The Angry Corrie 47: Oct-Nov 2000

TAC 47 Index

Meall Beag mailbag

Dear TAC,

There was a droll little cartoon in TAC's last letters pages which showed the Skye bridge with a moderately derogatory caption. It referred to another story altogether but it set me thinking about the bridge - not the outrageous tolls but the design of it. I wonder if anyone else has come to the slightly worrying conclusion that I have recently, namely that the much criticised designers might have been right all along.

Bowling along the road to Kyle of Lochalsh one morning not so long ago, I noticed, from about five miles away, how slender it looked arcing over the water, how, dare I say it, elegantly unobtrusive. And then, a day or so later, vouchsafed a rare clear view from somewhere on the Cuillin ridge, there it was again, an almost imperceptible shadow on the landscape, rightly dwarfed by the grandeur of the surrounding topo-graphy. Up close, it is obviously more massive, but even then, it doesn't seem quite the concrete monstrosity we feared; "solid concrete piers as tall as houses" was one of the scare-mongering phrases, I seem to recall.

I must admit I was one of those doing the scaremongering, wittering on about missed design opportunities and Calatrava and the rest of it. It is still not as neat as the Kylesku bridge or as romantic as the Forth Bridge. But it seems to me that its very simplicity, its shyness almost, may be better than some great design statement in that landscape. Have I just grown accustomed to her face or have I just abandoned any last vestige of good taste I might once have laid claim to?


Robert Dawson Scott, Glasgow

Ed. - The letter from Robert Dawson Scott arrived in the same week that the following was noted, from chapter 16 of Tony Hawks' Round Ireland with a fridge. Hawks is listening to Galway Bay FM, where there is an advert for a show entitled Sheep '97: "The overly excited man continued, 'Events include the RDS National pedigree sheep championships, plus competitions for lambs, wool and sheep shearing.'" Watch this space for news of Robert being taken on as storyboard editor for Murdo...

Dear TAC,

The proposal for a National Park in the Cairngorms (TAC46, pp3-5) is an awful idea. Why? Because it will increase the likelihood of the funny-peculiar railway being built? Not a bit of it. My opposition is based upon the fact that, once the National Park is established, the OS will draw thick purple lines all over the relevant 1:25000 and 1:50000 maps. The confusion this causes (have you ever seen a Lake District Landranger?) will result in people dropping off ridges and into corries all over the place, greatly increasing the workload of the already over-stretched (over-stretchered?) mountain rescue people.

With regard to the possibility of including the Cheviot in with the list of Scottish hills (TAC46, p13): not a chance! We have few enough decent hills south of the border without those who have already got more than enough trying to nick 'em. Despite our being vertically challenged (as a country, that is), it's some consolation that, although Scotland may have the Aonach Eagach, the Saddle and the Cuillin Ridge, we have a hill that is far more dangerous. When I was last on the Cheviot, it took me the best part of a hour to cover the last couple of hundred yards to the trig point. Very nasty.


Kevin Donkin, Durham

Dear TAC,

Re the Cheviot etc -

Surely I'm not alone in wondering what is going on. First Ian Mitchell implies that there are Munros south of the border, then he alludes to the historic claim that, as part of the Kingdom of Strathclyde, Cumbria was part of Scotland - and now I learn that the treasurer of the Scottish Mountaineering Club lives in Millbeck in Cumbria. What next, I wonder? Perhaps the Fell and Rock will open an outstation up in the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Northumbria, even in Edwin's Borough itself, as Munro expansionism brings with it the restoration of old boundaries and even annexation. Snowdonia, watch out!

I cannot understand Ian Mitchell's craven pledge never to return to Cheviot, this border and therefore both English- and Scottish-relevant hill. Its bog in the montaine sense is an ever-varying obstacle against summit attainment and it is a fact that many stalwart aspiring mountaineers have failed to reach the summit trig pillar. A couple of tough, seasoned members of my mountaineering club ventured across the border to amble over the Cheviot and gave up, ever since sublimating their failure on V Diff and harder rock climbs. The Cheviot plainly has much in common with the In Pinn, squeaky clean as the latter is. If some people cringe away in horror in order to avoid the permanent bog-staining of their expensive GT Everest-competent gaiters, others in less gear-conscious days have made it with plastic shopping bags and string that make excell-ent disposable puttees.

The flagstoned path, given time and weather, hopefully should become naturalised under the stuff of the moor. The purists can avoid the path. Halterburn, Hen Hole, the Bizzle, Scotsman's Knowe, Auchope Cairn: all round the Cheviot are approaches for the connoisseur's delectation. The summit bog when frozen in winter can give an easy option. In advanced summer its ripe ordure can defeat even the alien odours of washing powders, deodorants and chewing gum.

Comparatively, in world terms, the terrain of the vast majority of British hilltops submits readily to access. There are no fetid, leech-infested jungles, flesh-ripping oceans of thorns, kaarst obstacle courses, lions and tigers, crocodiles, boa constrictors, border guards or warlike cannibal tribes. (Eh? How can a Blairgowrie man have overlooked Newtyle Hill, on whose slopes lurk all of these? - Ed.) There is a sufficiency of rivers and mainly optional crags, Highland midges, ticks of course, the weather and some hostile landowners, yes; but lacking the heroic dimensions of Shipton-scale expeditions and protracted logistics. Dark Cheviot dares to be an exception, however modestly: it is a big, brooding lump with many charms and a rich depth of personality waiting to gratify the affections of the true hill virtuoso seeking the occasional bit of rough wooing as a change from the Mills and Boon romance.

Yours sincerely,

Tom Rix, Blairgowrie

Dear TAC,

Can anyone enlighten me as to the nature or purpose of the solar array stuck atop a cairn on the summit of Ben Stack, which I visited at Easter? I've puzzled over it for a while. Is the SMC planning to electrify all cairns in order to stop them being stolen, or (worse still) being sold to rich Americans? Or perhaps it glows in the dark? Or is it in fact a microwave oven in cunning disguise, so that those who make it to the top can warm up their pies?


Richard King, Pool-in-Wharfedale

Dear TAC,

It seems that the walking pole debate still has a little mileage left. After researching for eight days and eight nights in the grim archives of the Mitchell Library in Glasgow, I finally unearthed the evidence needed to prove that I am not alone in having used the walking pole as a weapon. (See TAC45, pp4-5.)

Way back in TAC25, an item appeared written by the illustrious and scientifically accredited co-editor Perkin Warbeck. The piece was headed "Fashion Page No.61/2" and Warbeck stated that he found telescopic poles useful in fending off "the mad goats of Ben Vrackie". Of course these particular goats later died - of natural causes I hasten to add. But please don't put away your walking poles. There are still a fair number of crazed beasts padding about the hills - wolves and even beavers could soon prove to be a threat if some people have their way. ("Try fighting off giardia with a walking pole", I can hear Grant Hutchison say - see TAC46, p19.)

By the way, talking of wild things, I seem to be running into Ross Murray of The Munro Show a lot these days on the hill. He's still out there. Not that he says Hello or anything. (Get on with it - Ed.)

Professor Warbeck goes on to inform readers that the walking pole has on occasion given him a feeling of security "when negotiating a group of dubious cows". Actually, elsewhere in the article we find the very first recorded suggestion that the walking pole could act as a beta blocker!

Carrying a pole made Warbeck's heart "slightly stiller" when passing among the "dubious cows". Then I got to thinking (what with me being a researcher and all). If Grant Hutch-ison had simply placed a telescopic pole into the hand of his startled truck driver (who was having a nap in his cabin at the time), this would have triggered the beta blocker effect. He could thus have avoided the driver's suspected heart attack on being rudely disturbed. Instead, he might have greeted Grant with a benign smile before clouting him with the heavy end. In this way, since two objects are struck, the symmetry in the tales of the two truckers remains intact.


Bryan Cromwell, Eaglesham

Dear TAC,

I recently visited a friend, Peter, who lives on the island of Luing, just south of Oban. Peter is a sea kayaker and reports that the tidal range around Luing is 4.5 metres - ie the difference between high tide and low tide is 4.5m. This got me thinking about the status of the nearby island SubMarilyn of Meall a'Chaise, on Seil. The height of this hill is 146m, so logic says it needs another four metres to become a Marilyn. Assuming that the tidal range around Seil is similar to that around nearby Luing, then my first thought was that if we assume the high water mark to be the 0m contour, then at low tide a further 4.5m of vertical land height/ mud is added to the peak. This would temporarily elevate Meall a'Chaise to Marilyn status as it would have 150m of land drop all around before the tide turned. Of course this assumption is wrong, as the 0m contour, from which all hills are measured, is actually mean sea level (MSL), not high water level.

So where is the MSL (0m contour) around Seil? If the tidal range is 4.5m then it seems logical to assume that the MSL is the average halfway level, ie 2.25m below the high water level and 2.25m above lowest water. If so, then at maximum low tide we would only gain a further 2.25 metres of vertical land height to add to our peak, giving it a drop all around of 148.25m before we got wet feet: not enough for Marilyn status.

However, the OS use the mean sea level at Newlyn in Cornwall as a national benchmark datum on which they base all height measurements. It came as a surprise after a little research to learn that this mean sea level is not at the same level all around the coast of Britain. Indeed the OS themselves found that there was ten inches' difference between MSL at Newlyn and Dunbar (see Ordnance Survey - Map Makers to Britain since 1791, Owen and Pilbean).

What this means in our example is that we don't really know where the zero contour line (or Newlyn MSL as we could call it) lies around Seil. The article about measurements by David Purchase in TAC42 touches on this dilemma, in the error source he labels E7, where he identifies that there may be a difference between mean sea level at Newlyn and local mean sea level around the five SubMarilyn islands.

Should anyone be interested in all this then the local difference needs to be somehow checked for any variation for each of the current island SubMarilyns. If there is a difference at any of these locations then the first step is simply to calculate if this local difference is on its own sufficient to make that particular island top rise 150m above its local MSL. If there is still a shortfall in qualifying for Marilyn status, then the next step is to discover, from local tide tables, the maximum extent (at some point of the year) to which the local low tide falls below the local MSL. We can then see if this extra drop at maximum low tide adds to the relative land drop around the hill to reach 150m of land drop at this low tide.

Presumably you need a land drop, or else little islands just poking above the waves with massive underwater drops would qualify. Also Seil would qualify right now as the channel linking it to the mainland is surely over 4m deep. The result of all this is that we may discover Tidal-Only Marilyns, a wonderful concept where they only count if you summit at low tide.

The Newlyn choice by the OS also begs the question as to the effect on the absolute height of our hills if the OS had used a national MSL somewhere else, say Loch Torridon. This could lead to such findings as Beinn Dearg, currently 2999ft, confirmed as a new Munro over 3000ft above the new national MSL. Of course even now if you reach the summit of Beinn Dearg as the tide is out in Cornwall you could claim to be 3000ft higher than the sea.

This may be of interest to some TAC readers, but we should bear in mind the wise advice of Marvin the Paranoid Android in The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy: "Does it matter? And even if it matters, does it matter that matters?"

All the best,

Chris Pearson, Sheffield-on-Sea

Dear TAC,

In a second-hand bookshop in Edinburgh I found a 1907 or 1914 edition of the OS one-inch map, sheet 47, Perth. The map was published - by no less than Colonel R C Hellard, CB, RE - in 1907, but unspecified minor revisions took place in 1912 and railways were revised to June 1914. Maybe the revisions were hand-drawn by the colonel, Wain-wright fashion, on the existing stock of maps.

More interesting for readers of this magazine is the following state-ment: "The altitudes are given in Feet, above the assumed Mean Level of the Sea at Liverpool, which is 0.650 of a Foot below the general Mean Level of the Sea...". I immediately got out my other maps of the same part of Scotland, which were published in 1929 (or 1934 - same story), 1967 and 1996, respectively. All of these show altitudes above Mean Sea Level plain and simple. It was of course inevitable that an assumed Mean Level in a single English location, a benchmark typical of the gentlemen amateurs who ran the OS, would eventually lose out to a higher, 100% proof worldwide Mean Level.

This could have important implic-ations for the history of bagging. Munros, Marilyns and what have you were 0.650ft higher before World War One. With rounding, this could mean that some of them just made it to baggable status until the Great War. Then the Hun sounded the death knell of the Empire.

The perfidious Ordnance Survey (perfidious Albion, surely? - Ed.) was, however, as unwilling as anyone else in the British establishment to face the facts: for more than half a century it kept insisting on putting, for example, Ben Vorlich's height at 3224ft. Was there an Angry Corrie avant la lettre which exposed this fraud? After that sinking feeling, how many baggers were honest enough to tear up their log books? Was there a Ben Hellard among the Munros which was struck off the list by such upright folk at some point between 1907 (or 1912) and 1929? I think we should have been told by now.

NB - Why did they choose Liverpool? Isn't Liverpool a bit common? Why not assume something at, say, Brighton?


Paul Hesp, Vienna

Dear TAC,

A recent British Medical Journal included a paper entitled "Stalking: why do people do it?" (Nadkarni R and Grubin D, BMJ 2000, 320: pp 1486-7). I know that many TAC readers must have asked this question over the years, especially at this time, so they will be interested to learn that stalkers:

and that:

Yours sincerely,

Dr Brian Mucci, Loweswater

Ed. - So nothing new there, then.

Dear TAC,

Three snippets on topics recently discussed in TAC. There seems to be a surprisingly large proportion of missing flush brackets on the trig pillars of northern Corbetts. In the last three years I've noted this on Beinn Airigh Charr, Beinn a'Chaisteil (Strath Vaich), Cul Mor, Beinn Leoid and Meallan Liath Coire Mhic Dhughaill, though Ben Hee was intact. In most cases the gap seemed to have been cemented over, which suggests some semi-official activity. I wasn't noting trig numbers when I visited Carn Chuinneag, Quinag or Beinn Spionnaidh, and haven't yet been to Ben Loyal. Has anyone comments on them?

Regarding the highest point of the In Pinn (TAC29, p16), on a recent visit I sighted from the "cairn block" (CB) - which is easy to put one's eye against - over the "abseil block" (AB) to a point on the sea about 10km distant, thus suggesting a 1km drop along the line in 10km, ie a 10% drop. This suggests that the CB is about 50cm higher than the AB.

The new Harveys Crianlarich map adds a little to the Cruach Ardrain question (TAC40, p14). The only spot height (printed in red, implying it's a Munro summit height) is at the NW top. The SW end has two auxiliary contours to indicate its two bumps but with no implication of exact height. This is a slight pity as the map gives a good run of four distinct spot heights on the ridge at the western end of Beinn a'Chroin.


Ken Stewart, Coatbridge

Dear TAC,

TAC46, p.12: sad to say, I have to reveal that affixing a plaque to the east side of a triangulation pillar is not religiously adhered to by the Ordnance Survey. I've probably seen fewer than ten plaqued pillars, but all points of the compass are involved.

Meanwhile, what of Marhofn 2000, where TAC's editor writes of Brown Muir having the "oddest of all trigs". Oooo! What can it be? Odder than Combe Hill, with a flush bracket and tripod simply built into a squat view indicator? Odder than Ben Nevis, with its dead version at the foot of the cairn (repeated on one of the more remote trigs on Kinder, my spies tell me)? Odder than the upside-down ice-cream scoop one atop Snowdon? Odder than Goxhill, hard by the south side of the Humber estuary, now with only the top couple of inches visible above the gloop? Odder than some of the Peak District, Cheviot and Black Mountain pillars left high and dry by erosion, several feet above the peat fields? Odder than Torquay Torre, sitting happily in someone's back garden, just above the rockery? Odder than Plymouth Cattedown, cemented on top of an old hut with a marvellous view of the docks, and not easily reached despite being only 20m above sea level?

Oooooo!! Tell me! Please!

Steve Weatherill, Oxford

Ed. - Ben Cleuch also has a cast-off lying beside the current trig. Does anyone know if base plates are transferred, or are the old ones left in situ? The Cleuch fragment/ remnant is the wrong way up to tell without risk of back-ricking.

Marhofn 2000 is available free: send an A5 SAE to Alan Dawson, 49 Airthrey Avenue, Glasgow, G14 9LY.

Dear TAC,

Apparently on 7/8/00 the flush bracket on the Yr Wyddfa trig pillar was still in situ. After a visit on 29/8/00 I can report that it is no more - though it wasn't easy to confirm this through the legs of the hordes hugging the trig. When it was removed and by whom remains a mystery. Perhaps we can narrow it down la the Ben Vrackie goat enquiry.


Gary Westwood, Sheffield

Ed. - Ann Bowker was, coincidentally, one of that day's hordes, but disclaims any responsibility for thievery. And I think I'm correct in saying that Dewi Jones knows the Yr Wyddfa trig to be a dummy, placed there after persistent en-quiries as to why the highest summit lacked a trig while neighbouring Crib y Ddysgl had one. For more on trigs, see page 12.

TAC 47 Index