IN this week of March in 1913, one of Scotland’s greatest mountaineers, William Hutchison Murray, was born. He also died in this week in 1996. Murray is credited with being one of the great popularisers of mountain climbing in Scotland in the 20th century, especially because of his inspirational books on the subject.

Always known as Bill to his friends and WH in his professional career, Murray was born on March 18, 1913, in Liverpool, to a Scot of the same name and his wife Helen nee Robertson. WH Murray senior was an inspector of mines who joined the Royal Marines as a sapper and was killed at Gallipoli when his son was just two.

His mother relocated Murray and his elder sister to Glasgow and he was educated at Glasgow Academy, where he excelled at English.

Instead, he joined the Union Bank of Scotland in Glasgow and studied for four years to become a qualified banker. He had always been a voracious reader and his real ambition was to be a full-time writer.

At the age of 19 he overheard a conversation in which a climber described his traverse of An Teallach in Wester Ross, and after researching the subject, in April, 1934, he set off by train for the nearest mountain whose name he knew – The Cobbler, or Ben Arthur, near Arrochar.

This he climbed by himself in a wintry April, and without maps, proper clothing or equipment, spending many minutes at he summit. As he recalled in his book Undiscovered Scotland: “I never dreamed that my own country held wild land so vast. From that day I became a mountaineer.”

Making friends among the climbing coterie, particularly Bill MacKenzie, Kenneth Dunn and Archie MacAlpine, Murray and his group went on to basically develop ice climbing as a sport in Scotland, with equipment such as head-torches and ice-axes which are now standard but which they made themselves.

The Scottish Mountaineering Club (SMC) records: “Starting out by climbing any available rock climbs in Glen Coe and Ben Nevis, the team began to realise that almost any rock climb could be attempted in winter if suitably plastered with snow and ice. In Glen Coe, their exploits in winter included Garrick’s Shelf Route (1st winter ascent, March 1937) and Crowberry Gully on the Buachaille, and Deep-Cut Chimney (1st winter ascent, April 1939) on Stob Coire nam Beith. On Ben Nevis they stormed up Tower Ridge, Observatory Ridge (2nd winter ascent, February 1938), North-East Buttress and Comb Gully.”

Having joined the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders in 1941, Murray climbed Buachaille Etive Mor in Glen Coe, his favourite mountain, for what he thought might be the last time. He would later write: “To me and everyone I knew at the time, mobilisation spelled the ruin of everything we most valued in life.”

He was captured by the Afrika Korps in Egypt in 1942, but the German commander was a mountaineer who ensured Murray’s safety.

For three years he was in prison camps in Italy, Germany and finally Czechoslovakia. While in prison camp he learned meditation and wrote – on rough toilet paper - the first draft of his classic work Mountaineering In Scotland. The prison camp guards found and destroyed it, but nothing daunted, he started again.

Meditation helped him recall his climbs in great detail and though he thought he would never climb again because of his severe malnourishment, after Mountaineering In Scotland was published in 1947, he began pioneering climbs that helped popularise climbing. This led to the publication in 1951 of Undiscovered Scotland.

The SMC notes: “Both became quickly popular and essential reading in the post-war generation of climbers. Their popularity has remained virtually undimmed, and fortunately they have been published as a twin compilation by Diadem in 1979. It is safe to state that they are among the best of any British mountain books published, and an inspiration for decades of climbers.”

Murray proved to be a writer and thinker of some style as proven by this passage on what motivated him: “Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets:

Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it.

Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it!”

Murray’s non-fiction works included The Story Of Everest (1953), Highland Landscape (1962), The Hebrides (1966), Companion Guide To The West Highlands Of Scotland (1968), The Curling Companion (1981), and Rob Roy MacGregor (1982). The first named was something of a compensation for the fact that he was unable to take part in the successful ascent on Everest in 1953 due to altitude sickness, and the last named work is considered by many to be the definitive biography of the Highland rogue.

He also wrote five fiction novels, including The Real MacKay, A Comedy In Twelve Chapters, though none have become as well-liked as his non-fiction.

Murray took up the cause of environmentalism and successfully led several campaigns to preserve Scotland’s wildernesses. While on honeymoon with his wife Anne in 1960 he began his survey of Scotland’s mountain areas for the National Trust for Scotland.

From the 1960s onwards he took up various public appointments, serving on the Countryside Commission for Scotland for 12 years, and becoming chairman of the Scottish Countryside Activities Council from 1968 to 1982.

He was the president of the Mountaineering Council, president of the Scottish Mountaineering Club and honorary president of the latter from 1989; and he was a founding trustee of the John Muir Trust. He was given an OBE in recognition of this work.

The SMC tribute to him states: “There are many who regard his later work on the landscape and conservation of Scotland’s wild areas to be of even greater regard than his earlier mountaineering exploits. He will probably be seen from a distance as a balanced man who not only played in and over the hills, but tended them carefully for the irreplaceable and priceless assets which they are. His writings have been widely quoted, including a selection in the conservation book Earth In The Balance, by US vice-president Al Gore.”

Murray made his home in Argyll on the shores of Loch Goil. He died on March 19, 1996, the day after his 83rd birthday, from a second heart attack.