Obituary: Alan Blackshaw OBE VRD, civil servant
Alan Blackshaw OBE VRD, civil servant. Born: 7 April, 1933, in Liverpool. Died: 4 August, 2011, in Inverness, aged 78.
ALAN Blackshaw, latterly of Newtonmore in the Highlands, was a lifelong mountaineer and skier. Although he was a career senior civil servant who had been involved in coal, North Sea oil and steel, he spent most of his life working on behalf of climbers, skiers and ramblers worldwide. He was a dynamo behind the campaign for unhindered access to open countryside in his adopted Scotland, which resulted in the Land Reform (Scotland) Act of 2003.
One of that rare breed, an erudite intellectual giant but also an action man, he headed numerous Scottish, British and international bodies, including the International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation (known by its French initials UIAA) where he campaigned passionately for the inclusion of mountaineering disciplines in the Olympics.
Although he was born in Liverpool, he had fallen in love with Scotland, and particularly the Highlands, when he did his first climbs in the Cairngorms at the age of 14.
After his dad gave him a bike for his 14th birthday in 1947, he cycled from Liverpool to Land's End. Once there, with his adventurous spirit, he wasn't sure where to go next. All he saw was ocean.
Then he saw a sign, pointing back whence he had just come, which read, John O'Groats, 874 miles. It was still the school holidays, and he thought, "What the heck." He got as far as the Cairngorms, where the mountains mesmerised him.
Leaving his bike at the foot of each, he climbed them, one by one, wearing a new pair of nailed climbing boots.
Serving as a Royal Marine in 42 Commando during the post-war years, often in Glencoe, and later training young marines in cliff assault and mountain warfare as an officer/instructor in the Marines' Reserve for nearly 20 years only ensured that his heart would remain in the Highlands.
According to his wife Dr Elspeth Martin, an Edinburgh lass and now a much-loved GP in Aviemore, he was determined to spend his latter years in the north of Scotland, where the combination of humility and indomitability of the Highlanders found a reflection in his own soul.
"He was so keen that our children could be educated in the Highland way," said Elspeth. Climbing every one of Scotland's 282 Munros, which he did, was perhaps an added incentive.
He did all this even while the civil service was his "day job" - he served as principal private secretary to three cabinet ministers including Tony Benn. Blackshaw, in 1966, wrote what would become a definitive textbook on hillwalking and climbing.Published by Penguin, it was titled Mountaineering: From Hillwalking to Alpine Climbing but it became popularly known to climbers as "Blackshaw's Mountaineering".
In it, Blackshaw wrote a paragraph which still tingles down the spines of the many mountain-loving folks he influenced: "Mountaineering may come to mean something more than a sport; you may find in it a philosophy of living. If you do, and I hope you may, then you and the mountains will be inseparable through life."
That was certainly the case for Blackshaw.
His friend Chris Townsend said this week: "Flipping through the book now takes me back to another time - a time of canvas rucksacks, wooden-shafted ice axes, cagoules, moleskin breeches and woolly balaclavas."
Blackshaw would go on to be editor of the highly-respected Alpine Journal (1966-70), president of the British Mountaineering Council (1973-76), president of the Alpine Club (2001-04) and president of the Ski Club of Great Britain (1997-2003).
Alan Blackshaw was born in Liverpool in 1933 and educated at the historic Merchant Taylors' boy's school in Crosby, Merseyside. Even before he got to Scotland at the age of 14, he had his first feel of the mountains when he was seven, evacuated from Merseyside to South Wales after the start of the Blitz.
He later graduated in modern history from Wadham College, Oxford, where he joined the university's mountaineering club.
From the early 1950s, he made significant climbs in the Alps, including the north-east face of Piz Badile and the north face of Triolet.
In 1972, he made a continuous skiing traverse over the Alps from Kaprun to Gap, an overall distance of 500 miles. It was only after a doctor told him his knees left something to be desired that he decided to skip the big mountains.
He had also lost two dear friends during a climb in the Bernese Oberland of Switzerland. So, with bad knees, he thought the only logical thing to do would be to climb every one of Scotland's 282 Munros.
During his days in the civil service, from 1956 until he formally retired in 1979, Blackshaw became intricately linked with Scotland. He was always on the look-out for a job that would take him north of the Border and, if possible, farther yet - to the Highlands. He found himself director-general of the Offshore Oil Department of the British government, where he often ran into flak from the media.
With his typical fighting spirit, he forced The Daily Telegraph newspaper to pay damages after it had published an article erroneously suggesting corruption in his department.
After he retired from the civil service in 1979, he became a management consultant, advising countless clients - from utility boards to energy and environmental groups. He continued to push for mountaineering events to be considered for the Winter Olympics of 2014, and for ice climbing possibly to follow in 2018.Another of his visions was to see climbing included in the summer Olympics from 2012.
After he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma in 2007, Blackshaw remained as active as ever, indeed more so. In November last year, he and two friends flew to Tenerife to pick up a 36-foot yacht and sail it across the Atlantic to its new owner in Brazil. To his friends, his life, and death, brought to mind this song by another English-born genius who loved Scotland's mountains and fought for access to the land as a human right - Ewan MacColl.
"Take me to some high place of heather, rock and ling, Scatter my dust and ashes, feed me to the wind, so that I will be part of all you see, the air you are breathing.
"I'll be part of the curlew's cry and the soaring hawk, the blue milkwort and the sundew hung with diamonds. I'll be riding the gentle wind that blows through your hair, reminding you how we shared in the joy of living."
Alan Blackshaw was appointed OBE in 1992. He was awarded the VRD (Volunteer Reserve Decoration) for his service with the Royal Marines and the Marines' Reserve. He died in Raigmore Hospital, Inverness.
He is survived by his wife Elspeth, their son Alasdair and daughters Elsie and Ruth, and by his daughter Sara from a previous marriage.
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