After a long, tiring walk through deep snow in Glen Derry and on up into Coire Etchachan, I had finally reached the stony summit of Derry Cairngorm. Last night's winds had blown the snow from the red granite and left it encrusted with ice. A hard and brutal surface upon which to walk. I rested awhile before continuing along the ridge and back down to Derry Lodge. Or at least I was supposed to. But for some reason I found myself heading west, not south, and up towards the shrouded summit of Ben Macdui. On into cold, icy mist I climbed. My body was soon coated in hoar, and still I climbed endlessly up. The wind grew stronger, and it started snowing. It was sheer madness to continue, but I was no longer in control. Like a robot I continued along a pre-ordained line. And then, totally without warning, the scene changed. Mist cleared, wind and snow vanished. I stood beneath a blazing sun - which should not, could not exist. Before me rose an impossibly high mountain, sheer, glass-like. No, not like glass, like brightly polished gold!

Then, even as I tried to comprehend this scene, I saw two figures in the distance, approaching as if they had ascended from the Tailor's Burn. Two human figures. I watched them for a time: something about them puzzled me. And then, when they were but a hundred yards away - though it might as well have been a hundred miles for all the notice they took of my presence - I realised what it was. They were clothed, and equipped, in such manner as I had only previously seen in old SMC guides. They were dressed as if they had come straight from the 1920s!

The two men seemed as puzzled by the strange scene as I was, more so perhaps. They looked frightened. They began to run. Westwards, along the edge of the golden mountain, towards a distant stream which glinted almost painfully bright in the preternatural sunlight. Without trying, it seemed I could easily keep up, barely strolling in comparison with their headlong flight. (Sounds like you were wearing Bionic Long-Johns - Ed.) Then the scene changed once more. The two figures plunged through a translucent wall and into a swirling maelstrom of a storm. They fell, tumbling endlessly through snow, down towards Loch Einich, out of sight. I turned, and walked casually past the Wells of Dee (not once wondering how I had got there without having crossed the Lairig), and down to the pub in Garbh Choire. I strolled nonchalantly in, walked up to the pink, marshmallow-covered bar, ordered a pint of treacle pudding from the six-legged, one-eyed barman. Then I woke.

It was morning. A sullen grey sort of morning. I entered the Professor's study somewhat unsteadily and sank thankfully into the fireside chair. The drummer from Metallica had somehow got inside my head and was now proceeding to drum his way back out again. I was not feeling well.

... Try this," said the Professor, startling me slightly as he appeared with a steaming mug of pale orange liquid which looked, and smelt, almost - but not entirely - like herbal tea. The Professor noticed my quizzical look.

"An infusion of herbs I picked up long ago in my travels. Never fails to work."

And he was right. Within a couple of minutes, I felt as though last night's encounter with the bottle of Lagavulin had never happened.

"So, how did you sleep?" the Professor asked when I had finished my drink.

"Well..." I replied, and then told him of my strange dream.

"Interesting, very interesting", he said when I had finished. "It would seem that you witnessed the last hours of Baird and Barrie. Of course, you did read Barrie's Journal last night - you do remember that?

"Actually, no. But..." and then it hit me: "You mean what I dreamt really happened?"

"In a manner of speaking. Your tale does conform closely with Barrie's account. He was of course delirious when he wrote it, dying soon after from the injuries incurred in his fall into Coire Bogha-cloiche."

"But what has this got to do with the source of the Dee and that dark matter stuff you were going on about last night?"

"All in good time my boy. Now, tell me, do you know where the SMC is?" The Professor's tone indicated this was to be no casual conversation.

"What, the Scottish Mountaineering Club?" I asked, confused. The Professor might mean business, but unfortunately had omitted to tell me just what business it was.

"No, no, the Scottish Munro Centre!"

"Oh that. I've read about it in The Angry Corrie, but no-one seems to have actually found out where it is."

"Exactly. And I know why."

I had the feeling the Professor was about to embark on a long dissertation. I wasn't wrong.

"Now, as I said last night, part of the universe is missing - the so-called "dark matter". But I think I know where it is. About 0.000002 seconds after the Big Bang, the temperature of the universe became so volatile that the very fabric of the space-time continuum started to melt. This stage lasted for slightly less time than it takes light to cross seven billionths of a millimetre. But in that time a goodly part of the universe fell through space and time into another dimension. A dimension slightly different from all the thirty-seven other dimensions in our universe. Scientifically, it is known as the Other Dimension. This, I believe, is where some of the dark matter is."

"Which is why we can't see it?" I asked, to show I was following his theory, even if it didn't make the slightest bit of sense.

"That's right", Possel replied, "and that was also the extent of my hypothesis. Until last night. But as you told me, there is something altogether strange about the Cairngorms, Macdui in particular. The quantum mass of Cairngorm granite displays a seemingly inexplicable variance from that of any other type of granite. A variance which can only be explained by the presence of dark matter! And, under certain circumstances, the quark-gluon plasma (the state of matter in the universe before it cooled) might be recreated. If so, it could be possible to pass into the Other Dimension. And if I was right about dark matter being attached to Cairngorm granite, then such a place might well be the summit of Ben Macdui. So, while you were finishing off my whisky last night, I was busy recalibrating my figures.

"Certain fluctuations in the sun's electromagnetic field can occasionally excite strange particles and cause them to collide with the subatomic anionic compounds in pink feldspar. This makes the quarks flow backwards. A pro-ionic mass exerting into this reverse quantum field will spontaneously pass through the fabric of space and time."

"Er, yes, great. But what exactly does that mean?"

"It means," the professor replied, a distinct note of excitement in his voice, "that Ben Macdui is a gateway into the Other Dimension, and its true summit lies outside the space-time continuum. What's more, since this true summit cannot be seen, neither can its height be measured!"

"Which is why no-one can find the SMC?"

"Precisely. To find the SMC you need to know the heights of all the Munros."

Right, but how does all this relate to what happened to Baird and Barrie?"

"Simple! I'd have thought even you could have worked that out by now. Baird and Barrie, as you witnessed in your dream, passed through to the Other Dimension. The river they followed to escape finds its outlet into our world at the place we call the Wells of Dee - or, more correctly, fhuarain a dhe, the fountain of god. A place appropriately distant from the true earthly source of the Dee on Ben Macdui - or Beinn Mhic Dhuibh, hill of the son of the dark, a typically veiled Celtic reference. And this, of course, is why the force of water at the Wells is so great: it has already fallen a considerable distance down the sides of the part of Macdui which exists in the Other Dimension. But that's not all. I believe the Other Dimension to be inhabited."

"Have you not heard of am fear liath mhor? Clearly the story of the big grey man arose from encounters with a being from the Other Dimension. Just as we can, occasionally, pass through to the true summit of Macdui, so too can beings who dwell there pass through to our world. Actually, I believe they are really bodhisattvas."


"Bodhisattvas - enlightened beings. It's they who gave rise to legends of gods on the summits of Macdui and other mountains. They're sort of guardian angels. Used to come down more often, but nowadays they just end up scaring people."

"So how come no-one knows all this?"

"Ah, but they do. Have done for thousands of years. The entire history of the British Isles is intricately linked with the search for Tir nan Og."

"Hang on a minute. Where does Tir nan Og come into all this? I thought we were discussing the Cairngorms."

"But we are. The Other Dimension, you see, is none other than Tir nan Og, Annwm, The Blessed Isles, Land of Eternal Youth, Ultima Thule, The Garden of the Hesperides, Elysium Fields, call it what you will. (This is starting to sound like a Van Morrison song - Ed.) The ultimate destination of every mythical hero. Time is different there, it doesn't follow the laws of our universe."

"But Tir nan Og is supposed to be an island."

"And what, pray, is Britain if not an island? The legend goes back to long before the Celts came searching for an island in the west. When they reached Britain and found it no different to the rest of Europe, they naturally assumed Tir nan Og lay even further west. Only later did a few inhabitants of the far north begin to guess the truth. And they, like the masons, formed a secret society - so secret that only a handful of people know of it even today. It was necessary, you see, to protect the location from others who also came from Europe in search of the fabled faery realm: Romans, Angles, Saxons, Vikings, Normans, French, Spanish, Nazis - even, some would claim, the Americans. All sought to conquer Tir nan Og, and saw England as the stepping stone. But always the Picts in the north, and their successors the Scots, prevented access to the Cairngorms.

"So the secret, handed down from father to eldest son through countless generations of Gaels, remained inviolate. Many have guessed at the truth - not least the English, whose government will allow no other to rule Scotland for that very reason. Do you know what I think happened last winter when that English woman got lost and they spent three days searching for her? I believe she and her two companions did indeed climb Derry Cairngorm, as first claimed, but they then passed through into the Other Dimension, emerged further west, became disorientated and fell from the shoulder of Macdui. The money paid for their story was simply to ensure silence, though it's unlikely the woman had the faintest idea what really happened."

"But I thought the papers paid her that money?"

"So we were all led believe. But those who guard the secret have many agents. It wouldn't surprise me at all if Rev Skene - he who first declared the Wells of Dee to be the source of the Dee, and later claimed Ben Nevis was higher than Macdui - was also in their pay."

"Do you really expect me to believe all that?"

"Actually no, because if you did, then you might tell someone else - provided the Branch Bothidian didn't get to you first."

"The Branch Bothidian? What the hell have they got to do with all this?"

"They are none other than the descendants of the society formed to guard the secret. Bothies are just a front, although it's said the entire future history of the British Isles is enshrined within the geometry of a certain secret bothy."

"What, you mean..."

"Yes, but do not utter the name of that bothy within or without these walls. You never know in what dingy comer a bothidian might be lurking."

Outside, the sun suddenly broke through the clouds and peered confidently round the curtains, spotlighting a particularly dingy comer of the Professor's study. I looked carefully, but could see no sign of a lurking Cornwallis, so assumed I was safe for the moment.

"Look, I need a drink. I'm not sure how much of all this is true and how much you're making up. But I definitely need a drink."

"A good and wise idea. And as for believing - well, that's for you to decide. Perhaps it's better if you don't believe it. Either way, I beg you, do not seek the secret bothy!"

"Okay," I said, picking up my coat. "Oh, and by the way, you don't know where these came from do you?" I pulled from my pockets five Spanish pesetas which had most definitely not been there yesterday.

"Er, um, no," replied the Professor hesitantly, "but there is much in this world best left untold. Right, let's go - the Black Adder Inn awaits, and Mr Brazil owes me a pint..."

The End?

TAC 21 Index