Exploring the links list I mentioned in the previous post, I came across a dead link. Yahoo Geocities sites, apparently, have ceased to exist! Fortunately, I was able to retrieve information from the page I'd linked to and I thought I'd publish it here. Apologies to anyone already familiar with McTavish's doings...
Though many have heard of Sir Hugh Munro, creator of the famous list which gave birth to the sport of "Munro bagging", few have heard of Robert McTavish (1746-1795) - the unsung founder of Scottish mountaineering.
McTavish grew up in a fashionable suburb Edinburgh. He was a bright lad, though attracted from an early age to the hills. Often, his parents would frantically scour Edinburgh in search of him. More often than not, they would find him on the summit of Arthur's Seat.
The young McTavish went on to study law, but when his father was tragically killed by a horse, he inherited his father's fortune which, sorry to say, had been made in the slave trade. McTavish, an admirer of Thomas Paine, who held high hopes for the turbulent political changes of his age, always felt uncomfortable about the source of the wealth which allowed him to pursue his first passion: mountaineering.
McTavish was a contemporary and friend of Burns, who he met at a country dancing school in 1776. The "twa Rabbies" as they were known were a familiar sight in the dives and fleshpots of Glasgow. Burns wrote an epitaph on the occasion of his friend's untimey death (he died of typhus, aged 49):
McTavish is to heaven gane
And mony shall lament him.
His talents midst the Bens they lay.
The English nane e'er kent him.
He scaled a' the fearfu' hichts
He hirpled doun the glen.
A braw, braid laddie was our Rabbie -
When will we see his likes again?
The dismissive reference to the English alludes to McTavish's education. His father had sent him to England to study law at Oxford University. He returned to Scotland an Englishman in language and manner, though as all who knew him could testify, still Scottish at heart. Burns was no doubt amused that the English were wholly unaware of McTavish's achievements. Unlike that of Balmart and Paccard, who had made the first ascent of Mont Blanc in 1786, McTavish's achievements were unknown and unsung outside his native country.
McTavish was also known to McGonnagal, who wrote of him:
In Praise of Robert McTavish
How much praise can I lavish
On Robert McTavish?
From the loftiest Ben
To the leafiest Glen,
From Arthur's Seat to Ben Nevis,
He explored every crevice.
The bold mountaineer
Was totally without fear,
And only the very cynical could doubt
The voracity of his account of the ascent
Of the Inaccessible Pinnacle on Skye.
from "Forgotten Scotsmen" (1896)
How much credence can we give to McTavish's accounts of his doings? His journals leave us in little doubt that in his short life he scaled most, if not all, the peaks later catalogued by Munro, plus many lesser peaks besides. Living as he did prior to the age of Victorian reductionism, he was not particularly interested in the height of the hills he climbed, or in listing them. Unlike Munro, he successfully ascended the Inaccessible Pinnacle on Skye.
The peaks of the Cuillin on Skye were undoubtedly McTavish's favourite hills. The southerly peak(625m) of Bla Bheinn remains un-named and it has recently been suggested that the peak to be officially renamed Sgurr MhicTammas, in homage to the man.
4 years ago