Mountain rescue accolade is pinnacle of team leader's 45 years' service

Jock McCraw was 16 or 17 when he started helping out with the Border Search and Rescue Unit, writes Sally Gillespie.

Now, 45 years later, he has become only the seventh person to receive the Mountain Rescue Committee of Scotland's distinguished service award.

He was presented with the honour by committee chairman Alfie Ingram at the organisation's annual meeting in Perthshire.

The longest-serving team leader in Scotland told TheSouthern: "I felt an immense pride for the unit. I have done no more or no less than any other member of my unit. I've just been fortunate I've been around for a long time.

"My job is not a difficult thing to do when you have got committed people around you. I feel very proud for the unit, not for myself – I still feel a bit cringey!"

The Hownam-born 62-year-old was still a teenager when the Cheviot Walking Club became the Border Search and Rescue Unit – the only group of its kind which covers the south of Scotland and the north east of England.

Jock, an ambulanceman in Kelso, was in the army until 1965, where he learned compass reading and other skills, but during every leave he would go out with the team.

He explained: "I have always loved the hills. Being in the unit becomes part of your life. If you don't mind being called out in the middle of the night, it's a bit of excitement, and we are all friends as well as working companions.

"But it's very much a team thing, they operate perfectly well without me and they often do. It's a real privilege to be involved with very professional and willing people, and we've had some characters in the team. It's the people. I would have given it up years ago if it wasn't for the people.

Jock can't remember exactly when he became team leader (the unit did not keep minutes of meetings at that stage) but consensus has it around 1978.

He has attended every sort of call-out from military jet crashes to a walker completing the Pennine Way in a pair of wellies. He is also one of only two remaining members to have helped after the Lockerbie bombing.

He went on: "We didn't have the brunt of it. It was a huge joint effort and we only played a small part. I'm just proud no single member of our team required counselling.

"It was a real tragedy but, in reality, sometimes a single person can be as bad. At the end of the day, it's a life, whether it's one or a thousand, it's still a very precious thing."

One of Jock's worst experiences was the death of a teenager from Newcastle. He was in his bivvy bag in the Cheviots and had persuaded his friend to go on to Yetholm, saying he would be fine.

"But the team found him the next day, frozen to death. It was a poignant waste of a life."

Jock said that it was the mountain rescue teams' work at Lockerbie which prompted the police and others to realise the units could do more than find people on hills.

Now the team is involved in river searches, suicide recoveries, missing people, urban searches as well as helping out in floods and snow emergencies.

Jock, who lives in Roxburgh, is stepping down as leader but hopes to remain a team member for as long as he is fit.

He also wants more time to concentrate on his athletics career which saw him winning the Scottish grand prix triathlon in his age group last year.