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Ben Nevis in  Winter
Ben Nevis in Winter

William Hutchinson Murray lived from 18 March 1913 to 19 March 1996. One of the greats of Scottish mountaineering, he did as much or more than anyone else to popularise Scotland as a walking and climbing destination to the generations following World War II. In the process he wrote two of the most enthralling and evocative books ever to have been written on any subject: Mountaineering in Scotland and Undiscovered Scotland.

WH Murray on the Cover of His Autobiography
W.H. Murray on the Cover
of His Autobiography

Murray was born in Liverpool and brought up in Glasgow. His father, who was killed at Gallipoli in 1915, had been an enthusiast for the outdoors, but it was not until 1934 that a passion for the mountains was awakened in Murray himself. He overheard a mountaineer talking of a weekend climb of An Teallach in Wester Ross, in terms that made Murray dream of experiencing the mountains for himself.

So early in 1935 he set off for one of the very few Scottish mountains he had heard of, The Cobbler, near Arrochar. This he climbed in winter, by himself, and without maps, proper clothing or equipment. As he says in Undiscovered Scotland: "From that day I became a mountaineer." Murray spent the remainder of the 1930s walking and then climbing throughout the length and breadth of Scotland, becoming a particular pioneer of winter climbing in the Western Highlands.

The approach of World War II overshadowed his early climbing years. In 1941, Murray, by now already in the army, made a final symbolic climb of his favourite mountain, Buachaille Etive Mor at the head of Glen Coe, and in his autobiography comments: "To me and everyone I knew at the time, mobilisation spelled the ruin of everything we most valued in life". He descended "as slowly as I knew how".

Murray had joined the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders in April 1940 and was posted with them to fight in the North African campaigns. There Murray was captured, spending the remainder of the war in a series of prisoner-of-war camps in Italy and Germany. Murray's response to captivity was to write, producing what was to become Mountaineering in Scotland on toilet paper: twice over, after the first copy had been found and destroyed by his captors.

In June 1945 Murray, feeling seriously weakened by his wartime experiences, once more climbed Buachaille Etive Mor, providing perhaps the most poignant moment in Undiscovered Scotland. With the war behind him, Murray went from strength to strength. Mountaineering in Scotland was finally published in 1947, and was followed by Undiscovered Scotland in 1951.

Despite an alpine accident in which he was seriously injured, Murray was a member of the 1950 Scottish Himalayan Expedition. Sadly his difficulties acclimatising to high altitudes meant he was not selected for the successful 1953 Everest Expedition led by Sir Edmund Hillary.

W.H. Murray played an increasingly important role in issues to do with the environment of Scotland from the 1960s onwards. In 1960 he surveyed Scotland's mountain areas for the National Trust for Scotland, and he served on the Countryside Commission for Scotland from 1968 to 1980. He was also Chairman of the Scottish Countryside Activities Council from 1968 to 1982; President of the Mountaineering Council for Scotland from 1972 to 1975; President of the Scottish Mountaineering Club from 1962, and Honorary President of it from 1989; and a founding Trustee of the John Muir Trust until 1986. He also found time to continue his writing, mostly on subjects connected with the mountains: though in 1982 he also published what is regarded by many as the definitive biography of Rob Roy.

Oh, and in case you are wondering, the title for his book Undiscovered Scotland was indeed the inspiration for the naming of this web site.

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