At Balmaha, on the West Highland Way, stands a statue to the great Scottish outdoorsman and broadcaster Tom Weir, rendered complete with his trademark Fair Isle sweater, walking gear and iconic wooly bunnet.  

The Scot, whose travelogue ‘Weir’s Way’ ran on ITV from 1976-1987, was a champion of the wilderness and walked sections of the route many times, as well as nearly every wild place Scotland has to offer.  

He was there when it opened, jammed together with the “tightest square of humanity you could pack into a marquee”, as traditional West Highland weather rained down outside. 

But he was initially reluctant to give the route his backing, writing that “using one’s imagination and not waiting for the Countryside Commission to show the way”, was the key to walking Scotland, “when paths already existed for backpackers who know how to look after themselves.” 

“I regard it as vital to retain the wild in wilderness by keeping to a minimum signposts, stiles, bridges and path- building slabs and sleepers,” he wrote, fearing that the path would become a “pedestrian M8”.   

He quickly came round the benefits the route had to offer - and its sensitive design made “by the feet of walkers” - recognising its prominence as a gateway to experiencing the Scottish countryside. 

But Tom, who died in 2006 aged 91, was never a man to follow the beaten path, preferring to blaze a trail wherever he could.  

The Herald:

Of a trek in the Grampian mountains, he would write: “The best protection of a unique and dangerous wilderness is to leave it unbuilt on and unmarked for those who don’t mind getting their feet wet, and who know how to avoid getting lost.” 

Born in Glasgow in 1914, he gained his love of the outdoors from his mother, on trips to the Campsie Hills where he would climb anything he could.  

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He was enthralled to meet climbers and ramblers in the hills, and by the shores of Loch Lomond, ‘Men who travelled light and came to terms with nature as they found it’, and determined to follow in their footsteps. 

After serving as a gunnery officer in Italy during the Second World War, he worked as a surveyor for the ordinance survey map, before turning to writing to make a living with a monthly column in the Scots magazine.  

One of the country’s foremost mountaineers, in 1952, he was one of the first to explore the mountains of Nepal and Katmandu, and also climbed in Greenland above the Arctic Circle as well as in Morocco, Iran, Syria and Kurdistan. 

The Herald: Tom's wife Rhone with the statue at BalmahaTom's wife Rhone with the statue at Balmaha (Image: NQ)

His columns were avidly read by the outdoor community – with his initial assessment of the West Highland Way route becoming an unofficial guide before the path was even opened.  

In both his writing and to the much larger audience he gained through TV, he sought to instil a love of adventure and the beauty of the Scottish landscape, with a humbleness at odds with the modern concept of extreme sports often associated with rock climbing.  

He wrote: “They are men who train on indoor climbing walls and on rock outcrops to attain world champion boxer fitness. From our armchairs we watch a very first ascent up a blank wall, or not quite blank, for the star climber has roped down it to inspect the face and brush the possible holds clean. 

“As well as looking for cracks to insert wire chocks, he puts in one piton, telling us as he does so that a lot of climbers will criticise him for it. 

“He says he knows he might die, but he has to challenge the rock rising sheer for 160 ft. Well, it’s all very wonderful in a way, but does it make sense? Not to me, I’m afraid.” 

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Though venturing into the wilds of Scotland has its dangers, Weir was injured only once, rock climbing on Ben A’an in the Trossachs.  

In an interview with Scots Independent, he said: “It is a difficult climb. We were just starting and I hadn’t got the feel of the mountain. I missed a vital hold and fell forty feet. I nearly lost my life, but it was my own fault. I was climbing without a belay. I never did that again”. 

A life-long resident on the shore of Loch Lomond with wife Rhona, Weir campaigned for the setting up of the national park and spoke tirelessly of the need to protect the environment.  

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Though he had seen some of the most majestic mountains in the world, the beauty he could find in his backyard never ceased to bring him joy, as he relayed in one of his columns: 

“No camera can do justice to the peak upon peak which forms the whole northern horizon above the mirror to the sky that is the broad base of the loch, nearly five miles across, but saved from monotony by its archipelago of wooded islands.  

“Every day and every hour can produce a different mood. Nowhere else known to me is so magical in spring, when the blackthorn froths and the yellow primroses are swamped in the bluebell seas as oaks burst into yellow leaf against the silky greenery of beech and birch, larch and ash.” 

The Herald: The broadcaster gained many fans The broadcaster gained many fans (Image: NQ)

Weir received the Scots Independent Oliver Award in 1983 - for advancing the cause of Scotland’s self-respect – and was also granted an MBE, was named STV’s personality of the year in 1978 for Weir’s Way and became only the second person to receive the John Muir Trust Award, given to him in 2000.  

He believed in Scottish independence, but was not politically active – preferring the babble of a brook and the sigh of the wind to the bellows and bluster of politicians and campaigners.  

He once said his favourite walk was Glen Lyon, which he called the ‘three Ls’, the ‘loveliest, longest and loneliest.’  

Tramping alone through a trackless wilderness was simply where Weir was at his happiest, where the solitude brought down the barrier between man and nature. 

As he said of one visit to the Arrochar alps, upon leaving his walking group: “They were content to leave it to me and enjoy the absolute silence of the summit, where neither sound of bird nor of man could be heard. 

“It’s very, very rare in this modern world to hear silence.”