The Angry Corrie 43: Oct-Nov 1999

TAC 43 Index

Meall Beag mailbag

Dear TAC,

Thank you to David Squires of Chipping Norton following his letter referring to a hill track at Glenshee (TAC42, p17). The land in question is indeed owned by Invercauld Estate and I am delighted to reply to his comments.

The need to encourage a sustainable rural economy in the remote glens (of which Glenshee is a good example) is accepted at all levels of administration from the EU to Community Councils. The oppor-tunities at Glenshee are mainly farming, agriculture, tourism and field sports. Forestry is a non-starter in the higher glens as most of the ground is unsuitable for planting and would look dreadful. Agriculture is important and there are currently five family farming units at the upper end of the glen.

Unfortunately, farming relies heavily on subsidies and the viability and return on investment reduces every year. Access to the hill areas is vital and tracks are needed to enable wheeled mobility for stock gathering and feeding. Tourism is a very important land use and includes car touring, hill walking (and running) and skiing. Unfortunately, recent dramatic increases in the numbers of people coming to the hills for recreation has meant that a number of very obvious path scars have been created, generally linking the Munros, of which there are a good number on the ridges north of Glenshee. Two particularly good examples can be seen from Braemar village running up Morrone and Creag Choinnich.

Skiing creates its own variety of tracks, huts, fence lines and lift apparatus which is particularly intrusive and conspicuous only a few hundred metres from the areas to which Mr Squires refers. Field sports in Glenshee include deer stalking and grouse and hare shooting and provide six jobs. The tracks provided for agricultural stock gathering are also used to bring the grouse, deer and hares off the hill. Last season we shot in the region of 350 deer at Glenshee and well organised recovery is vital if they are to reach the food market in good condition.

No new tracks have been created for the past thirty years and all work on the hill recently has been to repair the existing tracks. Great care is taken so that the tracks blend into the surrounding area and the verges quickly green over. I would be delighted to meet up with Mr Squires when he is next in the area and discuss with him in more detail the Estate's ongoing maintenance work.

Yours sincerely,
Simon Blackett
Factor, Invercauld Estates

Dear TAC,

The Scotsman, 18/8/99, reported another two golden eagles found poisoned in their nest. It is suspected that the male bird which carried the food to its family would also have perished. It came as no surprise to hear that these birds were found in the Monadhliath, as this has been the worst area for bird of prey persecution for a number of years now.

A vast tract of land, this area sees few walkers. Unscrupulous keepers have little to worry about. If you consider that most walkers follow paths and tracks, how many other carcasses lie hidden out of sight or smell? Walkers should be vigilant and report any suspicious activities to the local police and to the RSPB.

On another subject I was recently heading for the 'secret howff' on Beinn a'Bhuird - or the 'not so secret howff', judging by the number of entries in the hut book. Being 12 August I called in at Keiloch, the Invercauld estate office, to enquire about going on a hill - any hill! 'No, it's the Glorious Twelfth and we're shooting there today,' was the response, 'keep to the paths only in the glens'. Sitting in the howff it was clear from the lack of noise that the grouse could fly safely that day. It was also clear from the track that no vehicle was up the glen that day. A disappointing stance from Invercauld.

Calum McRoberts, Edinburgh

Ed. - Walkers should also be wary of keepers who accost them on the hill demanding to know their walking intentions - on occasion this is because the keeper is fearful that illegal traps or poisons will be stumbled upon should the walker stray from the 'normal' routes. Suspicions or discoveries should be reported to the Poisons Hotline, 0800-321600, or RSPB Scottish HQ, 0131-311-6500.

Dear TAC,

I see my principled stand vis-à-vis Ian Mitchell's facial hair (see TAC31 letters where I proclaimed his clean-shavenness) has now been confirmed in TAC42 letters by the same correspondent (Gordon Smith), who nailed his whiskers to the Beard Faction at that time. Is this what we would call a volte-face?

As for the photo on the new edition of Mountain Days and Bothy Nights, the truth, never before revealed, is that the photo was taken on top of A'Mhaighdean in 1993. The bearded man is Dave Brown, Ian's co-author, the middle man is myself completing the Munros aged 45 (thus confirming my principled stand as to my own youth in the same TAC31), and the man hidden by his jacket hood on the left is Ian Mitchell - who could be concealing a beard beneath it. So how can Gordon Smith be so sure that the Scotland's Mountains before the Mountaineers photo doesn't pre- date the MDaBN photo and that a goatee lurks under the Gore-Tex?

Pete Drummond

Dear TAC,

It was with real sadness that I noticed Gordon Smith re-opening hostilities in the War of Mitchell's Beard (TAC42, p19), when I thought peace had been negotiated over ten issues ago by my plenipotentiary, Pete Drummond. Pete had, with his usual diplomatic tact, explained my hirsute history in great detail - and in passing had chivalrously defended the honour of my wife, which had been brought into question (though it is beyond reproach), in a review in TAC30 of my book, Mountain Foot- falls. Wearily into the breach again ...

I had a beard in the early 1980s, which features on the original drawing on the front cover of Mountain Days and Bothy Nights. However, by the time the book was published in 1987, it had been shaved off; possibly I should have added a footnote to the drawing, explaining the fact, but no deception was intended. The latest reprint has me photographically in the state I have since been, beardless, as does the photograph on Scotland's Mountains before the Mountaineers. Allegations by the Beard Faction that I have been engaged in some kind of Stalinist re-writing of history have no foundation, and the alligators will be cast into the dustbin of history where they belong.

This hurts, but what hurts more are the allegations against my wife. Firstly we have her arse publicly debated in TAC, and now her knitting skills are questioned. Yes, I am wearing a 1970s tank top on the back of Mountaineers. It was knitted by my wife to keep me warm in bothies, and has lasted two decades. But the pattern is not 'TV interference' but, as any self- respecting Scot should recognise, Fair Isle, a testimony to my wife's skills in the arts of tricotology. Let Smith and other castigators of her honour know that their names are already being woven into the latest knitting pattern of this tricoteuse, and that they will meet their just deserts when the time comes.


Ian Mitchell

Ed. - Not so fast, Mitchoriarty ... TAC hears that Ian returned from an August trip to Wales bearing definite signs of renewed facial growth - and indeed this was editorially observed in Harrogate in Septmber. Never mind TV interference, is this a case of follicular obfuscation? Actually, it's perhaps time to swivel the range-finder on to another target: does anyone wish to share any recollections of Cameron McNeish in a state of beardlessness?

Dear TAC,

I was interested to read Rennie McOwan's request for incidences of hill weirdness (TAC42, p18). Has he seen Andrew Dempster's Grahams book? The floating pizza and the portable passing place (TAC38, 39, 42) have already been noted; perhaps readers have noticed some of the following supernatural phenomena:

In the frontispiece, a number of stealth UFOs can be seen hovering above Sgor nam Fiannaidh. The very top stone on the cairn has eyes.

The left-hand side of the line drawing of Culter Fell (page 32) includes a distorted image of Saddam Hussein (or may- be Jack Maclean).

There is a hump-backed sheep on page 51.

There is a tiny sheep at rest on the cairn on page 69. Weirder still, a long-haired woman is emerging from the upright stone to its left.

On page 194, Mr Dempster has an antler growing out of his arse.

The snow on page 233 forms an image of Jimmy Hill picking his nose.

As Cerys Matthews would put it, this could be a case for Millda and Skilly.

Yours in wonder,

Gordon Smith

PS - Editorial interference with my last letter gave my address as 'Kilmarnock an der Fenwick Wasser'. Since Wasser is neuter, the preposition and article should of course have read an dem or am. Do you wish me to lose all credibility with Germanophone readers? Mess me about in this way again and I may be forced to get a bit Nietzschean with you.

Ed. - Dempster's strange pictues also came to mind with recent news reports showing satellite pictures of Jupiter's moon Io, usually described as 'having the consist- ency of cold pizza'.

Dear TAC,

The editor's revelations about Albert Einstein in TAC42 come as no surprise to me, for this is a phen- omenon that I have spent some years looking into, and the sadly over- looked results of my studies ('Clever but clueless: famous people lost and found on Scottish Mountains', University of Aviemore, 1996) make for fascinating reading.

Take the case of Michael Faraday, who in 1841 spent 36 hours lost on the upper slopes of Campsies, during which time he came up with the theory of electromagnetic induction and developed his lifelong fondness for sheep. Or composer Edward Elgar, who toured the Scottish Borders during the mid 1880s and spent a week living in a cave below Dollar Law eating grubs and lichen after he got lost during a hillwalk. He was eventually found and taken in by local shepherds, who made such an impact on the young Englishman with their whimsical tales and riddles, and their baffling south of Scotland philosophising, that he later trans- lated his experiences into the now famous 'Enigma Variations'.

There are plenty of other intriguing and authentic stories: such as how a village near Elgin changed its name from Trevaig to 'Dallas' after John F Kennedy was shot in 1963. (Many years previously he had visited the area on a family holiday and his walking party had got temporarily lost above Strathspey.)

Even today famous people get lost in Scotland in large numbers - from Sean Connery on Princes Street to several dozen international golfers at Carnoustie - and I think it's about time that the problem was properly addressed.

Andrew McCloy

Ed. - That's just nonsense.

Dear TAC,

Val Hamilton (TAC42, p14) is in for a great disappointment: I have lived and travelled in Holland for 40 years and have never come across a spike of rock called the Dutch Matterhorn - although rocks exist. We do however have our Little Switzerlands, and these may offer some consolation as they are invariably catering establishments. ('Switzerland' is a reference to their location in the alpine parts of the country; 'Little' refers to the Dutch definition of alpine: where I grew up as a boy peaks which exceeded 10m above NAP - see footnote - with drops exceeding 5m, were 'bergen', ie mountains.)

Example: Restaurant Klein Zwitser-land near Austerlitz, on the Utrecht Hill Ridge (highest point Amerongse Berg, 69.2m above NAP; trig point available) just below the 10m contour line. Spot heights in the immediate vicinity vary from 7.9m to 12.4m. The chalet-type building itself is at least a dozen metres high, so we may confidently say that the top of the chimney (VS) is well over 20m.

Logically, the Dutch Matterhorn should be located close to the south-west window of the restaurant. This does offer dizzying panoramas of bicycle racks and the Driebergen road, but the most awe-inspiring vertical objects I've ever come across are bottles of Westmalle Tripel, a Belgian Trappist ale, on the nearest table. A truly noble beverage - a goblet (yes, goblet) or two of this stuff, and the Matterhorn, indeed the whole mountaineering business, becomes quite irrelevant. Also try the local meat croquettes, the perfect light lunch. My Scottish better half has become quite addicted to them.

Paul Hesp
Vienna (homesick)

Footnote - Normaal Amsterdams Peil (Normal Amsterdam Water Level). NAP = NN (Normal Null, Hamburg); however, NAP is 2.32m above Belgium's Ostend level, inflating the latter country's heights or deflating ours, depending on your point of view. The result is that crossing the border from Belgium into the Netherlands you come down with a bump ... realising that not all Dutch pubs and restaurants stock Westmalle Tripel (see above).

Ed. - After TAC41 reported a Matterhorn substantially higher than the Matterhorn, Paul's refer- ence to Matterhorn rocks makes this a good point to mention the one on Grey Friar, pictured on p102 of the Fell and Rock Climbing Club's guidebook, The Lakeland Fells. This may well be the smallest natural Matterhorn, but the œuvre of Glasgow-based artist Neal Beggs includes a putty Matterhorn that can be carried round in a pocket. More on Neal's work in The Scotsman, 11/9/99, and in a forth- coming TAC.

Dear TAC,

Rowland and Ann Bowker were, I think, unlucky in their quest to find a route to the top of Dartmoor's Great Links Tor graded at less than VS (TAC42, p19). There is a quite useful chimney climb at one end of the main rock pile, with a very good niche for bivvying at the top. At my best I rarely rock-climbed beyond V Diff and I used to get up that ascent with a packframe. I'd be amazed to find someone had graded that route VS. I suspect Rowland and Ann missed it as they gasped in admiration at this remote and beautiful tor.

Now if you want a Dartmoor tor that is hard to ascend, try Vixen Tor. I haven't climbed it recently, but it was a bit of a bugger when I was younger. Some scramblers manage the ascent all right unroped but have great difficulty in getting down again.

John Bainbridge,

Ed. - John is chief executive of the Dartmoor Preservation Association and is co-ordinating a campaign against proposals that would allow multinational clay firms Watts, Blake and Bearne and English China Clays International to excavate a super-quarry in the Blackabrook Valley and to tip clay waste on Shaugh Moor and Crownhill Down. Contact John on 01626-773744 or

Dear TAC,

We were pleased to read (TAC42, p18) that Chris Watson has been busy checking the English 2000ers from our book The Mountains of England and Wales. While Myrddyn Phillips and Dewi Jones have been doing fanatical work in Wales, discovering four new tops, there have been very few queries about England.

Birks Fell was one of the casualties of our surveying, but Chris is mistaken in saying that we claim to have proved Sugar Loaf to be higher. The 610m spot height on the 1:50000 map is, like many spot heights on this series, merely a metricated version of the old imperial height. The 1:25000 heights however are from the most recent survey and give Horse Head as 609m - we have no means of checking this.

The check we did, on a winter backpacking trip, was to see if there was another point 2m higher than 608m in the vicinity of the new Birks Fell spot height and we concluded that there was not. Next time we go to Yorkshire we'll have another look.

Regards to all peak baggers,
John and Anne Nuttall,

Dear TAC,

Chris Watson's letter struck a chord. I have also walked the 'ridge' over Birks Fell and certainly felt that there was some higher ground near the 608m spot height. Definitely worthy of further investigation, as is Illgill Head which plunges into Wast Water. The 609m spot height is at NY169049, but from here the SW top at 166048 looks higher. Indeed, when I stood on the SW top I was almost certain that it was higher than the 609m top. Now I might have been the victim of some crazy topographical illusion, but maybe the true top is over 2000ft. Have other readers who have visited Illgill Head thought the same? In any case, the main thing is that it is a fine and quiet little peak with some of the most spectacular views in all of Albion.

Mike Jacobs

Ed. - Graham Bunn of Stockton- on-Tees has also written to agree with Chris Watson's on-the-ground observations. More on higher-than-you-think tops come TAC44. For now, however, a theory. England does have a curiously disproportionate number of 'near miss' tops, ie those hills just beneath the 610m/2000ft level. Blanco's list of English SubHewitts gives four 609m tops (Illgill Head, Calf Top, Horse Head Moor and Renwick Fell on Cross Fell), along with High Seat on High Raise at 608m. This could of course be random chance, but then again the near misses do often seem to be of debatable status. Horse Head and Illgill have now been aired as possible 2000ers in these pages (even though the mapped high point of Illgill SW is as low as 604m), and there is serious doubt over Calf Top. Arch error-finder Richard Webb some time ago muttered privately about Calf Top, so your editor went to investigate on the ground and came away feeling there is little doubt that this is a 'lost' 2000er. The summit has a trig point, with higher heathery ground immediately on the other side of the fence. The difference is not startling - the true summit doesn't exactly tower over the trig - but to stand on the highest tussock is certainly to be between 12 and 18 inches higher than base of the trig, possibly as much as 2ft higher. 609m converts to 1998ft but, as the trig here was originally surveyed as 1999ft, a mere foot would be enough for Calf Top to make the grade. Blanco is also intending to make an ascent in the autumn and it is likely that Calf Top will shortly be outed as 610m. And the theory? The theory is that local landowners and walkers have known for years that various 609m summits are in fact above the 610m/2000ft threshold, but have kept shtum in terms of notifying the OS for reasons of access or to retain solitude. An extension to the theory would have the landowners and the OS in mysterious cahoots over this, but that is going a bit far ...

Dear TAC,

Mick Furey's letter (TAC42, p17) about the meaning of Coire Gabhail in Glen Coe set me off on a browse through Dwelly, that veritable bible of Gaelic dictionaries. Gabhail does appear there and one of its meanings is 'capture or seizure'. However, when you get two nouns together in Gaelic the second one is normally in the genitive case and gabhail is the genitive of gabhal, or gobhal, depending on the dialect. The meaning of gobhal has been given in previous TACs and, as Mick points out, this fits the corrie as a physical description so I reckon that whoever translated it as 'capture' is very likely wrong.

While on the subject of Gaelic names there is one that has intrigued me for a while. On the south side of Beinn Pharlagain just north and slightly east of Rannoch Station there is a Coire nan Giomach which translates to 'coire of the lobsters'. Maybe not such a surprising name if it had been somewhere near the coast, but up near Rannoch Station and more than half way up a hill - weird or what?! As Gaelic place names are often physical descriptions it makes you wonder what the locals must have been on when they came up with that one.

Le deagh durachd,
Helen McLaren, Muckhart

Dear TAC,

Re bizarre sights on Scottish hills, I don't know about bus stops or car batteries but I found a mineral exploration drill bit on the top of the summit cairn of Beinn Udlaidh in 1997. I lugged it back down (via the neighbouring Beinn Bhreac- liath) and it now sits gleaming in its coat of hammerite on my hearth.

Andy Moffat, Inverness

Ed. - The bit was almost certainly a leftover from the gold explor- ations on Udlaidh. When the viability of the Cononish mine was being assessed, a second site was studied, high on Udlaidh. I climbed the hill a couple of times during the late 1980s and early 1990s and once came across a drilling machine on the plateau, abandoned for the winter. I know the firm was Irish-based because one of their engineers once gave me a lift back down to Crianlarich.

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