23 November 2021 by Natalie Hoare
Rambler Mike Price and fellow walker Ken Critchley recall the remarkable chain of events that led to the return of a beloved camera lost on a remote walk in the Scottish Highlands 12 years ago.
In July 2009, Ken Critchley was out in the Torridon hills, in the North West of Scotland. An experienced hiker, 68-year-old Ken was adding to his tally of Scottish peaks and, having parked in Gruinard Bay, had cycled along the track to Loch na Sealga. Leaving his bike, he began his ascent of the remote Graham, Beinn a’ Chàisgein Beag (682 metres/2,238 feet above sea level), which was his objective for the day.
He walked up onto a plateau area and adjusted his trouser belt. ‘I’d missed a belt loop and it didn’t feel right,’ he recalls. Continuing his route, a few minutes later, he stopped to take a picture and realised his camera was missing. Retracing his steps back to where he thought he’d adjusted his belt, he spent half an hour looking for his camera before widening his search area. He found nothing.
‘I carried on with the day’s walk, but now with little enthusiasm,’ says Ken, reflecting on that trip. ‘It was hard going in lush summer undergrowth, and I got to the summit as rain came on, to further depress me.’
The Quiraing on Skye, 2009, one of the ‘lost’ photos on Ken Crithley’s camera.
That night, camping alongside Loch Glascarnoch and now homeward bound, Ken decided he must do another search the following day. ‘I didn’t sleep well that night’, he says. ‘By 6am, I was already cycling back down the track, having also driven 30 miles to get there.’ He spent an hour searching. ‘I ended up totally deflated again,’ recalls Ken. ‘I drove home to Wigan mourning the loss of pictures from Glen Trool, Glen Shiel, Glen Elchaig, Skye, and the Fisherfield area.’ Ken had climbed all the Munros by 1990, all the Corbetts by 2006 and was well on his way to completing the Grahams (which he eventually completed in 2014). The thought of losing his photographs was too much to contemplate. ‘To cap it all, a couple of weeks later, I discovered I’d contracted Lyme disease!’ Ken says.
View of Lochan Giubhais, 2021, the spot where Mike Price discovered the lost camera, 12 years later.
Twelve years to the month after Ken’s loss, in July 2021, Rambler Mike Price was exploring Wester Ross. ‘I was hiking and camping in the area very spontaneously,’ he says. ‘I’d climbed Slioch the previous day into thick cloud. It had been pretty grim so I decided to stay low for the day.’ He’d walked up the track up to Loch na Sealga and was hoping to find an alternative way back. Unable to cross the river, Mike turned to head towards Inverianvie and its waterfalls.
‘I’d identified a clear direction on the map but then discovered a much drier deer track following a contour,’ recalls Mike. ‘Not a single human footprint was visible anywhere, but the deer obviously used this route frequently.’ Eventually, he veered off the track abruptly, climbing up onto the plateau. Spotting a small lochan emerging from the mist, he stopped to take a photograph.
‘If it hadn’t been for the emergence of the lochan, I wouldn’t have stopped,’ says Mike. While looking at his map to see where he was, he noticed something on the ground. ‘It was so bizarre,’ he says. ‘I felt I was in the middle of nowhere, wondering if anyone had ever been there before, and then I noticed this small black case stuck in the peat.’ Mike picked it up and was surprised to find a digital camera inside.
X marks the spot – where the camera was found. Ken's route in orange Mike's route in blue.
Once home, Mike was able to open the camera and remove its memory card. ‘I was surprised that the camera wasn’t in worse condition,’ he says. ‘The camera wouldn’t respond to power but the memory card was like new.’ Inserting it into his computer, he found photographs and their date. With great foresight, Ken had taken a photograph of his name, e-mail address and phone number. Mike dialled the number.
‘Is that Ken Critchley?’
‘Oh hello. You lost a camera, about 12 years ago?’
‘Oh, err, yes. That’s right, I did.’
‘Well, I’ve found it.’
Stunned silence from Ken.
Overlooking Glen Elchaig, 2009 by Ken Critchley.
The two then spoke at length as Ken adjusted to this extraordinary news. Mike posted the memory card to Ken the next day. ‘I was overjoyed to see some of the pictures from a memorable trip,’ says Ken now 80-years-old. ‘Losing the camera on the very last hill day brought on a depressed mood, almost like a bereavement.’ Twelve years later, this has been more than reversed by Mike’s phone call and the recovery of the photographs. ’It has caused quite a stir with family and friends, who are as delighted as I am,’ says Ken.
‘The coincidence seems incredible,’ says Mike. ‘We were on completely different routes that happened to cross just at the point where Ken dropped his camera. I find it hard to believe. I only stopped there by chance, as did Ken.’
‘I’m overjoyed,’ says Ken. ‘I now have 72 pictures from a fabulous two-week trip, which I thought I had lost forever.’ Reflecting on this experience Mike says: ‘Never give up hope and keep a photo of your contact details on the SD card of your camera and phone!’
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