Roger Smith pays tribute to one of the greatest authorities on the Cairngorms to have ever lived.

Dr Adam Watson, scientist, mountaineer and conservationist, died on 23 January aged 88. His achievements were far too numerous to list here, but it can fairly be said that no-one since Nan Shepherd had a greater knowledge of or love for the Cairngorms than Adam.

He was born in Turriff and went to Aberdeen University, leaving with 1st class honours in Pure Science. While a teenager he came across Seton Gordon’s book The Cairngorm Hills and was immediately gripped by it. He contacted Seton Gordon and the two remained in touch until Gordon’s death in 1977.

Adam meanwhile had gained a PhD for his thesis on the life and habits of ptarmigan, a bird he was fascinated by. He later added a second doctorate for work on the populations and habits of animals in northern latitudes. He worked for many years at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology on Deeside.

Another great interest was snow, and he made a particular study of long-lasting snow patches in the Cairngorms. Not so many years ago, I was climbing Glas Maol above Glenshee when I saw this unmistakeable figure with his flowing white beard and sunhat peering at a small snowpatch. He hailed me cheerily and we continued up the hill together. Even this brief an encounter was memorable as Adam recounted some of the things he had seen that day. His powers of observation were remarkable.

His deep love for the Cairngorms manifested itself in numerous conservation battles over the years. In 1997 he was made an honorary life member of WWF in recognition of his ‘outstanding work and a lifetime of dedication to securing the future of the Cairngorms’. This was followed in 2004 by the lifetime achievement award from the John Muir Trust, presented to him by fellow conservationist Dick Balharry. Dick cited Adam’s ‘unparalleled knowledge of the hills and intense personal commitment to their special qualities’. He was a Trustee of JMT from 1984-97 and a board member of the Cairngorms Partnership from 1995-97. His extensive bibliography includes The Place names of Upper Deeside which can truly be described as a labour of love.

Adam Watson will be sadly missed by all those with a passion for mountains. He was absolutely one of a kind.

Roger Smith

Image courtesy of Iain Cameron