The Angry Corrie 5: Jan-Feb 1992

Frontpoints: Nancy Smith

The intention has been to produce an editorial as flippant as usual. You know, hillwalking juxtaposed with the standard facetious references to recent, peripheral news issues - Nintendo machines, Freddy the Dolphin, etc, etc. But it's been a sad couple of months since TAC last appeared on the highways and byways, and perhaps brief reference ought to be made to two recent hill-related deaths - in one case as a way of saying goodbye to a weel-kent face, in the other by way of exhortation to others against a regular and tragically unnecessary form of accident.

Nancy Smith, proprietor - if that's the right word (I doubt very much that it is) - of the Fasgadh hostel at Fersit, died just before Christmas. To say that she will be missed by Scottish hillgoers is a truism of the highest order. Dave McFadzean, one of her most regular visitors over the years, writes a brief obituary below, accompanied by Sarah Juniper's sketch, but again it almost goes without saying that should anyone have any reminiscences/stories of Nancy to share, please send them in and we'll endeavour to compile a page for the next issue.

The other death took the form of an accident, not on the hill itself, but on the "remote" stretch of the West Highland railway line north of Bridge of Orchy. Doubtless someone knows the exact number of walker/train incidents hereabouts over the past twenty or thirty years (after all, there's always someone keeping lists these days), but it doesn't need precise statistics to see that the number is far, far too high, tragically so.

Okay, so the Moor is notoriously boggy out there - even the line is floated on trestles at some points. Okay, so the sleepers provide a nice firm highway through difficult country at the end of a long, hard day. Okay, so timetables exist and there are only a handful of trains per day anyway. But good grief! Up on the hill, at the first hint of ice, it's out with the axe and on with the crampons, with caution very much the watchword. And rightly so. But as soon as a return is made to "ground level", all caution is thrown to the winds. Yet which is the greater objective danger - a slip on the hill or being hit by a train whilst striding blithely along the line? Do people really think that, in wet and windy conditions, cagouled in anonymity, they are going to hear something racing up behind them at 70 or 80 mph? And even if the schedules have been memorised, what about unforeseen delays, what about untimetabled goods trains?

Now don't get us wrong. This plea for commonsense isn't merely a reaction to the recent death, nor the string of documented incidents dating back over the years. Railway walking has become a distressingly common phenomenon, with numerous stories being heard of near-misses - tales of derring-do as the Sprinters bear down. Yet each one of these tales is a tragedy that didn't quite happen - and, if things continue as they are, the law of averages will continue to have its grim say.

This isn't something that can be externally legislated for. Way out there on the Moor, people are always going to be able to walk along the line if they so wish. But commonsense needs to set in, and it surely isn't necessary to have had an upbringing like that of your editor - a son of the pre-Beeching stationhouse - who would no sooner walk along the sleepers than march down the dotted white line in the middle of the road. Indeed, the latter is by some distance the safer option: at least the cars can swerve to avoid you. Perhaps it's just that railways have become such rare commodities these days that people have forgotten the basic Laws of Physics which define just how dangerous they are. So please, please, let's crank up the old corporate responsibility and make the recent tragedy the last of a very long line. As the Sarge used to say in Hill Street Blues, "Be careful out there".

Dave McFadzean writes:

Readers of The Angry Corrie will be saddened to hear of the recent sudden death of Nancy Smith, who right from the start was a great supporter of the magazine. Nancy ran an independent hostel for hill folk, at Fasgadh in Lochaber. An active hillwalker herself, she loved the Scottish hills - where she made her home - as well as being a keen traveller who visited many countries worldwide, making friends wherever she went, with her easy-going and infectious manner. People the world over will be sad to hear of her passing. The hostel at Fasgadh is to continue as usual, which I am sure Nancy would have wanted. She is survived by her daughter Susan, and her two sons Alister and Ewan. I am sure that the sympathy of all of you who knew Nancy goes out to them at this sad time.

TAC 5 Index