Tom Weir, broadcaster, mountaineer and conservationist in conversation with Jenny Taggart
A few days after his ninetieth birthday ceilidh I have the pleasure to meet the diminutive Tom Weir, resplendent in his trade mark woolly bunnet, fair-isle jumper and nicky-tams. He is sprightly and energetic, keen for conversation and eager to enjoy birthday cake and tea made by his wife, Rhone.
His earliest recollection is of his grandmother who would give him a penny to sing ‘Rowan Tree’. “I can still sing it today” he laughs. He remembers as a child wanting to climb - anything, anywhere. His mother loved mountains and together the pair would escape Glasgow. A short bus journey would take them from their home in Springburn to the Campsite Hills, a place that is still a favourite of Tom’s today. A commemorative cairn now marks the start of ‘Weir’s Walk’ from Clachan of Campsie through the hills. From his earliest days, he also remembers wanting to be a writer. Here he was helped by another member of his strongly matriarchal family. His elder, and equally weel-kent sister, Mollie, taught him to touch-type, charging him two shillings and sixpence a lesson. “It was money well spent”, he says.
I ask about his experience as a Battery Officer in the Royal Artillery in the Second World War. “I was in action in Italy. They don’t let you off, you know. We were called out anytime, day or night. One time the men had really suffered. We were supposed to have an inspection each day, and I said to the men ‘never mind that, you’ve done your bit’. I was back to a private again by the next day because I didn’t get it right. One thing I will never forget, I was in the cinema in Germany and there was an explosion and the whole screen blew right out covering everyone with debris. We fought our way out again. There was the time too when I was in a top bunk and another chap was on the lower. We were bombed and the bomb went straight through the two bunks between us.”
He came back to Glasgow after the war, and began work as a surveyor. But he was soon able to support himself by his writing, and in1950 took part in the first post-war Himalayan expedition. In 1952, he was one of the first to explore the mountains of Nepal and Katmandu. Some of his most difficult ascents were there. He also climbed in Greenland above the Arctic Circle, in Morocco, Iran, Syria and Kurdistan, as well as in Scotland. He says he likes the challenge of the climb and the achievement of reaching the summit.
Despite being one of Scotland’s foremost mountaineers, he was never a Munro-bagger. He has been to the top of most Munros, but preferred to climb only those he liked best, enjoying the whole experience of the sky, the lochs, trees, birds, flowers, animals – the spiritual as well as the physical. For example, the tiny 142-metre Duncryne, known locally where he lives in Gartocharn as ‘The Dumpling’, has been important always to him. “I used to climb Duncryne every day, sometimes even at midnight.” I ask him if this is his favourite place in Scotland. “No”, he replies, “That honour goes to Glen Lyon. It is a beautiful place. I call it ‘the three Ls’: the loveliest, the longest and the loneliest. I like to walk there because of the loneliness.”