The Angry Corrie 24: Sep-Oct 1995
Dr Ben MacDoohey, of The Angry University, answers your Hillwalking Queries and Quandaries
Various pointy hills such as Rois-Bheinn and Sgurr na Ciche have trig points marked on the map but no trigs on the real-life summit, which is very confusing in the mist. What has become of them? - Fiona Vine
You refer to the Seasonal Triangulation Pillars of the 1962 Winter Survey. This was carried out in a bit of a rush, to allow a new map issue and a price hike the following year. The basic idea was simple: concrete is a heavy thing to carry up a mountain, and trig points are only rarely used. Why not employ a more temporary, renewable structure, using materials readily to hand on the mountain-top? Accordingly, OS surveyors carried only polythene and wire formers to the designated triangulation points, pegged them down firmly, and then filled them with melted snow. This created a solid ice pillar which lasted for the duration of the winter months, allowing the survey to be completed. See the SMC Journal of 1963 for the terrifying story of Sir Archie Colquhoun of that ilk, who took shelter in the polythene remnant of the Schiehallion pillar during the Great Equinoctial Gales of that year, only minutes before the whole structure was blown bodily out over Rannoch Moor. By great good fortune he made splash-down in a shallow area of Loch Ba, and received no injury apart from the thirty-pound taxi fare back to his car at Braes of Foss.
Why do so many sea-lochs on the west coast of Scotland have little narrow bits at the mouth, suitable for slinging an ugly box-girder bridge across? - Gail Carne
A fascinating question. Clearly, geology cannot be the sole explanation. In fact, when the foundations of such bridges are being dug, the contractors invariably find evidence of prehistoric timbers and piled boulders. The sea-loch narrows are, without exception, artificial constructions of the Early Bronze Age, related to the crannogs which decorate so many inland lochs. Now, new discoveries among the mussel shells in prehistoric middens close to such sites suggests an astonishing reason for such elaborate enterprises. In the last few years, there have been multiple finds of the massive bones of a primitive marine reptile of genus Rhombopteryx: a plesiosaur previously know only from 200-million-year-old fossilised remains. But these new finds are not fossils: radiocarbon dating gives their age as a mere 4000 years, and many of the bones bear clear marks of primitive tools. Our ancient ancestors obviously hunted and ate these creatures, and it has been suggested that the crannog-induced narrowing of so many sea-lochs indicates primitive efforts at a kind of marine farming. A stunning possibility now presents itself. Most of the crannogs have been worn away by tidal action, but one can imagine that some might have been subject to silting, and so might gradually build up into larger, more effective barriers. The end result might be the conversion of a sea inlet into a fresh-water loch. Could land-locked Loch Morar be the result of such events? And what of Morag, the monster it is said to contain? And what, indeed, of mighty Loch Ness itself?
What is the derivation of the name Ben Lui, for that fine peak at the head of the Cononish Glen? - Karen-Ann Turk
Well, Karen-Ann, that's an interesting question. The conventional wisdom is that the name derives from the Gaelic Beinn Laoigh, Mountain of the Calf, supposedly because the mountain's gently two-horned summit resembles the head of a calf. All I can say is that this idea obviously originated with someone who had never seen Ben Lui!
It is a little-known fact that, until the early 1980s, Ben Lui was known by the perfectly respectable and appropriate Gaelic name, Stob Coire an t-Sneachda. The change of name occurred because of a bid by the Tyndrum Round Table to make Tyndrum the site of the then newly-proposed EuroDisney. In an effort to make the site more attractive to the Disney consortium, it was suggested that local mountains be renamed in honour of famous Disney cartoon characters. Beinn Dubhchraig and Ben Oss were to become Ben Hui and Ben Dui (to accompany Ben Lui), Beinn Dorain and Beinn an Dothaidh were pencilled in as Ben Mickey and Ben Goofy, and Ben Challum was to become Ben Donald (making it the only Donald north of the Highland Boundary Fault, ha-ha!).
Perhaps fortunately, the plan came to nothing. Disney were apparently looking for a site where it both rained continually and the local inhabitants were surly and unhelpful. Tyndrum failed to meet the second of these criteria and so, as we now know, Paris was chosen instead. Only Ben Lui now serves to remind us of what might have been.
Ed. - Re inhabitable trig points, the Professor surprisingly fails to indicate the politically correct North American connection here. Following the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee, the Sioux, along with other Plains Indians, were forced to adopt various "civilising measures" at the behest of the conquering settlers. One of these was the Seasonal Triangulation Pillar: not invented, as the Professor erroneously suggests, in the 1960s (although its first Scottish use does indeed date from then), but brought to the Americas by Lord Newlyn, first head of the fledgling Ordnance Survey. The Sioux were thus forced to inhabit these flapping hovels, the names of which, due to their language being spoken rather than written, were soon reduced to a mere abbreviation: TP. This in turn was transcribed by historians as a real-looking (although actually bogus) ethnic word, tepee - which is how we know the Sioux dwellings today. (Note also that the supposedly Algonkian word for a dome-shaped hut formed from bark and skins, "wigwam", has similar roots, being originally taken from a bothy in Galloway.)