/ ARTICLE: John Cullen: Creagh Dhu Climber

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UKC Articles - on 03 Oct 2017
John Cullen: Creagh Dhu Climber, 4 kb'It's funny how these interesting events unfold, but it's only if you put yourself in a position to be open for these things to happen, you know. If you sit at home all your life, adventures don't happen to you!'

90 year old John Cullen was a member of the notorious Creagh Dhu Club, nicknamed 'the Glencoe Mafia': a group of toughened Glaswegian climbers whose grit was born out of the Great Depression of the 1920s and 30s. At his home in Milngavie north of Glasgow, John regaled Natalie Berry with tales from his Creagh Dhu days.



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yesbutnobutyesbut - on 03 Oct 2017
In reply to UKC Articles:

Great Article.
Doug on 03 Oct 2017
In reply to UKC Articles:

Thanks, a good lunchtime read. But maybe check the line
"In 1979 I got a motorbike and Cunningham and Smith had them too" (just above the Ben A'an photo) - possibly 1949?
keith-ratcliffe on 03 Oct 2017
In reply to UKC Articles:
Another great article - just bought the Creagh Dhu book on the back of it.
Steve Perry - on 03 Oct 2017
In reply to UKC Articles:

I had the good fortune one evening of arriving at the Glen Feshie bothy to find it occupied by John Cullen and Mick Noon. I think it was Nov 2004. Mick Noon lived in America and had travelled over to see John if I remember right. They recited some cracking climbing stories for me. Reading the article also reminded me that John had shown me his home made bivvy bag. Great characters, fine article.
In reply to Doug:

You must be right there. John made a few corrections on his dates upon reading the final draft but I didn't envy his task of having to recall 90 years of memories! '49 makes more sense.

A nice photo of John looking tickled pink reading a draft from my laptop. Maybe I'll add it in:

https://twitter.com/NatBerry18/status/894954718497210370

Bonus points to anyone who can identify this route that left us stumped:

'I never lead - what was that first hard one that Cunningham did on the Buachaille that's dead famous? I did that years later as a second.'
Doug on 03 Oct 2017
In reply to Natalie Berry - UKC:

I think most of us struggle with dates at times, but that one just stood out as unlikely

Carnivore on Creag A'Bhancair ?
In reply to Doug:

Must be Carnivore. I'll inform John (via John!). Thanks!
Rick Sewards - on 03 Oct 2017
In reply to Natalie Berry - UKC:

Could it be Gallows Route? I seem to remember reading that it was notably ahead of it's time, even if it's not as well known now as Carnivore.

Rick
Michael Gordon - on 03 Oct 2017
In reply to Rick Sewards:
Gallows makes sense, 1948 if I recall correctly. Gallows is the better known route in terms of pushing boundaries. Especially if at the time he says he repeated all the other routes besides that and Guerdon Grooves.
Post edited at 18:42
Stuart en Écosse - on 03 Oct 2017
In reply to UKC Articles:

Cracking article, keep them coming.
Wee Davie - on 03 Oct 2017
In reply to UKC Articles:

Another cracking article. What a life he's had!
In reply to Rick Sewards:
John mentions Gallows Route in the following sentence. Hard to know whether by 'did' he means 'lead', and whether he's linking Gallows to his question. I've listened back to the voice recording and he doesn't seem to make a link between the unknown route and Gallows, but sounds like it probably is the route he's on about.

'I never lead - what was that first hard one that Cunningham did on the Buachaille that's dead famous? I did that years later as a second. Other than Gallow's Route and Guerdon Grooves I did all the routes of that time.'
Post edited at 22:28
rgold - on 04 Oct 2017
In reply to UKC Articles:

Trying to identify the US climbs mentioned...

The picture with Nick Moon in the Tetons is pretty fuzzy. Perhaps Nez Perce, the camera pointed West towards South Teton. The West Virginia 1957 picture (part of what refers to as his Pittsburgh climbing) has got to be Seneca Rocks.
L Dusty Blitz on 04 Oct 2017
In reply to UKC Articles:

Superb!
andyjohnson0 - on 04 Oct 2017
In reply to UKC Articles:

A great read. Thanks!
JimR - on 04 Oct 2017
In reply to UKC Articles:

First guide I had to the Whangie used the Creagh Dhu gradings, I found them quite useful ;-) One time I was out (mid 70s) there I bumped into Kerr McPhail who gave me a lift back to Glasgow. I was well impressed at the time with this old guy , or so he seemed at the time ;-) who had just taken up white water canoeing.
Sean Kelly - on 04 Oct 2017
In reply to UKC Articles:

Lovely article. It's important that these events and tales from a generation that has almost expired is documented.
I met Charlie Vigano in the early 70's and was unsure about him as he was in the infamous Creag Ddu which had this fearsome reputation at the time, but he was quite amenable. We were both on the very first meetings of the BMC's Lancs/Cheshire committee so out conversations was mostly more formal discussion, rather than small talk.
In reply to Sean Kelly:

I'm wondering if the voice recording on my phone is decent enough to edit and put online.
skelf - on 04 Oct 2017
In reply to UKC Articles:

Thanks for that, I could read about the Creag Dhu all day! Reminded me of walking alone by Jacksonville about ten years ago, trying the door and being amazed to find it opened....
Wicamoi on 05 Oct 2017
In reply to Natalie Berry - UKC:

I'd love to hear John's spoken word, even if the quality isn't great.

Thanks for a really fascinating article. I guess most journalists would be shocked by the lack of editorial overview, but in this context to have John Cullen's words more or less verbatim was greatly compelling - so much of the Glasgow in them - and bringing especially the photographs to life.

I'd echo Sean Kelly's point: this account is particularly valuable because the possibility for new first hand tellings of this era is almost over. My partner's grandfather, who died a few years back, warmed his spirit by the Craigallian Fire in the 30s. Though a camper and a walker rather than a climber, he knew Jock Nimlin and so may perhaps have known John Cullen, though older than him. I wish now I had recorded his stories of the old days, because his flow of words and frequent changes of focus, coupled with the loud TV and other conversation in his Alexandria flat, made it hard for me - used to slower, quieter tellings and the ticking of clocks - to retain his stories.

If anyone else knows someone alive from those days -please do what Natalie has done and record their words before the first hand experience of this seminal epoch in Scottish outdoor culture disappears forever.

Chuckbhoy - on 05 Oct 2017
In reply to UKC Articles:

Superb article Natalie.
Highly evocative and inspiring.
A real gem
Offwidth - on 05 Oct 2017
In reply to UKC Articles:

Amazing in-depth article. More thanks to all those involved.
In reply to Wicamoi:
Yes, it was a conscious decision not rewrite his stories in prose since it would just be a flat recapitulation with no character. There was still a lot of transcribing, cutting and editing, though. The recording is just under 2 hours! When he read over the draft, John knew every point where I'd omitted a short story or a minor detail to tighten up the text!

If he'd had his way it would be twice as long. There were some bits I couldn't include for fear of embarrassing his contemporaries
Post edited at 19:09
petestack - on 05 Oct 2017
In reply to UKC Articles:

Interesting stuff. Note that Mallory's Slab and Groove is one route, not two. And might be worth pointing out that Marshall wasn't your typical working-class Glaswegian Creagh Dhu climber (being unusually invited to join as an Edinburgh architect).
saorgregor - on 06 Oct 2017
In reply to UKC Articles:

Lovely article. I'll pass it on to Alec (Fulton).

ps it's 'led' not 'lead' (if it's past tense)...terrible language is English/Sassun!!
akcoverdale - on 06 Oct 2017
In reply to UKC Articles:

In 1952 we were climbing in Llanberis and Hugh Banner and I had just done Brant when Hughie found a peg hammer. We knew the Creagh Dhu were in the valley living under some rocks so he left them a note inviting them to tea at the Climbers Club cottage where we were staying to collect the hammer; knowing their reputation we were a trifle nervous but everything went fine and every time Charlie used a four letter word their "leader" reminded him there were ladies present. We were members of University Bristol Club and were fantastically impressed by their behaviour and climbing ability particularly Charlie who climbed in a torn Pakamac which came down to his ankles. Happy Days

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