The SMC Corbetts guidebook isn't just about Corbetts. Ronald Turnbull looks at those select few little hills to which asterisks have been awarded.
IF THE CORBETTS are the "post-graduate" hills, there's a need for a "Third Age" course of study for the less sturdy. A handful of very fine hills are below the two-and-a-half mark, as well as a host of little sweeties. These Other, or asterisked, hills are sprinkled among the SMC's Corbetts like particles of neep among the grand tatties. Do they offer a suitable project for the past-it, a style guide for the lovers of the low?
The listing is admirable in its illogic: look at Sgurr na h-Eanchainne in Section 10A. This stands 730m above Corran Ferry but is invisible from Fort William because of being on Landranger 40. It has a reascent of just 95m, being a more-interesting outlier of unlisted Graham Druim na Sgriodain a couple of kilometres away.
The asterisked Others list is also admirably inconsistent in its spread. Eighty per cent of its summits lie at the beginning or else at the end: in Section Zero (Southern Uplands), Section 1 (Far South), Section 16 (Far North) and Section 17 (Islands). Aberdeenshire, the Central Lowlands and South Uist emerge as more important than Lochaber (nothing there), Glen Coe (one entry, the Pap) or Torridon (nothing there either).
With all this going for it, the Others list has, alas, one sad shortcoming. It has far too few hills. Counting those listed at the chapter headings, just 50 summits are cited. About a dozen subsidiaries make it into the index, as lumps that can be lumped in alongside slightly larger lumps; these include such desirables as East Lomond, Clachnaben and the Quiraing. With a given altitude of 362m at 23/453692, it's clear that the Other Quiraing isn't the top of anything - certainly not of nearby Meall na Suiramach - but is simply and uniquely itself.
The low list hasn't even expanded over the years to take account of Scotland's ageing population. The 2002 edition includes just two new Others: Corrieyairack Hill, an ex-Corbett and, at well over the 762m cut-off, standing as embarrassed as a trig point in peat. Its partner in shame, Beinn Talaidh, used to be with the Corbetts proper, but got lower. And one Other is out: Beinn Mheadhoin in Morvern. An odd choice for the boot (or rather the non-boot, as it will presumably now be walked very slightly less even than before), but perhaps anticipating its eventual rendering into roadstone by the superquarry at Glensanda.
The subCorbett Marilyns include plenty of the truly gruesome, but the asterisked Others are all pretty enticing. On first looking at the list, I could tick over half - a sign of quality, or else the compiler and I have similarly depraved tastes.
A hill list should include some unpleasantness: wine without tannin is alcopop, and labour without pain, as Coniston's other Old Man John Ruskin points out, is base. Perhaps the best inducer of laborious pain, apart from stuck-in, sticking-up Corrieyairack, might be Mount Blair - a somewhat smaller (and so slightly better, or even less good?) heap of gravel and heath. Also somewhat unstimulating are the two Luss Grahams included, Doune Hill and Beinn Chaorach.
But in fact the list needs lengthened by about 100. Top of the not-ins depends on your taste. For yin types, it could be lovely birch-shrouded Ord Ban above Loch an Eilein. For more aggressive yangs, undoubtedly Sgurr na Stri - can there ever be too many hills on Skye? While for the straightforward who don't understand Chinese, what about Scotland's first-city summit, Arthur's Seat?
TAC 57 Index