The Angry Corrie 24: Sep-Oct 1995

Glen Ponder (Letters)

Dear TAC,

I was amused, irritated and in agreement with a bit of Ian McConnell's TAC22 letter.

Amused at his Rab C. Nesbit language which still looks so grown up in print, so post-modernist, so fanzine...

Ian's belt at the NTS in Glencoe has been done before, and he brings no new points to the debate. Rennie McOwan has already made them all (he is arguably the man responsible for the decision by the Trust to move out of their present Glencoe site, and should be given all credit for his campaign), and his (McOwan's) letter in TAC23, while applauding McConnell's caustic sentiments about the breaking of Unna's wishes, has perhaps - as a secondary target - the aim of marketing his new Unna book. I hope McConnell's loony nonsense about the primitive wilderness of roadside Glencoe, of camping beside the pub, and of taking no responsibility for the crap you leave will be rounded on by McOwan in a future letter. That it keeps the debate about Unna open is the real value of McConnell's letter.

It is not clear that he (McConnell) and wifey actually camped at the Glencoe flats when he saw the offending note from the NTS, but if they did camp, and like many others, they used the River Coe as their holiday toilet because he thinks that they can use it "free and unrestricted", I must disabuse him of that thought. The costs of a polluted River Coe have to be borne by the residents of Glencoe, Lochaber and the Highland Region. The amenity and usefulness of the river to those who live and work in the area as well as the visitors has been diminished over recent years by the incredible arrogance of people like Ian McConnell, and unfortunately for all of us there is more rubbish comes out of their rear ends than out of their mouths. There are some fly campers who set up "continental tents" ("Albion tents" we call them - Ed.), housing-estate-sized groups of freeloaders for their two-week holiday. Sure they might use the Clachaig or the Trust toilets, but not all the time. Last Saturday (24th June), I counted more than 50 tents below the Clachaig, around 20 of them huddled together on the riverside. Are these the humble footsoldiers Unna wanted? Is a camp of army proportions by the Coe the vision of Percy? Why can't they huddle together half a mile down the road at a serviced site, where the polluter pays, and waste can be safely managed? Why shouldn't they be driven into official sites? Why should Lochaber pay to clean up the mess?

In his second letter (TAC23, p18), Ian slags off the NTS SWOT team for holding a meeting in Glencoe for locals (his opinion). And he suggests that he, big Jenny and wifey were the only climbing "types" there. I think he should have had his "few pints" after the meeting instead of before. I saw just a smattering of climbers of international note, as well as Rescue Team members, and folk like myself who go up the hills for no other reason than that they are at our back door.

This all suggests that far from "trenchant analysis" (McOwan, TAC22, p16), McConnell offers the view from the bar.

He now says he is off to pastures new, he is fed up wading through the vomit, the smashed bottles, and intriguingly the torn-up porn.

Goodbye Ian and wifey. I hope and fear he will take it all with him.


Cllr Drew McFarlane Slack


Dear TAC,

In my OS days back in 1972 I once set off to see a Scottish band called Glencoe at a pub in Swaythling near Southampton. I was disappointed to find them replaced by a raucous, brassy outfit called Iguana; all blaring trumpets, with no rhythm or subtlety. Little did I realise the symbolism.

Now I'm not saying that the NTS is a giant green slimy lizard, but it can be slippery when wet, as TAC23 illustrated. Some of their comments remind me of Groucho Marx - "these are our principles, and if you don't like them... we have other principles".

In the past year I have attended presentations from both the NTS and the John Muir Trust about their properties. They speak different languages. Okay, I admit I'm a paid-up member of the JMT fan club, but I really tried to be open-minded about the NTS. It didn't last, as their speaker confirmed every suspicion.

Almost all their time and money is spent on revamping ancient buildings, and that's where their heart and soul belong. Nothing wrong with that, but it doesn't do much for the likes of Glencoe. When talking about mountain properties, the NTS speaker had no idea about names or anything else - despite knowing she was to be addressing a group of hillwalkers. (We're not talking about obscure summits here - she didn't know her Eighe from her Alligin.)

As for Glencoe, well it seems there are really two Glencoes. To TACmaniacs and other hillgoers Glencoe is a craggy amphitheatre of soaring majestic peaks (down Poucher, down) with an unfairly low quota of Munros. To the NTS Glencoe is an event that took place 300 years ago, but unfortunately not in a castle that can be restored. In the absence of one, they need to create a centre for visitors - a surrogate castle - where the massacre experience can be packaged. After all, it would be terrible if all these tourists came to Glencoe and found there was nothing there except a load of old mountains, and nothing to spend money on.

The NTS claims to welcome informed debate. Okay, here are some suggestions:

  1. Treat the wishes of the former owners of West Affric and Mar Lodge estates with the same respect you have treated Unna's wishes. (If NTS properties are to be run as sporting estates, what is the point of NTS ownership?)
  2. Pull down the Glencoe visitor centre and don't build a new one.
  3. Accept that people are going to camp anyway near The Clachaig Inn, so build a small wooden bog block, plant some landscaping and camouflaging trees, and charge campers two pounds per night. If you find tents outside the camping area, charge the occupants a fiver each. If there's no-one home, remove the tent and charge a tenner for its return. Announce this policy in the outdoor press and via a small campsite notice.
  4. If you don't fancy these ideas but you really care about Glencoe (the glen, not the massacre), simply give it away to the John Muir Trust, together with the annual amount you spend on its maintenance. Unna would approve. While this will give them the problems of dealing with shit, rubbish and tourists, I doubt if their first concern will be where to build a new visitor centre. This will leave the NTS free to concentrate on what they're good at - restoring old buildings and charging visitors a fortune to see what the original might (or might not) have looked like.

I never did get to see Glencoe the band, so I wouldn't recognise them now whatever they're doing. But I wonder would they have stuck with their roots of rock and blues, or would they be playing rap and rave in response to perceived public demand? And I wonder what Glencoe the glen will be like in twenty years time. Will its main attraction still be hard rock or will it be offering shop 'n' save? I hope I'll still recognise it.


Alan Dawson


Dear TAC,

Mr Derrick Warner (TAC23, pp16-17), senior ranger and property manager of the National Trust for Scotland, in Glen Coe, has written a long and helpful letter in response to the criticisms made by Ian McConnell (TAC22, p18) over the Trust's management of the Glen Coe property - and particularly over the breaking of the "natural management" wishes of the Trust's mountaineering benefactor, Percy Unna.

This letter is to be welcomed because in past times the official Trust attitude to both members and others who made criticisms of management policies was generally to make no reply at all - or to, in effect, see the critic off the premises.

There were two legacies of this unfortunate attitude. The first was a growing atmosphere of hostility and the second was that misunderstanding about Unna, widely held by some Trust staff and Council members, continued to be promulgated by them. Happily, this situation is gradually being corrected.

Might I comment further on Derrick Warner's letter and as part of a constructive discussion? (Go on then! - Ed.)

He states that Unna only came on the scene in 1936 when Dalness was put on the market, but the most important factor of all in that purchase is omitted. Everyone who gave money to the Trust at that time did so in the confident (but misplaced) expectation that the Trust would operate the property according to Unna's publicly stated wishes (ie the mountains not being made easier and safer to climb, no man-made structures on the hills, no facilities for food and drink, no new access for wheeled vehicles, no waymarking, the property to be kept in its original state, open access, and no shooting other than the cull). Nearly all of these have been broken in Glen Coe and all of them have been broken at Trust properties as a whole.

Unna appreciated that conditions change: he was not obsolete, but prophetic. The Trust's official history makes that plain. He anticipated many of today's problems, but he expected the main thrust of his case to be obeyed and he raised and gave money to that end.

Derrick Warner says Unna's principles are always taken seriously. He should read the files at HQ. Lulus include the former director, Lester Borley, saying there never were Unna rules and only two passages in one book (the facts are that Rules was the official Trust term for years and the "one book" is the Trust's official history). A tracked vehicle was hired to take the Trust Council up Ben Lawers to see the erosion. A former senior member of Trust staff - who will be named in my forthcoming book - (why not here? - Ed.) said Unna was in the back shop.

The question of buildings in Glen Coe is clear. Unna stated that there should be no man-made structures on the hills and no facilities for food and drink. However, he did add that if a desire for hotels or hostels should spring up then that might have to be satisfied. It would be as well if nothing was built in Glen Coe. He mentioned Glen Etive as a possibility where there were already buildings.

Such hotels or hostels, he said, should be by the road, in the control of the Trust and screened by trees.

It is honest of Derrick Warner to say that the Glen Coe centre is now realised as a mistake and such frankness is to be admired. It is, however, the precise opposite of what some Trust spokespersons said in the past. The centre car park charged for car parking at one time, so far from drawing cars out of the glen it simply aided the process of indiscriminate parking (for free) up and down the glen. Happily, this charging policy was abandoned (as it was at Ben Lawers), but not before complaining members were told that the cash was essential.

The problem with bridges was not that the mountain rescue or farmers desired them, but that the Trust instituted a full-scale publicity campaign to boost walking into the so-called Lost Valley and onto ground that could not take such boot pressure. Again a familiar scenario was enacted. Members who complained to headquarters about the publicity policy found their views rejected. Only when the problem became so obvious that it could not be denied was this policy abandoned, the publicity greatly reduced and the evocative term "Lost Valley" no longer used.

No-one would deny that camping at Clachaig is a problem and we all have a clear duty to try and resolve difficulties. (The Trust owned Clachaig at one time, then sold it.)

It is good that Mr Warner specifically urges the critics to make their views known, to offer their services, and to strive to understand the Trust's difficulties. Some problems are, in fact, created by past Trust policies. Others are not.

What is encouraging is that - at long last - Trust spokespeople seem to be saying that discussion and comment is welcomed. It was not always thus. I have just seen the new edition of their Glen Coe guidebook. The editors are kind enough to list the names of people who helped with the text. In past times members who pointed out that previous guides included factual errors were given short shrift. This current issue was shown in draft to a number of people (my own comments ran to over nine pages), and most points raised by members have been taken into the text. This is how it should be and we need more of the same.

The discussion in TAC may not always be palatable to either side, but at least we are getting frankness in debate and we all share a common purpose in wanting to see appropriate management policies for a glen we love.

Yours faithfully,

Rennie McOwan


Dear TAC,

No.277, Glencoe, and sheep as a training aid.

  1. Did New Zealand win their World Cup rugby game against Albion's team because of a more imaginative use of sheep as a training aid and the greater number of decent-sized hills in their home country?
  2. As a youth I had to mix up copper sulphate and water in a footbath. This was used to prevent or cure footrot in sheep. The older shepherds did not like the stuff because the copper sulphate did something to the tackets in their boots and caused them to fall out. The point of this is to advise that 277 is the number of cubic inches in a gallon. This figure must be of interest to walkers in Scotland, especially those on the West Highland Way.
  3. On the point of Glencoe, it is a fact of life and progress that all things eventually wear down or degrade towards the average. The freedoms and individual achievements of our forefathers (and foremothers! - Ed.) eventually are eroded and become commonplace.

Pressure has forced development in Glencoe. I like Jack Wills' letter on crap (TAC23, pp17-18) which made me think of Antarctica. Will scientists one day search for Captain Scott's overnight campsites, dig up the latrine holes and use modern scientific analysis methods (pun intended?! - Ed.) to measure the deterioration of the party as it plodded to and from the South Pole?

The advertisement of Munro- bagging exploits by some of the old, and not so old guard has contributed to the deterioration of the hills by swarms of lycra-clad mountain bikers, runners and walkers. Can't they use their time and literary skills to come up with an answer to the problem rather than constantly redefining the problem in nitty-picky letters? Jack Wills comes nearer the truth than some of the ephemeral arguments expressed.

We all complain about litter; when did you last pick up an empty can? Too many of us have walked by on the other side.

Times change, please dig your heads out of the romantic sand, get real and contribute positively to the future.

We should sponsor a link-up with Percy Unna to confirm what his views would be, bearing in mind current difficulties. His supporters could be disappointed. There have been many instances where the disciples have followed the commandment to the letter without applying the flexibility of thought or understanding the insight which led to its expression.


Nick Aitken


Dear TAC,

I was delighted and honoured on reading TAC23 to have a new title bestowed on me. Charles Everett: cartographical pedant! It so succinctly describes something at the core of my being and one of my greatest obsessions. It'll sit so nicely as part of my CV - Interests: 20th Century Art, Scottish hillwalking, animal welfare, circle dancing, cartographical pedantry. I can just imagine it as part of my business card too: Charles Everett MB, CP (Munro Bagger, Cart Ped). And just think of my pride at dinner parties now, when the host introduces me to a new, delightful woman: "May I introduce you to Charles, he's a cartographical pedant".

Thank you TAC for swelling my pride with a new and enriching label by which to describe myself.


Charles Everett

OS105 GR621562
Height 16m + one storey = 19m

Dear TAC,

Anent the TACit Tables. I wish to raise an important point of mountain safety which seems to have been entirely ignored by the TACit Table Team: table ticking takes time! It was bad enough when all we had to do was place a few ticks in the various sections of Munro's Tables. Modern tabulophiles must also now contend with The Relative Hills and A Munroist's Log (which until recently I thought was a bit of wood to keep your bottom dry when sitting in wet heather). I also understand that many walkers have a battered old ledger for private use. Now you threaten several new sets of tables.

Extensive studies undertaken today in my living-room reveal that to adequately record a day's walking in all the multifarious tables available can take anything up to half an hour. It may take ten minutes just to "find" tricky summits like the Geal Charns. This means that Naismith's formula must now be multiplied by a new "table factor" of between 1.1 to 1.2 (depending on the relative walking and reading speeds of the party).

Those who do not take this into account may find themselves benighted on the hill. Of course, they could then attract the attention of rescuers by setting fire to the "Saint Kilda" pages, which are of limited practical use...


Grant Hutchison


Dear TAC,

In the list of places where one can buy TAC, given on the inside cover, your designation of Wales as "lesser Albion" is a little unkind on the peace-loving Welsh given that a larger proportion of the land area of Wales is hills / mountains. Lesser Alba would be a happier choice, or Cymru, though some in their quest for TAC, may confuse this with the near-homophonous Comrie, and spend hours roaming around Perthshire looking for Betws-y-Coed.


David Morris


Dear TAC,

I have recently given up on my regular climbing magazine as I can't summon up any more interest in the endless squabbles about the ethics of bolting, sport climbing, etc. TAC seems to be obsessed with numbers instead, which is infinitely more amusing.

Having recently returned to the Plain from a Cairngorm heatwave I have a query which perhaps you can answer: has anyone ever bagged all the Munros by bivvying the night on each summit (thus "bagging" them literally as well as metaphorically)? Really what I have in mind here is any overnight stay on top of a Munro: it could equally well be in a tent or a bivvy bag, the essential element being a sleeping bag. In reality, the really vital element wouldn't even be the sleeping bag, just the overnight stay - but only a real hard core of lunatics would plan such a trip without at least a sleeping bag.

The bivvy / camp would not have to be on the very summit itself - often a pretty barmy (as opposed to balmy - Ed.) place to spend the night. Some lower limit could be set, such as 30m/100ft below the summit or, if the drop were less than 60m - as with Am Basteir and Sgurr Mhic Choinnich (55m and 56m respectively) - no more than halfway down to the highest point of reascent. There might also be interesting questions as to what length of time and time of night qualified as an overnight stay.


Charles Swan


Ed. - Well I've bagged two Munros this way I think: Ben Nevis and Carn a'Gheoidh. Incidentally, we've only been obsessed with numbers since p13, TAC18, 4-5/94.

Dear TAC,

Am I alone in feeling annoyed by Chris Smith MP's frothing about the "wonderful experience" of travelling on the London-Fort William sleeper service? He goes on and on about being able to leave work on Friday, spend two full days walking in the wilderness, and return to work on Monday morning refreshed. As he says, "how many would leap at the chance if they could?"

A lot of his constituents, for a start, I'll bet. As well as quite a lot of us who can't afford £60 Apex (£74 standard) return; £25 each way for a sleeper berth; plus InterCity meals and drinks.

Yet he has the cheek to write that the service is "a lifeline for the Highland community". It's nothing of the kind, mate; it's a subsidised service for residents of Southern England with the kind of disposable income that allows them to spend money like this. Nobody heard anything from Chris Smith about the overcrowded Sprinters that have no room for bikes, and piss-poor catering facilities, that the rest of us have to use when we can afford it.

Doesn't this "representative of the people" appreciate that he's spending a fortnight's dole money on a rail trip? And that some of us would "leap at the chance" of having work to leave on a Friday, and return to on a Monday, no matter how we'd spent the weekend?

Still and all, I suppose the consolation prize will be that if he gets to be a minister in some future government, he won't be cluttering up the train any more. He'll have an official motor, and a chauffeur.


Mick Furey


Various readers have recently suggested possible changes to TAC. More frequent publication, upping the price above 50p, taking adverts etc. The present standpoint of the Editors is that there's no point trying to bring in more money since costs are already covered by mag and T-shirt sales, whilst publishing every two months seems hard enough as it is! The main reason to bring in more money would be to allow contributors to be paid (at present, only the cartoonists make anything from TAC, and then only a token amount). But we like to think of ourselves as reader-driven (to use the jargon), so would be interested to hear any feedback (or feedforward). Please do write in; it's your magazine.

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