The Angry Corrie 52: Dec 2001 - Feb 2002
Stob Press Stob Press Stob Press
Continuing the recent discussion of car number plates bearing the names of hills (CAN 1SP, WYV 1S, etc), a white transit minibus owned by Ogilvie Construction has spent the past few months parked alongside a boxy housing development just yards from the old TAC Towers in Stirling's Riverside. Registration? H1 KER.
Meanwhile, Lochaberites Grahaeme Barrasford Young and Ed Grindley both write to say that NEV 1S features on the demonstration car at Nevis Garage at Caol.
Peter Shaw (gearing up to retain his quiz title at this very moment) was on Edinburgh's Blackford Hill recently and reports the trig point having been defaced with: "Polar Coordinates Rule OK". What's this? Cartographic graffiti?
Also on the subject of maps, thanks to the readers who sent cuttings from the national dailies that suddenly picked up on the search for the UK's most boring 1km grid square. This, as long-time TACers will recall, was extensively discussed in these pages in the early 1990s. Indeed, it was this very subject - and the winning of a boring-square quiz (see TAC10, pp10-11) - that caused Alan Dawson to transmogrify into the Alan Blanco we know and love today.
The surge of interest in such matters came via John Peel's Home Truths programme on Radio 4, where listeners began their own search for the ultimate kilometre of tedium
(see http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/hometruths/emptymapsquares.shtml). Sadly the show ignored Jon Metcalf's email flagging up that this was ground already covered, and so there was no great coming together of TAC Towers and Peel Acres.
Eventually the OS, with an eye for cheap publicity ahead of their latest price rises, got in on the act, issuing a press release which claimed SE8322 on sheet 112 as the emptiest of all Landranger squares. This had of course already been cited in TAC, along with its arch-rival NY0569 on sheet 85. For more background on this, read the editor's Scotland Online piece at http://www.scotlandonline.com/outdoors/columista.cfm?feature_cat_id=27&selectedfeature_id=1519, or his letter to the Guardian, 20 October. Also of interest might be the Scotland Online piece on map price increases (more on which in TAC53).
One of those tedious hoax virus alerts did the rounds in early November - you know the kind of thing, issuing dire warnings against opening any email attachments, while at the same time urging you to "Please forward this to everyone in your address book". (Or, rather: "PLEASE FORWARD THIS TO EVERYONE IN YOUR ADDRESS BOOK" - hoaxers have a nasty habit of shouting all the time.) What was interesting about this particular virus was the name of the evil file in question: "If you receive an e-mail that reads 'upgrade internet2', do not open it, as it contains an executable named 'perrin.exe'. It will erase all the data in your hard drive and it will stay in memory. Every time that you upload any data, it will be automatically erased and you will not be able to use your computer again."
Any suggestions as to what a perrin.exe virus might really do? Fill your hard drive with longwinded musings on 12th-century Welsh kings? Install jpegs of Jim's falling-out with McNeish in a televised tent? Come to think of it, what would a mcneish.exe virus do? Copy all your files?
Speaking of well known hill writers, the prize for the most bizarre - and arguably most offensive - letter in a glossy hill mag this year goes to Richard Gilbert, for his extraordinary anti-Marilyn, anti-Ann Bowker outburst in the December issue of High Mountain Sports. Responding to a piece by Kevin Borman in the October issue, Gilbert splutters: "I was very concerned to read ... that the pastime of bagging Marilyns ... may be gathering pace. Apparently Anne [sic] Bowker has only 14 more Marilyns out of a total of 1552 to complete."
Gilbert goes on to note that the list includes the St Kilda sea stacks of Stac Lee and Stac an Armin, home to one of the world's largest gannetries. "The NTS, SNH and the warden in residence in the summer months ... would take a very dim view of anyone disturbing the birds just to boost their ego [TAC's italics]. He adds that Dun and Soay are also "out of bounds", and ends by suggesting that "perhaps these five summits [these four plus Boreray] could be left out of the official list of the Marilyns, after all, 1547 should be enough for anyone".
Ann Bowker and indeed Alan Blanco are more than capable of defending their corners, and hopefully will do so in both High and TAC. But Gilbert's dog-in-a-manger hypocrisy deserves immediate comment, as his outburst is so disgusted-of-Tunbridge-Wells-ish that he could almost be making a pitch for the Mary Whitehouse slot before she's cold in the ground.
Three absurdities leap out. One is the notion of pretending that various summits don't really exist and can be airbrushed off the map - an amazing piece of New Stalinist loopiness. "Look, old chap, it's unhelpful to have these climbing johnnies swarming all over the Afghan high point just now, so drop it from the country tops list if you'd be so kind."
Secondly, whatever happened to the spirit of hillgoing adventure, the quest and zest to reach summits deemed "out of bounds" because of technical difficulty, high altitude, fierce weather or get-orf-ish landowners? The Gilbert of the Big/ Classic/Wild Walks series inspired discovery of the quieter corners, but the Gilbert of 2001 is a timid, reined-in creature who evidently disapproves of edginess and exploration.
And thirdly, this is the same Richard Gilbert listed as Munroist 101 and who wrote Memorable Munros, much more of an ego trip than anything the perennially modest Ann Bowker has ever penned. Gilbert has never been a fan of sub-Munro tops, mind you, unless they're in his beloved Assynt or Coigach. Take this, from the Memorable Munros write-up of Fionn Bheinn and Moruisg: "21 August 1964 - A short day doing two rather featureless and unattractive Munros. If the mountains had been just below 3,000ft rather than just above they would hardly merit a mention." So (a) most lower hills are not worthwhile in Gilbert's eyes, and (b) he feels compelled to climb the less spiky Munros anyway, just to get his name on the list. It seems that the seeds of his High-letter elitism were already sprouting 37 years ago.
(Note this, however, from p150 of Memorable Munros: "The Lochnagar area is now a designated Wild Life Sanctuary and camping is prohibited. There is a well-marked 'preferred' route of ascent ... I consider this to be a retrograde step ... the restriction of access ... is deplorable." Changed days, Richard, changed days.)
Gilbert has without doubt often trodden land where the more fundamentalist conservationists would rather he had stayed away. Take for instance this incident, recorded in his 1979 book Hill Walking in Scotland - "On Ben Lawers I heard a great commotion and squeaking and rounding a bluff of rock I saw a golden eagle trying to fly off with a mountain hare in its talons. As I approached the eagle soared away and the hare made good his escape." There are those who would disapprove of any "pastime" that involves approaching and disturbing a rare bird. Similarly with the peregrines and dotterel also mentioned in the book. Does Gilbert now think he should have stayed at home instead?
Of course we all, from time to time, stray into places where there is detrimental effect on the environment - it literally comes with the territory. And we probably all feel awkward and even a bit guilty about this. But to impose a definitive don't-ever-do-that prohibition is the thin end of a dangerous wedge. Before we know it large chunks of land would become "protected" and prohibited when in reality it's just that those in control are trying to outflank the democratic processes whereby access rights have evolved.
This connects specifically with the contentious keep-out-ism of the Kilda-owning agencies (SNH and NTS), something which Gilbert accepts without question in his letter. While it does seem reasonable to discourage climbers in the breeding months (and cliffs across the country have operated seasonal closures for decades), these stacks and islands are by no means a-throng with birds all year round. Indeed, a former Kilda warden was amenable to off-season landings - he had been up the Marilyn stacks himself - provided this happened at times when there was no conflict with wildlife work. From mid-Sept until April there are no gannets here, and climbers should be free to take their chances on the stacks. Getting ashore and finding a way up the damn things is problem enough without adding the petty politicking of over-zealous wardens and their narky apologists in the letters pages. (Note that the first recorded post-evacuation Stac Lee ascent was made by the well-known ecologists Dick Balharry and John Morton Boyd, on 19/5/69 - slap-bang in the middle of the breeding season. See The Hebrides, by JM and IL Boyd, Collins, 1990.)
Incidentally, Ann Bowker now has only seven Marilyns unclimbed: the Kilda six plus Mullach Buidhe on the Shiants. She's likely to add only a couple of these - Conachair and the Shiant hill - but it's a bloody amazing achievement already and deserves to be mightily praised rather than roundly slagged. And when one of the new wave of young-Turk Marilynbaggers - either Rob Woodall or Ken Whyte on current form - does actually get up the stacks and so wraps up all 1552 summits, then that will merit a monumental first-Marilynist party. If Gilbert doesn't want to show up, it just means more booze and crisps for the rest of us.