The Angry Corrie 34: Nov-Dec 97

TAC 34 Index

Feeling flush

We've started something here: forget Munros, Murdos, Marilyns; what folk really sweat over are small metal plates stuck on the side of trig points and bridges. It's more a case of OS than Ben Oss, and Steve Weatherill is the latest devotee to be flushed out of the stonework ...

BARBARA JONES'S PIECE on flush bracket numbers in TAC32 surely proved that the Editor, a mountain, cricket, and chess man, will not allow any hook baited with dangling numerals to go unswallowed. Let's try him again. I can answer some of Barbara's questions, and I can pose a few more of my own. Because, in my teenage years, I was no armchair Honved fan. I was a flush bracket number collector.

Barbara asks why there are so many flush bracket (FB) numbers, yet (relatively) few triangulation pillars (TP). As she already suspects, the FBs found on TPs are the minority. Most FBs are scattered across the country on buildings and other structures as part of the Ordnance Survey's map-making activity over the course of this century.

Now, on with the anorak. There are, numerically, three types of FB. Those with a "G" followed by the number; those with an "S" followed by the number; and those bearing only a number. In twenty-odd years of scribbling all over my maps, I've come across Ss from around about 100 all the way up to just over 10000; Gs start at the bottom, but seem to stop in the 4000s; the number-only series seems to operate in clusters between just below 1000 up to nearly 3000, then 10000 to about 12500. Only an OS insider could reveal what exactly is going on here, but, on these patterns, a count-up seems to yield a grand total of about 20000 FBs, of which only 6000 or so are located on the side of everyone's favourite four-foot high pillar.

As far as I can tell, Barbara is correct to surmise that primary stations, dating from the re-triangulation of the country in the 1930s, are numerically linked. A great many are S15xxs, including TPs on some of the most popular hills in the country, such as S1594 on Ben Lomond and S1543 on Skiddaw, as well as less glamorous but picturesque southern sites such as Win Green (S1503). But there are also a quantity of (unlettered) 29xxs, such as 2982 on Whernside and 2976 on Great Whernside. And others again seem to defeat any attempt to construct a pattern. Outside the primary network, the new-fangled cylindrical pillars tend to carry high numbers - Sgorr Dearg above Ballachulish is 10470, Morrone by Braemar is 10759 and Dornie, a rare Scottish sea-level TP, is S9749. But it's not that easy to find any rhyme or reason to the numbering. My own youthful geometrical illiteracy may be judged by my belief that all TPs in sight of each other must carry the same first two digits. I suppose that, somewhere, OS employees must know how it all works, though perhaps not. Maybe it's largely random. "Fetch us down a mixed case of FBs, Fred, I'm off to spin some more mysteries for number-fixated oddballs." But the English Lakes and Yorkshire Dales have TPs predominantly in the S5xxxs; the New Forest boasts all the low S27xxs (S2700 is on Markway Hill, by the A35); and there are lots of S62xxs and S63xxs on Wolds TPs between York, Scarborough and Hull, should anyone be worried about this.

"TP FBs" are usually Ss, occasionally unlettered, but never Gs. "Non-TP FBs" can be all three. Roads that carry primary lines of levelling, dating back to the early part of this century, will tend to carry FBs every mile, though this seems to be adhered to less strictly in less heavily populated areas where buildings are scarce, and the FBs will usually be Gs. In Galloway, for example, you'll find G218 in Gatehouse of Fleet and the majority of the sequence can easily be ticked off, a mile at a time, round the coast road to G228 in Creetown. Barbara mentions G1768 and G1769 on bridges on the old road south of the Cluanie Inn. Fifteen miles west is G1754 in Inverinate, so, next time you're slogging up Glen Shiel, keep an eye out for those missing from this sequence. It is - in principle - a one-a-mile stretch. There are places where the numbers do run in sequence and can be ticked off neatly. G1086, 7, and 8, for example, follow each other quickly, easy spots on the B8019 heading east out of Tummel Bridge. But not infrequently the number series is jumbled. And FBs do go missing. Road improvements can leave FBs marooned on now-deserted stretches, as near the Cluanie Inn, or, worse, demolished and lost for ever in the name of progress. The road from Skipton to Settle and on up through Ribblesdale to Hawes, for example, has seen tragic casualties in the quest for wider and faster roads, though there are still plenty to be spotted by FB hawks. By the way, the lowest number I ever found was the thrilling G8 in Gladsmuir, East Lothian, which raises a yet further question: why are low S numbers preceded by the digit 0 (for example, S0205 in Bothel in the Ponds), whereas Gs prefer strict minimalism?

Filling in gaps by secondary and lower order triangulation was the focus of OS activity once the primary retriangulation was complete in 1951. Secondary lines carry FBs every three miles, in principle, usually Ss or unlettered. They are scattered all over the place. Going to watch Nottingham Forest, or a bit of cricket? Examine the frontage of the Trent Bridge Inn. There's one on the lighthouse on Spurn Point, now an island. Even stranger still, I once found one in Gibraltar (look for a street named Cloister Ramp), which puzzled me, though not as much as the people I was strolling with at the time, who were convinced that my glee at spotting this small piece of metal indicated that I had lost it completely.

Any surveyor with a soul would place 1745 in Glenfinnan, 1314 in a wee village south of Stirling, and 666 on Elland Road, but I have no evidence of any temptation for geographically appropriate FB installation, unless you count G83, which is in Turnberry and which represents my probable score for a round (of nine holes).

TPs are easy enough to find, since they are marked on maps, but FBs on buildings take a lot of spotting - until you get used to it. My mate David and I used to sit, one on each side of the car, a luckless parent being urged to drive at no more than 15 mph, vast queues building up behind us, scanning buildings and poised to yelp "FB!". At which a suitable place to stop the car would (usually) be found and we would leap out to note down the number. Puzzled householders would occasionally spy two adolescents sprinting up their driveway, bending down to inspect their house wall, pencil in hand, before retreating at speed the way they had come. And - I'm not proud of this - we had a file in which we recorded all the numbers we had collected. (Look, I know, it sounds pitiful, but I was brought up in Hull, there was a limit to the entertainment on offer, Ken Wagstaff aside: even our highest local hill was Bishop Wilton Wold, harshly derided on p251 of the Marilyns book as attainable from the top deck of a passing bus).

You learned to look for "good brick" - pebble-dash is the worst, whereas solid old bridges get more than their fair share. Check out the railway bridge, at road level on the north side, just east of the main junction in Crianlarich. Best of all, though, are old chapels and schools. FBs tend to be on the front of buildings or just down the side, but sometimes an intensive scrutiny is needed. You have to go round the back of Kinloch Rannoch church to find S7778, and S7773 up at Rannoch Station takes a bit of finding (it's not on the hotel). Some owners take pride in their possessions - last time I was past Netherton, about seven miles north-east of Dunblane, the FB (on the east face of the house) was painted a proud silver. But the whitewash on the front of the Clachaig Inn is so thick that the FB, unusually low to the ground and concealed behind a slate last time I was past, is almost unreadable.

But this is to stray far from what Craig Caldwell would surely call TAC's crag-girt raison d'etre. There are some sinister goings on in the high mountains. In part I refer to finding occasional TPs without any FB at all. The person working in Strathfarrar must have lost the bag of FBs, because neither the TP on Sgurr a'Choire Ghlais, on the north side, nor that on Sgurr na Lapaich, to the south, carry an FB. I don't know why - it can't simply be a function of remoteness, because Carn Eige, nearby and, if anything, harder to reach, has S3465 (one higher than Ben Wyvis, incidentally; though both are primary stations).

But it's worse than that. TPs are tumbling. I first climbed Schiehallion in 1977, finding a noble TP on top, as advertised on the one-inch map. Having a fifteen-year itch, I returned in 1992, but my horror at the vast lateral expansion of the Braes of Foss path was nothing compared with my dismay at finding no TP. It had been expunged from the 1:50000 map and I couldn't even see any dismembered remains on the ground, only an appropriately shaped slot in the summit rocks. X-Files stuff (or S-Files; it was S9399). The gun was still smoking on Beinn Bhuidhe above Loch Fyne in March 1991, where I discovered the TP newly toppled and no FB to be found. On Gleouraich last year, there was neither TP nor FB, contrary to the promises on the OS map, but the blocks in the summit cairn are suspiciously well-crafted. It is as if the TP has been assimilated by some mountainous version of the Borg. What is happening on our high summits? SOTPs!

TAC 34 Index