The Angry Corrie 16: Dec 1993-Jan 1994

The Science Page (sort of)...
The expectation equation

by Val Hamilton

It was my own fault really: I had subconsciously chosen to ignore the warnings, the stories of rounding the corner to see twenty-four tents cheek by jowl (well, guy-rope by fly-sheet), the tales of being overwhelmed by Duke of Edinburghing school parties. Knoydart - the inaccessible, the so-frequently pictured destination. One factor was that I felt I deserved more reward for my effort after the "wonderful" coastal walk from Kinloch Hourn to Barrisdale (which again I had foolishly imagined would be flat - yes' I can read a map, I chose not to see what it was telling me), steaming beneath full cags, cloud level about ten feet, humidity 200%, up and down and up and down and up and down. My afternoon had not started well with the discovery that a small but full bottle of cooking oil had leaked all over my rucsac. ("Why didn't you put the top on properly?" "Because I wanted all my clothes and especially my sleeping bag to smell like a chip shop for a week of course.") And then there was the weather forecast: set foul and confirmed as such by the car park man at Kinloch Hourn."What a shame:' he said,"and it was beautiful all last week".

Knoydart, the great unknown and unknowable, no roads, no hordes, no nothing but mountains, sea, space. And at last the first sight of the promised land: buildings in various states of repair, tents galore, signs, tractors, people. To be fair (though that is one of the delights of TAC - you don't have to be fair or reasonable or even rational), Knoydart and Barrisdale are not synonymous, and if you keep off the Munros (and even on them midweek), there are days of solitary walking to be had. I already had a less jaundiced view of the place by the following morning, having awoken to absolutely perfect weather (so much for local knowledge). By the evening the raging torrent we had camped beside had dried up completely, yet there was still a hint of breeze to keep the midges at bay. A great place to be, but not wilderness and not what I had expected.

Wilderness must be perhaps a personal thing, but I have always been suspicious of the "last great wilderness" tag on Knoydart. I have felt more alone on the hills above Gargunnock (particularly when the bracken is over head high), in Glen Artney, never mind the Cairngorms or Monadh Liath, and certainly more isolated on the London Underground. So it partly depends on individual perceptions, but I would have thought that by any definition wilderness does not contain flush toilets. Alltbeithe Youth Hostel, by this definition at least, has that much going for it in the wilderness stakes. During our visit, until after the heroic efforts of Graham the multiple bog-emptier, the preferred facility was the heather. I hadn't thought of Glen Affric as wilderness however; this time my expectation had been of old-time grey-bearded gangrels reminiscing of the days when all hostels were like Alitbeithe. In fact rather than being taken back to an earlier age I felt I had been transported to an alien land - in this case Germany. The Hostel is on a recommended route in the guidebook used by all German student visitors to Scotland. On one night there was a leavening of French - sole sustenance a bottle of Beaujolais - but another night the Teutonic monopoly was complete bar us and an insolvency accountant from Edinburgh.True there should have been a guy from London too, but he was last seen in late afternoon disappearing towards Loch Mullardoch, not to reappear for another 24 hours and to be greeted by the rescue helicopter looking for him. But that's another story.

Nice enough kids, the Germans, despite the fact that they had not grasped the principle of the non-self-emptying Elsan, but not quite what I was expecting. Which brings me to the point: the quest for an equation to relate expectations of a place to the reality. (In case you hadn't noticed, complex mathematical equations are now de rigeur in TAC articles. Pretty tough on us arithmophobes who thought Douglas Adams had invented the concept of Brownian motion and were only convinced otherwise by finding Tibor Fischer referring to it too.)

The mathematical laws for Scottish hillwalking are not so straightforward as those for skiing, cf the Second Law as quoted by PN Rankin in The British Ski Yearbook 1963: "The enjoyment of Scottish skiing is in inverse proportion to expectations". (Incidentally, the Third Law has an equally appealling simplicity: "All seasons are below average".) Once in a blue moon (which is presumably a calculable interval), you have a day that you just know is going to be good and it is. The converse is of course much more commonly true: you expect the day to be foul,your feet to hurt, the wind to change direction throughout the day so as to be always straight in your face, etc etc,and you are not disappointed.Therefore there has to be a mystery factor and it's possible that this relates to Weare and Bum's Normalised Ascentionist Aestheticism concept (see TAC 15, pp5,6). Therefore I propose the following (not as many symbols as some but I think they're just showing off their fancy keyboards), where R = reality and E = expectation:

Can we get back to Shakespeare now?

TAC 16 Index