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Expert of mountain rescue, ‘Heavy’ Whalley, wins top mountain festival award

Organisers of The Fort William Mountain Festival are delighted to announce that David Whalley BEM.MBE, one of the UK’s most experienced mountain rescue experts, whose distinguished service at the forefront of mountain rescue and mountain safety education in Scotland has spanned more than 40 years, is the 16th recipient of the Scottish Award for Excellence in Mountain Culture, sponsored by JAHAMA Highland Estates.


David Whalley known to most by his nickname, Heavy, was a member of the Royal Air Force (RAF) Mountain Rescue Service for 37 years.  The team’s primary task was to attend to aircraft crashes, whilst training in the mountains all over Scotland.  He was the Team Leader of RAF Leuchars, RAF Kinloss, and Deputy Team Leader at RAF Valley in North Wales.  He spent the last four years of his RAF career working in the Aeronautical Rescue Coordination Centre at RAF Kinloss.

During this time Heavy took part in more than 1000 mountain and over 80 aircraft incidents in mountainous areas. This included being Senior Team Leader at the Lockerbie Disaster in December 1988 when 270 victims of a terrorist attack lost their lives.  He was also involved in the hunt for survivors when a Chinook helicopter crashed on Mull of Kintyre in 1994 and the four RAF crew and 25 terrorism experts were killed.

In his early career as a catering accountant in the RAF in the 1970’s he was very focused on getting into their Search and Rescue Team.  He was initially rejected because, at seven stone and five foot four inches, he was deemed to be too skinny.  However, as a veteran of countless rescues, he quickly earned his nickname, Heavy, for his size and huge spirit.

After leaving the RAF he joined the Torridon and Kinlochewe Mountain Rescue Team (MRT) serving with them for 3 years until he retired.

As a winner of the Scottish Award for Excellence in Mountain Culture, a mountain hero who celebrates achievement, accomplishment and the spirit of adventure in the outdoors, Heavy Whalley joins previous esteemed winners including Dave Morris, Andy Nisbet, Jimmy Marshall, Myrtle Simpson, Ian Sykes, Karen Darke and Dr Hamish MacInnes in the Excellence in Mountain Culture Hall of Fame.

Heavy was a member of the Executive of The Scottish Mountain Rescue Committee for over 20 years, serving for five years as the Accident Statistician and three years as Chair. He has been awarded the BEM, an MBE and the Distinguished Service Award for Service to Mountain Rescue. He is both an Honorary member of the Torridon and Kinlochewe MRT and President of the Search and Rescue Dog Association Scotland.

As an active climber and walker, he climbs every week and is a member of the Scottish Mountaineering Club and Moray Mountaineering Club.  He has climbed in most parts of the world, has completed Scotland’s 282 Munros seven times, and was a member of the successful 2001 Everest North Ridge Expedition.

Heavy is a true ambassador for mountain safety and culture, who has dedicated much of his life to the mountains in Scotland, Europe and the Himalayas. He continues to share his passion for the outdoors and his vast experience and expansive knowledge of mountain rescue by teaching and lecturing on mountain safety.  See Heavy’s blog –

On the Scottish Award for Excellence in Mountain Culture, David Whalley BEM.MBE. said: “To be put forward for this award and named in the same group as the past winners of the Fort William Mountain Festival is so humbling. It is a great honour, thank you.”

Alvance British Aluminium Managing Director, Tom Uppington, commented: “As the sponsors of this prestigious Award for Excellence in Mountain Culture, we are delighted that Dave ‘Heavy’ Whalley has been recognised for his inspirational work and tireless devotion to public safety. 

“JAHAMA Highland Estates [part of Alvance British Aluminium, based in Lochaber] greatly values the hugely significant impact that Dave’s enduring public service to those in need across the Mountains and Moorlands of Scotland has had on so many people.   As the owner of much of the land surrounding both Ben Nevis and Glen Nevis, including the main winter climbing venue of the North face of the Ben we are acutely aware of the importance of having a resilient and sustainable voluntary mountain rescue service ready to go to the assistance of those in need.   Dave’s passion for a lifetime of selfless dedication, putting others’ safety before his own, makes him a worthy recipient of this award.”


Images can be downloaded from Dropbox –

Notes to Editors:

The Fort William Mountain Festival 2023 on digital:

Scottish Mountain Culture Awards –

Festival Showreel 2023 on YouTube –

Festival programme –

Festival Fringe Events –

Festival Website –

Facebook –

Instagram –  Hashtag – #fwmf2023

Vimeo –

The prestigious Scottish Awards for Excellence in Mountain Culture recognise the achievements and accomplishments of inspiring individuals and their outstanding contributions to Scotland’s outdoor culture, encompassing sport, theatre, art, photography, film and literature.

The award was set up in 2008 by the Highland Mountain Culture Association Ltd, organisers of the Fort William Mountain Festival.  The 2023 Award is sponsored by JAHAMA Highland Estates. The Youth Award, established in 2015, is sponsored by West Highland College UHI (School of Adventure Studies).

Previous Recipients of The Scottish Award for Excellence in Mountain Culture are:

2022 – Karen Darke

2021 – Dave Morris

2020 – Colin Prior

2019 – Noel Williams

2018 – Cameron McNeish

2017 – Dr Hamish Brown MBE

2016 – Mick Tighe

2015 – Robin Campbell

2014 – Andy Nisbet

2013 – Myrtle Simpson

2012 – Dr Adam Watson

2011 – Ian Sykes

2010 – Jimmy Marshall

2009 – Richard Else

2008 – Dr Hamish MacInnes

Previous Recipients of The Scottish Youth Award for Excellence in Mountain Culture are:

2022 – Kirsty Muir

2021 – Mikayla Parton

2020 – Tim Miller

2019 – Rob Cochrane

2018 – Shauna Coxsey

2017 – Robert Mackenzie

2016 – Natalie Berry

2015 – Zeki Basan

The Fort William Mountain Festival 2023 runs from Thursday 16 to Sunday 19 February 2023 at venues in and around the bustling Highland town of Fort William, at the heart of the Outdoor Capital of the UK.  The main presentations and film nights take place in the Nevis Centre, The Highland Cinema, the Highland Bookshop and the Three Wise Monkeys indoor climbing centre.

The Fort William Mountain Festival is made possible thanks to the support of the event sponsors:

Lochaber Chamber of Commerce, Ellis Brigham, Fatmap, Patagonia, Jahama Highland Estates, Sungod, Geo Rope, Stramash, John Muir Trust, UHI West Highland, and Gin Bothy; and the festival’s friends and supporters: Nevis Range, The Highland Council, Highland Cinema, The Highland Bookshop, Nevis Centre, GFG Alliance, Nevis Landscape Partnership, Rare Breed Productions, Limelights, Strathmore Hotels, Scottish Mountaineering Press, Lamont Design, and Three Wise Monkeys.

The Festival attracts approaching 1500 people over the 5 days and takes place each February in and around the town of Fort William.

The Highland Mountain Culture Association Limited

Festival organisers, The Highland Mountain Culture Association Limited, is a not-for-profit organisation, whose aim is to promote the understanding and appreciation of the world’s mountain places and people, by creating opportunities for people of all ages to share their mountain experiences, ideas and visions. To showcase these ideals, it stages annually a programme of events within the Lochaber area, called The Fort William Mountain Festival.  The Festival is organised by a dynamic Organising Committee, all volunteers, made up of a team of hard-working local outdoor enthusiasts.

The Outdoor Capital of the UK

The Outdoor Capital of the UK is Lochaber Chamber of Commerce’s tourism brand, promoting adventure for all!  The Chamber publicises, sponsors and promotes Fort William and Lochaber as the best place in the UK for everyone to experience the outdoors; with a view to developing local jobs and wealth and encouraging sustainable economic growth. This is done through a range of collaborative marketing initiatives and activities.  The organisation currently has a wide range of member businesses ranging from accommodation, food and drink and activity providers to non-tourism focused businesses that support the aims of the Lochaber Chamber of Commerce and acknowledge that tourism is crucial to the local economy. Many of these businesses are SMEs and by pulling resources and working as a team the Lochaber Chamber of Commerce achieves the positive results that individually the members couldn’t otherwise reach. The Chamber also produces the Outdoor Capital of the UK website, the go to site for local events, outdoor activities and visitor accommodation in the area. /

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