Tributes paid to Walter Elliot of Glencoe

Walter Elliot.

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This month saw the passing of the last of the indigenous shepherds of Glencoe and Glen Etive, with the death of Walter Elliot of Achnabeich.

A gathering of close family and friends attended at Achnabeich, Mr Elliot’s home for 91 years, for his funeral recently.

Among the mourners were members, past and present, of Glencoe Mountain Rescue Team of which Mr Elliot had been a member, and it was fitting that it was team members who carried his coffin down the road for the last journey to the bridge, where piper John McCallum played The Sons of Glencoe and Mist Covered Mountains.

Members of Glencoe Mountain Rescue Team carry his coffin from his home in the village. NO F31 Walter Elliot 01
Members of Glencoe Mountain Rescue Team carry his coffin from his home in the village.
NO F31 Walter Elliot 01

The funeral cortege then drove down the old road, through Glencoe village and Ballachulish before making the final journey to Kilmonivaig at Spean Bridge, where the Elliot family are interred.

There follows an appreciation of Mr Elliot’s life:

WALTER ELLIOT, 1930-2021

Walter Elliot lived his life in a manner of his own choosing; he lived where he wanted, he lived at his time, at his pace and he made his own decisions.

At the end he left by the same principles; he left from his own home, he left quietly without fuss – knowing that it was his time.

You may think this is a description of a rather inconsiderate man. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Walter gave his life to the service of two enduring features of this part of the West Highlands. Firstly, he served the land and secondly, he served those people who made the use of this land.

Born in 1930 Walter came to a time when big changes were coming to the Scottish glens and hills.

For the first time, people from the cities had transport, some money and spare time and this led them out to explore lands which were new to them.

Some came simply to look at the scenery, some learned to ski, some walked and some climbed.

As the numbers of people going up the hills increased rapidly, so too did the numbers coming back down – quite often a lot faster than intended.

Still only a schoolboy, Walter rapidly acquired his knowledge of the hill and, under the guidance of his father and support of his brother Willie, became involved in the business of mountain rescue.

There would be fatalities – a hard task for a young man – but Walter took it in his stride.

There would be people who were injured, people who were lost, people who were frightened.

The circumstances did not really matter to Walter – he simply answered their call for help. He did not judge or blame. He did not lecture foolish people (well – perhaps just a little bit now and again).

But, most importantly, he asked for neither thanks nor recognition. He just did it. This was his life.

Almost certainly to his immense embarrassment Walter’s work and commitment to rescue was indeed formally recognised in 1968 with the award of a British Empire Medal for his services to Scottish mountain rescue.

Some people at that time – and even today – feel that he should have received an award of higher status.

It didn’t put Walter up nor down – ‘Oh it’s just a shiny bit of metal in a box!’

You could have given Walter a knighthood or elevated him to the House of Lords – it didn’t change Walter.

As time went on Walter’s knowledge of the land became quite outstanding. He learned everything – forgot nothing.

Nowadays it would be referred to as ‘proactive land management and development’ or some other stupid name.

But, to Walter, it was simply a matter of getting the best out of the land without damaging it.

Sheep were very much to the fore and right up to his last few days Walter still tended to sheep at the house.

He tended to them every day, preparing extra feed when necessary, checking their condition, bringing them in closer at night.

And, all the while guarding them against the greatest enemy. No – not foxes – but over enthusiastic tourists. Walter did not like them.

Walter had a keen eye with a gun and was a first class marksman.

He made full use of the stalker’s greatest skill – patience. Last year, on his 90th birthday a small group of us took Walter to Isle of Eriska hotel for lunch and a bit of clay pigeon shooting.

I have to confess I was a little concerned on how he would handle a shotgun at his age. Not a bit of it! Bang! Smash! Bang Smash! With a glint in his eye Walter turned round – ‘Oh, not too bad then!’ Then came turns for the rest of us – let’s just leave it at that!

The home at Achnabeich was a place for hard work – but there was always a place for relaxation and time off. It was especially enjoyed by the new generation of the younger children.

Rae, Sandy and Mairi spent a huge part of their young years here – school holidays and regular weekends. There was a welcome place, too, for the next oncoming generation – Mary, Cameron and Billy who loved the house and looked on Walter with great affection and high regard.

In the most recent time Walter was clearly quite taken with little Ella, his great-great-niece.

Walter taught respect for the land and also respect for yourself and those around you.

You did not ask for help and if you were properly prepared, you did not need it.

Walter’s philosophy on life was to do things for yourself – that’s what made you a true individual.

The social side of Achnabeich was almost legendary. To visit at New Year was really an experience when the house was open to, quite literally, hundreds of visitors over the period of two or three days.

For so much of the time it really was ‘standing room only’. It is particularly hard for us here today to accept that these days are gone.

We may be tempted to say now that Walter has gone – but think of this – long after we are all gone and forgotten Walter Elliot’s impact on this land will remain. It will remain here for a very long time.

A.C.B.