General > Davie Glen, 1909-1978
Davie Glen, 1909-1978

Without doubt, the name mentioned the most often, when talking about Tealing "characters", is that of Davie Glen. Twenty-two years after his death he is still fondly and vividly remembered by many local people. Davie, in over 45 years of climbing, "diddling" and story telling, became one of the best-known and most popular characters in Angus. Nor was his fame confined to his home county. For his weather-beaten features, complete with beard were seen on virtually every mountain on the mainland of Scotland -and at the ceilidhs, which go hand-in-hand with climbing.

Davie lived in a converted railway carriage in School Road Tealing for more than thirty years and it became almost as well known as the hostels, lodges and bothies frequented by the climbing fraternity. All of his life he was the outdoor type. In 1972, in an interview for the Evening Telegraph, he said "I started cycle racing in 1927. During the Thirties I turned semi-professional, going round the games and sports in the area. I made a copper or two to ease the burden during the Depression. I remember one day I stopped at a wee shop in Forfar for a bottle of lemonade. The woman there asked me if I had been cycling fast. I replied that I had been going so hard that the telegraph poles flashed by like the teeth of a comb!" At that point, Davie added that out of 112 lie-telling competitions he has entered, he had won 104. "That's the kind of thing I would tell" he grinned.

At that time "pass storming" was very popular with cyclists. "1 remember one Sunday in 1930 when I made a round trip of about 130 miles" Davie continued. "I left Westhall Terrace, Duntrune at 5.30 a.m., cycled to Braemar without stopping and had a snack there. Then I went on through Glen Tilt, carrying the bike for about seven miles, and had another snack at Forest Lodge. From there 1 made for Dunkeld, where 1 met up with some of the lads out for their Sunday run. After having a drum-up together we cycled to Perth and then had our usual race into Dundee, arriving about 9.30 p.m."

He stopped cycling in 1967. "A blackbird built a nest in the front wheel," he said, pointing to an old bike at the end of the carriage, "and I didn't want to disturb it" The first mountain he climbed was Beinn a' Beithir, south of Fort William, in 1931 when he was working on the road building. "The name means Ben of the Thunderbolt. I'd heard shepherds say that if mountains groaned bad weather would follow. "The day I climbed Beinn a Beithir I heard it groaning. It's an eerie sound, sort of like two grindstones rubbing together. "Sure enough, for the next three days the rain bucketed down."

On Christmas Eve, 1935, he almost died from exhaustion and exposure on Bidean nam Bean, in Glencoe. "I tackled too much and had to find my way off the mountain in the dark in terrible conditions. "By the time I got down my ice-axe was frozen to my glove in a solid block of ice. It was only sheer will power that got me to safety."

When the war came, Davie was working on a hydro tunnel in Glen Tromie. The day France fell in 1940, he decided to join up after a short holiday. A few nights later found him at the hostel in Glen Nevis. He suggested to his fellow visitors that they should climb the Ben and watch the sunrise. More than 20 enjoyed what Davie referred to as one of his most wonderful experiences. A friend who was later lost at sea suggested that after the war they should organise an annual sunrise expedition. From this suggestion came the Lochnagar Sunrise Expedition in 1949. Over 700 people joined in. Davie went on all of the Lochnagar Expeditions until 1969.

After Ben Nevis, Davie joined the RAF. Two years later he was in civvies again, due to an ulcer and a spinal complaint. "A lot of concerts were being held to raise money for the war effort so I started going in for the diddling competitions. "They were always lie telling a competition at these affairs and this was what I liked best. "Diddling is fairly easy compared with making up stories. You can learn a tune from a record and diddle to it, but a story is something that you have to make up yourself." Davie twice won the National Diddling Championship. His proficiency led to several TV appearances, the first being on the Wilfred Pickles Show, in London. It was his one and only trip to the capital. "The best thing about that place was the Flying Scotsman coming back home," he said.

Davie led thousands of people on hill treks, taking a bus party almost every month. A number of accidents occurred during his climbing career. In 1966 he built a bothy four miles from Glen Doll, near the place where four Glasgow hikers perished in 1959. He used stones from the ruin of a hut, but still had to trek from Glen Doll with timber for the roof. The Forfar & District Hill Walking Club helped to carry up the corrugated iron for the roof. Davie worked at tree-planting, draining, tunnelling, drystane dyking and roadwork.

In 1972, he had decided to leave his native Angus and retire to Inverness-shire. "The sea mists in this area are not suitable for bronchitis," he said. However, he stayed for only a few months and soon he was back home in his railway carriage in Tealing. In April 1978, Davie was found lying unconscious in heavy rain one morning, just outside the railway carriage, by his neighbours Martin and Linda Scott. They called for an ambulance and summoned help from their neighbours Fred and Janet Stewart. Davie was taken to Ninewells Hospital where he died shortly afterwards. His death was widely reported in the newspapers of the day, his place in Scottish and Tealing folklore preserved forever. One devotee wrote this warm-hearted wee song about Davie -

To The Tune, THE STAR "o" RABBlE BURNS

There is a man whose weel kent face, stands out in every crowd

His kilted form, his long grey beard, his voice still clear and loud

At ceilidhs he's the brightest light, he aye comes back again

I hope for many years ahead, we'll hear "o" Davie Glen

Let other Scotsmen rise and fall, they may be honest men

But brightly gleams abune them aw, the name "o" Davie Glen!

Best wishes from Jean Spence "wha's gie cauld doorstep in Dundee you once sat on!

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