Published 9th December 2021, 20:00

    DECEMBER 1966. We arrived at the Glen Doll youth hostel on a Friday evening, the darkness only penetrated by a vague illumination from the deep snow blanketing the landscape.

    It was freezing and it was slightly eerie, but for four 12-year-old Scouts about to get their first taste of an outdoor adventure, it was also exciting.

    The supervising adult who had driven us the hour or so from Dundee made sure we got settled in to our dormitory and explained the hostel rules, told us to enjoy ourselves – and then, with a final dib-dib-dob, he left.

    It turned out he had only made the trip under sufferance as he was due to take his wife out for a meal that night. She must have had one hell of an appetite because he was also going out on the Saturday as well. He would be back to collect us on Sunday morning.

    There we were, four kids left to our own devices in the wilds of Glen Doll, in heavy winter snow, for two days. We never gave it a second thought. It never occurred to us that an adult shouldn't have abandoned us to go partying. Our biggest concern was how to cook the huge string of sausages we had been given.

    We had no experience of mountain terrain. We didn't have a map or a compass between us – not that it would have made any difference: we had never been shown how to use them – and our gear was basic to the point of being useless.

    We were a ragtag gang wrapped in Army surplus clothing. I had an old Commando jacket with a German flag sewn on to the sleeve, and an almost matching rucksack with a couple of holes that looked suspiciously like they had been made by bullets. I did have (alleged) waterproof trousers, and a pair of knitted wool socks that were a little too bulky for my downmarket walking boots from Chilblains R Us.

    We slept fully clothed that first night, then headed out for a walk into Corrie Fee the next day. We laughed when we fell into holes covered by deep snow or slipped off iced rocks into the burn. We arrived back in darkness, soaked, freezing and with no real idea of where we had been nor the possible danger we had been in.

    Our parents were also blissfully unaware of the situation. It's unlikely they would have understood anyway: as far they were concerned,we were under the supervision of a responsible adult, even if was just for a few hours out of 48.

    That episode popped back into my mind last week as I was reading the harrowing recollections of the 1971 Feith Buidhe tragedy when five youngsters and a trainee instructor died during an outing in the Cairngorms. It was the worst disaster in the history of Scottish mountaineering, but it led to widespread changes and higher safety standards in outdoor education. Nowadays, a dereliction of duty like we experienced in Glen Doll would lead to public outcry and criminal charges.

    I'm sure those of us of a certain age will have many similar tales to tell. One mountain friend was astonished to discover when looking through old diaries that he had been an unwitting Munro-bagger at the age of 12.

    He had been part of a Sunday School group of youngsters regularly taken into the hills by an adult volunteer. It wasn't altruistic, though. The man in question was tempted by the free use of the church's minibus to visit the farther away peaks he had yet to climb. All he had to do was drag along those pesky kids.

    Most of the time, he could only manage one tick with all those little legs in tow. After all, you can only whip the whippersnappers so much. That probably explained why the two summits of the Corryhully Horseshoe, Sgurr Thuilm and Sgurr nan Coireachan, were done as separates on consecutive trips rather than in their natural pairing.

    One entry made reference to ascents of Meall Dearg and Sgorr nam Fiannaidh, the Munros at either end of the Aonach Eagach, although the name of the infamous Glen Coe ridge was notable by its absence. 

    In typical child-like understatement, it read simply: “It was a bit scary.’’