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Cairngorm Mountain Rescue Team leader Willie Anderson steps down

By Gavin Musgrove

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Willie Anderson will continue to work with the team.
Willie Anderson will continue to work with the team.

The leader of the Cairngorm Mountain Rescue Team for more than a decade has stood down – but he is not hanging up his trusty boots just yet.

Willie Anderson has led by example since taking over the role 14 years ago from John Allen.

In more than 40 years with the team, the 63-year-old has taken part in more than 1800 rescues in and around the Cairngorms.

But the ex-Kingussie High School technology teacher has said that the time has come to hand over the reins to a more youthful team member.

Iain Cornfoot – who joined the volunteers at the tender age of 15 – is filling the big boots vacated by Mr Anderson.

The veteran mountain man said: “The time felt right to step down after such a long time.

“I am remaining in the team and happy to help in any capacity Iain sees fit. He was the natural choice to take over as team leader.

“He is such a cool, calm and approachable individual and is well known in the local community. When you are 63, you cannot keep up with a 32-year-old, but he is a very experienced team member.

“In fact, Iain informed me that he was so young when he joined us that he had to ask his mum’s permission because of his age!”

Mr Anderson, who is known for his sense of humour, jested: “Iain would have to make do with a drink of coke whilst we enjoyed a beer after a rescue!”

It may be in the distant past but Mr Anderson still vividly recalls his first ever call-out in winter 1978/79 with the team and it was in at the deep end.

“It was a military captain or a major and he was skiing at Braeriach at midnight and he went off Stron-na-lairig. It was the first dead body I had ever seen and he had taken one hell of a tumble.”

Mr Anderson said the most heartbreaking call-outs are those involving children, particularly if there are fatalities. “Fortunately there have not been that many of them but when they happen it has a big impact on you – and to this day I still think about them.

“But the highlights are when we rescue folk: there is no question that they think they are going to die – and they are going to die. They know that if we do not get them off the hills then they will be dead by the morning. The relief on their face and their gratitude when we find them says it all.

“I have seen full grown men burst into tears once safely back at our rescue base because they thought their number was up – they are thinking of what could have been for their loved ones.

“Then in comes the cavalry. You never tire of seeing the joy and relief. It’s a great feeling when you rescue someone.”

Mr Anderson is looking forward to some free time now he is not leading the 40-odd strong team: “There is a whole load of work behind the scenes with that many meetings, emails and PR stuff.

“It has an amazing impact on your family life – missing Christmas Eves, New Years, weekends – and social life but you know that when joining up.”

A CMRT spokesman said: "It is with mixed emotions that we make the announcement that Willie Anderson has stepped down as team leader of CMRT.

"A huge thanks from the team for all the years' hard work both on the hill, in control and for the thousands of hours of unseen work supporting us.

"Willie will remain with us for a period to assist the transition of responsibility.

"We also very much welcome our new leader into position. There will be exciting times ahead as Iain gets his teeth into his new role."

Newtonmore-based outdoors TV presenter and author Cameron McNeish wrote on Twitter: "Many heartfelt thanks for everything you've done Willie.

"Big boots to fill and I'm delighted Iain is the man to fill them. Congratulations to him."

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