The Angry Corrie 67: Feb-Mar 2006

Erchie Boomer, 1939-2005

Who? His real name, Archie Welsh. Perhaps you knew him personally, or more probably read of his exploits in Ian R Mitchell's books - the life and soul of the Married Man's Bothy Weekend in A View from the Ridge (Erchie being the token bachelor), nearly drowning under the weight of backpacked drink in the Scavaig River in Second Man on the Rope, and pictured on the cover and in several chapters of Mountain Footfalls. Either way, it's unlikely you knew anybody just like him. Along with thousands of others, he'd finished his Munros; unlike most of them he never wanted to be listed. But that was only one of many differences between him and the typical hillwalker.

Growing up in hard conditions in the declining steel town of Coatbridge, Erchie Boomer came to hillwalking late, and then discovered rock- and ice-climbing, where his sense of balance rather than his strength gave him talent. He climbed and walked with several clubs - the Langside, the Creagh Dhu, the Stobcross, as well as the staff/pupil club at Coatbridge High, where he taught maths. He completed the Munros in September 1988 on the Appin Beinn Fhionnlaidh, and the Corbetts in September 2001 on the Fara, but the determination to complete his own list was strongly matched by a willingness to accompany others up their personal Table Mountains. He even climbed the Dreary Drumochters, Carn na Caim et al, twice more in a support role. The man who had done big mountains, led VSs and drunk with the Creagh Dhu nevertheless had lots of time for young beginners and for the littler hills of the Borders ("every hill has its surprises").

But the Boomer did far more in mountain terms: he went abroad - not with one of the trekking-company tours now so common, but just himself and a pal or two, finding their own way in every sense. The list of his exploration is the more astonishing for having been completed before the trekking boom: the Annapurna Circuit, Mounts Kilimanjaro, Kenya and Mulanje in Africa, the John Muir Trail USA, the Peruvian Andes, Patagonia, the Atlas, the Pyrenees (where they climbed the seven highest peaks in ten days), the Dolomites, Norway's Jotunheim, Iceland's north, and Ireland.

Although he had several family tragedies in his life, and both his work and later his health gave him grief, he took the view that, for a Coatbrig boy, he'd had a great life considering these places he'd been to. That and the laughter and camaraderie on the Scottish hills and in the bothies - where he invariably got the fire going (he'd been a steelworker, after all), and then sang like a lintie on superlager. Here he came into his own. He sang his songs entirely from memory, from the bawdy ("Wee Willie fae Inverness") to the bothy ("Shenaval") to the Burns ("Tam o'Shanter" without a break one Corryhully weekend), and could entertain for hours. A unique performer. He earned his nickname here, because if he drank a lot (and he did), he got louder, or "boomed".

He could be mischievous, too. On a Melgarve weekend, when a dog had disappeared in the winter wastes of the Monadhliath and the canine-less owner sat slumped in despair in the corner of the ceilidh, he adapted the tune of "My Heart's in the Highlands" to "Ma Dug's in the Highlands". (The dog came back safely at 4am, gentle reader.)

By background and in social and political outlooks we were polar opposites. He was essentially right-wing, with views on "liberal" education, the EU's iniquitous Spanish fishermen, and feminism that would make even Tony Blair wince. The only time I heard him plan to vote Labour was when John Prescott punched an egg-thrower - Erchie believed such mulleted nutters deserved their comeuppance. He always had a down on the Germans, merely because as an infant he was bombed out of a house in Birmingham. In Akureyri youth hostel, north Iceland, he complained about the rumble from the Germans in the next room and observed (seriously) that one reason they lost the war was that you could always hear them talking.

We learned to avoid each other's red and blue touchpaper, and heading for the hill we were a team. He was with me on over 100 Munros and 60 Corbetts, and many other hills besides. We trusted each other's skills, and operated on the hill like fishing boats at sea, taking different lines while keeping each other in sight, and meeting at natural junctures such as pauses and summits. He struggled a lot on the final score of Corbetts, but his sheer thrawn determination and the support of the Stobcross Club got him up.

He hadn't risen much above road-level in the last couple of years. Despite this, we never thought he would die just yet - the tough old bugger would keep fighting on, as he had on his last Corbetts. Tears surprised me more than once as I prepared his eulogy - but I wanted to repay this difficult but loveable man for all our days on the hill. His ashes have been scattered on several hills by various pals - he'd have completely agreed with the current campaign against permanent memorials on hills. His ashes have by now blown away in the wind, but his easy company remains tangible in many people's hill memories.

Peter Drummond

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