The Angry Corrie 39: Nov-Dec 98

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Dear TAC,

Issue 38 contained some particularly interesting items. On the subject of re-ascents, this is something I've often wondered about. I find it's not a major problem, but there are a few well-known instances. Beinn Ghlas, for example, often traversed en route from the Lawers Visitor Centre to Ben Lawers itself. If you come back the same way, can you count yourself as having ascended Beinn Ghlas twice? Foregoing the somewhat separate question of whether you have the right to claim even one ascent if you've driven up to the Centre in the first place, I would argue that you can. After all, if you came up Lawers from the north or the east, and then continued over Ghlas, you would presumably reckon to have done both peaks once. It rises far enough from the col to be classed as a separate top, so provided you ascend it from the col then the climb counts. I feel that bit "from the col" is critical, and to that extent I agree with Ronald Turnbull (TAC38, p13).

I don't accept the distinction between ascending a hill as a Corbett or as a Donald or whatever. It either is or it isn't. You don't walk the Cluanie Ridge seven times in order to tick off seven Munros; although you might well do it seven times because it's fun. (Incidentally, there's quite a lot of logic in tackling the eastern six as a day, and combining Creag nan Damh with The Saddle and Sgurr na Sgine, but I digress.) The fact that you are doing a walk long enough or arduous enough to include multiple peaks gives you the bonus of claiming any that you reach, even if you haven't climbed 3000ft up each one.

As for counting such towards your eventual tally of Munros, Marilyns, Ghreadaidh Gabbros, or whatever, it's not likely to give you much of a head start on anybody. The chances are that on other occasions you will have gone up Lawers via An Stuc, or from the Lawers Burn, and not done Ghlas at all. So these things even themselves out. Unless of course you were deliberately tramping back and forth along the Cluanie Ridge specifically for the purpose of notching up vast numbers of Munros for some reason best known to yourself. But in that case you would probably be a bit sad.

I'm trying to think of other examples where this sort of thing is a frequent occurrence. Ben More Assynt via Conival, perhaps; the big Affric summits on the way out to that dratted Beinn Fhionnlaidh (only kidding; I've still to do that one myself, and I'm sure it's very nice...). And south of the one Border and west of the other one, Corn Du as an adjunct of Pen y Fan in the Brecon Beacons. And of course Sgurr Dubh an Da Bheinn (aka Sgurr da Doo Ben Ben - see TAC1, p12 - Ed.) in both directions if you're going out to Sgurr Dubh Mor from the Main Ridge. There are others, but it isn't something I worry about any more. For the record, I once re-negotiated the Aonach Eagach after going as far as the Pap - I reckoned it was preferable to dicing with the Grim Reaper among the caravans and the pipers on the way back up the road. And yes, I did count the summits twice.

On, then, to strange experiences on the hills (TAC38, pp6-8). Actually, what I have to tell didn't take place on the hills at all, but beside a gently flowing river in a peaceful valley in Sussex on a bright and sunny morning. (Ah, Albion's gentle Plain, how idyllic it is ... wistful Ed.) But it was so similar to some of what your correspondents have described that I feel it must be relevant. Apart from anything else, it shows that such phenomena are not confined to dramatic landscapes or ferocious weather.

I was fishing, something I did a lot of in those days (this was the 1960s, and I was in my late teens, staying for a few days with my grandparents). I had found a likely looking spot, beside a dense hedgerow, overlooking a deep pool at a bend in the river. From the start, I felt uneasy. I dismissed this, but the feeling grew, and I could not concentrate. I kept making little mistakes as I set up my fishing gear; making a mess of the knots, and so on. Eventually, I was ready, and cast the line. But it wasn't right; I just was not comfortable. I kept looking over my shoulder, to where the field sloped up to the skyline a few tens of yards behind me. I felt unwelcome. An angry farmer or an inquisitive bull would have been a straightforward problem, but what I was picking up seemed far more "elemental". I brazened it out for a few minutes, but whatever it was wasn't going away. It wanted me out. Eventually I just had to quit. I gathered my things together, and at least managed to avoid actually panicking. I had to move several hundred yards downstream before I felt that I was clear of the influence, and although I saw nothing, I felt on looking back that there was a brooding "presence" of some kind. I still have no idea what it was, but I have never forgotten it.

Since then, I have walked regularly on the hills, often alone, and not infrequently in poor conditions, all over mainland Britain and occasionally further afield, but nowhere have I met anything like it. Except perhaps once, but that wasn't on the hills either. There was a stretch of road near Haddington in the Lothians, which I used to travel at night. It was unremarkable, straight and tree-lined for a few hundred yards; but I should have been scared stiff if I had had to stop there for any reason.

Interestingly, I believe I may have encountered the opposite effect. At a certain part of the valley of Ordesa, in the Pyrenees, I felt a tremendous sense of belonging, as if I was being welcomed, or as if this had once been home. I mentioned it to my companions, but they had not noticed anything beyond the sense of grandeur that you'd expect in such a situation. So maybe these things do respond differently to different people. Or maybe the human mind is acting as some kind of catalyst. Anyway, I'm sure you'll be getting a lot of correspondence on the subject; perhaps what I've related will form part of a bigger picture.


Rob Griffith

Dear TAC,

On comments about tagging on an "easy" reascent of a hill as on Beinn a'Ghlo (TAC38, pp12-13), I'm torn many ways but simple logic wins in the end - all else is variable and subjective. If there are three Munros, A, B, and C, and going from any one to the other is valid, then this has to be consistently so. To go A-B-C and call it valid and then say C-B is not is not logical. Exactly the same everything is involved. If C-B is not valid then A-B or B-C cannot be either - and the argument carried to its logical conclusion is that every Munro should be done, one at a time, from sea level. There is no rule. This sort of "bonus" is not likely to occur very often or be habit-forming. It may not quite be cricket some feel - and thank goodness it's not!

On cycling to Derry Lodge and beyond (TAC37, p7): the Lairigs are well-recognised rights-of-way and in Scotland there is a general legal acceptance that, a cycle being "an aid to pedestrian" (ie not a vehicle/machine), it can be used on a right-of-way. Bikes have been through the Lairigs as long as the species has existed. There is no way this right can be negated.

And on sea lochs freezing (TAC36, p16; TAC37, p16): I once made a deep-freeze visit to the head of Loch Etive and was rewarded by an exquisite natural sight. The sea had frozen on the high tide, so when the ebb came the ice, with no water to support it, collapsed and broke over the shore's stones and boulders. On the next flow these ice wrecks were lifted up and off to float away like a thousand thousand swans in the gloaming, an utterly beautiful display.

On OS maps: can anyone tell me which mainland Landranger sheet has the least number of red and yellow roads on it? I suspect the outright winner would be an island sheet, north or west, so answers to both, please. And of all Scottish sheets, if only one were to exist for you, which sheet would you choose?


Hamish Brown

Ed. - I'd choose OS12, as per TAC16, p20. (Joke.) Re reascents and suchlike, if people don't like Hamish's logic, we have other logic. No-one (well, almost no-one) doubts that A-B-C is valid; C-B-A likewise, or even A-C-B if you can be bothered. But A-B-C-B is another kettle of cabbage. For me and for many, the concept of a "bonus" summit does feature when high on a ridge or plateau where a yet-to-be- visited summit lurks nearby. Once on, say, the Beinn Eibhinn ridge, the pick-'em-off Munros of Aonach Beag and Geal-Charn are "bonuses", since the "collar-work" has been done and it's time to cash in. This surely doesn't extend to shuttling to and fro along the ridge like a baggin' bobbin on a loom. To pick up on Rob Griffith's example, even though the slope from the Lawers/Ghlas col to Ghlas is identical whether or not Ghlas has already been climbed, there's a need to balance each isolated ascent against an overall all-day overview. There's a "from-the-bottom" (or "from-the-Visitor Centre") component too, with only one (literally) underlying component counting toward each subsequent bit of peakbagging. A col-to-summit return stretch surely doesn't "count" if the relevant main ascent component has already been "used up" for that particular hill. On Lawers/Ghlas, if the walker then continues along to Meall Corranaich for the first time, this muddies things yet further, but I'd still say the intermediate revisited Ghlas doesn't count even though flanked by ascents which do count. It's analogous to the "long walk in" argument (abused by the NTS re bicycles, as Hamish rightly says): each day has "one big climb", and the constituent parts of the day all relate to that. Ultimately it's what any individual feels happy about, but the differences between these approaches seem micro/macro differences, differences of perception. There's almost a paradox, in that examining any individual climb sees one argument holds good, whilst standing back to look at things generally supports the once-only line.

Dear TAC,

Lost cairn tools, TAC38, p10: I found a builder's trowel left by a German builders' mountaineering club on the summit of Aconcagua, Argentina and America's highest peak. (There's Maclean's Trowel on Sgurr na h-Eanchainne above the Corran Ferry - Ed.) There was an oar on the summit of Sgurr na Ciche, Knoydart - maybe Noah visited there first! And I was on Gasthof in Bavaria when lightning hit the summit cross and mangled it. I was most impressed at the speed with which the Gasthof staff erected a spare cross!

A couple of weekends ago I was in Ben Alder Cottage. No sign of the ghost, even though I went on my own and tried to induce its appearance by drinking whisky. Any recent sightings?


Graham Illing, Montrose

Ed. - Well, funny you should ask:

Dear TAC

Re the request in TAC37 for strange experiences on the hill, I, like many before me, have had strange experiences in bothies over the years, the most inexplicable being at Staoineag one January. At about 3am, after a low- alcohol dinner, a very bright, still light was seen at the window which petrified me and a friend. It was not a torch, as there was no movement at all, and it was far too bright to be the moon (there was not much of a moon that night anyway).

For a while neither of us would go outside to investigate, until eventually the light disappeared, and courage returned, but no one could be seen as we scrambled for the door. It didn't return. This incident has puzzled me for years. (And is uncannily like the vanishing-headlights tale in the 15/4/74 bit of Hamish's Mountain Walk - Ed.)

On another cross-country trip one Easter we were in Ben Alder Cottage, and last thing at night my companion threw his toothpaste into the corner of the small centre room. Next morning it had disappeared.

The next spring we found ourselves in Culra, and the same companion walked a couple of hundred yards upstream for a wash (he always did things the wrong way round) and at the very spot he chose to drop down to the river was a tube of his own brand of toothpaste. So now you know, the Ben Alder ghost cleans its teeth!


Gerry Knight

Dear TAC,

Our sprog climbed her first Munro aged six weeks; neither foot touched the ground. The hill, Meall nan Tarmachan; the season, November. However, she did climb Tarmachan herself, of her own volition, just after her sixth birthday, also in November. So it was her first Munro on both counts. She now, as a nine-year-old, has a respectable tally of Munros bagged (on foot and ski), but is otherwise normal and well adjusted with an alarming propensity to classify lesser hills as MPs, especially English ones. (MP = Mere Pimple.)


Sue Fenton

Dear TAC,

Being a bit of a cartophile, I have a reasonable of collection of pre-war OS one-inch maps, and Alun-Peter Fisher's Loch Ericht col letter (TAC38, pp18-19) had me scurrying for my old "Loch Ericht and Loch Laggan". In its 1947 version, the map shows only the southern end of the loch dammed (as at present), with no dam at the north end. The water level is almost the same now as then. There is a 1200ft contour, roughly in line with the modern 360m contour. (1200ft equates to 366m - Ed.) Additionally, there is an 1160ft spot height given just above the water level.

All this appears to prove nothing. The natural col is probably somewhere around Dalwhinnie, possibly near or on the railway line which whizzes northwards on a nice big embankment. Sadly I don't have a pre-railway map from the 19th-century which would show ground level prior to the railway embankment (although Wade possibly had one drawn up). If an exact ground survey is required, short of measuring it oneself, the best source of information is probably Railtrack, who will have detailed surveys of the whole line. (Handily, TAC can claim a senior Railtrack staff member amongst its readers. Any thoughts, Paul? - Ed.)

However I digress - as does this whole subject. A relative hill is a temporal concept. What is a Marilyn now may not be a Marilyn in the future. It may take a month and a superquarry or it could take several millennia and tectonic displacement; either way, forces natural and unnatural can combine to change the relative height of a hill. A nice climb on a hill is a nice climb on a hill regardless of whether the ascent is 151m or 149m.


Bruce Smith

Dear Sir,

Since your editorial staff on the 6th floor at The TAC Tower can't be bothered to investigate my query about capitalisation of Munros (TAC35, p11), I have been forced to use my own undercover sources at the Ordnance Survey. My dear friend, the Director-General, informed me over a case of good claret that the situation is as follows:

Draughtsmen (sic) working on Landranger maps have a type table for guidance over selection of type sizes. This is for guidance only, as each map has to be assessed on its overall content. The criteria upon which the table was produced are height, overall size (ie map area), and prominence in the locality. However, some hills have had their type sizes increased on the recommendation of the field reviser, to achieve better cartographic quality for particular sheets. So it's also a matter of aesthetics, of which your staff will of course be ignorant.

My friend the DG OS (whose organisation is a DOGSbody - Ed.) has promised to have his people look into the manifest unfairness of certain hills not being in block capitals, and have the matter rectified at the earliest opportunity. I have strongly recommended that Bens Lomond, Starav, and Lui; Creag Meagaidh; Am Bidean; and Am Buachaille Etive Mor should be capitalised as a matter of urgency.

So there you have it; straight from the OS's mouth.

Yours etc,

Mick Furey

Dear TAC,

A while ago I was examining the extension of Scotland's watershed on to Albion's Plain, purely as a theoretical exercise - like TAC's editor, I have no ambitions to walk along the M6 through Keele Services, or around the back streets of Birmingham. What I did notice was that in the south (an even more foreign country), where the east/west watershed splits, at the first occurrence of south-flowing water (can we borrow a term from thermo-dynamics and call it a "triple point"?), there is a large and very old monument: Avebury. This had me speculating about ancient rites of passage and the possibility of a corresponding monument at the northern triple point. Disappointingly, a search of the OS maps in the library did not reveal anything. Is there one?


Richard Bloxham, Stockport

Ed. - It's quite possible that the Avebury monument does have a link with its unique topography: folk might well have been more in tune with this many years ago. The Scottish "triple point" - see pp218-9 of Walking the Watershed - lies on OS16, on the western shoulder of Carn Dearg, at around NC371387. I can't recall any landmark, not even a cairn; it is however one of those very awkwardly-mapped clusters of hills, with various similar-height bumps straddling OS9, OS15, and OS16. There's scope for on- the-ground research here in that TACer and inveterate letterscribbler Roger Boswell has, at the time of writing, only one Corbett remaining unclimbed, and this is Meallan Liath Coire Mhic Dhughaill, of which Carn Dearg is an outlying top: the triple point actually lies on the connecting ridge. Might we hear more shortly, as and when Roger travels north to complete his round?

Dear TAC,

A cutting, from The Times, 29/7/98, opens intriguing possibilities. If hills can be repaired because of rain erosion, why not glacial erosion, etc? Should TAC encourage baggers to rebuild one or two West Highland giants back to their former glory?

Best wishes,

Andy Archer

Dear TAC,

With regard to TAC38, p17 and Stephen Bricklow's magical mystical interpretation of the "elderly lady" and her levitating pizza on p238 of my book The Grahams, I make the following reply. The elderly lady in question is actually my wife, Heather, whom the book is dedicated to. Far from being an "elderly relative" and a "cosmic channel", she is now over seven months pregnant and by the time your are reading this will probably be tending to the needs of a hungry bairn. Strangely, Ben Aslak means "breast mountain". Although my wife and I enjoy a visit to Pizza Hut, I do not normally eat pizzas out on the hill, preferring to stick to the usual cheese and pickle sannies. No, the "pizza" that Stephen is referring to is actually a good old Scots "bunnet", a tweedy flat cap which tastes a bit dry, and isn't a patch on a cheese, mushroom, and pepperoni Neapolitan.

Far from levitating, the headwear is resting on Heather's right knee - although I don't know what she is doing with her hands. I'm glad to inform Stephen that my wife has almost recovered from being described as an elderly lady. Oddly enough, there are two Grahams on Skye called Beinn na Caillich (mountain of the old woman), but Ben Aslak certainly isn't one of them!


Andy Dempster

Dear TAC,

With reference to your idea that Ben Lawers would be a first Munro (TAC37, p12), I wonder whether it is more often the second? When living in the middle of England, I came up to Scotland on holiday hoping for Ben Lawers as my second Munro. However, after starting from the Visitor Centre and joyfully claiming Beinn Ghlas as my first Munro, I went on towards Ben Lawers - but I wasn't as fit as I hoped, and sadly had to give up and return before reaching the top. Since moving to Scotland and gaining fitness and losing weight, I have climbed Ben Lawers twice and been up over half of the Munros, enjoying each one. Scottish Munros are more demanding than Derbyshire Peak District hills!


Marion Smith

Dear TAC,

They say there is only one thing worse than nobody talking about you. Well, it's good to know that.

To answer Jim McNeil (TAC37, p17), I had been wandering around happily looking for circles without any great direction for years. Then I came across Mr Burl's book and began to look for some of the circles he mentioned. On 9/1/97 I went to look for Barbrook 1 SK278755, a great place I had not been to before, very easy to find especially as it is marked on the map. I then checked out Barbrook 2 SK277758, described as "660 yards (600m) across the moor NNW of Barbrook 1". Well, I had only just got the book, and here was trouble. The references are 100m north and 300m east apart. Later I discovered there is a Barbrook 4 and even a Barbrook 5 not mentioned by Burl, in addition to the Barbrook 3 he did. The remains of prehistoric sites are erratic. It can be confusing. As I found out more of the subject I began to wonder why he had included some while others were left out. I still don't know.

I am sure that Aubrey Burl is a well-respected man, and I certainly would not like to criticise him personally (it was just my experience of using the book). Maybe it was the Hong Kong typesetters who are to blame. You can be sure that I will be looking for The Stone Circles of the British Isles, but if it is out of print maybe my quest will continue. And will it have all those little bits and pieces that may or may not be circles or cairns?


Richard Hakes

Dear TAC,

Crock (TAC38, p20) is quite easy and so is Drumcroy Hill. Also Meall Alvie, which looks horrific both on the map and from the main road is easily ascended from Kelloch. A much tougher proposition is Sgreadan Hill (OS68, NR741295). If by good luck, good judgement, or pure determination you escape on to its bare summit area bear in mind that on the return you will be faced by a circle of a million identical looking trees, a panic- inducing situation. Fortunately we had the foresight to emulate Theseus in the Minotaur's den, using not thread but a few well-sited plastic bags tied to the branches.

For a truly impossible hill try Cnoc na Carraige (OS62, NR975682), only 207m high and not even a Marilyn. This looks deceptively simple since the spot height is only 200 metres from a good forestry track. But what a 200 metres! Even armed with a chainsaw, how long would it take to fell a route to the top? And how could you recognise the summit when you got there?


Ann and Rowland Bowker

Ed. - I recently had fun tackling Cnoc an t-Sabhail (321m, OS21, NH722817) from the west: tree-hell, plus a nightmare bog near Upper Bogrow. The other, neighbouring, Cnoc an t-Sabhail (397m, OS21, NH694787) looks worse on the map, but surely can't be so in reality.

Dear Ed,

Living in the stultifyingly-devoid- of-contours area of Cambridgeshire, I find it hard to convince my friends that what they really need is a decent dose of hypothermia ooop north as opposed to getting smashed down the pub. Hence I spend ages by myself in the Scottish Highlands, with only vast deer herds for company. After you've commented "Hello Deer" to a few, it starts to wear thin, so does anyone have any suggestions for things to say? After all, it'd be a bit weird if I started talking to myself.

Oh, and I went up Maol Chean-dearg in November 1996, and the cross had arisen back to the top. Either that or I'd been at the Cheesy Wotsits again.


Peter Walker

PS - Can I stop being frightened of meeting Muriel Gray now?

Dear TAC,

I didn't see a cross on Maol Chean-dearg on 24/5/87, but there was a nicely made varnished plain wood cross stuck into the summit cairn of Ben Challum on 5/6/82!

On the subject of Ordnance Survey columns, of the sixteen Corbetts in Section 10A, five of them have trig columns. On my visit in June, however, I was surprised to find only one intact - one circular column was fallen and plate removed, one rustic column had been destroyed, and two circular columns smashed into small pieces. Occasional lightning strikes do damage columns, but the size of the fragments (eg on Rois-bheinn) seemed to indicate human intervention. The fragments wouldn't make up the full column, so have they been carried away? Is there an evil presence in Ardgour?

Onwards and upwards,

Peter E Collins
Stock Green

Ed. - TAC's cross-section of Maol Chean-dearg data must also include the encounter Chris Townsend had during his long walk - see The Munros and Tops, p159. As with Val Hamilton and others, the cross was found amongst the boulders - three months before Peter Walker saw it back on top. Someone should install a webcam (a Cheanicam?), taking digital pics every hour, so an eye can be kept on its sporadic reascensions.

TAC 39 Index