In 1957 the newly founded Scotsman Mountaineering Club held its first meet, with eleven members travelling by hired coach to Ben Lawers. Outings followed to Arrochar and Ben Lui, and so a tradition was established. The founding chairman was the writer and broadcaster Rennie McOwan, then a Scotsman journalist, with Matthew Moulton as secretary and Robin Crearie as treasurer. The club also had Sir John Hunt as its first honorary president (memories of the first Everest ascent still fresh in mind) with Scotsman editor (later Sir) Alastair Dunnett as honorary vice-president.
These were days of innocence when few people walked the Scottish hills and there was little specialist climbing gear, few guidebooks, and much learning by trial and error. Ice-axes and crampons were virtually unknown. On an early ascent of Ben Lui one group traversed icy scree in single file, passing their single ice-axe to and fro cutting steps as required.
From an early date the husbands, wives, girl friends, etc. of Scotsman employees were allowed to join as associate members, and in the fullness of time associates came to outnumber ordinary members. It was therefore decided in 1972 to make membership open to all, and at this point the name was changed to the Ptarmigan Mountaineering Club (apparently unaware that the name had previously been used by another club in the west of Scotland). Mention of “the Scotsman bus” still rings bells among hillworthies of a certain age. In the beginning meets were held on a Saturday (to fit the needs of newspapermen who often had to work Sunday shifts), but this was changed to a Sunday as the membership widened.
50-seat buses were hired from Hunters of Loanhead. There were a few experiments with other, cheaper, firms but these were abandoned once it became clear that cheapness did not always go hand in hand with reliability. At first members had a completely free hand to do their own thing on the hills, but problems with erratic timekeeping eventually led to calls for greater discipline. This led to the introduction of the present system where route plans are discussed on the outward journey and recorded by the bus convener, with an emergency phone number available.
Opportunities for exploring the Highlands increased dramatically with the opening of the Forth Road Bridge in 1964, and subsequent road improvements have speeded up journey times. Older members still shudder at the memory of the journey through Glenfarg and Perth city centre before the days of the M90, the Perth bypass and the Friarton bridge. Conversely some traditional destinations were lost as buses refused to tackle narrow country roads. However as numbers reduced, we switched to a Clan MacLeod 30-seat bus, and restored the options to include Glen Lyon, Glen Lochay and the road up to the Ben Lawers visitor centre. The introduction of tachographs and associated EU rules on driver’s hours have reduced flexibility on timings.
It is hard now to imagine a repeat of one early meet to Ben Lawers when several parties got lost on the hill due to bad weather and the bus eventually returned to Edinburgh after 1.00 a.m. Not that all adventures have been caused by wayward members. Another late return, in June 1990, featured a sick bus (with a lady driver) which failed to make it up the ski road to the Coire Cas car park and, on the return journey, finally expired at the top of Drumochter. In those days before mobile phones the bus convener set off intrepidly on foot to find a phone to summon a replacement bus from Loanhead, leading to a comedy of errors when the original bus managed to crawl a few miles further, mislaying the bus convener en route.
Since the early days club activities have centred on one day meets. Experimental weekend outings had limited success until a resurgence of enthusiasm, in recent years. The “moonlight walk” has not been repeated (there’s a challenge). There have also been occasional social events, including slide evenings, and a communal high tea is now an established fixture on the November meet.
In 2019 we changed our name to Ptarmigan Hillwalking and Mountaineering Club to better reflect our activities.
Recollections of the club’s early days can be found in Rennie McOwan’s article “Looking back from a hilltop” in the Scots magazine, vol. 145, no.5, November 1996, p.504-510