The Angry Corrie 54: Jul-Aug 2002
More top stuff
FOLLOWING THE ARTICLES in TAC51 and TAC52, here is a third batch of thoughts on the highest this and that in Scotland and elsewhere. Thanks this time to
AM: Everyone who shares the view that fermentation and civilisation are inseparable will be interested to learn that the battle south of the border to claim the title of Highest Pub in the Land is hotting up. The Tan Hill Inn, isolated on a forlorn chunk of the northern Pennines, has traditionally been accepted as the highest pub in England at 1732ft/528m. But during my recent research for The Peak District Pub Guide (Johnson, ISBN 0 9542574 0 5, £4.99), its supremacy has been challenged by the Cat and Fiddle Inn, situated on a windy ridge astride the Cheshire / Derbyshire border in the west of the Peak District.
Traditionally, the Cat and Fiddle's height has been given as 1690ft/515m, making it the second highest pub in England. But last year the new landlord decided to ask some scientific boffins to give him a precise, satellite-based reading - and the Cat and Fiddle came out at 1772ft/540m, making it now officially the highest pub in England.
It's tempting to suggest that the Cat and Fiddle's new owner is simply pulling a fast one, trying to whip up a bit of publicity, but matters are not helped by a blatant error on the Outdoor Leisure White Peak map that marks the contour just above the pub as 510m when it should in fact be 515m according to the contour beneath (which is correctly identified as 510m). If this wasn't enough, the spot height to the north of the pub is given as 519m, but on the OS Touring Map to the Peak District it appears to have become 515m.
Perhaps the fine chaps of the Ordnance Survey fortified themselves with a jar or two of Robinson's Best before surveying the featureless moorland around the Cat and Fiddle? I can imagine them leaving the cosy lounge bar and being buffeted by a fierce westerly as they struggle with maps and equipment. The first one says: "Perhaps we're not quite up to it this afternoon. Shall we try again another day?" "Nonsense," replies the other, laughing heartily. "It's great weather for mapping - look, you can see Manchester Airport from here! By the way, I'm not so think as you drunk I am. Now let's get on with it..."
Ed. - The current Landrangers show Tan Hill as the higher. It's between the 520m/530m contours at 91/896067. The Cat and Fiddle is very close to the western edge of its sheet, between the 510m/520m contours at 119/002719.
Highest ecclesiastical structure
DP: I would like to add the old iron cross in the NNW corrie of Ben More at Crianlarich. This, as I recall, has a plaque below, which commemorates a fatality over 100 years ago. It is quite similar to the one commemorating Harry Rose (a fine gentleman) on Ben Ledi, but probably a bit higher at around 3000ft. I had occasion to examine it a few years ago in June with a friend when we were seeing if any of his equipment was left after a nearly successful attempt at dying in the vicinity the previous December. It is a popular spot for involuntary bum slides.
This was also the area where a Viscount made unscheduled contact with the planet in the late 1960s or early 1970s. Another friend remembers visiting the site and giving a loose landing wheel a push. It was last seen some 2000ft below, "dambusting" in ever-increasing leaps towards Loch Iubhair. He ran away quickly in the opposite direction.
On the other side of Strath Dochart, on the summit of Ben Challum, there was for several years in the 1970s a finely hand-crafted wooden cross. I once leant against it at the right time of year uttering "What a way to spend Easter". The result of this further confirmed my belief in religion.
There are also a number of other memorial stones and plaques scattered about. The north summit of Stuc a'Chroin, the last pitch of the Great Ridge of Garbh Bheinn and the summit cairn of Sgurr Mhic Choinnich are the first that spring to mind. I also seem to recall a cairn on the summit of Ben Nevis erected by some religious body to help world peace. I wonder if they argued about who had to carry up the cement?
HB: During the war the Lairig Ghru was used by 603 Squadron as practice for the bombing of the Tirpitz in a Norwegian fjord. One plane crashed high on the flank of the pass. No doubt bodies were recovered, but as a youth I picked up a flying boot on-site which had bones in it. That trophy went home with me but somehow disappeared. My parents being keen gardeners, it now probably lies peaceably below the Ochils.
Highest remains relating to deer stalking
AE: A few metres below the summit of Mam Sodhail there are the remains of a very well constructed "bothyette". Four walls, a fireplace with chimney, a doorway and a window all built in very neatly. No roof, but you can see where it would have been fixed in. [AE also has a contender for the Highest sit-down strike: "Me, my two brothers (Niall and Finlay) and my cousins (Morag and Donald), halfway between the summits of Cairn Gorm and Ben Macdui. Protestations against parental unfairness!"]
Highest occupied house
AW: What about the manager's family's house at the Glenshee ski centre (655m), followed by the manager's house at the Lecht (640m)? The highest shelter for deer gillies or shepherds is maybe the one built into a stone dyke at 970m, north-east of Carn an Tuirc, like that mentioned in TAC towards Creag Leacach. A six-foot-high stane-dyke cross was built to shelter gillies and ponies whatever the wind direction, at 930m, north of An Diollaid on Beinn a'Bhuird; a small one like the Carn an Tuirc one was further down An Diollaid. I often used both when I worked as a Mar deer gillie. They were in good vantage points where gillies could be in shelter and yet watch the stalking party. A roofed shepherds' hut stood on Little Glas Maol at 965m until the 1970s but is now derelict. TAC mentioned dykes on Cairn of Claise and Creag Leacach. They marked sheep farm boundaries, not estates. Wire fences with wooden posts and some metal strainers marked most of the boundaries there, and remains are still evident. The dykes are on ground too rocky for inserting posts.
Ed. - Am I alone in wishing there were lots of northern-English-style stone-wall crosses on Scottish hills? They always seem exceptionably comfortable and functional, no matter which way the wind is blowing. The Ponds has loads of them, eg on Esk Hause and Helvellyn.
Highest ping-pong table
HB: In W T Kilgour's interesting book describing life at the Ben Nevis summit observatory (Twenty Years on Ben Nevis, 1905, Ernest Press reprint 1985) there is a picture of a block of hard snow carved out to make a ping-pong table, glad relief for those cooped up in the building.
Ed. - For a more intellectual game than table tennis, I quote from my own piece in the June 2000 issue of Scottish Chess: "In Scotland [...] there is no doubt as to the chess altitude record, as it couldn't be any higher without artificial aid such as balancing a chair on top of the trig point. As was recorded in a 1984 issue of SC, a small tournament was played on top of big Ben Nevis as part of the Scottish Chess Association centenary celebrations. It was a four-hander: Alex McFarlane, Les Melvin, Alison McLure and [...] Douglas Bryson. McFarlane was editor of SC at the time and noted that 'with several inches of snow on the ground the idea of all-play-all was quickly abandoned and a five-minute knockout substituted'. Never mind Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes; this was a case of Les Melvin and the Blue Fingers.
"In round one Bryson beat McLure while Melvin beat McFarlane. The final proved unusually tricky, 'as the pieces seemed to have a mind of their own as they moved about in the wind. Bryson was a deserved winner, if only because he risked losing on time by not taking off his gloves.' The report ends by noting that 'the standard of play may not have been high but the venue certainly was'.
"Sixteen years on, I asked Bryson what he remembered of the event. 'We balanced the board on the trig point,' he recalled. 'Snow flurries landing on the board caused long moves to aquaplane past their intended destination. One guy, thinking we must be sponsored nutters, came up and offered us money. But no, it was just for the love of the game.'"
Most northerly/southerly TAC merchandise
GH: I've worn my (increasingly grubby) TAC sweatshirt at both my personal latitudinal extremes: on the edge of the polar pack-ice at 82º02´N 20º04´E, and at Petermann Island on the Antarctic Peninsula at 65º11´S 64º08´W. Unfortunately I have no photographic evidence to support this, because I had my fleece zipped firmly to the throat on both occasions. (But there is an indelible smear of penguin guano on the right elbow of the sweatshirt, which may be inspected by prior appointment.)
Highest bicycle snatch
JW: One Saturday in June 1988 I used my folding bike (blue, Polish-made, 18-inch wheels) to ride in from Linn of Dee past White Bridge up as far as the end of the Land Rover track. There I locked the bike - not for security, merely to demonstrate ownership by being able to unlock it on return. My name and address were painted on the rear mudguard in one-inch letters. I then bagged Beinn Bhrotain, Monadh Mor, Braeriach, Cairn Toul and finally the Devil's Point - where, on arrival, I could not fail to notice quite a lot of rescue helicopter activity. One helicopter was below me near Corrour bothy; a second was stooging around a mile to the south. However, within a couple of minutes, both climbed smartly and flew off. I walked down to the bothy, crossed the bridge, and went off to collect my bike. Where was it? I looked to see if it had been thrown into the heather, but no sign. Had some landowner with a Land Rover nicked it? Anyway, there was nothing for it but to walk back to Linn of Dee.
On the drive out I passed Braemar police office and stopped to see if I could report my loss. No luck: it was a part-time office. An Aberdeen number was given as an emergency contact, but I didn't think I was in that category. When I got back to Glasgow I went round to the local police station and explained what had happened, but we all agreed it wasn't their problem. They did however give me the Braemar number.
Next day, Sunday, I left a message on the Braemar answering machine. On Monday I rang Braemar again, introducing myself as the chap who had left a message about a lost bike. "Say no more, we've got your bike," came the reply, in a delightful Highland voice. And I was offered the following story...
On the Friday evening, "an elterly chentleman had a bit of a row with his wife" and decided to cool off by going for a ride on his (blue, folding) bicycle. Riding away he informed his wife that he would "be back by five o'clock". Well, the next five o'clock was five o'clock on Saturday morning, and when there was no husband the wife started to get worried and eventually called the police, who called the mountain rescue. They didn't find the husband, but did find a blue folding bicycle, which they uplifted into one of their helicopters. The husband returned safely on his own bicycle a little before 5pm. The search was called off. Then the rescue team found that they had this spare bike. What to do? Put it back where they found it? They decided the best thing to do was nothing: they would sit back and "await developments".
"So I suppose this phonecall is the development?", I said. Right. There remained only the question of how to get my bike back. Fortuitously, I was going for a week's holiday in Strathpeffer in another fortnight, so I arranged to collect the bike en route. Which I duly did, being sorry only that the policeman with whom I had spoken was not on duty that day; we might have had a bit of a laugh. I would never complain about what happened to my bike - but still wonder why it was uplifted with my name and address so clearly marked.
CM: I read the interesting correspondence on the highest house, ice-cream van etc, but am surprised that no one mentioned the path up Ben Nevis as the highest track. The context suggested that a track too narrow for a Land Rover would still qualify, and of course this track has been negotiated by a Ford Model T (in 1912). Although it is a long time since I was there, I am sure that a motor-cycle could still do it. Incidentally, in 1945 my parents found a motor-cycle, apparently in good order, at the top of Ben Lomond. Who had left it there and why is a mystery. One can only guess that it had run out of petrol or developed some fault, and the owner had gone down to fetch whatever was needed. It had disappeared by the time I climbed Ben Lomond about ten years later.