The Angry Corrie 41: Apr-May 1999

TAC 41 Index

Meall Beag mailbag

Dear TAC,

When I was recently in the labour ward with my partner Kate, she was linked up to a contractions monitor which started off looking like the Sussex Downs with a few blips on the graph paper. Then she was induced and it became a more like the Borders and at one point it looked like the Inverpolly skyline of Ben More Coigach, Pollaidh, Culs etc. Then the graph became a Cuillin ridge. Then I had a daughter. Amazing that in such times my mind went to the topography of the UK.


Peter Shaw

Dear TAC,

Here's a question that might provoke a few letters. What is the most distasteful or unpleasant thing seen on the summit of a hill? I'm sure most folk will have tut-tutted at such things as orange peel, Tunnocks wrappers, radio masts and Berghaus cagoules, but what about things which make you go "Hold on a mo, that's bang out of order!"?

I've recently been concentrating most of my bagging in Wales, and sooner or later you become oblivious to the signs which say "You English are welcome to visit but don't ever come to live here". However, the trig point on Great Rhos has this etched in: "Death to the slag Diana - media parasite whore". Now I never was a big (Pen y) fan of hers, but surely this was just a touch harsh? Has anyone come across anything similar on other summits?


Mike Jacobs

Dear TAC,

Ken Stewart (TAC40, p14) pointed out problems about the varying positions of Cairn of Gowal and Craig of Gowal near Broad Cairn, on OS maps and in Munro's Tables. Such problems arise because map-makers and book authors often ignore usage by local indigenous folk, although the latter is the recognised foundation for reliable study of place names.

Local usage here stems from The Gowal, the glen along Burn of Gowal (locally The Burn o the Gowal). Scots Gowl is a deep hollow between hills, or the crotch between the legs. The Gaelic word Gobhal, from which Scots Gowal is derived, has similar meanings, as well as the common one of a fork. Gobhal na Briogais means the crotch of the breeks or trousers.

The place name The Gowal near Broad Cairn is not just a hollow, but a hollow like the one between a person's legs, with the crotch at the north end. This human connotation is the meaning of The Gowal locally, and The Hillock o Hip, a place name on the eastern leg, ties in with this. Hence it was unrealistic for anyone to place Cairn of Gowal at the 991m point, because it stands well outside the hollow of The Gowal and its Burn of Gowal, and out of sight of both.

In local usage (eg local resident John Robertson, to whom we are grateful for information), Cairn of Gowal (OS) or locally The Cairn of the Gowal is the 983m point overlooking The Gowal and The Burn of the Gowal. Craig of Gowal (OS) or locally The Craig o the Gowal is the crag along The Gowal's west slope at 285804, not the 927m top to the north, which is far from the crag. Current 1:10000 and 1:25000 maps show Craig of Gowal not at the 927m top but at the crag, and current 1:50000 OS maps likewise.

Many people like every top to be named and listed, but some tops have no known authentic local names, even though they may have been named by past local folk who used and knew the hills more than today. Where no local name had been published, some authors invented many names in Munro's Tables such as Stob Coire an t-Saighdeir. They moved some names such as Craig of Gowal and Creagan a'Choire Etchachan to refer not to the crag (which was correct), but to an unnamed top behind, even though the top was out of sight of the crag.


Adam Watson, Crathes

Ian Murray, Ballater

Adam Watson further adds:

I have been doing some more asking of local people and checking Scots dictionaries about Gowl. Interesting. In local speech in Angus and Aberdeenshire it particularly refers to the crotch of the human female. To one well informed person who knew the place names Gowal etc well, I asked what was the meaning of The Gowal place name. He replied "only a woman has one". The Scottish National Dictionary adds one meaning to the ones I already gave; it refers to the pudenda, generally of woman. The verb To gowl means to sit before a fire with the legs apart. The noun Gowlscad is a very strong hot fire in a fire-place, a term usually banned or regarded by the polite as rude and vulgar (ie, again, sitting with the legs apart in front of the fire).

Ed. - The Gowal place name is thus a natural partner for The Devil's Point 30km to the north-west. And taking this a stage further, the contrived "Angel's Peak" name can be finally dropped from Sgor an Lochan Uaine. Alexander Copland is credited with concocting the "Angel" to balance The Devil's Point, but as TDP was already a prudish euphemism for Bod an Deamhainn (Penis of the Devil), Copland's naming was twice removed from the original analogy. But with The Gowal as a legitimate literal balance for Bod an Deamhainn, the grievous Angel can be shooed away once and for all.

Dear TAC,

My golfing brother once climbed King's Seat Hill with a German friend who demanded "We are at the top, now we make love". He declined he assures me but perhaps this explains (ex) Chancellor Kohl's liking for summit meetings.


Tom Orr

Dear TAC,

Continuing the recent theme of weird experiences on the hill, there is one incident that has baffled my wife and I since it took place on 6/4/92. I know the exact day because I nearly always date any hillwalking photographs.

We were walking the east end of the South Cluanie Ridge. The summits and indeed the ridge itself had a continuous snow cover of around two inches. The cloud base was just below 3000ft and being a weekday there was no-one else about - or so we thought.

Somewhere beyond Creag a'Mhaim we saw bootprints and dog prints heading towards Druim Shionnach. As I recall, there was a fairly light snowfall and the trail left by the walker and dog were fresh. After following the impressions for a time, the bootprints suddenly ended. The paw prints, however, carried on for another twenty yards or so only to double back to the point where the human tracks halted.

Now for the weird bit. Where did the walker go next? We looked down the nearby corrie backwall and failed to see any imprints or even a bumslide in the snow. No prints could be seen in any direction whatsoever. Was the walker and his/her doggy companion helicoptered off? There was certainly no disturbance in the snow to provide evidence of a rescue team.

Since I was feeling a bit knackered, we decided to call it a day after reaching the summit of Aonach Air Chrith. We doubled back to a bealach and slid down the nearby corrie backwall (not desperately steep!) We crossed the River Cluanie almost knee-deep and finally walked along the A87 to the Cluanie Inn.

No-one at the Inn had heard of anyone reported missing, nor was anyone aware of helicopter activity in the area. So if any readers walked the South Cluanie Ridge around Easter 1992 on a weekday, please throw some light on this mystery.

Yours dog gone,

Bryan Cromwell

Dear TAC,

When leaving the car for three or four days' walking, what do you recommend of these options:

Guidebooks all seem to disagree, for instance about whether a note is an invitation to steal, or a useful piece of information, so I would be grateful for your views.


David Griffith-Jones
Bishop's Stortford

PS - Re the finest OS sheet: 40, pipping 33, 19 and 25, ahead of all the central ones.

Dear TAC,

With regard to Dietrich Schmidt and his interesting comments on Highland land use (TAC39, p13), I must admit to concern that, whilst generally meritorious, such an obviously spoof "memo", making merry with such as "Glen Lion" and "Loch Lurgan", runs the risk of belittling what is a very large and serious matter to all concerned.

Here in the English Midlands we rarely have to tackle land access issues on the scale that you have up north, but I do fear that deliberate mockery plays straight into the hands of the landowners and the gullible. It serves a magazine ill to manipulate the trust and imagination of its readers in this way, and indeed may even jeopardise the recently announced proposals for right to roam permission in England and Wales.

Turning to other matters, might I offer thanks to Andy Dempster (TAC39, pp18-19) for his explanation of the Mysterious Pizza of Ben Aslak - although I must say his "bunnet and no hands" claim doesn't entirely clarify the matter for me at least. There is currently a trend for strange pictures in outdoor books and magazines - take the recent photograph on page 84 of November's TGO, where a cow looks for all the world to be balancing daintily on a gate. Maybe this is where "Cow and Gate" got its name from!


Stephen Bricklow

Ed. - Why do folk keep writing letters to TAC about things in TGO?

Dear TAC,

All readers are familiar with Naismith's rule, though few are aware of its origins, rumoured to lie in estimating the amount of work that could be performed in human treadmills - the estimate being that a man could lift his own weight at a rate of about 1800ft per hour. From this developed the rule of one to eight for converting height to distance, ie one unit of ascent takes an equivalent time to eight units on the flat. The imperial and metric versions of Naismith's Rule as usually stated today are both close to the 1:8 ratio.

A fellow statistician, Philip Scarf, recently tested the rule in orienteering races, using published times from 300 fell races. His results were generally supportive, with the equivalence figure being estimated as approximately 8 for males and 9.5 for females.

I am unaware of any similar work to verify the rule for hillwalking, although many people have loosely evaluated the performance of the three miles / 2000ft per hour version for predicting the total time taken and suggested various corrections. If the equivalence ratio varies between individuals then a walker might come up with a figure more predictive of his or her own performance. Given a table of distances, height ascended and times, one can fit a statistical model from which to derive the optimum ratio. I intend doing this with my own records, though I'm rather lazy at recording times.


Chris Crocker

Dear TAC,

Re Rennie McOwan, your legendary Highland Toffee and Antacid tycoon, his toffee factory in Stenhousemuir has gone!!! A visit to Ochilview to watch Caley Thistle last year showed that there's now a boxy housing estate on the site! With the toffee works gone, Stenhousemuir only has the two claims to fame, a crap football team and a funny name. Where do they make the stuff, now, anyway?


David McVey
Milton of Campsie

Dear TAC,

Mick Furey suggests (TAC40, p19) that the SMC's CD-ROM might be used as a signalling device. Unfortunately, the disc needs to be reflective on both sides, so the SMC's stylish purple job won't do the trick. Just waggling a mirror at a passing helicopter doesn't work at all, despite the delusions of generations of film-makers.

Here's what you need to do. Hold your doubly-reflective disc up so that you can see the helicopter through the centre hole. You'll also see your face reflected in the back surface. Somewhere on your face there'll be a bright spot, projected by sunlight coming through the centre hole. (If the sun is shining from well to your left or right, you may need to hold your free hand up beside your head to "capture" the bright spot.) Now keep watching the helicopter, and tilt the disc so that the reflection of the bright spot disappears into the central hole - as if you were super- imposing it on the helicopter. A bit of geometry should convince you that sunlight hitting the front of the disc is now being reflected directly towards the helicopter. Now a wee waggle of the wrist will make your mirror appear to flash on and off.

The ideal CD, then, is one with a highly reflective label side. You should avoid CDs with a wide transparent area around the central hole, since this makes precise sighting more difficult. Almost anything by Deutsche Grammophon will fit the bill nicely - personally, I favour the 1984 Barenboim recording of orchestral extracts from the works of Richard Wagner. There's something rather appropriate about signalling a helicopter using The Ride of the Valkyries.

On another matter, I was intrigued by Gordon Adshead's letter (TAC40, p18) about the unit of "lack of flatness", the Mon. He says that Ken Pearson named it after Marilyn Monroe, but I wonder if there wasn't a bilingual pun involved, too - "mons" is, after all, the Latin word for "mountain". Whatever the truth of this speculation, it served to remind of a Carl Sagan story. Shortly after the discovery of the huge Tharsis volcanoes on Mars, various names were proposed for them. Someone (Sagan discreetly described him as "a European savant") suggested that the mountains should be named after various Roman deities - there would be a Mons Martis, a Mons Jovis ... and a Mons Veneris. Planetary scientists seem to lead very sheltered lives - it fell to Sagan to point out that "mons veneris" is a phrase already used to designate a well-loved portion of the female anatomy, and that it could only induce sniggering at the back of the class if the same name were given to a 20-kilometre-high volcano.


Grant Hutchison

Dear TAC,

Further to the Loch Ericht discussion (TAC40, p19), I got my dad to dig out some old BR gradient profiles that he picked up when they were about to bin them when he worked in Buchanan House. They actually show the height at Dalwhinnie station and a 1:80 incline southwards for 21/2 miles. They don't show the height at the base of the embankment though.


Bruce Smith

Dear TAC,

I have been following with interest the discussion of eerie happenings on the hills in recent issues of TAC. Noting the request in TAC38 (p7) for references to relevant passages in walking/mountaineering literature, I wondered if you were aware of some intriguing autobiographical accounts in the work of John Buchan, who, in addition to writing The Thirty-Nine Steps and other books (and conducting a political career), was also an experienced mountaineer.

In an article entitled "Pan" in the Scottish Mountaineering Club Journal of 1939, reprinted in Chapter XVIII of The Mountaineer's Week-End Book (Ed. Showell Styles, 1950), Buchan discusses the feeling of awe which may be felt on occasions in the wilderness, relating this to a "sense of the immensity and pitilessness of Nature ... Sometimes, too, there come moments when one feels a kind of personal malevolence, the sense of a hostile will which almost takes bodily form, and which sets the nerves fluttering in despite of the reason. In such moments one sees - or at any rate feels - what the ancients meant by Pan." He recounts fleeing in terror from remote enclosed burns when fishing alone as a child in Tweeddale, having felt "the dread, not of some malign unseen personality, but of the awesome impersonality of Nature."

Most interestingly, however, Buchan describes a descent through woods and meadows on a hot June morning in 1911 after climbing the Alpspitze in the Bavarian Wettersteingebirge near Partenkirchen with a local forester. "I noticed that my companion had fallen silent, and ... was amazed to see that his face was dead white, that sweat stood in beads on his forehead, and that his eyes were staring ahead as if he were in an agony of fear - as if terror were all around him ... Suddenly he began to run, and I ran too, some power not myself constraining me. Terror had seized me also, but I did not know what I dreaded... At last we fetched up beside the much-frequented highway, where we lay for a time utterly exhausted. For the rest of the road home we did not speak; we did not even dare look at each other. What was the cause? I suppose it was Panic. Sebastian [his companion] had seen the goat-foot god, or something of the kind - he was forest-born and therefore near primeval things - and he had made me feel his terror."

He also tells how a friend of his, climbing alone in the Jotunheim in Norway, had been seized by the "terror of space and solitude" and had fled across "a considerable range of mountains" until "he found sanctuary in a byre, where he nuzzled his face into the neck of a most astonished cow."

An abridged version of the article is incorporated into Chapter VI (Section I) of Buchan's autobiography Memory Hold-The-Door (published shortly after his death in 1940). This omits the preliminary discussion, and dates the Alpspitze incident to 1910. The childhood angling reminiscences are omitted from this passage, but are treated on similar lines in Chapter I (Section I) of an appendix entitled "Pilgrim's Rest" (chapters of an unfinished volume on fishing), where Buchan adds that "greenness, utter, absolute greenness, has all my life seemed to me uncanny", and singles out the Devil's Beef Tub in the hills between Tweed and the head of Annan as a particularly emotive spot: "Rudyard Kipling once told me that, far as he had wandered, and much as he had seen, this uncanny hollow seemed more than any other spot to be consecrated to the old gods".


Dave Shotton,

TAC 41 Index