Entity Type:
Bell, J H B (fl. 1927-1938)
Bell, J H B (fl. 1927-1938)
The influence of Bell on the Scottish climbing scene can be gauged by the fact that he received an unprecedented 10 pages of obituaries in the SMC Journal. This wasn't simply because he had edited that very organ for 24 years, but rather because he was one of the last of the classic Scottish pioneers, the true heir to the Victorian founders of the Scottish Mountaineering Club. As a child, Bell had cycled from his native Auchtermuchty to places as far afield as Schiehallion for the day, and as a teenager would bike it to Ben Nevis from Newtonmore. In 1921 he met Frank Smythe and was introduced to Alpinism. There was no holding him back after this and, armed with new mountaineering confidence, he made the fourth traverse of the Cuillin Ridge and recorded the first of his 70 new routes in Scotland. Bell packed all this energy into both a small body (he is invariably described as 'pawky'), and a busy professional lifestyle. As an industrial chemist he was often not free at weekends until midday on Saturday, and climbing was not his sole leisure activity. His interest in political theory, philosophy and music was prodigious, as was his love of a good argument on any subject. He was prone to sophistry during these verbal fencing matches, the intellectual thrill of scoring points against the opposition as he puffed copiously on an old clay pipe being more important than the arguments being pursued. Many of his routes are relatively (or even completely) unfrequented these days, being unfashionable exploratory burrows up vegetated gullies and buttresses which Bell revelled in. Nevertheless, they are all 'character-building' outings, and serve to emphasise the individual and maverick nature of their creator. Indeed, a trip away with Bell sounds like it was quite an experience, as Alec Small related: "Often we would, after attending a concert, compress ourselves into the redoubtable Austin Seven and head out to Glencoe, Bell driving with his legs wrapped in a rug against the cold and invariably taking the direct route over the Anniesland roundabout, discoursing the while - Marx, dialectical materialism, Engels, Russel, Mozart, the Aonach Dubh Buttress, hand-made pitons, Forfar bridies, civil rights, Cambridge, and more supporting proof of his theory that there had to be three concurrent factors to induce a major accident. Kingshouse would appear out of the dark and stiffly we entered." As if all that wasn't enough, you then had to put up with clouds of smoke from Bell's home-grown tobacco wafting across the bar as you quaffed your Lagavulin night cap in the bar.

Standout climbs: The Long Climb (VS) Ben Nevis, 2nd ascent of Green Gully (IV), many others from Arran to Sutherland, and from Skye to Lochnagar.
Further reading: A Progress in Mountaineering, JHB Bell.
Biographical information is kindly supplied by Colin Wells.
2006-08-06 00:00:00
Maxine Willett
Access Points:
Bell, J H B (fl. 1927-1938)
Related Items:
B126 : The Scottish Mountaineering Club Guide : Island of Skye
B186 : The Island of Skye
B310 : A Progress in Mountaineering