TAC 28: Aug-Sep96

TAC 28 Index

hill informed

Dear Ed,

I was disturbed (TAC27, p3) to hear you have been suffering from Ewing's Tumour. If this is true, I hope you are recovering and solidly in remission. It was in the article by Perkin Warbeck entitled Wildlife Schmildlife; if it reflected the true thoughts of the author, he should perhaps move to Iceland and eat puffins, if it is such a clever thing to do.

He seems to have a commercialised, voyeuristic attitude to the Scottish environment. Does he not realise the reason there is a narrow range of "interesting wildlife" in Scotland is because most of the big stuff (bears like in Yosemite, wolves etc) has been killed off? The extinction of more species will continue if projects like the ill-planned Cairngorm Funicular go ahead. There is still a wealth of wildlife to enchant the Scottish hillgoer: birds, mammals, reptiles, insects and the occasional amphibian. (I'd provide a list of those I have seen over the last year, but he may treat it as a menu for his next family get-together.) Perhaps Perkin Warbeck requires the services of David Attenborough to record a series pointing it all out to him, while he sits in front of his TV. Wildlife does not exist to be exploited and ogled , so it is little wonder he only ever sees "animal crap". Owls of course have feathers and not fur as Perkin Warbeck mistakenly reported.

Then again, he is probably a nice guy and was just playing Devil's Advocate to create a controversy where none exists, just to sell papers. I know how you journalists like to make the news.


Colwyn Jones
Ashton under Lynalbion

Dear Perkin Warbeck,

You're just wrong by the way! Wildlife on the hill can be pure dead brilliant. Don't forget:

(i) hares in their winter colouring when the snow has gone, sitting still and trying to pretend you can't see them;

(ii) the prints of a fox in the snow and then a distant sighting when you can just make out he's looking at you looking at him;

(iii) the mistaken sound that startled you and you thought might be a ptarmigan but suddenly realise it's frogs in the wee pools, on the quiet hill of Cnoc a'Bhaid-rallaich above Little Loch Broom.

These are just a few magic moments from the last two months out on the hill. However, that's not the point at all. The top bit of Cairn Gorm is a delicate ecosystem, and it takes a hell of a long time for vegetation to colonise the high tops. It is a unique and special environment worthy of protecting to ensure its survival. If the plans for the funicular were about enabling skiers easy access to the top of the runs at an economic cost when there was snow around, then maybe that's okay. But:

(i) the skiing season is limited and variable, so income from skiers is unpredictable and wouldn't cover anywhere near the costs of the funicular

(ii) to help the project be "cost effective", it'll need to get income from non-skiers outwith the skiing season

(iii) encouraging loads of people into remote and vulnerable areas has a cost in terms of environmental damage that may end up being much greater than the cost of the funicular.

It's not really the demands of the skiers that's the problem, it's the need to make money. Skiers can't bring in enough money, so summer visitors will top up the coffers and do most of the damage to the ecology of the area. People who really want an experience of this wild and wonderful place have two choices: either get there without causing undue damage to that environment, or have an "experience" of it in an interpretation centre which can be down on the highway, not up on the Cairngorm plateau. But the funicular isn't really for these people at all, is it? It's all about making money by railroading up masses of people who have no particular interest in the area or its ecology, it's about pretending to offer people a wilderness experience while selling them tea, pastries and plastic reindeer at vastly inflated prices, then rushing them down as fast as possible in order to bring up the next captive coachload of cauliflower heads and bewildered camcorder-wielders. These visitors deserve to be treated with more respect, and so do the Cairngorms.

Best wishes,

Mary Cox
(A wild and wonderful hill lover and Danish pastry lover)

Dear TAC,

What is the mad Professor Warbeck wittering on about? I may not be the world's greatest ornithologist (I divide small birds into two categories - snow bunting and everything else - and I have great difficulty in distinguishing between a buzzard and an eagle). But as an avid mountaineer I am aware of the wildlife, the flora and the fauna, and that it is an important part of the mountain experience, a point Grant Hutchison hammers home in Club. (Munro's Fables, pp38-39) In some cases it is just these; in some it is important for a variety of scientific reasons, as in the Cairngorms. You have to take a holistic approach to these things. It's not just that no man is an island. (Unless his name is Muck - Ed.) Without the incredible diversity in the Scottish hills we are all the poorer, even if, like me, you have virtually no idea what species anything is. The biological importance and vulnerability of the Cairngorms are widely recognised. It's not unreasonable to see the funicular as a threat on that score if the proposed management plan doesn't work.

Economically, on the Chairlift Company's own figures, it would have to attract over twice as many visitors as any other attraction in the Highlands to be viable. If we accept that the proposed restrictions on escapees will be effective, then these visitors will have to be attracted to a facility that does not let them step out on the mountain, enjoy the views, breathe the air, experience the landscape and the terrain, and which keeps them underground when they get to the no-doubt sensational exhibition at the top. The alternative gondola system, based on the Aonach Mor model, would be far more attractive for tourist and conservationist alike.

Mind you, I don't object to the parking / clearway restrictions proposed. I've always favoured the idea that a long walk in is the best management scheme as far as controlling numbers goes.

Environmentally, I'm dubious about the funicular (even if it only blasts away 18000 tonnes of rock). Economically, I'm more than dubious. If you're going to spend #16 million or #17 million to attract tourists, better to spend it on a multitude of smaller attractions that can keep tourists' attention over a period of time instead of a one-off glitzy cash-drain. Still, whisper the magic word "jobs", and you can get away with just about anything in the Highlands. Part of the legacy of the Clearances, after all, is blind, uncritical, unquestioning desperation. You can call the funicular opportunity or exploitation. I know what I call it, and it's not printable in TAC.

Yours aye,

Roderick Manson

Dear TAC,

In the matter of the House Divided By The Cairngorm Funicular, I am inclined to side with the Editor (who, by the way, does not only eat sardines, but tuna fish as well), even though I believe that few businesspersons will stumble over Ed's ethical threshold as long as it is "somewhere" - ie not too close to their bank accounts.

I suspect that if you have that funicular and if you don't have certain restrictions on free enterprise (such as mar my country of residence), there'll be an Arctic Wilderness Theme Park on Cairn Gorm in no time. You'll hear, see and smell it all the way to Braeriach, and there'll be a narrow-gauge railway through the Lairig Ghru to the Corrour Bothy Souvenir Centre to ensure a balanced range of services to customers. And if the thing doesn't make a profit within a year, you just leave it to rot. Let others clean up the mess.

Another thing: I stopped walking up Cairn Gorm one grey day fifteen years ago because the ice needles on the pylons of the chair lift were a finger long near the Ptarmigan Restaurant. They provided adequate warning of things to come further up. I don't believe that "unsuspecting Ordinary Pedestrians wearing black sannies" should be provided with better opportunities for getting lost in a blizzard - even if that limits their personal development.

In Norway, a somewhat similar debate is raging about Jotunheimen National Park: how far do you let the tourist industry in? Quite a few people now favour closing the access roads to the most popular mountain huts. As there is no access to the less popular huts except on foot and via the odd supply track, that would get rid of all cars. Pedestrian ferry services on the lakes would be limited. No more "artificially shortened walks"! (Expression coined by a Jotunheimen activist and fundamentalist walker). The Norwegian Mountain Touring Association (DNT), operator of most huts in the area, is thinking of a compromise solution, but even that would involve removing all activities related to mass tourism from the core area of the Park. DNT's very sound basic argument is that its customers want fairly unspoiled nature, and that fairly unspoiled nature is also good for non-customers.

These ideas are, of course, opposed by the type of people who would like to introduce helicopter touring in Jotunheimen, reducing the time needed to cross the National Park from half a week to half an hour and the reindeer to nervous wrecks. But they're not likely to win the fight. Bleak as Jotunheimen may be, most Norwegians see it as a national asset; it is not to be handed over to asset strippers.

Even in their stripped condition, the Highlands remain one of Scotland's greatest assets. I'm not an environmental specialist, but I'm sure that between owl regurgitations and exterminated bears there is more to the Cairngorms than meets either Prof Warbeck's or my academically less qualified eye. Like the old man being dragged to the knacker's cart in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, those mountains are probably "not quite dead". But if someone comes with a big enough club, they might end up like him: dead.


Paul Hesp

Dear TAC,

I have but one question arising from the latest issue. With Perkin Warbeck's deep understanding of wildlife and ecology, does he by any chance work for the Scottish Office?


Peter Cosgrove

Fresh from listening to the new Barry Adamson CD, Oedipus Schmoedipus, a beleaguered Perkin Warbeck gives his considered reply:

Re letter 1: Reptile schmeptile
Re letter 2: Ptarmigan schmarmigan
Re letter 3: Biology schmiology
Re letter 4: Jotunheimen Schmotunheimen
Re letter 5: Ecology schmecology

Dear TAC,

I want to lodge a number of objections to my presence in the Murdo cartoon-strip (TAC27, p4). The figure portrayed as myself looks like Doc in Snow White with two, curly tufts of hair. I am younger, more handsome and I have a lot more hair than that and, with careful combing, I can prove it. I admit to lusting after the Queen/Stepmother in Snow White (a fine figure of a woman), but - unlike Doc - the lass herself doesn't attract me in the least. Along with David Balfour (and I certainly don't fancy him), she must be one of the biggest wimps in literature.

My main complaint, however, is all the technical jargon. I have a mental block over anything mathematical or technical and all of it was lost on me. Please change the scenario. The alleged firm's slogan might well be "Take two Rennies", but my family all insist that one is enough. I enjoyed it though, but have to state that you will be hearing from my solicitors.

Yours faithfully,

Rennie McOwan

Ed. - What Rennie doesn't know is that, lacking a photograph from which to draw his likeness, TAC's artist "Swan" was given the heartless order: "Think Charlie Drake..."

Dear Editor,

While browsing through the most recent copy of the SNH magazine Scotland's Natural Heritage, I came across the following statements. I have paraphrased them to some extent:

  1. "...And the increasing use of the area [the Cairngorms] by climbers, walkers and mountain bikers, creates irreparable damage to the fragile ecosystem." - Roger Crofts, Chief Executive, SNH
  2. "The growing numbers of hillwalkers are increasing the pressure on footpaths." - Laughton Johnston, Project Manager, Cairngorm Project
  3. "Hillwalking, although beneficial to the economy, is potentially damaging to that of the estate. For instance, deer that used to be scattered over extensive areas now accumulate on a single area free from human presence, resulting in heavier browsing damage." - Andrew Gordon, Estate factor, Atholl Estates
  4. "Massive increases in people coming to the countryside creates some concerns. I now see people on the hill all year round and any day of the week. Over the years I have noticed the deer population in the estate being disturbed." - Stuart Cummings, Headkeeper, Mar Lodge
  5. "Growing accessibility heightens my biggest fear, that of forest or hill fires." - ibid
  6. "On the Montane Plateau, home of the dotterel and snow bunting, we are anxious about the detrimental effects of walkers' heavy boots on fragile vegetation." - Peter Mayhew, RSPB

All of this in just one issue of the magazine. Just whose side are they on? It would appear from the above quotations that the SNH believe that hillwalkers and climbers pose the greatest threat to Scotland's wildscape. Very little reference is made to the enormous damage inflicted on our landscape by estate managers in the form of ugly bulldozed tracks, the use of off-road vehicles, and trampling by stalkers' ponies. No mention is made of the hideous debris consisting of old scattered fenceposts and coils of rusting wire, farm rubbish tips, and discarded fertiliser bags. Perhaps the greatest destroyers of vegetation and wildlife habitat are the skiing developers with access roads, car parks, ski tows and chairlifts. Clearing away the junk in the aftermath of skiing developments seems to be anathema to those responsible. I am thinking especially of rusting cable seen near the Centre in Glen Shee. The damage caused by hillwalkers can simply not be measured against the destruction described above.

One cannot help but come to the conclusion that the real motive behind the utterances of those privileged to live and work in hill and mountain areas is to keep such places as their exclusive domain whilst keeping the rest of us herded into great urban sprawls. Why is SNH giving so much space in one edition of its magazine to such anti-hillwalking opinions, while ignoring the destruction caused by the estate owners themselves? The ground is obviously being prepared for either charging (financially) for access, or for channelling walkers along clearly designated routes and thereby putting another nail in the coffin of our freedom to roam.

Yours faithfully,

Bryan Cromwell

Dear Sirs,

Re the Bolt-on" Appendicectomy Kit (TAC27, p20):

With my crew partaking in the mass migration of walkers from west to east across Scotland, I decided that a single-handed voyage was in order. Having prepared the vessel and sorted out the navigation for the epic voyage from the south coast of Albion to the Sceptred Isle of Wight, I turned my attention to the medicine chest and medical matters.

Taking Josh Slocum as my role model, I decided that a precautionary pre-voyage appendicectomy was indicated, and so ordered the appropriate Bolt-on kit. (We already have the knee and ankle gizmos in the medicine chest.) Performing such a delicate operation at home on dry land would avoid salt water contamination in rough weather.

The initial stages went well and no "dry-brain" side effects were detected after the small amount of spinal fluid was lost. I was just contemplating my rubbery stomach and steeling myself for the decisive cut when on reviewing the instructions I realised they did not state which side the appendix was on. I therefore abandoned the operation to await clarification for fear of removing some other, more vital organ.

Could you please send me definitive instructions and a replacement anaesthetic kit? I think that I should also have the optional Surgical Emergencies Add-On Pack, especially the morphine. I shall then be able to perform the operation before my next voyage.

Yours faithfully,

Davy Jones
Guildford, Suralbion

Hermione Ranfurly, customer services manager of the Bolt-on Corporation, replies:

Bolt-On cannot responsibly comment on the location of Mr Jones's appendix, since an estimated 0.003% of the population is born with internal organs reversed. Mr Jones has unfortunately attempted to use the Kit for elective surgery, despite clear warnings on the packaging that this product is intended for emergency use only. Had he waited for an episode of appendicitis before attempting surgery, the location of the appendix would have been clear: it is on the side that hurts.

Dear TAC,

Has it occurred to other readers that if the true summit of Sgurr Dearg on Skye is the In Pinn, then by the same logic the true summit of the In Pinn is the large block from which most people abseil, but on which next to no-one sets foot? It is possible that generations of Munroists have vitiated their completed rounds by this oversight.

I realise that to some this may seem a quibble; but listen to any cluster of ardent Munroists eagerly comparing starting points, times taken, and recounting the agonies of doubt as to the precisely correct summit cairns on various peaks, and you will appreciate the importance to them of just such a question.

On the other hand, it has been suggested that the true purist would adhere to Munro's original list, eschewing the whole absurd protuberance for the more natural summit of Sgurr Dearg; but besides being suspected of copping out, one would have to ignore all the other revisions made to the Tables over the years.

I suggest that the only remedy for those who wish to hold up their heads and claim complete rounds with a clear conscience must be to return to the In Pinn and make good their oversight. What do other readers think?


Robert Moffat

Ed. - I've not scaled said Pinnacle myself, but have consulted with someone who has, and who is also pedantic about precise summitry: Alan Blanco. He offers assurance that although the block looks higher from the Dearg cairn, the true high point is a more integral part of the Pinnacle hidden behind. Second opinions would however be of interest...

Dear TAC,

I've often wondered, if one were to run a marathon in a straight line (or any other arbitrary straight line distance), what would be the maximum amount of ascent one could incur? It would have to be a straight line otherwise one would simply find the steepest bit of rock in the country and run up and down it the required number of times. I guess a line through Kintail and Knoydart would provide the answer, but as there is a near infinite number of lines one could make in even a small space, I've never been bored enough to try and find this magic line. However, I bet some hapless soul will spend fruitless hours attempting to work it out.


Craig Weldon

Ed. - Uncannily like Q1 in the 1992 Xmas Quiz (TAC10, p16). My guess - being a hapless soul - would be a line cutting across the grain of Glen Coe, Loch Leven and Glen Nevis.

Dear TAC,

Re your item in TAC27 (pp17-18) on first-hand (an unfortunate choice of word) experiences encountering prostitutes offering sex for #30 in the scenic Mole Valley, readers may be interested in this cutting from the Maidenhead Advertiser:

Such North British trifles as the Grey Man of Ben Macdui hold no fear for hardened southern walkers trained on a diet of lightly-clad sirens. This denizen of Burnham Beeches may of course explain the poor performance of Albion's finest footballers against the Germans: the Albion base camp was the Burnham Beeches Hotel.

Yours flatly,

Phillip Williams
Mhaighdeanhead, Berkalbion


There is an alarming lack of progress with regard to the Millennium celebrations in the United Kingdom. One hears of vague plans to construct a large balloon representing the Queen Mother, to be towed about by a Spitfire. This throws a glaring light on the mean-spiritedness so characteristic of present-day British governments. There are almost twenty airworthy Spitfires in the United Kingdom today, so why not have the whole Royal Family up in the air while they last? This refers both to the Royal Family and the Spitfires. The Queen Mother could be towed by what I believe to be the sole remaining Spitfire Mk 1.

"While they last" - which is bound to be rather less than a thousand years. The Scottish hillwalking community, however, could raise an enduring monument to the Millennium almost with a stroke of the pen - by raising the Munro standard to 1000 metres!

There are many arguments in favour of such a bold scheme:

Accept, Sir, the assurance of my high consideration.

Jacques Sentier
Residence Moulinsart,
Impasse des Vaches Folles,

Dear TAC,

I write in protest at "The Fool on the Hill" Gordon Smith and his article Don't go climbing waterfalls in TAC27. There are facts and opinions at stake here.

Opinions: he doesn't like Free as a Bird and other Beatles / solo Beatles records. It's a free country - my opinion is that The Beatles were / are brilliant and Free as a Bird is a fine piece of work.

Now here are some facts: Fab Macca at no time in his hit Waterfalls makes any reference to "climbing" waterfalls. The activity he refers to is "jumping". Surely this proves Gordon Smith does not know what he is talking about, as this destroys the whole flimsy basis of his article.

Stop the Beatle-bashing!

Fab 4 Ever, Real Love,
"Rocky Racoon"

Gordon Smith replies:

Like Jacques Derrida, I take the structuralist stance that when I read Paradise Lost, I am writing Paradise Lost. In other words, if I say that Macca sang about climbing waterfalls, then he did sing about climbing waterfalls. Climbing or jumping, however, the song is still shite.

And another thing: if you really come from Arbroath, why aren't you a Smokie fan?

TAC 28 Index