TAC 33 Index
I must confess to a sentimental affection for this book, since it was instrumental in getting me interested in hillwalking. The publication of the first edition in 1976 re-awakened a boyhood interest in aviation: for I was astonished to discover that my local Ayrshire hills were apparently littered with the remains (in my imagination, still bristling with machine guns and riddled with bullet holes) of crashed aircraft.
Thus inspired, I planned my first expedition: to Irish Law above Largs and the wreck of a Vickers Viking which had failed to make it to Renfrew Airport. I persuaded a schoolmate to come with me; but on the appointed day we reached Largs only to find the mist down to road-level. We retreated to a pub for a couple of surreptitious pints and to await meteorological improvements. None arrived, but since we were now in a more optimistic frame of mind, we set off anyway. Have you ever waded through sucking, featureless bogs in zero visibility, with limited navigation experience, under the influence of drink, in pissing rain, clad in baggy denims and a brown, round-collared Ben Sherman shirt? Of course you have. So you will understand how it was that we emerged from the mist two hours later at roughly the same place from which we had started. It was not until 1985 that I actually found the crash site.
I have visited a large number of wrecks, either deliberately or incidentally, since then, and have found successive editions of HGW to be the proverbial mine of information, most of it accurate. The latest edition, now appearing in "pocket guide" format (ie half the previous A5, and with an eye-wateringly tiny font size) is similar in layout to the 1989 Third Edition, containing fifteen area-based chapters, from Northern Scotland to Southern Ireland. Each chapter gives grid ref, crash date, aircraft type, registration and unit for all known extant wrecks in the area. The listing is done alphabetically by aircraft type, rather than numerically by OS map sheet (as was the case with the first two editions), which puts the hillwalking reader at a disadvantage: if, say, you are descending Ben Lui and come across a large pile of wreckage, and you want to know what it was, you have to plough through three or four pages of grid refs in the relevant chapter before you find Lockheed Hudson T9432; under the previous system, you would simply scan the refs given for OS50.
The above aircraft, incidentally, is only one of the many new entries in the Fourth Edition. Given that most of these crashes occurred over fifty years ago, it is remarkable that Mr Smith (no relation, by the way) has been able to improve not only the quality, but also the quantity of information: the chapter on Southern Scotland, for example, contains by my reckoning 21 new entries, grid refs, or additional pieces of information.
But isn't it all a bit ghoulish, you may ask. I don't believe so: a crash site is part of the history of the hill, and to find the remains of a Wellington or a Spitfire as we take our pleasure there is to be reminded, in a way, of our own historical context. The wrecks themselves will, like old soldiers, eventually fade away, so it is good that a book such as this exists, not only for interest of present-day hillwalkers, but also for the information of future generations.
TAC 33 Index