The Angry Corrie 38: Aug-Sep 98

TAC 38 Index

Hammer of the English

Like most hill-walkers, I have accumulated a small collection of paraphernalia lost by other careless walkers. Some things I pass by: felt-tipped pens and biros that never seem to work, or discarded combs, most with teeth missing. Even my squirrel-like tendencies eschew such. The idea of using a comb that has previously passed over an alien scalp is too awful to contemplate. (But if it was a real alien scalp then TAC needs to know! - Special Agent Ed.) The bulk of the finds are interesting, but just short of being useful. I have a large collection of rusty penknives, the blades too blunt ever to threaten so much as a light crease in paper. Then there are the compasses. I snatch these with enthusiasm, only to find that the minute I achieve any altitude, they develop a large air pocket in the reservoir, causing the needle to spin like the propeller of a light aircraft. And what of the miniature bicycle pump found just below the summit of Moel Famau? Barely 150mm long, it struggles to displace enough air to challenge a gnat's fart, and I can only conclude that it fell out of the back pocket of a mountain biker. There is, however, one object that eclipses all of these.

Spring 1987. We parked the car at Laggan Locks. It promised to be a fine day, ideal for the intended purpose. Brian and I had camped at Roybridge intending to walk into Knoydart on a multi-day expedition. I had persuaded Brian that as a warm-up we could walk over a couple of Loch Lochy peaks. An easy day, nice relaxed preparation for the rigours of Knoydart. We were the first away from the car park, and it was an uneventful walk apart from having to dodge the Forestry Commission hawsers snaking down from Meall nan Dearcag. (They were clear-felling at the time, using hawsers to drag the carcasses of trees down to the service road.) We tackled Meall na Teanga and Sron a'Choire Ghairbh with contempt; it was one of those rare days when I felt fit enough not to be too troubled by the ascent. Then, as we approached the cairn of the Sron, I saw ... the hammer!

It was not any old hammer. It was huge. A monument to hammers, awesome in aspect, inspiring in proportion. Close examination revealed it was a geologist's hammer, large, heavy, uncompromising. We searched the horizon for its owner. We had seen no-one since the locks, and were first up, so the hammer must have been lost the previous day. Brian was all for leaving it where it was, but I was certain that if we took it down its owner could be found. I determined to enquire at the hostel at Laggan, a strategy thwarted when we discovered it locked as we drove past. Desultory exchanges with walkers at the locks offered no explanation, and so the hammer was placed in my car boot. Arriving home, I had the problem of finding a purpose for it.

Like the other finds mentioned, this proved to be just short of useful - too big, too clumsy, too heavy. I hung it on the wall of my workshop as a souvenir. There the matter might have rested, until I purchased Walking the Watershed shortly after it had been published. I read it with much enjoyment, until I came upon words that immediately swept me back eight years. The hammer had been found in May 1987, and it was now 1995. The book describes TAC's Editor being accompanied up Gleann Cia-aig by two friends, Dave and Richard. They parted company when the Ed made for Meall an Tagraidh whilst his companions ascended the Sron. I quote, from pp132/3:

As we set off, sweating already, a well-meaning tourist takes note of my huge load and Richard's geological hammer (which he is to lose later in the day), and enquires if we are expecting ice!

I read the words over and over again. After several minutes, I was compelled to go to the workshop and inspect the hammer. On the wooden handle, an inscribed letter R. I returned to my bookshelf and reached for my log of walks. Brian and I walked the peak on Monday 25/5/87. Back to the book. Richard had been on the same hill the day before!

There was now no doubt that the hammer belonged to the Ed's companion. More than enough evidence to condemn a man. How to return it? What about placing an ad in one of the climbing magazines? "Would Dave Hewitt please contact, etc". In the event, circumstances overtook me. An opportunity arose allowing my family to move to Inverness from the shadow of the Clwydian hills. This necessitated selling our house in Wales, and placing all our possessions in store, including the hammer. We moved to temporary accommodation, and the hammer languished in the dark recesses of a tea chest, care of Pickford's repositories. Ironically, this was the closest it came to extinction. A few days after we moved our possessions from the repository in Chester, the building burned down, taking with it the worldly possessions of a significant number of people. This made me feel very smug (or lucky). I had visited the repository not long before, to check the arrangements for the move, and had been assured by the man from Pickford's that they had installed an extensive sprinkler system. A fire, he told me, would be very embarrassing. How right he was.

The hammer, however, was secure. It was nearly eighteen months before it saw the light of day again. Coincident with its emergence, I discovered the Ed's email address in TGO. After eleven years, what would he think? All was well, he gave me the information required, and, a few phone calls later, I found myself speaking to Richard, trying desperately not to sound like a telesales person. The voice at the end of the line passed through incredulity to humorous acceptance, and I'm pleased to report that, even as I write this, the hammer is winging its way down to north London. (RICHAAAARD!! DUCK!!!! - worried Ed.)

In some ways, I'm sorry to see it go. Never used in anger, it has become an old friend. I'm rather ashamed that over the years the original coat of blue paint (it was new when I found it) has given way to a light patina of rust. Nevertheless I'm sure that Richard will give it many years of useful service.

And so an eleven-year odyssey has ended, happily. Perhaps I might be allowed one word of advice: old pens, combs, penknives, compasses, yes; but geological hammers, if for no other reason than the weight, leave them well alone. If you pick them up they are likely to remain with you for a lot longer than you would wish!

Dave Iles

Richard Perry - I owe Dave Iles a dram. But if he has a moment, there are at least two more hammers in various places: Whiteless Breast in the Lakes, and near Bowes on the Pennine Way.

Ed. - Shame there's not one on Hammer Head above the Lanarkshire Broughton. Other recent discoveries include a radiator hose removal tool (Snap On Catalogue No.A173) halfway down a Scafell Pike gully, found by Pete Martin - who also picked up a golf ball near the top of Carrock Fell. This echoes Peter Lincoln's recent mega-walk, during which he came across a golf club wedged (ha!) in the cairn of a remote Graham. This, along with a ball, has been there some time: an only slightly less weird tee than the late Alan Shepard's near Cone Crater on Apollo 14. Bizarrely, Lincoln also reports finding an artificial hip high on Meall Odhar. Oh, and back to 1987 and the watershed: I lost a watch near Luib-chonnal, a nice digital thing with buttons and time zones and other fancy gubbins. Anyone ever find this?

TAC 38 Index