The Angry Corrie 5: Jan-Feb 1992
Hillwalking hints from The Scots Week-end 1936
Whilst TAC seeks mainly to pioneer new writing on the Scottish hills, it was always likely that some fusty old relic would turn up one day, crying out for attention. No, no, we don't mean Cameron McNeish, we're talking books here. So, at risk of edging nearer to becoming the Antiques Roadshow of the fanzine world, here is an abridged version of a real gem from days of yore: the hillwalking hints from The Scots Week-end, edited by Catherine & Donald Carswell, 1936. The annotations, needless to say, are of a somewhat later vintage...
WARNINGS TO WALKERS:
In Scotland the term walkers includes cyclists and motorists, as even these, if they wish to see Scotland, have often to get off or out and use their legs and their wits. When preparing to journey in Scotland by any other path than railway lines, the three grand things to keep in mind are the weather, the ground and the customs of the Scotch. In other words, prepare for cold, rain and mist, for rocks, bogs and innless roads, and for the fact that our natives, especially our Highlanders, while they are the soul of hospitality, are apt to take for granted the virtue of total abstinence in travellers. That is to say, your clothes, your carried refreshments, and your precautions against being caught out by fatigue or fog in remote spots, are all more important than if you were walking in England.
Take clothes first. No matter what month it may be, you cannot count on the kindness of the weather. In the Grampians even in July there are days when the south wind speedily masses rain-clouds along the range you have chosen. Be prepared for the worst.
For men there is no dress equal to the kilt for Scottish out-of-doors, especially for cross-country or path-walking in the high places. It guarantees warmth to the vital parts of the body when sitting or standing, is difficult to wet through, and leaves the limbs free. Heather was not made for trousers.1 The sporran also is convenient as an extra pocket. If you have no tartan of your own there is nothing against you wearing a tweed kilt, and you can have it waterproofed if you like. Women should wear a thickly pleated skirt - that is, pleated in the same generous fashion as a kilt. If, at the same time, you can acquire, and learn how to wear without impeding yourself, a thin plaid, you are secure against the worst that Scotland can do.2
When collecting food and drink, remind yourself that "hunger-bunk" is a common affliction not only in making the Pass of Glencoe, and that if it is upon Glencoe your heart is set there are some fifty miles without a shop or a house available for refreshment between Crianlarich and Fort William.3 Remind yourself also that beers are few and far between, especially in the Highlands, and that at the end of a long day's walk, if you are not returning to your starting-point, you may easily find nothing but a cup of tea and some cold potted-head. Impromptu or professional hosts will be found ready for all emergencies, so that a recent walker writes with enthusiasm of the courteous reception given in a Highland cottage to a party of walkers who arrived stark naked, having lost their clothes when fording a river.4 But your inner man may not receive the same attention as that which is forthcoming for your outer. The easiest and safest extra foods to carry with you are slabs of chocolate (these can now be had of unprecedented strength and stimulating properties),5 coarse oatmeal and raisins. A copious flask of whisky, (Talisker if you can get it) should be accompanied, says an expert, by another, or even two smaller flasks of different whisky, both to keep strictly for emergencies and because that in your leading flask may turn out to be bad.6 On no account let yourself encroach upon any of the flasks early in the day, and be firm in preserving inviolate those which are intended for accidents, until an accident happens. Even the copious flask is intended to come into play only towards the end of your day, when the last, unlooked-for forced march presents itself and a fillip is much needed.7
Take with you a compass, a whistle, an electric torch, vaseline, sticking-plaster and, if you are climbing, an aneroid and an inch map with contours 100 yards apart.
The compass habit is a needful one to all who climb, and even if many days pass without your having to use it never discard it because of that. Even edges of mist or the faintest "haar", combined with the difference between your right and left leg and your all-too-human convictions about directions, can play you tricks in the mountains that are as queer as any of Maskelyne and Devant's,8 but far more dangerous. When the air is clear, of course, you take your direction in using the compass by a feature of the landscape. When there is a mist, you send one of the party on ahead just as far as you can see him wave a handkerchief, when he serves as the feature. In either case the needle tells no lies however peculiar its pointing finger may seem to you. The whistle will turn out useful in a dozen ways, and it may save lives when the hold-up is serious and prolonged. You can go on taking turns at blowing a whistle long after voices would have given out. The uses of an aneroid will be obvious to all who are capable of profiting by them. Vaseline is only a little less useful than a whistle and will be pounced upon for many purposes unforeseen at starting.9 The electric torch is chiefly comforting, but may be actively useful in cases of accident to a walker not surrounded by mist. It can be lashed to the end of a stick and waved.
Also remember that, while water in Scotland, for drinking or bathing, is mercifully plentiful and exquisitely fresh, the springs are often too cold for safety in drinking, and that icy water when you are hot and tired has the effect of spoiling your wind, while it may also upset your stomach. Therefore warm it in the sun or in your cupped hands before you drink. If you want a drink that will sustain as well as refresh you, put a little oatmeal in your horn tumbler and fill up with water, stirring well before you drink, and letting the oatmeal settle first. You can then eat the oatmeal as well if you like. It is nice stuff to chew and promotes saliva.10
This brings us to CAMPING, about which you probably know a lot already if you are thinking of doing it. Perhaps, however, a few Scottish precautions and advices may be useful to you. Here are some.
A piece of wire-netting encircling the fire three-quarters of the way around, fixed upright like a little fence, is a help to camp cooking. You can fix sticks in it with various foods impaled on their ends. This keeps you from burning your hands and saves carrying many metal vessels. If you do burn yourself it is better to treat burns with very strong tea or with bicarbonate of soda than with oil.11
A good grill can be done on a clean spade or plate of iron, but there is now on the market a sort of corrugated iron pan which grills admirably on oil or a fire and can be used also as a frying pan.12
Midges, gnats and clegs, the first and last mentioned being particularly troublesome in Scotland, will not attack you readily if you have washed your face and hands and legs in water in which some Epsom salts have been dissolved. Wearing fronds of bracken or pieces of bog-myrtle round the back of the hat and hanging down over the neck and shoulders helps to keep off both flies and strong sun.13
When a thorn or deep splinter has run into the hand or foot and is extracted, do not use iodine, but rather apply first for a time a wet compress of bread and water or of hot water or milk. This helps to draw out any dirt or poison there may be far under the skin, while iodine affects only the top and trouble sometimes results. Iodine should always be carried, but it should, in the above-mentioned cases, be applied after the poultice.14
Those who suffer from cramp should always carry a needle somewhere. In the severest attacks a quick prick with the point of the needle will give sufficient shock to the adjoining nerves to allay the onslaught. Swimmers frequently carry a needle concealed in the cap where it is protected from the water.15
To catch a crab on the shore without letting it bite you, seize it by the shell of its back using your thumb and third finger, arching the forefinger, the third finger and the little finger as high up in the air as possible. There is then no possibility of (That's enough quaint old ways - Ed.)