The Angry Corrie 26: Feb-Mar 1996


Ronald Turnbull

Well, is this thing a Corbett or is it isn't?

  1. A Corbett is what's on the current SMC list.
  2. A Corbett is a mountain or hill of height between 762m and 914.4m with 500ft of reascent.
  3. A Corbett is a point which appears on the most recent map to satisfy Option 2.
  4. A Corbett is what TAC says is a Corbett.

Under Option 1 Beinn Talaidh is a Corbett until the next deletion session. Option 1 has the virtue of simplicity and the vice of leaving no room for enjoyable pedantic nitpicking.

Under Option 2 its status is known only to God and perhaps to some semi-sentient US military hardware in the sky. Beinn T is "perhaps a Corbett, best climb it in case". This gives to God, Who knows, an unfair advantage in Corbett-bagging.

Option 4 we can dismiss at once. Dave Hewitt doesn't have a beard, or if he does (he does - Ed.), it's less than the entire accumulated beard of the SMC Committee. Which leaves us with Option 3. Does TAC really wish to leave such an important matter to the whim of the Ordnance Survey, an organisation it seems to despise? It does? Well, on the very latest map, the trig point is given as 761m, and the summit spot height is given as 763m. (The map in question is the 1:25000 issued August 1995 to competitors in the Mull Mountain Marathon.)

Now this would seem to leave TAC well in the wrong: a most undesirable outcome for the health of Albanic Mountain Pride. I therefore determined to pursue Option 2 further. My first channel of attack was the purchase of an extremely expensive military GPS (got it in Iraq, third-hand); my second was a severe and penitential course of fasting, auto-flagellation and prayer. Both gave the same result of approximately 761.94m (God's reading was just a smidgen higher).

I have determined, therefore, that with my dying steps I shall stagger to the summit of Beinn Talaidh and dismantle the cairn. I shall then rebuild it above myself. This I shall be able to do under the Labour government's forthcoming Access Bill, which does not specify that members of the public are necessarily alive at the time. At first mere biodegradable litter, I shall under the usual bacterial action become soil and so an extra six inches of Beinn Talaidh. Too late, alas, to be able to bag it as a Corbett.

In this context it's interesting to note that the same thing has already taken place on nearby Mainnir nam Fiadh. The corpse within its huge cairn will have raised it to approximately 754.1m. (No, I'm not going through all that again; if you need the precise figure, you can buy your own whip.) This gives us an insight into bronze age peakbagging activity, allowing us to determine their "Munro" altitude - measured of course in Megalithic yards, so that it comes as no surprise to discover that this Mull outlier is just five and eleven-seventeenths times the height of the Great Pyramid. We may also note the exceedingly lax reascent requirement of the Fingalian ascensionists: clearly not more than 50m down the ridge towards Dun da Gaoithe.

Incidentally, has anyone so far been born on the summit of any Corbett or Munro? And would this count as an ascent for bagging purposes? (Ed. - Surprisingly, yes: Andrew Dempster's The Munro Phenomenon, p186, mentions Mark Waugh, a good cricketing name, coming into the world in a helicopter atop 1129m An Riabhachan.) Even more incidentally, the map quoted earlier has the usual bit in the corner - "gosh you still don't know how to do a grid reference" - and it prints the grid reference of a bothy! Presumably the OS will be getting the "more in sorrow than in anger" letter from the MBA.

A few Editorial thoughts on debagging:

Beinn Talaidh is the quintessential example of the current confusion surrounding Scottish hill heights and Tables. The hill was long regarded as a Corbett, and a glance at the map mentioned by Ronald appears to support this. His MMM sheet is simply an enlargement of the current OS Pathfinder 1:25000 Sheet NM63/73, and does indeed show both a 763m spotheight and a 761m trig. But the 763m spot lies outwith the tiny 760m contour ring and doesn't exist - very similar to the Cat Law situation mentioned by Roderick Manson on the page opposite. The current OS49 Landranger, last updated 1991, is correct, showing only the 761m trig. The various books on the matter are similarly muddled, with the 1981SMC Tables opting for 762m, with the curious footnote that the "Highest point lies 25m south west of the pillar and is 2502ft". By the current, 1990 edition of the Tables this has changed to 763m with no footnote, yet the SMC Corbetts guidebook (also 1990) and the very recent SMC-backed Harveys Corbetts and Munros chart (1995) both stick with 762m. Various other books - eg Hamish Brown's Climbing the Corbetts (1988) and Cameron McNeish's The Corbett Almanac (1994) - follow this lead, yet the SMC's own Islands guide (1989) gets it right, with the wonderfully-named Graham Little unequivocally stating the highest point to be the trig at 761m. Bill Robertson's idiosyncratic Scottish Mountain Guide (see TAC19, pp10-11) typically goes for a cake-and-eat-it option: listing Talaidh as 761m and as a Corbett! Quite where the 762m figure comes from is something of a mystery, since it appears to appear on no recent maps. The existing tabulators have simply split the difference between the trig and the entirely figmentatious 763m point - a compromise which, conveniently, keeps Talaidh listed as a Corbett for the time being.

Your Ed has never climbed Talaidh (nor been on Mull for that matter - there's a confession for you), but Blanco has and, more significantly, the late Helen Torbet became embroiled in precisely this conundrum. Whilst researching the provisional list of her née-eponymous Grahams - of which Talaidh is the highest - she requested the island constabulary make an ascent to check things out official like. This, remarkably, they did, and confirmed there was no ground higher than the trig - an episode reported several years ago by TGO, as a follow-up to publishing Helen's fledgling list.

All this sounds like cartographical pedantry of the highest order, and so it is. But with lists and tables widely available, their raison d'etre is undermined when not as accurate as possible. Imagine if one year Wisden suddenly decided, on a whim, to stop printing Don Bradman's legendary Test career average as 99.94 and to round it up to a neat 100. Quite apart from flying in the face of the significance of his last-innings, third ball, tear-jerking duck at The Oval in 1948 - the arithmetical significance of which everyone in the ground knew all about - the figures would simply be wrong.

However, with another revision of SMC tabulature pending and with the need to standardise data never greater, the SMC Tables editor has contacted TAC, magnanimously suggesting he'd be happy to receive thoughts and suggestions from TAC readers direct. (Derek Bearhop, 22 West Savile Terrace, Edinburgh, EH9 3EA.) Hence certain critical corrections - at the very least - may hopefully soon be "official" and adopted once and for all. These could include, for starters, Talaidh and Corrieyairack Hill being deCorbetted, Dugland being deDonalded (also too wee), and the Glen Artney Donalds being brought into that list. The "seven summits" (see quiz answers, 11c) could be admitted as Munro tops, with Beinns Eighe and Alligin and both Buachailles each also gaining an extra fullblown Munro. Watch this space.

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