Volunteers and farming families today joined in a service to commemorate a tragedy that led to the setting up of a mountain rescue service.

A cairn has been built to mark the loss of two farmers whose deaths resulted in the establishment of the Northumberland National Park Mountain Rescue Team. Today’s tribute to John ‘Jock’ Scott and William ‘Willie’ Middlemas took place at the spot where they died, 45 years ago.

The ‘Shepherds’ Cairn', at Ewartly Shank, Alnham, was built by national park rangers and mountain rescuers. Their disappearance in the severe snows of the winter of 1962-3 sparked a major search by local volunteers, who found the men’s bodies 100 yards apart.

Northumberland National Park senior ranger and Mountain Rescue Team member Russell Tait said: “The tragic events of 1962 forged strong links between the community, the emergency services and national park voluntary rangers and set a standard for rescue operations which have stood the region in good stead to this day.

“The same spirit has enabled the setting up of the cairn. Family members, retired shepherds, members of the emergency services and the Mountain Rescue Team have all come together to contribute to this important commemoration.”

An information panel with the full story and a walking route to the cairn will be erected near Alnham churchyard to help future visitors understand the significance of the events.

In November 1962, Jock Scott and Willie Middlemas were making their way home from Rothbury market. A blizzard was sweeping the fells as they dropped off their colleague, Willie Bulloch, at Castle Hill Farm. They tried to reach home across the moors by tractor towards the remote farmstead of Ewartly Shank. At that time, the road from Alnham was just a track and there was no telephone line at the farm.

Two days later, Willie Bulloch was out tending his flock and Jock’s wife asked him when she should be expecting her husband. Knowing they’d set out on Saturday, he raised the alarm.

Rescue parties including the police, RAF, shepherds and farm workers began the search. The tractor was found abandoned and Jock’s body was discovered buried under drifting snow near High Knowes late on the Tuesday. He was only half a mile from home.

The following day, Willie’s body was found only 100 yards away from where Jock had perished.

Mountain Rescue Team leader Bill Ellis described the cairn as a fitting tribute to the memory of the two shepherds.

  • The cairn can be found at grid reference NT 967127