Tom Weir was a world-class climber and mountaineer who was among the first to explore the previously forbidden ranges of Nepal in the post-war years. But he also had as much enthusiasm for Scotland and his long-running STV series Weir’s Way introduced millions to the beautiful scenery, wonderful stories and amazing walks to be enjoyed just beyond their doorsteps.
It is the latter that I have most admiration for, the ability to stay grounded about everything in the natural environment and not become aloof because you have climbed arduous routes that had been thought inaccessible. Tom Weir’s contribution to the outdoors in the second half of the 20th century cannot be underestimated, and is why he is an obvious choice for this series on Scottish pioneers of the outdoors.
Weir was born in Springburn, Glasgow, in 1914 – the son of a locomotive fitter. Like many of his generation he was among the first working-class climbers and walkers to escape the industrialisation of home for the glens and mountains to the north. At first this would be in the Campsies and the Trossachs but catching a night train to the Highlands would also be on the young man’s itinerary.
One formative destination would be the Craigallion fire, a gathering place for climbers and walkers below the Campsies. This was somewhere to sit around a fire and talk all things outdoors – like-minded folk learning from each other about where to best experience the outdoors.
Weir served with the Royal Artillery during World War Two and later became a surveyor with the Ordnance Survey. But it was mountains that really held his interest and before long his ability was noticed and in 1950 he was part of the first post-war Himalayan expedition. Climbing would also take him to Greenland, Norway, and Kurdistan, among many other countries.
To supplement his income he wrote many books and in 1976 began recording Weir’s Way for STV. It ran until 1987 and won him a Scottish Television Personality of the Year Award. When I moved to Scotland in 1998 the programmes were shown on repeat and even 20 years after being made were a great introduction to the history, landscapes, mountains, glens and coast of Scotland, as well as the people who live here. I was not alone in enjoying them and feel that without his enthusiasm and knowledge many may never have discovered the hidden gems which are all over this country.
He also wrote a column for The Scots Magazine for many years, championing the environment and Scotland’s landscapes, cementing his place as one of the most authoritative voices on the outdoors.
Weir died aged 91 in 2006 near the shores of Loch Lomond, where he lived for many years, and a statue now stands in his memory at Balmaha. Many may have thought of him as “that man with the bobble hat on telly” but he was much more than his personality – he was a driving force for public recognition of Scotland’s natural environment. Read about the other Scottish outdoor pioneers in the series – Nan Shepherd, Hamish MacInnes and John Muir – more to follow in the coming weeks!