TAC 46 Index
GREG Holstead, of the Great Scottish Climb, an all-the-Munros-in-a-day attempt, (mis)quoted in the Sunday Herald, 9 April: "The Inaccessible Pinnacle is definitely the most dangerous and difficult climb in Britain - you need a lot of experience with ropes and harnesses". And on a similar theme, Val Hamilton reports hearing Michael Buerk say, on 999, words to the effect that "the South Kin-tail ridge is one the wildest, most remote parts of Scotland".
THERE are numerous of these at any given time but it's rare to see one given such prominence as Tulloch Bridge, which, as The Herald recently pointed out, is often seen on the BBC weather map as one of the country's hot spots. Insofar as this place can be pinned down, it's presumably the railway bridge between Tulloch station and Fersit. Perhaps the girders heat up. (And an award to Reporting Scotland, which on 24/5/00 suggested that Castle Tioram was both in Ardnamurchan and on "Moidart island".)
DENIS Brook and Phil Hinchliffe, for their North to the Cape - A trek from Fort William to Cape Wrath. On p176 they outline Naismith's Rule and Tranter's amendment to it, but then rather undermine their authority by writing this: "So, how does one adapt Naismith's Rule (W. Naismith was a Scottish climber) to take account of these variables? Philip Tranter (another Scottish climber?) formulated a variation to the Rule as follows..."
Come on lads, it's not hard to confirm the basics on Philip Tranter: first double Munroist, inventor of an eponymous round of Glen Nevis, son of an even more famous father, died tragically young ... the list is almost endless. He was one of the great Scottish hill figures of the past 40 years.
ACTUALLY, this book is worth a formal review rather than a passing slag, as it's a strong contender for a much bigger prize, the Most Sloppily Researched Book of Recent Years Award. It's difficult to know where to start, however, so plentiful are North to the Cape's amusing offerings. But a logical place, symptomatic of the whole, would be to note that on p11 the aforementioned Scottish climbers are referred to as "Naismaith and Trantor". In other words, not only are Brook and Hinchliffe incapable of checking facts and spellings in other people's books, they can't even get it right when cross-referencing their own.
Throughout the book there is a sense of the authors writing about things of which they have little grasp and which they haven't bothered to check, let alone double- check. Any book inevitably includes mistakes, but there are some howling ones here. Take the section (pp171-2) likely to be of interest to many TAC readers: "Munro, Corbett and Donald". This states that Munro's original 1891 list included 238 hills (it was actually 283); that there are currently 233 subsidiary Tops (it's 227) that Hugh Symonds holds the record for the fastest round (it's Andrew Johnston and Rory Gibson, 51 days in 1992, although Charlie Campbell could well be trashing this as TAC46 appears). Hugh Munro's two unclimbed Munros are given as the In Pinn (wrong) and "Carn Clioch - mhuilinn" (sic). Elsewhere comes idiosyncratic guidance on how to pronounce Beinn Eighe, which Brook and Hinchliffe believe "rhymes with 'ache'". Well, yes, but only if you pronounce "ache" wrongly.
These are all understandable errors, albeit hackneyed ones. But then, after carefully detailing Percy Donald's complex criteria for non-Highland hills, Brook and Hinch-liffe give the impression of having pasted in the details without ever once having allowed a flicker of brain power to come near the process. "On your trip to and through the Western Highlands," they write, "you will see many mountains. Enjoy them all, whether they be Munros, Corbetts or Donalds." This, remember, is a book about a route which starts in Fort William and heads north- wards. They might as well have mentioned the Wainwrights.
This, though, is just nitpickery. More worrying - to the point of offensiveness, not something to be said lightly - is the blithely patronising attitude to Scotland displayed throughout the book. Brook and Hinchliffe are Huddersfield-based - fair enough - but come equipped with an image of Scotland which, if not quite Brigadoon, is cer- tainly born of Edinburgh's High Street at the height of the tourist season. For reasons known only to themselves, their walk-descriptions are punctuated by lengthy musings on what they see as the important aspects of Scottish life. The first is "Scotland, a brief history", followed by "The monarchs of Scotland": 14 pages of twaddlesome guff about kings and queens which has no conceivable place in such a guidebook. The fact that it appears immediately after the route-outlining introduction, and before a step of the way has been described, merely adds to the absurdity. Talk about knocking readers off their stride at the very start.
Later sections are worse: bagpipes, "Haggis, Neeps-an' tatties" (sic), tartan, whisky and, inevitably, Bonnie Prince fucking Charlie. Quite aside from these being in- appropriate - and unspeakably cliched - in such a book, the authors seem to have no understanding that much of what they're copying (sorry, writing about) bears zero relevance to the chunk of Scotland which their book purports to describe. Just as they think that Donalds are to be found in Wester Ross and Sutherland, so they churn out geographically off-message info such as: "In 1645, William Kidd was born in Greenock", or "Mary Somerville was born in Jedburgh in 1780". Uh-huh - so what? Burns pops up of course, but the authors are so clueless about the Scots language that they botch the bard's words ("And sae the Lord be thank it"; "Aboon then a' ye tak your place").
Imagine it in reverse: a Scotland-based author writes a book about walking from, say, Hull to Halifax. To match Brook and Hinchliffe's methodology, this would not only trot out page upon page of northern England caricatures (flat caps, whippets, black puddings, Ee bah gum accents), but also include loads of pseudo-sociological colour from completely different parts of England: Morris dancing, pearly kings and queens, the White Cliffs of Dover.
Sadly but hilariously, Brook and Hinchliffe fall big- time into the ignorant trap of those who think Scotland a parish-sized place where everywhere is just around the corner from everywhere else. This reaches its nadir when notes on how to walk from Sourlies to Kinloch Hourn end with four pages about the history of the Caledonian Canal. It's surreal.
It's also patronising and downright objectionable, as in passages such as this, from p25: "To this day, Scottish people play a leading part in the social, economic and technical aspects of life in their own country and the United Kingdom as a whole". Wow: so we can actually run our own schools, clean our own streets and even tie our own shoelaces. Jeez-o. Imagine if B and H had written about a walk through, say, west Africa instead of western Scotland: "Teeth gleaming from the shadows of the jungle, the bright-eyed darkies are no longer savages, but have learned the rudiments of reading and writing". What they have produced here - and what Cicerone has allowed to be published - is almost down at that crypto-colonial level.
This reviewer is not qualified to say whether the historical sections of North to the Cape are accurate (although he is qualified to scream if he hears one more syllable about BPfC, Culloden and the '45). Someone such as the Toffee Magnate would be the person for this - not that Rennie or indeed anyone should waste time or money on this book. But seeing just how many slipshod mistakes inhabit those sections which are familiar territory suggests that the shortbread-ridden bits must be factually flawed, too. No book can escape the odd typo, but this one has a whole gazetteer's worth: St Andrew's, Monros, Gorbh Chioch Bheag, Ratagen, Fuor Tholl, Torridans, Fochabars, Sherriffmuir, Stornaway, Laphroig and so on. They even get it wrong when deciding to mention the other side of the world, with "Bearing Straits". Likewise there's a complete cluelessness about the weather: "What we Sassenachs call drizzle, the Scots call haar". Er, no they don't, actually.
For "professional walkers" (p95), B and H do not appear to have much grasp of heights or - worryingly, given the context - of maps. When arriving at Cape Wrath, we are told that: "Nearby, Black Cliff is a sheer 260 metres from the swirling Atlantic". Eh? That's so far removed from reality that it's difficult to know what they're on about - or even what they're on. Similarly, the book falls into the age-old (and "dangerous", to quote one of the authors' own buzzwords) trap of giving the 962m south top of Gulvain as the hill's summit. At one point they chastise "a group of pedants" (the book's one great phrase) who have removed some signs in a forested area near Kinlochewe, yet they could do worse than seek out said pedants and employ them to check the ground-work of their book. (Actually, it's worth quoting the entire "pedants" para, so typical is it of the high-handed and overstated tone that runs through the book: "It seems that a group of pedants caused the notices to be removed. We consider this to be an act of utmost irresponsibility, as inexperienced walkers could become disorientated and lost in the forest with the possibility of fatality." Yeah, right.)
It's the tone of the thing that really grates: constant talk of their route being the "definitive" one, references to "unofficial" paths (so what are they, then?), and a very didactic route-finding style. This links with the remarkable openness with which they admit to having not done proper on-the-ground research. The main Fort-Cape walk described was completed in 1997 and 1998, but numerous "Variants" are based on a 1983 Cape-Fort trek. "Do note that we have not researched these routes since our 1983 walk," they write, "and the descriptions given are from memory and reference to OS maps. If you use any of the routes, you may find that, in places, the descriptions are at variance with reality." Astonishing.
Another leap of logic comes on p11: "We feel that inform-ation like 'turn right at the third stile by the signpost' is of dubious value." Reasonable enough if an interesting, open-eyed narrative is the consequence, but even though their route goes through the most stile-less and least signposted part of Britain, turn-right-ism is precisely what dominates the descriptions. The book is crammed with: "Keep ahead and left. Do NOT cross the bridge" and "An (unofficial?) path climbs up through trees as if to make a short cut. We do NOT recommend it!" They're very big on CAPITAL LETTERS, especially when telling folk what NOT to do.
"We cannot say the scenery is special," they say of the Knockdamph to Oykel Bridge stretch, while Blairmore to Sandwood Bay merits: "Scenery-wise it is unremarkable, crossing featureless moorland for many a long mile". It's all so utterly joyless that you wonder why they bothered. Part of the reason for so much cliched crap is because they seem incapable of the most basic descriptive writing beyond the odd "majestic". There is next to no flora or fauna, nothing about people met en route, and scarcely any enlightening comment on the surrounding views. Two of their six stated criteria on the opening page kind of sum it up: "[The route] must avoid long hauls over featureless moors or along uninteresting straths ... It must not pass, by design, over high peaks." Which doesn't exactly leave much on a multi-week walk through some of the most spect- acular scenery imaginable. It's hardly surprising that all we get is plodplodplod of the most prosaic kind.
If the two smiling chaps on the back cover had a happy and inspiring time on their walk - as they say they did - then they completely fail to convey this. Much of the trouble stems from their remaining firmly on their Yorkshire-based backsides when it comes to clarifying points of uncertainty and confusion. "Perhaps", "we believe" or "we assume" feature often, and we read things such as: "At this point, we were denied what must be fine views since there was heavy cloud". This theme recurs so frequently that you find yourself yelling: "Well go back on a fine day and have a proper look, for Chrissake".
It's been a while since TAC reviewed a product so negatively as to warrant an unequivocal "don't buy" tag, but that's precisely what applies here. Scratching around for something on the positive side, North to the Cape has some reasonable engravings by way of illustration, while on pp15-16 it's good to see the authors swimming against the current fad for two walking poles. But there is almost nothing to recommend this book - indeed, it is an extreme example of what Hamish Brown, elsewhere in this TAC, cites as the trend towards "slovenly, unlovely work". Equally worrying is to see such drivel published by Cicerone, long respected but recently having changed hands. Is this their future - zero quality control and not an editor in sight?
North to the Cape, by Denis Brook and Phil Hinchliffe, published by Cicerone, 1999, ISBN 1 85284 285 7, #11.99.
TAC 46 Index