FIFTIETH ANNIVERSARY OF JOCK'S ROAD TRAGEDY

NEW Year's Day 2009 marks the fiftieth anniversary of one of the worst hillwalking tragedies ever to have hit the glens area high above Kirriemuir.

It was on January 1, 1959, that five men from the west of Scotland lost their lives while attempting to walk Jock's Road from Braemar to Glen Doll.

Alas, none of the five committee members of the Universal Hiking Club in Glasgow were to make it into the Angus glen.

Harry Duffin, an engineer with Rolls Royce in East Kilbride, Frank Daly, an executive officer with the National Assistance Board, Robert McFaul, teacher at Coatbridge Technical College, Joseph Devlin, a plasterer from Clydebank, and James Boyle, an apprentice marine fitter from Dennistoun, planned to follow the A93 out of Braemar before walking up Glen Callater and then to take the high level track of Jock's Road through to Glen Doll.

The five left Glasgow on Saturday, December 27 and had enjoyed a few days walking in the upper Deeside area.

According to an account of the tragedy which was to unfold, in a book, 'The Black Cloud'. written by Mr Ian Thomson and published in 1993, the party left Braemar hostel at around 9 am on New Year's Day, and attended mass and received Holy Communion at St Andrews RC church.

It is believed they set off on their fateful journey at around 11.15 am. The plan was to meet up with Louise Devlin, Joseph's wife, and other members of the club at the hostel in Glen Doll later in the day.

Given reasonable conditions, the estimated arrival time would have been around 6 pm, meaning the last 90 or so minutes of the walk would have been in darkness.

Although it was the middle of winter the group members were not too concerned about the conditions as they were experienced walkers and were familiar with the route.

Indeed some of them had enjoyed the same walk only a few months earlier. It is understood they were reasonably well equipped although none of them had waterproof leggings or waterproof trousers.

After leaving the A93 the men were spotted at 12.15 pm by Charles Smith, a local shepherd, near his house at Auchallater. They were making their way up Glen Callater towards Lochcallater Lodge as planned.

At this time, on the lower ground, it was cold and breezy with rain and sleet falling.

None of the men were seen alive again.

Reports at the time reveal there was already a substantial layer of snow lying on the high ground.

A later study of the weather systems confirmed the men would have met horrendous conditions once they climbed out of Coire Breac on to the higher ground, with storm force 11 winds, deep and driving snow and severe wind chill (-25C).

It has been suggested that, even though the men were well past the halfway mark of their route, they may have turned back if they were not due to meet up with their friends later in the day.

Friends and family of the men travelling from Glasgow did arrive at the Glen Doll Youth Hostel on New Year's Day as planned.

That night the weather conditions were so severe that, even at lower levels, the road out of Glen Clova became blocked with snow and the single telephone line to the hotel at Clova was cut.

It was reported in a local newspaper the wind was so strong that night it tore off the stand roof of a football ground in Forfar.

The storm, considered the worst for many years, continued for two days and it was Saturday before police in Kirriemuir could be alerted to the fact people could be missing.

The same day a group of local gamekeepers, shepherds and those staying at the Glen Doll hostel attempted an unsuccessful search for the missing men.

A formal search, co-ordinated by the police and involving RAF mountain rescue teams and members of other mountaineering clubs, began on the Sunday, January 4.

The 100-plus rescuers encountered horrific blizzard conditions and deep snow. Amazingly, they found the body of young James Boyle above the head of Glen Doll near Craig Maud.

Many of the rescuers were camping near the hostel. It must have been very uncomfortable. That night a temperature of -19.5C was officially recorded in Strathdon in Aberdeenshire.

The search continued on the Monday and Tuesday but was then abandoned as the frozen ground conditions made access to the hills difficult and dangerous. By then, it was felt there was little possibility of finding anyone alive.

In the weeks that followed, Davie Glen, a well-known local character with a love and in-depth knowledge of the hills in the area, often went out searching for the bodies.

However, it was the end of February before a thaw set in, allowing some of the deep snow to melt and the ground conditions to improve.

On Sunday, March 1, Davie Glen and a group of helpers found the body of Harry Duffin in a pool at the bottom of the White Water waterfall - only 50 metres from where James Boyle had been found.

The thaw continued and therefore a further formal search involving around 80 men was undertaken the following weekend. The body of Robert McFaul was found near White Water on Saturday, March 7.

Davie Glen was out again the following week and, accompanied by two students he met on the day, found the body of Joseph Devlin on Sunday, March 15. He was in the burn, close to Jock's Road and about 400 metres from where Robert McFaul had been found.

It was to be a further five weeks (on Sunday, April 19), before Frank Daly, the fifth member of the party, was found. He was discovered in a metre of snow near the upper reaches of White Water.

"The hills and mountains of Angus and other parts of Scotland give an enormous amount of pleasure to thousands of people," comments a spokesperson for Forfar and District Hillwalking Club, an organisation that has, for a number of years, maintained 'Davie's Bourach' on Jock's Road, the 'rough' shelter having been built by Davie Glen following the tragedy.

"However, this tragic story is a very sobering reminder of how dangerous they can be.

"It certainly emphasises the need to check weather forecasts before venturing out into the hills and the vital need to make use of specialist protective clothing and equipment."