The Angry Corrie 53: Apr-May 2002

A bit of RG Bargy

TAC52, p17, saw the editor take a swipe at Richard Gilbert concerning the latter's letter in the Dec 2001 issue of High Mountain Sports (reproduced opposite, for completeness). Mr Gilbert was duly offered a right-to-reply slot this time round; here's what he has to say:

IT IS A SORRY state of affairs when an editor is unable to debate a point sensibly and responds to an issue about which he does not agree with a tissue of lies and a page of personal insults against another writer. In this case me. Reluctantly I must fight my corner as those who are slighted are invited to do on page 11 of TAC52.

In the letters page of December's High I expressed concern that if the pastime of Marilynbagging gains pace there could be opposition from the warden and other bird researchers on St Kilda. I was responding to an article by Kevin Borman on Marilynbagging and the feat of Ann Bowker. I only mentioned Ann Bowker to put the letter in context and to remind readers about Kevin's article two months earlier. The point of my letter was to raise the possibility of a conservation conflict, nothing else.

Dave Hewitt wrote that I had "roundly slagged" Ann Bowker. What complete and utter nonsense. I would not dream of criticising Ann, indeed I have always been a great fan of hers and am full of admiration for her phenomenal achievements. I have always championed the cause of those who have performed outstanding feats in the hills, hence my articles over the years on Mike Cudahy, Hugh Symonds, Andy Hyslop, Martin Moran, Colin Dodgson etc. Ann Bowker replied to my letter in February's High and made some very valid points without any of DH's histrionics.

Does DH object to my sentence: "The NTS, SNH and the warden in residence in the summer months, not to mention natural historians the world over, would take a very dim view of anyone disturbing the birds just to boost their ego"? The word "ego" is not used in a derogatory sense - the Oxford Dictionary definition is "self esteem" and obviously anyone who completes the Munros, Marilyns, a hard rock climb, the Cuillin Ridge, a novel etc is going to get a kick of adrenaline and an ego boost. And why not, they deserve it. This is different from an ego trip (which DH actually accuses me of), and I am astonished a so-called editor can confuse the terms.

To say that my 1971 Memorable Munros was an "ego trip" is more nonsense. The book is only diary extracts of one man's experiences over the Munros. It was published privately in typed, paperback form (just 300 copies) after persuasion from many friends and to try to make a little cash. In 1971, with Munrobagging taking off, any book on the Munros was snapped up by the public and it soon sold out. I have never claimed any literary merit for the book and it is unfair to judge books published 30 years ago by today's criteria. Anyway, Ken Wilson spotted the cheap edition of Memorable Munros and republished it under his Diadem label, and if DH thinks Ken Wilson publishes books as ego trips for his authors he is more na´ve than even I thought possible.

Would DH have turned down an offer from Diadem to re-design, publish and distribute his Walking the Watershed, or be pleased by a magazine editor's description of it as "Hewitt's ego trip"? Of course he wouldn't.

How does Hewitt judge Alan Blanco's piece in TAC52 about collecting old copies and putting them on the internet? "Maybe it's time to puff out our chests a bit more, be proud of what TAC has achieved (not sure what that is exactly) and be more confident and assertive both on and off line." A clear ego boost for TAC? Surely not Dave, or will we see a page of invective against Blanco in the next issue?

DH, eyes misted red with rage, was unable to see that my last sentence was a joke, a throwaway line to set the tone of the letter, a technique that is widely used in letter columns. I suggested, tongue in cheek, that five St Kilda summits might be left out of the list of Marilyns and 1547 should be enough for anyone. It is ironic that the editor of a magazine that prides itself on satire and black humour took this literally.

Has Hewitt been to St Kilda and met any of the scientific staff there? I have made two trips to St Kilda, including a week's camping on Hirta. In the evenings we talked at length to the warden and many eminent zoologists from all over the world in the Puff Inn, and they were all protectionist. If Hewitt ever goes to St Kilda with his gung-ho attitude to wildlife, he might find himself suspended by his prehensile toes over the precipice of Conachair, by a rope of twisted grass and heather. (Joke Dave, don't worry!)

DH writes "this is arguably the most offensive letter in a glossy hill mag this year". Come off it Dave, if you really think this you must lead a very sad and sheltered life. In the real world, Dave, there are those who think the welfare of animals on a World Heritage Site is more important than ticking summits. You should realise this instead of stamping your foot like a petulant child.

In between DH's paragraphs of diatribe he makes a valid point that access might be allowed outside the breeding season. Yes, that might solve some of the problems, but the summit ridge of Dun is a fragile honeycomb of puffin burrows which collapse when trodden on, a difficult one to resolve.

Now we come to the outrageous, and completely irrelevant, personal abuse and character assassination which DH heaps on me. This deeply angers and hurts me and, again, although I hate rancour between fellow hillgoers, I must attempt to put the record straight. Firstly, DH slammed my access and conservation credentials by likening me to "Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells" and to Mary Whitehouse. That is an unfounded slur on me for which he should apologise. If he knew me he would know that my actions, views and beliefs are totally opposite to that dreadful woman. "Stalinist loopiness" is another ridiculous and unfortunate term that is an insult to the millions who died under that regime. It is no good DH trying to say that his insults are jokes. When used against rugger-playing friends as hearty banter in private, with no offence meant, they might be acceptable, but in public against a complete stranger they are rude and insensitive.

Throughout my life I have been a passionate and uncompromising fighter for access and conservation. I was one of the few who fought desperately to save the Grudie and Talladale rivers and Loch a'Bhraoin from the hydro developers. I attended the Public Inquiry at Gairloch in 1997 and was one of only three individuals to speak out against the Shieldaig hydro scheme. I am now actively gathering support from hillgoers throughout Britain to oppose HLP's new plans when they are published.

Yes, Dave Hewitt, Shieldaig Forest noted for Baosbheinn, a magnificent Corbett. Yet you say I have no interest in hills below 3000ft. Where were you at the Inquiry? Giving a presentation of objections on behalf of TAC? I don't think so. But I suppose that is not very surprising considering that you edit a magazine that supports red painted arrows on the Cuillin Ridge. (Eh? See p7 for the latest of several recent opinion pieces - as opposed to editorials - on the subject of on-hill markings - Ed.)

Incidentally, I must point out that in your article on p13 of TAC52 you make some errors in your piece about the Wester Ross hydro scheme. HLP's new proposal is not the same as the old, it also encompasses Loch na h-Oidhche, under Beinn an Eoin, and will involve the building of two turbine houses. The public have five weeks, not four, to respond following the date of HLP's first advertisement. I have written articles on the deplorable nature of the scheme in High, TGO, a forthcoming BMC website and several newsletters from some of the largest climbing and walking clubs in the country, offering to send the details to anyone who wishes to object, giving the name and address of the person to write to at Scottish Executive, and a list of the important points that they might like to make, just as soon as HLP publish [their plans]. So far I have well over 100 potential objectors on my books. Naturally, if any TAC readers want to go on the list would they send me a SAE please? [Stac Polly, Crayke, York, YO6 4TB.]

For over ten years I served on the Access and Conservation Committee of the BMC. Countless weekends and evenings spent fighting access issues. Under the chairmanship of the late Peter Mould we lobbied MPs and put maximum pressure on the government to introduce the Right to Roam. Working closely with the Ramblers' Association we prepared a draft access bill which was presented to the new Labour government to speed up the implementation of the bill. Another initiative, together with the RA, MCofS and COLA, was the British Upland Footpath Trust, which raised money and stimulated hundreds of miles of repair to badly eroded paths in the hills, footpaths which you may have used yourself Dave.

Next we come to the second package of lies. "Most lower hills are not worthwhile in Gilbert's eyes" and "Gilbert has never been a fan of sub-Munro tops". I must answer this although I cannot see what it has to do with being allowed to make a comment on gannets on Stac Lee. Would my views be any more valid if, like DH, I had climbed all the Donalds?

Just what does DH think I've been doing since completing the Munros in 1971? Exploring and taking great pleasure in lesser peaks including finishing the English and most of the Welsh 2000s, making over 100 ascents of Whernside and 30 rounds of the Yorkshire Three Peaks etc. In my book Exploring the Far North West of Scotland [reviewed, TAC20, p11] I describe the ascent of many peaks between Kyle and Cape Wrath, 35 over 3000ft and 52 below.

Thirdly, "the seeds of [RG's] elitism were already sprouting 37 years ago". So, is it elitist to suggest zoologists might be concerned about Marilynbaggers disturbing gannets or puffins in their natural habitats? You try hard for a smear here Dave but it doesn't wash. I have been accused of introducing every Tom, Dick and Harry to the hills, but never of elitism.

It goes on and on: "the Gilbert of 2001 is a timid, reined-in creature". Half right there Dave. For the last three years I have been on kidney dialysis three times a week in hospital which certainly reins me in. But "timid" - I hope not with many hills climbed between dialysis sessions including the full An Teallach traverse and sections of the Cuillin. Pathetic perhaps by Big Walks standards, but the ageing process comes to us all Dave as you will find out.

I hope readers of TAC are now beginning to understand that the vile slurs of their editor do strike home and hurt, and they are based on complete lies. This is not just mischievous but cruel. In an attempt to set the record straight I have replied robustly. Can anyone ever again believe what Hewitt says in his magazine?

"I would not dream of criticising Ann" - the High letter:

Dear Sir - I was very concerned to read in High Society that the pastime of bagging Marilyns (hills in Britain with a drop of 150m on each side) may be gathering pace. Apparently Anne [sic] Bowker has only 14 more Marilyns out of a total of 1552 to complete.

Anyone who completes the Marilyns will have to ascend the spectacular sea stacks Stac Lee, Stac an Armin and Boreray in the St Kilda group, 40 miles west of the Isle of Harris. St Kilda is a World Heritage Site and the gannetry on the stacks is one of the largest in the world. The NTS, SNH and the warden in residence in the summer months, not to mention natural historians the world over, would take a very dim view of anyone disturbing the birds just to boost their ego. Likewise two other islands in the St Kilda group, Dun 178m and Soay 378m are out of bounds to visitors for conservation reasons. Perhaps these five summits could be left out of the official list of the Marilyns, after all 1547 should be enough for anyone.

Ed. - Richard Gilbert is entitled to his reply space and I have no wish to bicker at length here. Some readers will doubtless agree with his points, others will laugh heartily at them, and that's fine. The bulk of subsequent comment, if there is to be any, must come via letters to TAC54 and beyond. (In fact see pp17-18 here for initial responses.)

RG should perhaps be challenged re his habit of partial quoting - eg I did indeed write that "Gilbert has never been a fan of sub-Munro tops", but continued: "mind you, unless they're in his beloved Assynt or Coigach". I also wrote "New Stalinist loopiness". And as for "You say I have no interest in hills below 3000ft", what I actually wrote was this (as later quoted by RG): "...most lower hills are not worthwhile in Gilbert's eyes". This referred directly to RG's line about Fionn Bheinn and Moruisg: "If the mountains had been just below 3000ft rather than just above they would hardly merit a mention." But I'll let all that go.

I must respond to a few points however, first re Walking the Watershed. The question did cross my mind circa 1994: what if some glossy publisher were to offer a snazzy production of the book. I had no publisher in mind when thinking this, not Ken Wilson nor anyone else, but I felt then and feel now that I would have declined such an offer. Small might not always be beautiful, but it's often quite nice, and I can't conceive of ever being as pleased with any coffee-table photography as I was with Chris Tyler's line drawings.

I'd also disagree with TAC being seen as "his [ie my] magazine". All readers - whether dipper-inners or cover-to-coverers - should see themselves as having a stake in what has always been intended as a "people's magazine". Sorry - lapsed into New Leninism there.

As for: " is unfair to judge books published 30 years ago by today's criteria", this is an interesting notion. Is Catch 22 (published 1961) not to be assessed using any method or form of words dating from, say, post-1990? Tricky, if so. And what of Shakespeare?

This is all nitpicking, though, and I'm not narked about what RG wrote - he's entitled to say what he likes and it's good to see a writer responding "in medium". My one genuine gripe concerns his playing of the health card. Just like any right-minded walker, writer or plain human being, I wish RG many long and happy hill days and sympathise greatly over his kidney problems. But - and this will inevitably sound harsh even though it's not meant as such - it's really not on for him to invoke these in an unassociated dispute over the written word. Had the piece in TAC52 heartlessly slagged him for being ill, then he would have had every right to pursue the subject. There was no mention of RG's health in TAC52 however, nor in previous issues, even though it's been known about (and has prompted widespread sympathy) for a good while. TAC might do black humour, but there are limits. And it's a basic tenet of lit crit that so long as any writer is putting material into the public domain - be it books, articles or letters - then his/her work should be criticised on the same level(ish) playing field as everyone else's. RG is by no means the only writer to have featured in these pages at a time of fragile health, or when subject to "the ageing process". Indeed I can think of one who wrote prolifically and superbly in his last days while making no reference to his illness and without expecting any critical or editorial favours had his stuff not actually been any good. So it irks me to be cast as playing on RG's health when the current spat started via a piece (arguably ill judged, although RG evidently thinks not) written by him.

Oh, and finally: "...rugger-playing friends". I refer RG to Professor Perkin Warbeck's fine TAC44 feature "23 Differences Between Hillwalking and Rugby". Now that is editorial policy.

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