The Angry Corrie 48: Jan-Feb 2001

TAC 48 Index

Meall Beag mailbag

A correction: TAC47 included a review of Richard Gilbert's most recent book, Lonely Hills and Wilderness Trails, central to which was the assumption that the author was a mathematics teacher. Whilst standing by the rest of the review's content, TAC was mistaken in this assumption and is happy to provide Richard Gilbert with space for a response:

"Gordon Smith's review of my book Lonely Hills and Wilderness Trails is largely an unpleasant and ill informed diatribe against maths teachers, and he then announces bluntly that Richard Gilbert is a maths teacher. What on earth has this to do with a book review except publicise the reviewer's prejudices?

"Anyone who can say "Personally, I wear my ignorance of mathematics as a badge of pride, a riband on my coat" and "Most mathematicians choose that career path because they prefer solitary manipulation of abstracts than engaging with real life" shows monumental ignorance and arrogance. It is deeply offensive to all mathematicians.

"If he had read the dust cover or the introduction of my book he would have seen that I am a chemistry teacher. Having made such a gross howler he then has the hypo-crisy to point out some proof reading errors.

"He complains of a lack of humour in the book, particularly of a lower or coarser nature. If his attempt, in the review, to drag smutty, prep school humour into my use of walking poles is an example of what he wants I make no apologies for this omission. But no humour? Has he really read the book? Has he read the chapters Under the Coroner's Shadow or A Landlubber Visits St Kilda or Failure on the Cuillin Ridge or Tapping George or Very Severely Frightened? Has he not noticed the self-deprecation which runs through the book?

"Gordon Smith smears me again for criticising the use of red arrows to show the ascent of Bidein Druim nan Ramh. I called this 'an act of vandalism which must surely be deplored by all British climbers'. I stand by this. Every climber I know wishes to preserve our few remaining areas of really wild mountains from the paint pot, and the Cuillin are right at the top of this category. Smith completely misses the point about blazed rocks in the Tyrol. These markers are on National Trails used by tens of thousands of families every year; these paths link valleys with huts and huts with huts. These paths are the equivalent of the Pennine Way and obviously I would not support the removal of waymarks from that trail. Once on the mountains themselves blazed rocks are not allowed, in order to preserve their wild nature, and the Austrians are very much better at preserving their mountains than we are. But that is another story.

"It was a pity that Gordon Smith used so much space in slagging off mathematicians that he failed to mention the forty colour photographs used in Lonely Hills and Wilderness Trails.

"TAC readers have a right to be informed of the aims and contents of the books that are reviewed, it demeans the magazine to use bigot-ed and pernicious reviewers."

Richard Gilbert
Crayke, York

Dear TAC,

Up here we are quite appalled by Gordon Smith's review of Richard Gilbert's book. Most of it is not a review at all but a tirade against mathematicians and cairn kickers. If Gordon Smith had ever taken the time to study some real mathe-matics he would have soon realised that it is just as beautiful as poetry.

The real "number crunching bastards", to use his term, are the Marilyn baggers, especially those who have climbed more than 1000. We are seriously considering issuing a fatwa against the author of that evil book. All copies that appeared up here have already been sent down to the other place for burning.

It is quite childish to condemn Richard Gilbert's book because he is a maths teacher. (Which he's not anyway - Ed.) We are convinced that any book which is criticised by Gordon Smith must be excellent, so we have ordered 10000 copies to be sent up here.

Yours gravitationally,
Isaac Newton
Principia House, Seventh Heaven

Dear TAC,

Please point out to Gordon Smith that the hill walker who perishes due to his/her inability to use his/her map and compass has brought it on him/herself. The hill walker who perishes through failure to find or use artificial navigation aids has got a good case for suing the bloke who put the aid out and told everyone, "OK folks, it's safe now...".

Roger Pol Pot Boswell

Dear TAC,

Gordon Smith seems to think that calling people twats and dummies is a potent argument against the perfectly reasonable view that waymarks are an undesirable addition to the mountain environment. They "have been put there to help people avoid getting lost and dying", he asserts, and this of course makes it OK.

Safety, like charity, excuses everything. Ben Nevis would be a lot safer if the track was tarmaced and fenced in all the way to the top. Why not make it compulsory to take a qualified guide to venture on the hills? They do in some places although this probably has more to do with employment opportunities than safety. Why not close the mountains completely when there is any snow about? Why not erect a barrier to stop folk venturing on to Sharp Edge, a notorious accident black spot?

Just where do we draw the line between risk and safety in the hills? This whole question is an extremely complex, interesting and controversial one and it is quite inappropriate to dismiss it with a bit of personal invective against one author.

Rowland and Ann Bowker

Dear TAC,

We recently struggled up to the Carn Ealar cairn to find a piece of paper plastered down by the wet. Fully expecting a calling card from the latest "all the hills beginning with C in a month" merchant, we were more than surprised to find that it was actually an entrance ticket to the Moulin Rouge, Amsterdam (price 50 guilders and their number is 020-627 50 30 if anyone fancies taking in this burlesque). It also had TOEGANGSBEWIJS printed on it and I shudder to think what that means. We claim the prize for finding the most incongruous item on a hill. Beat that!

I also claim the prize for leaving a pole in the most inconvenient place for retrieval: the far end of Dun, St Kilda. I did get it back eventually, somewhat salt encrusted but usable (as you might be if you'd sat out on Dun for a few weeks).

And was down in Oban the other day and followed a car from Spean Bridge with the number plate FER 51T.

Yours observantly,
Stuart Benn

Ed. - TAC doesn't normally name-check Munro finishers, but it should be noted that Stuart's mum completed her round (on Slioch) around three weeks before her son and heir wrapped up his own Grahams on Suilven (see p4 for details of the latter).

Dear TAC,

A friend lent me a photo handbook recently, Practical Photographer 2000. In the back is a section entited "Sell Your Photographs" and a list of publications that accept photos. The one that caught my eye was TGO: "Picture needs: colour. Landscapes featuring walkers. Individuals depicted in photos, such as back-packers, must be smart preferably wearing walking clothes."

This conjured up images of nightclub bouncers at bothy doors saying "sorry, you can't get in this bothy, you're not wearing a tie". But the issue is confused with the surely contradictory statement "smart ... wearing walking clothes." So new, expensive Gore-Tex is in, while somebody who actually has been backpacking for a couple of days, and perhaps has a shirt tied round their head to keep off the sun, and has their trouser legs rolled up to ford burns, had better get out of shot. From now on, I'm going to be checking TGO for evidence of scruffy walkers making it into their pages.

And it is not just TGO. The Scots Magazine requires: "Scottish scenes in which two figures should be strategically framed." No justification of the apparently arbitrary number of figures. Is there some deep-seated psychological reason for there being two?

Craig Weldon

Ed. - TGO is one of three magazines assessed in TAC's new pole-count feature on page 15.

Dear Ed,

Who designed the 1996 Welsh boundaries? Wasn't there once a rule that when a boundary follows a ridge, it's supposed to follow the watershed exactly? Now in Wales there's a series of straight lines bodged together. So the Powys /Denbighshire boundary is about 5m below the summit of Cadair Berwyn, the Blaenau Gwent / Torfaen line is barely 10m below Coity Mountain, and Neath Port Talbot / Rhondda, Cynon, Taff (I suppose they didn't want anyone to feel excluded) is 10m below Craig y Llyn.

Didn't they think of Council Top baggers who now have to wander on hillsides in search of a nondescript high point? Or Council Relative Top baggers who need a completely separate walk in Denbigh, RCT and Torfaen (without even a Marilyn to show for it in Torfaen)?

What was wrong with Radnor, anyway?

Pete Ridges

Dear TAC,

Following the recent passing of Pierre Elliot Trudeau, the Canadian Government announced that Mount Logan (Canada's highest) will be renamed Pierre Elliot Trudeau Mountain. Unfortunately it's much too far away for me to rush out and be among the first to bag the "new" top. With the recent TAC debate on "native" mountain names, some might think it curious that Mount Logan (named after a geologist/surveyor) will be renamed after a well loved politician who most consider to have been the founder of modern Canada. I don't yet know if there existed a native name for PETM, but the move seems to be pretty popular here.

I can't exactly see this sort of thing happening back in the UK though...

Mike Jacobs

Ed. - Well, we already have Mount Blair...

Sonya Tietjen, a kayaker from Vancouver, adds -

As for Pierre Elliot Trudeau Mountain: yah, as if we'd let that happen. I have a lot of respect for Trudeau (although didn't always agree with his politics or methods of delivery), but that doesn't mean we should denigrate Logan. Canucks put up a lot of huffing and puffing, and eventually the prime minister backed down and realized it might not be such a great idea to rename the peak. You wouldn't believe the fervour! Tons of letters, emails, protests, etc, and it still took Chretien (our prime minister) a couple of weeks to back down. Anyway, it got out a history lesson on who Logan was (like any of us knew).

Grant Hutchison, compiler of World Tops and Bottoms, further adds -

Hooray. There are enough sovietstans and banana republics renaming peaks after the politician du jour without Canada (international home of stolid common sense) following suit. Bloody politicians can't keep their fingers out of anything, and it's nice to see them being told precisely where to get off.

Sir William Logan, founder of the Geological Survey of Canada, your name shall live on!

Dear TAC,

The Scottish Daily Mail reported in October that La Palma in the Canary Islands is the steepest island in the world and is dominated by the 6334ft Cumbre Vieja. This may cause millions of Americans to die in the future when it is expected to collapse, sending a 150ft tidal wave surging across the Atlantic at the speed of a jet plane.

I saw no reference to this island, or to its height, in Grant Hutchison's latest review of his World Tops and Bottoms (TAC47, pp8-10), nor in the previous review in TAC34. I'm also unable to say if it features at all in Grant's original work as I've never seen it. (Then buy the damn thing - Ed.)

May I now enquire how many of our hills are named after animals? Offhand I can only think of these four: Brown Cow Hill, Goat Fell, Sow of Atholl and Boar of Badenoch. Of Brown Cow Hill, my 1948 SYHA Guide to the Cairngorms says: "This hill is interesting in that a large snow drift lingers on it usually until mid-summer, and is known locally as "the Brown Cow's white calf". That is very interesting, but does anyone know why this fairly remote Corbett is called Brown Cow Hill in the first place?

Bill Mejury

Ed. - On the subject of Americans, what is to made of the recent Gore versus Tex squabble for the leadership? And surely there are herds more hills named (or apparently named) after beasts and birds? How about Cat Law, Dog Hillocks, Colt Hill, Calf Top, Horse Head Moor, Aonach Aardvark? (OK, OK, so that last one is made up.)

Dear TAC,

Oh dear, oh dearie me. Hamish Brown (TAC47, p20) has gone on a wobbly against clan chiefs, land ownership and all to do with those funny pointy hills on the misty isle reached by Europe's most expensive ferry. (Most expensive bridge, surely - Ed.) No wonder John MacLeod needs to sell them, what with VAT shortly to be added to the tolls. Scottish history, as it was taught, has not done us any favours. I mean at least half of the US (and Scotland?) thinks that Brave-heart is historically the bee's knees. Your average medieval Scot, let alone Highlander, would have con-sidered a blue-painted face a touch passť, fine for ancient Picts but fashion-wise about 500 years behind the times of Wallace et al.

As a clan chief (Mackenzie), and having a family rooted to Ross and Cromarty since before 1500, my family gained most of its land by sasins, legally obtained both before and after hammering the unfortunate MacLeods under patent of Fire and Sword in what would now be termed "brutal pacification", we being loyal followers of the ill-fated Stuart dynasty who considered the aforementioned clan a little too uppity for their own good. Land ownership was land ownership even then, and there were precious few misty-eyed romantic notions of communality, although owners were undeniably wedded to the land and their kinsmen.

As a Jacobite family who lost all after the '45 rising, only to gain it back again by hard work and a degree of luck 40 years later, the aftermath of Culloden was the single greatest disaster to affect the Highlands, a vengeance as much perpetrated by lowlander as English versus Scots, a myth that has been allowed to mask the reality of the de facto civil war. If Hamish, or anyone else, wants to get some facts of what happened in the Highlands between the years 1650 and 1914, then read Cromartie Highland Life, by Eric Richards and Monica Clough, ISBN 0 08 0377327.

The Cuillin, like so much of the Highlands, is simply too precious to despoil by short-term exploitation. Our single greatest commodity is the relatively unspoilt landscape and a current absolute need for a vastly enhanced, upgraded and revamped tourist board capable of doing both the people and their landscape some justice. Who owns what is largely irrelevant; it's what is done or not done with the land that is important. Furthermore, it is up to the local communities who actually live there to help organise a sustainable and desirable pattern of life rather than having to thole outrageous taxes on fuel and goods by political parties who see few votes in the north.

It is a sad fact that if the cream of the Highlands was killed off in the First World War, then the subsequent generations headed south to where the work was. Theoretically, there are now more indigenous young folk living up here, but - and it's a big but - if only Inverness had had a proper campus university at the same time as Stirling did, then the injection of ideas, money and people into the Highlands would have made this area a creative honeypot where close liaison with the Scandinavian universities surely might led to us adopting some of their ideas.

John Mackenzie, Earl of Cromartie
Castle Leod, Strathpeffer

Dear TAC,

Synchronicity or what? Barely had I finished proof-reading Professor Warbeck's treatise on barbed wire in TAC47 (p19) than I chanced upon the following publicity for a Radio 4 programme on 25 September: "The Devil's Rope - Jeremy Cherfas discovers the violent history of barbed wire. Invented in 1873 to form enclosures between cattle ranchers and farmers, collectors now pay up to $150 for rare 18-inch sections of the stuff, and at the end of the 19th century 27 men died in a battle to see who would make fences with it. Cherfas distinguishes between its three types - vicious, obvious, and vicious-obvious - and tries to understand how it came to be such a desired commodity."

I now confidently await a bagging theme night on BBC2, swiftly follow-ed by a 12-part series on the history of trig points, introduced of course by the extravagantly coifed Lord Bragg. (Lord Bag, surely? - Ed.)

Dr Tessa Carroll
Abbey Road Sweatshop

Dear TAC,

Bouyashakah! Ayii me brovvas an' sistas in Sco'lan'. Dis is da real Ali-G. Massif respec fo aa' de eco-terrorist dudes in de kilts.

Me finks ya needin sum wicked publici'y! Tis to'ally mingin tha de main men who own de ski-in an whateva is ge''in heavy wiv de woppin' crane and funny peculiar wailway. Daht is well ou' of order.

Me is pursonalli arrivin to big i' up fa de MCofS Massif! De car park at Corrikas is juss like a festerin' saw, an' I an' de Staines Massif is comin' up to Aviemore-on-Spey to see woh I can do to whip up da Boyco''.

Woh is yous payin' de SNH minders fo', den? I is going to interview de HIE upper class twats cos I's thinkin dey's a bi' fick. Or else dey's kiddin us dey's upper class. Dey's aint even go' a pool in dey's garden! Has deys won e lo''ery or wat?

Massif respec fo de Angry Corrie, Me main Man! No'h only dey wri'e a wikked fanzine, dey pu' in some mental Drum an' Bass!

Keep it real, keep it safe. Bo!

Dear TAC,

TAC47 (p19) mentioned Noel Williams' comment on renaming Collie's Ledge as Hart's Ledge. I've put my suggestion that it should really be called Mackenzie's Ledge (as it's on his mountain and he was on the first and second ascents) in my book on Skye, which should be out next May.

This brings me on to a couple of other points raised in TAC47. I agree completely with Hamish Brown on John MacLeod (p20) except for his comments on the word "rambler". My book will be called The Rambler's Guide to the Isle of Skye and will include nine routes in the Cuillin, all of which are being checked by the local branch of the Ramblers' Association (the book is published in conjunction with the RA). Of course I know that "rambler" is both old-fashioned and brings up images of lines of walkers threading their way through a field in southern England. I guess the RA think their name is too well established to change it to something more modern.

The next point concerns Alan Blanco's "bit of a rant" in his review (pp14-15) of Graham Uney's The High Summits of Wales, where he wonders "why so many hill writers feel obliged to pad their prose with this kind of pseudo-historical gibberish". Well, I hope my historical references are accurate and not pseudo or gibberish, but they are in there because that's what the pub-lishers demand. The examples he gives do seem fairly irrelevant and poorly explained. I think if such stuff is going in it should be properly researched.

Changing subjects to the story of Charlie Campbell's amazing Munros run (pp4-5), I think we have two different traditions / activities here: Hamish Brown's and the record breakers'. I am firmly in Hamish's camp (which is why I hated the use of the words "record setting" put by the publishers into the sub-title of my Munros and Tops book). To me, the continuous round of the Munros and Tops was about spending months living in the hills and close to nature. Carrying all I needed, camping out and being relatively self-sufficient were very important, as was being alone. I can admire the hill runners but I cannot imagine doing what they do. It's as alien to me as the London Marathon. When I read Hugh Symonds' Running High, the passage that stood out was where he describes running down a hill and enjoying the unusual feeling of being by himself - when his mobile phone rings. A long hill round with no solitude, no time to pause, no time to really see and feel would be pointless and unbearable for me.

Best wishes,
Chris Townsend,
Grantown on Spey

Ed. - One thought about the ledge. Renaming it in tribute to John Mackenzie does seem appro-priate, but would create an odd linguistic situation in that the hill on which it stands, Sgurr Mhic Chonnich, already carries the great guide's name in its Gaelic form. Bilingualism is a good thing, without a doubt, but does this particular example risk incongruity and confusion?

Dear TAC,

"I cannot now recall the source where someone in a similar situation said, of a landowner's hills: 'He owns them. I possess them'" - TAC47, p20. Fancy Hamish Brown not recognising Norman MacCaig's poetry! The actual words are: "Who possesses this landscape? / The man who bought it / Or I who am possessed by it?", from his 1969 poem A man in Assynt.

Mick Furey
A Man in Maltby

Ed. - Thanks to James Gordon and Paul Hesp who likewise pinpointed the reference.

Dear TAC,

A minuscule point on the contents of TAC47. Val Hamilton (p11) traduces Peter Drummond regarding his pronunciation of Dumyat, but his vowel list includes "Y as in by". That makes doomYat pretty much the same as Dum-eye-at, part-icularly as he also explains the origin is "the fort of the Miathi".

Jim Waterton

Dear TAC,

Following the recent so-called "second Jarrow march" - basically a load of fat, attention-seeking truckers driving down the A1 - how long before we see hauliers claiming ascents of various hills simply by parking in the lay-bys at the bottom while they eat a greasy burger and smoke a fag? Lay-bys equipped with fast-food vans would be well-suited for this new "sport": for instance, the entire round of Arrochar summits could easily be "bagged" by an artic driver pulling into Butterbridge for a couple of hours to read the Sun and listen to TalkSport. Similarly, the Glen Ogle burger van must have witnessed several "ascents" of its local Corbetts, while it surely won't be long before some Eddie Stobart operative claims an ascent of Savage Slit simply by parking in Coire Cas for a snooze.

Jane Riddings

TAC 48 Index