Sandeman Memorial

From Moriston Matters, Issue 18, April 1980.


Just east of the Skye and Lochalsh/Inverness District boundary, at the side of the A87 Kyle of Lochalsh/Inverness road stands a granite boulder to the memory of a climber who perished whilst climbing on the hills nearby after losing touch with his companions.

The boulder, which is about 3 feet high, stands on the north side of the road at a spot below which used to lie tiny Loch Lundie. This hill loch, however, has long since disappeared a1ong with the old road under the swollen waters of Loch Cluanie.

The memorial bears a small bronze plaque which carries the following inscription:




John Sandeman was one of a group of about twenty Edinburgh University students who had come up to Glenmoriston for part of their Xmas vacation for the purposes of climbing and hillwalking. At the time there was a large amount of Hydro-Board construction taking place in the Glen and the construction company, Carmichaels Ltd, had a large work-camp situated on the south side of the road just east of Dundreggan dam. There the party obtained accommodation since the workforce were not on site over the festive season.

On the day in question the students divided themselves into several smaller groups to tackle climbs of varying difficulty and set out into the Cluanie mountains via the large hill called Sgurr nan Conbhairean. Sandeman was one of a group of four led by 19-year old Andrew Kerr and their route took them towards Bealach Coire a' Chait; Sandeman was not a very experienced climber, however, and he found himself in a group who were just too good for him. About 3.10, with little of the short winter's day ahead of them he had started to flag and had dropped some 100 yards behind his companions. They pressed on , crossed a false summit and returned. Sandeman was no longer following them. They assumed that he had dropped out and gone back down to the road, but when they did not meet him, they retraced their steps back up the bealach. When once more they did not find him, they returned to Cluanie and back to Dundreggan where the alarm was raised.

The whole party went out after dark, searched the lower hills and corries, but returned at 5 a.m. without success. It was just after returning that they learned that the missing climber's father, 70-year old Mr Robert Sandeman, a retired jute manufacturer, had died suddenly the previous evening. John Sandeman, however, was well enough equipped to survive a night in the open and so the search resumed the next day.

The weather by this time had worsened and Monday's search, which was carried out by the R.A.F. Mountain Rescue Service, Police, Gamekeepers and local volunteers, proved fruitless. Tuesday's search was abandoned early because of the weather and further searches on Wednesday and Thursday proved hopeless. Finally, the whole exercise was called off although for about six months afterwards parties of climbers searched the area looking for the body, but without success.

About a year after his disappearance John Sandeman's mother approached the owner of the ground by Loch Cluanie, Mr. T. D. Girvan, Tomchrasky, for permission to erect a memorial stone to her son near the place where he disappeared. This was granted and on Sunday, 8th October 1961, in the presence of a crowd of about 30 local people and including his 3 climbing companions, the stone was dedicated.

The service was conducted by the Rev. R. D. MacLennan, Kintail and the Rev. Neil MacInnes, Glenshiel.

On Friday, September 21st 1962, a shepherd, George MacKay, who was out gathering sheep with his employer, Mr. T. D. Girvan, saw something sticking up in the heather behind some boulders.

It turned out to be an ice-axe with the initials J.D.S. It looked as though its owner had just stuck it in the ground and sat down beside it to rest. With the axe were found some residual human -remains in company with a watch, cigarette lighter, spectacles and boots. John Sandeman had been found some two and a half years after his disappearance.

The area where he was found was at the top of Glen Fada, north of Aonach Shasuinn on the marches of the Ceannacroc and Guisachan Deer Forests. This was about 9 miles from the point where he was last seen. After losing touch with his companions in the fading light John Sandeman must have realised he had to descend to refind the road. It is probable that he turned east and descended into the wrong Glen and in his exhaustion when the snow came he turned to walk with the wind and snow at his back. This he must have done for some time until, eventually, overcome by his exertions, he stuck his ice-axe in the ground, sat down beside it and perished of hypothermia.

Two days later the remains were recovered from the hill by Constable John Morrison and Sgt. Irvine, two of the local policemen who had been closely connected with the search and who had also been present at the unveiling ceremony above Loch Lundie. They were placed in Glenmoriston Church of Scotland, where with a prayer from the Rev. Peter Fraser, they were to lie for the Sunday night before being conveyed to Inverness for formal identification and thence to Edinburgh for cremation.


(Mr MacKenzie wishes to acknowledge the aid in the preparation of this account he received from: Mr John Morrison, Inverness, and Mrs Fraser, Glenmoriston Church of Scotland Manse. Ed.)