In this day and age, when a visit to an outdoor retail establishment forms such a major part of many people's outdoor experience, all right-thinking persons will, I am sure, deplore anything that detracts from the raw and vital nature of that experience. South of the Border, of course, we are used to having our passage along the road made easier and safer by the presence of traffic-calming measures, pedestrian zones, and other new-fangled paraphernalia; but one had always hoped that the Highlands would remain free of such unnecessary innovation.
Imagine my horror then to discover that Fort William has now fallen victim to this fashion. No longer will it be possible to savour the sense of achievement at fighting one's way out of Nevisport in the face of a stiff south-westerly, struggling on for 150m before turning through 50° and holding a dead-steady course down the High Street until the sanctuary of West Coast Sports.
Now, not only has the area been pedestrianised, but metal bollards and other so-called navigational aids have appeared at regular intervals along the streets. Not only are these constructions an unwelcome intrusion into a hostile-but-challenging environment, but I would suggest they may also encourage the foolhardy and inexperienced to attempt the journey. Such people, most of whom are almost certainly English, would be much better advised to restrict their explorations to hunting bargains in Nevisport.
Surely all right-thinking people will, without delay, saw off all such bollards at their base and cast them into the sea, where they belong? Only then will we be able to enjoy the outdoor retail experience at its most intense and fulfilling.
Yours in despair,
Graham Benny's letter on Irish hill-walking (TAC31, p19) perpetuates the general myth apparent back in Britain that there are no access difficulties in the Emerald Isle. This is probably based on the limited experience gained whilst visiting the tiny number of "Munros" to be found here. The wider position is a lot less encouraging and is likely to get worse before it gets better. Hopefully I can shed some light on the issue as I see it, having lived here for six months (after eight years in Scotland).
It is inappropriate to compare the access position in Scotland (with its huge deer forests and grouse moors) with Ireland (made up largely of small farms). A fairer comparison would be between Wales and Ireland. The former has a network of public footpaths to channel walkers through the farmland, thereby reducing the potential for conflict. In Ireland, whilst public rights of way apparently exist, they are not shown on OS maps such as the new 1:50000 Discovery series. Walkers are accordingly at a considerable disadvantage when crossing enclosed land. The position is further compounded by the growth of ribbon housing developments along rural roads which reduce the options for navigating acceptable routes on to the open hill.
Neither are all hills "open". Some areas (eg the Sperrin Mountains in Ulster and the Blue Stack Mountains in Donegal) have long-standing access difficulties. In recent months I have become aware of problems reaching Mangerton Mountain and the Paps in County Kerry, and the adjacent Caherbarnagh in County Cork, while some of the "lesser" hills of the Wicklows are positively blanketed by "Keep out / Trespassers will be prosecuted" signs. The position in Connemara seems even worse. Here, according to a 29/3/97 article in the Irish Independent, walkers have been "intimidated, verbally abused and physically threatened" while attempting to use ancient walks.
It should be noted that it is local farmers rather than large absentee landowners who are seeking to limit the freedom to walk. The Irish have a very strong affinity with "the land", rooted in colonisation by the English and the effects of the Famine. However, I don't think that this gives landowners the right to deny access to the countryside by the wider community. There is a major debate running here at present between urban-centred populations and farming, concerning the costs / benefits of the latter. Access is only one small part of this, with other issues, such as BSE, the illegal use of growth hormones in animal feed, and the tax-breaks/subsidies for farmers being in greater prominence. (Surely not? Farmers doing all these things? Get away! - Ed.) In addition to the funds they receive from the EU Common Agricultural Policy, farmers are now seeking compensation from the Irish Government for permitting visitors on to land recently designated by the EU as Special Areas of Conservation.
Farmers feel threatened and seem to have taken an entrenched position. They are probably their own worst enemy when it comes to winning over public opinion. However, the trends towards urbanisation and tourism-growth, coupled with the shifts towards environmental rather than agriculture supports, will hopefully result in farmers realising that they must be prepared to share the land asset with other sections of society.
The imminent publication of TACit Tables on the Hewitts and Marilyns of Ireland will inevitably lead to more people wishing to visit the hills here, some of which have access difficulties. I hope I haven't put you off, because most present no problem and are well worth the effort. In conclusion, whilst Ireland has many things going for it, I don't consider access to the hills to be one of them.
Ed. - Mike Harding also writes about this on p84 of the June TGO.
What on earth is Ms Hamilton on about (TAC 31, p20)? Not only "did" we wear breeches, the right-thinking among us still do!
My own moleskin breeches have served me well for many a long year. Admittedly, we shall not see their like again: prepared for me by a deaf-mute Basque molecatcher in the summer of 1952, using the pelts of fifty-six Pyrenean desmans, they are entirely waterproof and harder-wearing than a brace of Brillo pads.
The point of wearing breeches is, of course, that fabrics which are warm and thorn-proof around the buttocks may prove unpleasantly hot and confining if permitted to reach the calves. And what greater delight can there be, when striding the airy ridges, than to push down one's socks to allow the wind full play about the calf muscles? With warm snugness around the vitals, and air around the extremities, Ms Hamilton would have no need to feel "nesh", whatever that may be (is it Persian, perhaps?).
As for her suggestion that the appalling modern waterproof pantaloon should be donned for added warmth, I quail at the notion. The only advantage to these odious objects is that the skiff-skiff-skiff noise emitted by the wearer serves as a warning to other hill-goers, thereby afforded time to evacuate the area.
Dr Ben MacDoohey
The Angry University
(formerly The Angry College)
In his reply to TAC - Two Awful Calumnies (TAC31, p16), I feel that Gordon Smith does Maggie Ramage a great injustice. I believe art appreciation to be a matter of personal taste, but Mr Smith's puerile comments smack of being able to dish out criticism but unable to accept it. To solve Mr Smith's dilemma - having met Ian Mitchell twice and knowing that the author and artist are well acquainted - option (ii) is the only plausible hypothesis.
I expect healthy scepticism from TAC folk, but carping criticism seemed to be the order of the day where Wilderness Walks was concerned. (TAC31, pp3-5.) Did they think that they'd become Critics? Of a sudden, hobby-horses were saddled, and nits were picked go leor. (That's to show that I'm pedantic in more than one language.)
Grant Hutchison seems to have spent his time thinking up ways of justifying his dislike of walking staffs, instead of admiring the way some tiny walker had apparently walked all over Chris Brasher's clothes with boots on. And at Brasher's age, how do we know whose breasts he was thinking of?
Gordon Smith sneers at GM Hopkins' Inversnaid as "execrable". By what standards, pray? And what if Chris Smith and McNeish misquote it? To be misquoted is the lot of every poet: "Better mistaken warmth and vigour, than the critic's cold pedantic rigour". Why do you think that poets give readings of their work? Because we can't remember everything we write, that's why.
For the record (for Val Hamilton), in Ireland a reek is a stack of anything. The word is commonly applied to turf brought into the yard. And there is nothing sexist about the name Hags' Glen, any more than The Witch's Step on Caisteal Abhail. Both are clumsy translations of "cailleach", which simply means "old woman". "Hag" is an old English word, originally without any derogatory connotation, for "old woman". In the case of Ceum na Caillich, the Gaelic word for witch is "beandraoi". So the gap should properly be "Old Woman's Step". So there!
And who appointed Alan Blanco as Chief of Style Police, anyway? Why shouldn't David Craig, or anybody else, wear red trousers if they want? And in Knoydart or anywhere else? I hope we're not turning into the equivalent of golfers, having to wear what some old cretin decides is "appropriate apparel". Shall we return to the good old days of muddy brown and lovat, in order to "blend in"? I thought that the Blessed Muriel had blown that one out of the water years ago. Anyway, how can two baldy geezers and a camera crew possibly blend in? They'd stand out in George Square at Hogmanay. (Hey, watch it pal - baldy Ed.)
Anyway, I hope youse all recorded the programmes to watch later, instead of wasting Friday evenings in front of the box when you could have been on your way to Points North. In general, I felt the series was aimed more at the non-walker rather than the enlightened, but then I didn't see them all. I was in the Blackmount most of the time (smug bugger!)
PS - I'd like to apologise for the mis-spelling of Somairle MacGill-Eain's name (see TAC30, p15). That was sloppy of me; I should have checked, instead of accepting somebody else's version. No excuses, the fault's all mine. I can't even use the old get-out of "typographical error". I can't even blame our own dear Ed.
Re John Burnett's letter (TAC31, p17), there are numerous places of superstition involving offerings. I once saw a tree by Loch Restil at the Rest and be Thankful covered in rags - presumably for the same reason as the Culloden Clootie Well. The idea is, you assign a worry to a rag and hang it up. You can then forget about what's worrying you. It is important, however, not to touch another person's rag, or you will inherit their misfortune. (I never touch that Trail rag myself - TGO-loyal Ed.)
There are other places with depressions hollowed out of large table-like stones where sacrifices once took place. The hollows were used as cups for catching the sacrificial blood. (Auquorthies stone circle may be an example, but I'm probably wrong.) On an island on Loch Maree is a tree where it was traditional to wedge a coin in the bark: Queen Victoria did this. However, the practice died when the tree died of copper poisoning!
The primitive practice of offering material gifts to the Gods is obviously a powerfully subconscious one, for there are modern places associated with such practices when one would think that taking such notions seriously had long since died out. I am thinking of the Forth Bridge, where it is traditional to fling coins out of trains to fall into the Firth "for good luck". (Similarly on the Skye Bridge, where there is a belief that it is beneficial to hand over coins to wee men in booths; some folk choose to fling their coins here too, for greater effect - Ed.)
Finally, I remember I was once in Hazelhead Park in Aberdeen when some people threw money into the fountain. I was only young, and it was quite a lot of money in those days. My friends laughed, and I got wet, but what the heck. I dived in and was 50p richer.
Ed. - There's also a lucky tree in my back garden in Alva; if pound coins or paper money are attached, the donor is guaranteed a lifetime of good fortune (subject to annual renewal and price fluctuations).
Further to my TAC31 letter about healing wells, I've been directed to one more, the Font Stone on the south side of the Pentlands.
Here, however, is a different observation. How many streets are there which are not only named after Munros, but are actually aligned with the one they are named after? This question springs from a denizen of Lomond Drive, Bannockburn, who assures me that the street points straight at Ben Lomond.
Ed. - Interesting, although none of the Glasgow hill-streetnames in Q12 of the TAC25 quiz point anywhere other than randomly. But in finest Chomskian fashion, some street-names acquire pronunciations very different from those intended. Lomond Drive is always going to just be Lomond Drive (at least until Dr Iain White moves there, when it would become Laomuinn Drive whether the residents liked it or not). Close by the former TAC Towers in the Gorbals is Ballater St. Locals don't however pronounce this the Deeside way, but with stress heavily on the middle syllable, as in words such as Loretta. Even more striking is Garioch St, which anyone from Aberdeenshire would call Gearie St, as in the area around Bennachie from where the street surely took its name. But Glaswegians opt for the less idiosyncratic "wrong" phonetic version, with -och at the end and no "e" sound at the start. Perhaps there are reverse examples of this, such as Milngavie St in Aberdeen?
Selvili tepe, 1024m, is quoted in World Tops and Bottoms (Note 77) as among the most inaccessible listed. Last November I visited North Cyprus and naturally wished to reach this, its highest point. This is far from easy, as a map is regarded as a military secret; the only guide I could find was a tourist "trail guide" which endearingly plotted all points equi-distantly on a line, whether they were 2km or 15km apart. Goodness knows what they would have done if the range were not linear!
To my surprise I found that I could walk unhindered up Selvili tepe including the track to the radio mast. Only at the very top did I encounter the familiar military fence with its warnings in four languages. The gate was open, and the whole site clearly deserted. I was within 200 metres (horizontally) and 20m (vertically) of the summit. But, having no desire to argue with Turkish squaddies, even apparently absent ones, I deemed that good enough!
There are three other tops in the range over 3000 feet high. I was rudely rebuffed from one, though it bore a civilian, not a military radio mast. On another, I could find no route that was accessible to the mere walker such as I. But the last was crowned by one of the most spectacular castles imagin-able. The name, Buffavento (wind-buffeted), was quite appropriate too.
I am more disappointed at another entry in World Tops. For years I had fondly imagined that by flying into Guernsey airport and walking from the plane I had reached its highest point (near the control tower at 107m). But now I learn that I should have gone to Sark instead (109m).
And I saw recently a newspaper picture of Denmark's new East Bridge, a suspension bridge of which the paper said that "at 833ft (254m) the top of the two pylons is [sic] the highest point in Denmark". No - I know that it does not count. But surely that makes two equal contenders for the highest point ... ?
I agree with John Hunston (TAC31, p17) about GPSs and the size of my brain, but must unfortunately disagree with him about the Definitearticlefest, which my Viennese friends refer to as das bestimmten Artikelfest. The expression is, of course, subject to declension: John Hunston, Gegner des bestimmten Artikelfest im Bösen Kesseltal (John Hunston, opponent of TAC's Definite-articlefest). I do not understand his warning that "anyone whose surname is an anagram of Shep ought to take more care". A possible explanation is that I live too far from Bletchley Park, and that therefore, in accordance with innovation diffusion theory, the know-how required to decrypt this message hasn't yet reached me. Or is it just an Allantine teaser? (For the original Allantine teaser, see Hergé, The Adventures of Tintin: the Red Sea sharks, p42). Sleepless nights!
Ed. - On the subject of German words, whilst map-checking the wind farm piece by Dave McFadzean (see p11), it was noticed that a freak conjunction of lettering and track-mapping in square NS8004 on OS78 has resulted in Fardingmullach Muir looking for all the world like Färdingmullach Muir. Anyone know of other accidental accents, be they umlauts, circumflexes, or whatever?
On the way from Aberdeen recently I was mulling things over and realised that nobody has finished the Munros! The logic goes as follows: "Man-made" structures cannot be considered as hills for height computations (otherwise the Post Office Tower and other buildings more than 150m high would appear in The Relative Hills of Britain as Marilyns); see also recent TACs on this point. Most Munros have a summit cairn or a trig on the highest point. Due however to the first part of the argument, these structures are not part of the Munro, but merely an addition to it. Therefore the highest point of these hills is inaccessible, being buried under rocks or concrete. So no-one can touch the true top of the hill and claim the hill as having been climbed! The number of complete Munroists is therefore zero.
In order to help Munrobaggers restart the game in the true spirit, it is proposed to construct at the true top of all Munros (by clearing cairns etc) a totally vandal- and ice-axe-proof box. This will open for ten seconds on insertion of a Munrocard, obtainable from Munros Incorporated for the small fee of #80.(#79 surely? - Ed.) This, when "swiped" through the provided slot, will allow access to the top of the hill, thus allowing a prospective bagger to properly claim it.
These boxes will be painted fluorescent orange and will glow in the dark so as to be easily found. In case of unusually severe winters, heating coils will ensure they are clear of snow at all times. Future developments will include an electronic homing beacon linked to the GPS network in order for walkers to have total confidence in finding the top.
I myself will of course be the first person to properly complete the Munros under this system, so it seems only reasonable to christen these boxes "Morris Boxes", thus commemorating the inventor and the first true Munro-completist in one phrase.
R John Morris
Ed. - Perhaps this is the true basis for all the recent glossy discussions re kicking down cairns. Perhaps those who chant "Cairns must go" are simply insecure as to whether they have reached any summits or not. Anyone with pics of Cameron McNeish, Richard Webb et al attempting to demolish trig points as well should send them in, since this would confirm the theory. A recent Editorial ascent of the formerly be-trigged Beinn Dearg above Glen Artney suggests the Gadarenes have been there already, the swine.
Bolt-on(tm) Dental Extraction Kits -
Whilst strenuously wishing to avoid partisan party political pointscoring about the justifiable withdrawal of many dentists from providing NHS dental care as a direct result of the actions of the former Government, the introduction of the Bolt-on(tm) Dental Extraction Kits (TAC30, p20) is a welcome addition to the armamen-tarium of the health-conscious hillgoer and a significant innovation in self-help dental care.
I admit to never having suffered from pain of dental origin while out on the hill, but have heard of someone who had a friend who predicted someone might be thus afflicted - an unmet need if ever I saw one!
If I might also take this opportunity to point out the kit may be useful for those orthodontic cases (squint teeth) which occasionally get in the way. For instance, the protruding incisor of a rock climber may prevent a strenuous thrutch up a narrow chimney by catching on a nubbin of rock. All the unfortunate climber has to do to avoid becoming cragfast is to reverse the chimney to the belay, extract the buck-tooth, without upsetting the faithful second, thereby allowing completion of the route.
As a caring health professional I feel I must write to point out a number of quite serious errors in the advertisement of this useful bit of kit. The description of the injecting of the local anaesthetic cannot be carried out single-handed: try it and see! Unqualified assistance is illegal, so I suggest the following:
To extract a tooth on the lower right side, insert your right thumb along the inside of your right cheek as erroneously described for the left hand, positioning the thumb and fingers as suggested. The syringe then has to be taken in the left hand - not the right hand - and proceed to inject the cartridge of anaesthetic after the needle has made contact with bone. It is worth noting that total anaesthesia may take up to fifteen minutes.
On the issue of post-extraction haemorrhage, it is usual to place a gauze compress over the extraction space for a matter of minutes to ensure a blood clot forms in the empty socket. The use of the Bolt- on(tm) Effervescent Pink Tablets is now considered to be not only unnecessary but potentially harmful, as rinsing could dislodge the newly-formed clot from the socket leading to prolonged and excessive bleeding - something which is always bothersome when hillwalking.
It would also be negligent not to mention that the correct diagnosis of the cause of dental pain is often not easy. The average hillgoer should be aware they may, on occasion, extract the wrong tooth, or misdiagnose the problem leading to loss of teeth when resolution of a maxillary sinusitis is all that is required.
Shaggy the Dentist BDS FDS LDS MRD Msc
The Dental Surgery
Root Canal Lane
(Consultation by appointment only)
You're going from A to B in the middle of nowhere, and suddenly encounter an electric fence. You stop, not wishing to get zapped. Do you go left, right, over or under? Just as you're pondering the question, you spy a sheep tangled up in the fence, twitching at a rate of about once every two seconds. You must free the sheep. You've left your insulated rubber gloves behind. You can't free the sheep if the fence is live. You must disable the fence by earthing it to the ground. Here's what you need to do:
Scout around for a length of loose fence wire: there's nearly always a bit lying about near a conventional non-electric fence. Wrap one end of the loose wire around one or two strands of a nearby conventional fence. The loose wire is now earthed. Wrap the other end of the loose wire around one or two strands of the electric fence. Don't worry, you will not get a belt so long as you only hold the loose wire: you cannot get a belt off an earthed wire. Do not touch the electric fence unless the loose wire is making good contact with its wires. The electric fence is now earthed, and cannot give you a belt. You will notice that the sheep has stopped twitching and is trying to say "Thanks mate, now get me off this f- fence, please". You oblige, and the sheep runs off. You must now disconnect the earth wire from the electric fence. Disconnect the end joined to the electric fence first. Be careful not to touch the wires of the electric fence. The fence is now live again, and you cannot touch it without being severely jolted. How do you cross it? Look left, look right, up and down, and ponder ...
Ed. - Easy. Round up the sheep again. Shove it up against the fence again (possibly with the aid of a walking pole). Stand on sheep. Vault over the volts. I've done this many a time. It gives the sheep a sense of enormous well-being.
When writing to TAC or TACit Press, don't forget the new Big House in the Country address:
138 West Stirling St,